Posts Tagged ‘Pluckley’

You may be familiar with Mr Jingle’s assessment of Kent in The Pickwick Papers: “Kent, sir – everybody knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women”. Although the abundance of the first three may have been diminished in recent times (being a happily married man I could not possibly comment on the fourth), this still holds true to a great extent.

An alternative definition that I would subscribe to might be “coast, countryside and cricket”.  It is certainly a triumvirate of glories that make me a proud product of its soil. That pride has been rather dented over the summer months with the dismal displays, both on and off the pitch, of the county cricket club. The cradle of the game, home to some of its greatest ever players and with a tradition of playing cavalier cricket in front of large festival crowds in beautiful surroundings, now reduced to a laughing stock in the cricketing world.

Rising debts, the result of a succession of poor financial decisions, a stalled ground redevelopment programme at its Canterbury headquarters, poor communications with its members and supporters and woeful performances on the field leaving the team second bottom in the county championship, all combined to make the season one of the worst in the modern Club’s distinguished 141 year history.

And in the past few days, the coach and two of the senior batsmen have all departed, leaving the team desperately short of both numbers and experience. With doubts remaining too over whether the player of the season will get the new contract that he deserves, that situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

But in the past week, I have sought solace in some of the county’s many other delights – country walks through the full to bursting apple orchards of haunted Pluckley and the beechwoods and meadows of handsome Harrietsham, a stroll among the bookshops in civilised Tunbridge Wells, and Kentish beer and seafood at the Broadstairs Food Festival, overlooking the packed beach of Viking Bay, basking in the baking October heat and looking like a scene out of the nineteen fifities.

Though I currently live in the “compost heap” of the “Garden of England”, I am no more than an hour and a half, by car, bus or train, from any of its attractions – the castles of Hever, Scotney, Leeds and Rochester, the gardens of Sissinghurst and Emmetts, splendid houses like Groombridge Place, Finchcocks and Knole and what J.M.W Turner called the “loveliest skies in Europe” along the Thanet coast. Throw in two world class animal parks dedicated to conservation, the White Cliffs of Dover, otherworldly Romney Marsh, the rolling North Downs and atmospheric Wealden woodland – the list goes on (my apologies to any favourites of yours that I have missed out).

I count myself lucky in having been born, educated and, after a brief but largely loveless affair with other parts of England, lived in this wonderful county. I’ve been equally fortunate to have grown up hearing and reading  of the exploits of Woolley, Ames and Freeman and watching Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood in their pomp.

But whilst the experience of the cricket, at least at the professional level, has sunk in the past couple of years, there are still those other two features, and much more, to fall back on in the coming months.

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With the cricket season finally over, perversely heralding the return of summer, my wife and I decided to resurrect our walking regime on Sunday.

Five miles west of Ashford, on the edge of the Greensand Ridge, lies the village of Pluckley which, despite a population of little more than a thousand, lays claim to two impressive titles – “the most haunted village in Britain”, home to between 12 and 14 ghosts, and the location for The Pop Larkin Chronicles written by H.E. Bates, who lived in a converted tithe barn in neighbouring Little Chart Forstal.  Set in the “never had it so good” nineteen fifties, the best known of those novels is The Darling Buds of May, which inspired a popular Sunday evening TV series in the nineties.  Pop Larkin’s sunny, optimistic disposition was never better characterised than in his catchword, “perfick”, a rural version of Del Boy’s “lovely jubbly” in Only Fools and Horses, fittingly both TV roles played memorably by David Jason.

The majority of this particular walk winds through apple orchards with pleasant views across the Weald.  It has been a vintage year for Kentish apples, and this is evident in the bulging crop tugging at the upper branches of the trees, urging them to kiss the ground which is equally well populated with “drops” of different varieties.  Our taste test reveals that they range from succulent to woody.  The overriding impression, however, is of their immense size.  Stacked boxes and short step ladders signify the advent of harvest.

Setting off from the car park of the 540 year old Black Horse pub, where furniture is said to rearrange itself from time to time, we head towards the adjoining villages of Little Chart and Little Chart Forstal.  The latter boasts a lovely and surprisingly large village green, and is bordered intermittently by neat and handsome  houses.

Now “it is a truth universally acknowledged” that any good walk culminates in well deserved refreshment at a hostelry.  The true glory of this particular walk is not, as might be imagined, the abundance of apples, but the fact that not only does it end at one pub, but another is thrown in for good measure at the half way point too!

So, on a warm late September morning, we rest our legs with “a half” (appropriately) and a coffee respectively in the garden of the friendly Swan at Little Chart, accompanied only by birdsong and the rustling of trees.  The food menu is eye-catchingly unpretentious (sausage, egg and chips rather than Sunday roast – Pop Larkin would have loved it), but, having already stocked up with a large breakfast at home, it is too soon to eat (so I’m told).

The stated length of the walk is 4 miles, but as we are out of practice and get lost periodically (beautiful though they might be, apple orchards do all tend to look the same), our legs insist that we have covered more like 6 miles.

Two and a half hours after we set off, we return to the village as the groundsman tends lovingly to the now redundant cricket square.  Seeking sustenance at the Black Horse, my rustiness in walk management is exposed when we discover to our disappointment that, despite the mouth-watering array of meals displayed on the blackboards, the pub only serves roast dinners on a Sunday.  Whilst the gargantuan yorkshire puddings scream “eat me”, we are only looking for a snack (so I’m told).

However, taking the country rather than motorway route home, salvation awaits at the delightful Village Tea Rooms in Headcorn, which doubles up as an attractive gift shop.  Here I am able to indulge my weakness for smoked salmon, which arrives in a toasted baguette whilst Janet, having initially dismissed the idea, tucks into a large and, to her mind, uncharacteristically moist and delicious, carrot cupcake.

Nothing left to say but……….perfick!

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