The great landscape painter Samuel Palmer would have loved this beautiful day out in the Darent Valley that he touched with visionary magic in the years 1826 to 1836 in his pictures of its woods and hills turned into an earthly paradise.
So it was too for the select band who ventured out on the Spring 2016 ORRA Ramble. For the first time there were two points of origin, thanks to resolutely- held particular preferences. Tony herded a band convening at Victoria Station for the fast train; Peter greeted those who took the slow train from Blackfriars, the new station miraculously suspended over the Thames.
The glorious retained old stonework of the old building reminds the frazzled commuter of the treats in store for the traveller from Blackfriars: not just Margate and Sheerness, but also (via Dover presumably) Darmstadt, Brindisi, Genoa and even St Petersburg.
We went to Otford, £4.30 return for Freedom Passers with a Railcard. It’s great to be old! We had a hesitant start, delayed first over good station coffee by late arrivals, and then by a curious immediate false start.
The organisers had disloyally abandoned the normal Time Out Country Walks so meticulously over-described by the stalwarts at the Saturday Walking Club in favour of the upstart Fancy Free Walks, also on the Web.
Fancy Free, indeed! Without much warning that the planned walk actually began with a detour into the village, we all charged off down the hill in the wrong direction, only to discover this half an hour later deep into the countryside.
Wonderfully undisheartened, the 13-strong troop then turned round, back past the elegant village duckpond, and climbed all the way back to the station and undaunted started off uphill all over again.
We missed quite a lot of familiar faces called away on other things, but there was also a nice revival of others not walked with for some time.
A steep pull up on a stepped path brought us to the first of a succession of bluebell woods, vibrant with colour as spring unfurled across Kent, switched to slow motion by the bitter winds of April.
English Bluebells, by the way, not the predatory Portuguese ones. They lift the heart. And cowslips. And the skies were wonderful, clouds changing constantly as we tramped onwards in admiration along the North Downs Way though the Great Wood towards the lunchtime venue.
And then our faith in Fancy Free Walks petered out, on top of a ridge where the compass pointed in one direction but the path we were following marched on regardless. This time we were rescued by smartphone: taking the prompting from a GPS ap we plunged down the brow of a great hill and then laboured up another one, before finding ourselves on a secluded path that led us to the road to Shoreham.
We passed on the way a nice heard of cows in their striking new circular cowshed.
At last we made it to (rather late) the welcoming Ye Olde George Inn, opposite the church in a well-preserved but not too posh village where Samuel Palmer lived and painted in glory for a brief period in the early 1800s; the vision seems to have faded when he got married, but the small-scale pictures that he did in Kent, influenced by the poet and printmaker William Blake, are like nothing else in the world, really discovered only recently.
And the Darent Valley still preserves a miraculous seclusion, even though it is hardly out of the TFL Travel Zones.
Nice food, nice beer/cider, and a lovely reunion with Lyndsay (looking after her grandson Max for the day, but available for lunch). And Liz and Mervyn caught up with the party after falling behind, proving that sticking to the guidebook step by step is not a necessary concomitant of a successful outing. (But we knew that already, thanks to Fancy Free.)
And a group of visiting bell-ringers enhanced the scene with a skilled version of Oxford Surprise, or some such.
Puddings were taken, quite elaborate ones, and so was the group photo. And then the proximity of a railway station prompted the dissipation of the group, as most fled back to London to avoid the threat of rain.
The church proved interesting to antiquarians: a doomy lychgate with the inscription Blessed are the Dead which die in the Lord, more doom in a memorial stone for Samuel Rutter obit 7th November 1761, in humble expectations of the Last great Day, what sort of man he was that day shall Declare. And a memorial to the Mildmay family who lived in the village and loved it despite their Islington connections.
Just three bold walkers stepped out on the shorter return leg of the walk back to Otford, quite different from the outward heights, as we sauntered along the meandering Darent, another lovely walk.
Nearly back at the station, the storm clouds loomed, the heavens opened as promised by The Forecasters, and (in separate trains replicating the outward journey) we wended back to the Great Wen through variagated sunshine and showers.
Bells and bluebells..a lovely Palmeresque Spring outing.
Words and pictures by Ann and Peter
Want to relive past walks? Find them in the Archive