Nettles. Great for a hair rinse, at least according to Aunt; good as soup apparently; and nice tea; but up close and personal in the raw state, no. Nowhere near as bad as the poison ivy across the pond, which is Nature in a Very Bad Mood, but nonetheless, not to be messed with. So we walked back and forth through holes in the fence, bypassing the things, and finally emerging illegally into the next field.
Sidestepping the end of the path was a necessity rather than an option. Nature had achieved a fine and very effective barrier across the legal way.
The tall church spire of St Lawrence in the not very distant distance told us Mereworth and the pub was close by.
It wasn’t the nicest approach. We had to walk along a busy road with lorries thundering by us as we stood on the verge. Celia suggested we get hold of a proper Ordnance Survey map and find an alternative route the next time we come this way.
Last time we went to this pub, The Queen’s Head, it had just been taken over and was not doing food. We bought packets of crisps, enjoyed a refreshing drink, and set off to find another pub that the landlady assured us would meet our needs. This time The Queen’s Head was closed. However, from our previous experience we knew there was an alternative not far away. Fortunately, as we were trying to find details of it on my ‘phone, someone who worked at The Queen’s Head turned up and gave us directions.
Most people who live in the country drive cars. Their idea of how long it takes to walk anywhere is often wildly inaccurate. But it wasn’t too long before we found the pub that had been renamed since we were last there. It is now The Moody Mare, not a name I find overly attractive.
However, the welcome was warm, as was the sunlit garden, and we settled down to cool drinks and goat’s cheese sandwiches.
After lunch, Celia went to find out if there was an alternative route back to our path that would avoid the road. She was gone quite a while, so I gathered up our empty plates and went in search of her. The pub landlady had a map of the woods behind her hostelry up on the computer screen. All we had to do, she assured us, was to follow the path behind the pub until we came to one that crossed it and would join up with where we wanted to be. “I think it’s way marked,” she said.
Really at that point ours ears should have pricked up. The word ‘think’ should have been probed. But replete with food, and nicely relaxed, we set off. A number of paths crossed ours, but none was way marked. It was very quiet and beautiful; sunlight filtered by the leaf canopy overhead. I say quiet, but if you were an ant, it would probably sound noisy and industrious. We passed several mounds, and finally I wondered aloud what they were.
We stopped and looked. It was a hive of activity. Ants were busy carrying things back and forth. I guess it was a nest, but Chris Packham was nowhere in sight to explain, and I still haven’t got around to looking it up.
We kept walking. And walking. It gradually became obvious we had missed our turning and were lost. But worse, there weren’t any blackberries. Nice fungi, but no blackberries.
I had my compass, Celia had the directions. We knew we were heading west, but how much further we needed to go, or how to get back on track, we had no idea. I got out my ‘phone to see if the GPS would help. At first it seemed to contradict the direction we knew we were walking. But as at last a few ripe blackberries obliged us by growing by the track, we ignored it. A woman driving a large black car swept by. We raised our hands, but she took that as a salutation rather than a plea to stop, and we were alone again.
We walked on. Suddenly a woman’s voice rang out telling us to turn left in a number of yards: my ‘phone. I pulled it out of my pocket and discovered it had mapped the route to the railway station which I had typed into the search box. It even worked when I disconnected from WiFi as my battery was draining at an alarming speed.
She was quite bossy, my ‘phone woman, and had no interest in footpaths, so we walked along roads with no pavements, through delicious villages where apples were being harvested.
I turned round to look again at something we had passed and was commanded in no uncertain terms to do a u-turn now.
But as anyone will tell you getting lost has its compensations. We were now in the middle of an Adventure with a disembodied voice making sure we should not spend the rest of our days wandering the Kent Downs, so when we happened across a National Trust/English Heritage property dating back to the reign of Edward I, we did what any sensible person would do, and went in.
There were some men outside Old Soar Manor with a red transit van that was obviously in trouble. Celia asked them for directions, but they didn’t know where they were either. A man was talking urgently into a ‘phone in the driveway next to the manor, but as he was also asking the invisible person at the end of the ‘phone for directions, we saved our breath and continued along the road.