One again, last Saturday in April delivered absolutely magnificent weather for the Spring Ockie Rd Ramble. The forecast for Saturday April 25th said in its preposterously accurate way possibility of rain, but the rain came before any of us started off for the station, and the walking was glorious : huge blue skies with great scudding white clouds, and a myriad of different greens scattered across the dazzling Kent countryside.
And close to home : Sevenoaks took 22 minutes from our favourite departure station, London Bridge, and, in a few more minutes, 17 Ramblers sidled through the almost secret door in the wall into the Deer Park surrounding Knole, where the deer have been running free since Tudor Times.
We, however, walked up the hill to the extraordinary house built originally as the residence of successive Archbishops of Canterbury, seized like so much else by Henry VIII, passing through the Sackvilles to the National Trust. After only the briefest of pit stops, and utterly confused by 500 years of path-making across the Park, Our Man with the Map led us a merry dance in entirely the wrong direction backwards and forwards across the Knole golf course, eventually resolved by Our Man with the Compass.
Out of the Park at last we were dazzled by our first bluebell wood of the walk, and strode out across first woods and then open country scattered with apple orchards en fete to the promise of a pub. But disastrously (as accurately predicted by Our Man with the Pessimistic Streak) the Padwell Arms not only had no beer but was closed for any sort of activity, so we were forced to turn back on ourselves to the other end of Stone Street (the village) where the Snail fed us in its orchard garden.
Then south past another remarkable National Trust house Ightham Mote, making notes to return on a sightseeing day as there was no time to linger. (Maybe hurry, though : the Trust wants to turn a working farmyard on the site into offices, and a planning row has broken out).
And then the walk turns back, if you manage to find the cunningly unsigned embarkation point for the Greensand Way which when discovered turns out to be a sort of walkers motorway along a Wealden ridge with woods on the right and on the left fabulous open views and vast encampments of bluebells, and wild garlic.
As the sun got lower, Ramblers felt the impact of the earlier involuntary detours, and the pace slowed as we re-entered the Deer Park, went on round the side of Knole we had not seen on the way out, back through the mysterious door in the wall, and up past the very end of a game on the Vine Cricket Ground, where the game has been played since at least 1734. It is also (writes Our Man with his Eye on the Ball) the first place where cricket was played with three stumps rather than two.
Our planned 10 miles had become something closer to 12 (for which apologies from Our Man with Little Sense of Direction). Maybe the women should take over some of this, instead of showing off by jumping into the air when it is Expressly Forbidden by a big red notice confronting all Greensand walkers. But we were full of the joys of spring, and it was a terrific walk.
Text: Peter. Photos: Tessa/Alan