The London Countryway – Day 19

August 6, 1988: Borough Green to Knole House

Knole

Knole

With Tosh and Harold away on sabbatical and with no Michigan walkers in town Dorothy and I decided to complete the next stage of the LCW on our own. It was the first time just the two of us had walked together since the Boxhill to Merstham stretch of the NDW on May 9, 1982. Of course we would be accompanied by one Schnauzer – a true family outing.

We left Maida Vale on a cloudless Saturday morning, shortly after 8:00. Our tube carriage boasted one drunk in a sprawling slumber and a young lady busy in conversation with herself. Alternatively she nibbled on some food and shrieked at the top of her lungs. Dorothy insisted we move cars at Warwick Avenue. The shrieks had not wakened the drunk.

I had already purchased tickets on Oxford Street so when our train was announced (and when Dorothy returned from the loo) we were ready to board the 8:57. The haze was lifting on a bright sunny day as we slid into Kent. A 9:50 we reached Borough Green station, used the loos here (Dorothy put on her shorts) and we were able to begin the march back to the LCW at 10:00 exactly.

We walked up the hill that Harold and I had descended in May. I had spotted then the continuation of our route ­– a track at the top of a hillside covered in vineyards and orchards; however which of these structures was the “concrete milk stand” we were looking for remained a mystery to this city boy. Toby was unleashed at last and ran happily forward between the hedgerows. These gave way to an open ridgetop with grain fields and woodland. We passed along the left side of a wood and followed a twisting path through wildflowers. There were excellent views of the North Downs on our right. Our path began to drop through some woods and abruptly we were within sight of Butterworth’s factory at Basted. I paused to get Toby’s lead out and the dog, thinking I had chosen another route, scrambled up an extremely steep ditch bank above us, turned around, and stared down at us impishly.

We passed through the well-landscaped factory site and I paused to take a picture of the cascading village stream. Then we turned left and took a bridleway along the stream as it headed away from Basted in a southerly direction. A man was trying to coax his donkeys to take some exercise as I tried to coax Toby into taking a drink from the stream. We had to show him where the water was several times before he got the idea –he seemed to be just as happy with puddles in the track. Indeed the going was very damp – and Dorothy, a sprained ankle on the mend, was only wearing tennis shoes. Occasionally there were diversions along the side of the track but these often put us in a thicket of nettles. Eventually we came out at a narrow tarmaced lane, climbed a little hill, and escaped into an orchard.

Dorothy paused to harvest some unripened windfall apples while Toby rushed ahead in search of the next stile. I had to call him back for he had already squeezed beneath it and started his descent before Dorothy caught up. At the bottom of a little valley there were some steppingstones over a little stream (Toby disdained this opportunity for a drink as well). We were then faced with a second stile in a wire fence. Unable to squeeze beneath it, Toby, eager to keep moving, actually jumped over the fence to the other side. The other side didn’t seem very promising – a bit of a swamp with no path – but we climbed up toward the next field and saw our way forward along the side of a junked car lot. We emerged onto a dirt road in a scene of rural squalor. I put Toby on lead as we negotiated our way past Ben, an Alsatian, and several driveways. Dorothy tried one of her apples (sour) and I ate a real Golden Delicious from Italy.

We turned right on a paved road and left almost immediately to pass Grove Cottage. Here two local women were having a chat over the garden gate. Dorothy complimented them on the display of flowers – they said that all the recent rain had helped. A wire-haired Jack Russell came out to sniff Toby as we headed along the margins of an orchard. Chesterton tells us that the true right of way hereabouts had been obstructed by trees. Instead, he tells us to follow certain “tracks,” but I wasn’t so sure that the grassy verge of the orchard was a track, indeed I even suggested we might be lost – but we weren’t, for a westerly trod through a ploughed field put us back on the prescribed route.

We followed this path through corn as the hills rippled in the distance. The continuation, as we entered woodland again, was more problematic. The route seemed to be going in the right direction but other guidebook instructions did not compute. I believe that the problem was the hurricane of the previous October – for the sinuous path wound in and out of an obstacle course of gigantic tree roots. We met some other walkers coming our way and they mentioned the diversion of the path also. Anyway I persevered and was rewarded as we descended back to civilization at a junction that was mentioned in the guidebook.

It took some time to cross this hazard but eventually we scrambled over to the bridleway behind Fairlawne House. Toby had to go on lead for a long descent in the open sun – it was getting quite warm. At the bottom we turned right on another broad track, passed some tarted-up oast houses and entered from the rear the precincts of the National Trust property of Ightham Mote. There were no visitors about today and the place was locked but we had a good peak into some very ancient buildings before heading up the access drive (past a cat) to a road. Here we found a bench around a tree and stopped for lunch. Dorothy sat across the street in the sun, complaining that her moisturizer seemed to be a sun blocker –and she wasn’t getting tanned enough. I complained about the absence of mayo. “Do I look like someone who would bring a jar of mayo on such a hot day?” was her reply. Toby had some biscuits.

