It was a glorious day. And a wonderful walk, among the best we have ever had, people said. After a summer and early autumn of chill and downpours, the Last Saturday of September behaved as it normally does, delivering almost perfect Goldilocks walking weather: not too hot and not too cold.
Ten old faithfuls (some notable absentees otherwise engaged) assembled in good time at Victoria Station. For those blessed by age and forethought, Freedom Passes and railcards brought the return ticket down by £10 to £7.15, and by 10.30am we were striding out from Hollingbourne station. In Kent, not far from Ashford, as it turned out.
The walk plan was perplexing: full of paths not to be taken and longer or shorter versions of the route which had to be decided on on the hop. And there was an inauspicious sea of mud to slurp through as soon as we left the station.
But we managed to surmount all obstacles (including a brief delay picking blackberries which are very unimpressive this year) and gradually toiled up to the top of the North Downs where the curvaceous views got wider and wider as we walked.
After the lower fields came a gorgeous Woodland Trust wood on the Hucking Estate superbly varied with a succession of logs carved into landmarks, including wild boars and a shepherd. Mervyn took advantage of the boar. Rosie took advantage of the shepherd.
The traditional group photograph was taken well before lunch at another sculpture, the Living Tree, into which had been carved some of the things that use dead trees as shelter or fertile ground. Then came the top of the Downs with terrific vistas.
The traditional ORRA deviation occurred when – lured by the view – we edged downhill following a path that turned out to be just for big white horned cattle, not humans. Possibly the rare White Park breed.
The path stopped dead, and so did the Ramblers, until a maverick Elizabeth truanted uphill and found the North Downs Way again. She waited, we caught up and purpose was restored to the walk as we eventually ebbed down the Down to the village.
Another potential snag – a pricier than normal pub not in the middle of the Ramble – turned out to be no snag at all. The Dirty Habit – not that dirty as Boots had to be Removed On Entry – serves a fine array of beers and (after a sunny wait in the garden) some very decent lunch, deftly organised by Alan. It was much relished.
So relished that it has to be recorded that The Rambler Who Always Has Pudding passed on it this time, after consuming a sharing platter of multitudinous meats All To Himself.
But the puddings were particularly good, say we who stuck to smaller portions. Indeed, the Cornish farm elderflower and blood orange sorbets were about as exquisite as a pudding gets. Just desserts, so to speak, for the abstemious.
As is often the case in Kent, Hollingbourne station is not in the village at all, so we walked off the desserts (and the unshared platters) in a brisk ramble for a train that (though advertised on some people’s smartphones) was not running.
But the half hour wait for the one that did eventually come was put to good use. There were more of those tight little blackberries to pick. As promised, a Halcyon day.
Words and pictures by Annie and Peter
Want to relive past walks? Find them in the Archive