‘When that April with his showers sweet The draught of March has pierced to the root..Then longen folk go on pilgrimage.’
Geoffrey Chaucer put it best 600 years ago.
And that is what we did on the traditional Ockendon Road Ramblers’ welcome of spring on the last Saturday of April. Cautioned by the drought (and heat) of March, the normal promise of wonderful weather for this April outing was deliberately moderated in the publicity for this Bluebell walk. A prudent restraint, as it turned out. Doubts were also expressed about the viability of bluebells after such a premature spring in March.
And sure enough, it was the first Ramblers’ walk in living memory to have anything but almost perfect weather. But that didn’t mean that the weather was bad: it was a soft grey morning with delicious dampness in the air, only to be overtaken by showers that were more like rain in the afternoon. Good for the complexion, said the people who still have one. The bluebells had survived the drought of March.
And folk did indeed long to go on this pilgrimage..a very decent turnout braved some extraordinary convoluted London bus rescheduling to assemble under the Shard at London Bridge station. Late arrivals at Oxsted boosted our numbers to 17 ramblers and one dog, another nice mixture of Roaders and off-Roaders.
We toiled up the steep path along the railway out of smug little Oxted and were soon in real countryside and splendid National Trust and Woodland Trust woods, with occasional wide views across subtle hills with an infinity of different greens and greys on show paling away into the distance.
Judging from the trees, the rapid advances of spring in March went into under-drive in April, so that the Ramble almost coincided with what David Hockney calls “Action Week”. It is when he has to be constantly out in the countryside with his sketch pad and his iPad drawing the rush of the season in the trees and the hedgerows. (Action Week must be a week or two later in East Yorkshire, though.)
And another Hockney note: the violence of his greens and purples was commented on as over-the-top in the recent wondrous Royal Academy exhibition. But judging by the torrent of verdure on show around Oxsted, Hockney was by no means overstating the bursting colours of an English spring, as the ORRA pictures may or may not show.
The walking was only slightly squishy in places as we pilgrimaged across Limpsfield Common and Staffhurst Wood. Dotted with old farmhouses turned into elaborately gated country retreats by high-earners in the City of London, this is Thelwell horse country. Annie’s camera lingered on the dung.
Bang on time (lunchtime) the Royal Oak materialised. Accomodating pub, nice food, good beer, rather intimate loos, and one or two really funny stories in the local advertising magazine. (The Ryanair joke will be furnished to inquirers under plain cover). And (after an orgy of dithering) successful pudding: it posed for the camera before dispatch.
After lunch something more like rain set in, but dampened no spirits. We headed back across the East Grinstead railway line, and were eventually sucked back into the genteel suburbia of Oxsted and the train towards home.
The Woodland Trust has been making a great thing of Where to See Bluebells, and this walk did not let us down..even without the sunlight, carpets of them shimmered away between the tree trunks, a breathtaking sight. Horticultural note: they must have been English rather than Spanish bluebells because they were almost all in the woods, not out in the open.
It is worth noting that this particular ramble avoided any deviations whatsoever from the ordained route, thanks to the skills of Our Man Out In Front with the Map, Guide, Compass and Elaborate Overshoes for Entering Pubs While Keeping His Boots On. It is to be hoped that this marks a change in the Ramblers’ fortunes, the navigation that is. Ease of egress in the countryside contrasted with chaos on the way home, with almost infinite permutations of the way back: via Norwood, Victoria, London Bridge etc, all routes chosen by a few.
Apparently oblivious of a looming mayoral election, London buses edged forward with little relationship to their traditional route. Even though it took far longer to get north of the river than it did to get to Surrey, as far as is known everyone got home by nightfall. Certainly the dog did.
Words: Peter. Pictures: Annie and Peter