We turned west again, passed through a farmyard and entered another area of woodland mixed with wheat fields. It was extremely warm in the open spots now and we soon faced a climb up to Wilmot Cottage. The latter, ruinous, bore two legends on the boarded over windows ­­– one noted the property had been abandoned for fifteen years, the other noted that the property belonged to the National Trust. A few changes had been made by the latter and this made it a little hard to follow Chesterton’s directions and map. We should have followed Toby but I was bothered by being on the wrong side of a fence and we headed downhill looking for a break in the wire. One was found but we were soon in a field with no egress, so we had to reverse directions and climb back up to the cottage in the broiling sun. Dorothy complained about the pained expression on my face and suggested, once we had returned to our original path, that I put on my shorts.

Laboriously I stripped off my ripped tan trousers (the ones with the safety pin fixing a side seam), emptied the contents of the pockets into my pack (where they jingled ever after), and worked on my white (soon to be grass-stained) shorts. All the while I received a catalogue of my personality faults. We then continued up some steps – discovered fifteen minutes earlier by the dog – and followed a path along the bottom edge of a wood. Nettles had soon discovered my bare, suntan-oiled legs.

There were quite a few additional walkers about now – two women staring intently at their map and a group of geriatric walkers with sticks. We let the latter group get ahead of us as we rested by a little lane at the end of the wood. Then we followed a very uneven, twisty path around upturned tree roots in the sun. One of the ladies in the party ahead of us was retracing her steps. “Have you found a pair of sunglasses?” she asked me. “No,” I was replying just as Dorothy, bringing up the rear, answered, “Yes!” They let us go ahead after the glasses had been handed over and we continued onto another lane – where we had a rest in the driveway to Shepherds Mead. Its owner had just stopped his car in time when, on an earlier stretch of road to the east, Toby had bolted after a cat. The puzzled looking ladies with the map were here too.

We finished the last of our long westward journey and climbed a bank to turn half left at a field full of show-jumping apparatus. Indeed it was hard to see our exit from the other side (I took a bearing) and once we had to zigzag in and out of the hurdles before reaching the promised stile. Then it was down a path to a busy road that marked the southern boundary of Knole Park.

We pushed open a gate and entered a scene of devastation. I had been counting on a forested canopy to protect me from the increasing intensity of this sunny day – now reaching the mid-80′s in temperature. Instead, we faced the wake of the hurricane, trees fallen everywhere, empty spaces where the bulldozers had completed their work. We made our way down to a road junction. Straight ahead would have brought us out at Knole House directly, but I chose to continue on the LCW by taking a left turn ­– because in this way I could shorten an overly long stretch the next time. Almost immediately I had to lie down in the shade of a surviving tree for a rest.

Thereafter we made halting progress for another two thirds of a mile. The dog had to be on lead because of the local deer and he wrenched Dorothy’s arm off several times. I could have kept him but I was wandering in and out of the branches at the foot of the few surviving trees parallel to the road –searching for shade. This was an extremely uncomfortable stretch for me. We traveled another few minutes into the sun and I had to sit down again. “Isn’t it interesting,” Dorothy said, “the sun adds life to me and with every step and it drains all the life out of you.” At last we reached the turn off to River Hill and here we said goodbye to the LCW ­– my intention being to return here by cab next time out.

 

We headed north toward the heart of the park, spotting several deer by the roadside. We paused for another short rest and a drink of water for the dog – who was doing amazingly well considering the heat. We made a last pause at a road junction within sight of Knole’s walls. Then we crested a hill and, amid a growing throng of tourists, passed a cricket game in progress. Two yobs in a van were casing the joint (venison poachers?). We half hoped to see an entrepreneur in a kiosk selling ice lollies but we had to make do with a National Trust caravan. We sat down right in front of Knole House  and watched  people feed a pet deer until I spotted a Beeline Taxi letting someone off. Dorothy sprinted over to secure this vehicle for us. For £1.80 we were saved the trouble of another blistering mile and a half’s walk. We had a nice chat about the hurricane ‘s effects on Seven Oaks as we were driven to the station by our cabbie. There wasn’t long to wait but our hopes for a direct ride to Charing Cross were dashed when we reached London Bridge and had to change trains. We left Seven Oaks at 4:35 (after doing eight miles today) and – after a stop at the Lokanta – got home shortly after 6:00 – after a very memorable day.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 20: River Hill to Hurst Green