Last night I finally got the last of the mud off my boots. They were caked. Kent is a county that has a reputation for being dry, but the first two fields we walked across were lakes of mud. There was no escape. I’m a mucky walker at the best of times, coming home with mud splattered trousers whatever the weather, but Saturday was pretty spectacular. The ground sucked at my heels so that each step was accompanied by a distinctive squelching sound.
I’d caught an earlier train out of London than planned and it was wonderfully quiet and empty.
The fields we passed by were covered with frost, and the sun shone benevolently. The walk, a Pluckley
Circular, was organised by the Ramblers and shared between two groups which meant there were nearly thirty of us when the walk began. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve clicked on that wiki link you’ll have read Pluckley claims to be the most haunted place in the country. But how would you tell?
So I was at Pluckley station half an hour ahead of kick-off, though perhaps that should be step-off.
Station car park
The station has a legitimate claim to historical fame.
But it’s not actually in Pluckley. It’s a distance away from the village, over a mile. Here’s the pub that is beside the station, a pretty impressive pile, named for the Dering family who were landowners.
The pub at Dering
The rôles were reversed. The pigs were squeakily clean and we were covered in mud. They didn’t seem to mind, and not one of them pointed a trotter at us. They belonged to a biodynamic farm near Forest Row in West Sussex. There was a café attached that I’d like to try another day.
Showing some prescience, the walk leader had warned the East Grinstead Circular ‘could be muddy’ when she submitted it for the South Bank Ramblers
‘ current programme before the rains came and came again leaving swathes of the country under water.
I checked the internet for local flooding before putting my gaiters into my bag. But the forecast was for a bright sunny day, and the opportunity to be out and about with my boots on was too good to miss. Some twenty others evidently thought the same, though as we squelched through yet another muddy and sodden field, there were moments where the ironing almost became enticing. Dirty Lane might have been named for us.
The Path Behind
By lunchtime the muddy part of the walk was over. We had forty-five minutes in Forest Row. Some headed to the church to eat sandwiches on the thoughtfully provided benches in the churchyard; the quick witted grabbed the sunny spaces outside the village hall and lunched in the warming sun. Some went to The Chequers Inn with its flagstoned floors and smell of woodmoke, and others bought lunch in the café.
I wandered about after I’d finished my sandwiches and took some pictures. The village hall dates from the late C19, but someone had pretensions with its exterior decoration and I liked its flamboyance.
Forest Row Village Hall
The Road Into Forest Row
The plaque commemorating a visit to Forest Row in 1963 by JFK was a surprise. I guessed he was staying with then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan at his Sussex home. This suggests I was right.
New Year’s Eve isn’t my favourite day. I have celebrated over the years with parties, dinners, drinks and fireworks, and for the most part have not really enjoyed them, though the dinners with a few good friends would rank highest. Increasingly, I am reluctant to stay up until midnight and then start the journey back home.
My friends have become inured to this. So this year, I decided I would celebrate New Year’s Eve by joining a walk, and New Year, by inviting friends to dinner, though not tomorrow.
So tonight finds me home. I have a glass of red wine close to hand, I have just eaten a gorgeous meal, and already my thoughts are turning to bed.
I spent the day in the company of strangers, walking in Surrey. I was a Ramblers’ Group that I rarely walk with.
the day was mild, and before long we were beside a river.
It was a rural rather than a remote walk. I rather liked these pigs.
My cousin, distinctive in a zebra striped fleece, met us at his local station. I’d emailed him mid-week to find out if the bluebells were abundant in his part of Hampshire. Last year, my friend Nadia missed the bluebells by about a week. We could see where they had been, but the swathes of blue we’d been hoping for were over. We decided then and there that this year we be better organised.