Canterbury to Faversham

We stay by the pool, playing in the woods till afternoon. Then, along the stream to Tyler Hill, and into Blean Woods. It rains all night, and in the morning, ginger gets lost in the woods.

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We then walk to Boughton Street, and on into Faversham. This is very much home-turf, so we stay on a floor offered by a friend.

In the morning we sing to the town, and meet many fine local folk. Then we hit the footpaths, and step on toward Tunbridge Wells.

We leave the woods in the afternoon, and walk along the Sarre Penn stream toward Tyler Hill. The opportunity to busk at the University is tempting, mainly because it seems so unlikely to work. But we’re all tired out, still on the recovery, still gaining strength and growing into the walk.

Passing a road where good friends live, we branch off the lanes. We find Alexanders and Cleavers, and gather them for tonight’s cook-pot. At the door of the last cottage on the tiny road, we knock, and find our good friend Rose is at home. It is her birthday, and she tells us she has just had a three hour bath to celebrate.

She tells us stories of the house she lives in. “The windows are still without mastic, and we’re spending a fortune keeping it warm. The bathroom smells of mould, and we’re sure it’s not healthy.” But it is cheap, and the farmer from whom it is rented is notoriously unmotivated to make basic improvements. “It was better when his son was around, as he’d champion us, and things would get done.” But he’s sailing yachts from winter ports to the summer owners across the world, and is presently in the Pacific somewhere alone.

We take much welcome tea, and chat about her wild-crafted ointments and lotions business. It has stalled, despite meeting good success in the one shop in which her products were sold, due to three companies each messing up her labelling, and each charging her for their faults. So now she has no more money, and the business has lapsed to inactivity. This is just the thing we want to gather funds for, exactly the sort of skilled enterprise we wish to encourage. As soon as we have sold a few albums, we tell her, we’ll gladly sponsor you.

Rose then accompanies us out over farmland toward Blean, where she’s picking up her niece from the primary school. “You get charged £5 for each 2 minutes you are late” she tells us, so we don’t dawdle. We pass a sculptor’s yard, and a wood-chip burning electricity generator, and then say farewell.

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It is now dusk, and we trudge up a track toward the woods. Rain starts to fall, at first gently, then with increasing persistence. We tog up, and jump into the dark trees to make camp.

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The fire takes time to get going, as all the wood is sodden. But food is finally bubbling on the stove, and we find the Alexanders, when cooked with quinoa, gives a stew that tastes of Chinese food. It is good.

Then we try to sing through our newly recorded album. We find that the songs become very different sung beside the fire, to how they appeared under studio conditions. We have to practise.

Then bed, and Ed and Ginger both try sleeping in their bivis, without the poncho roof. Sleep comes on, to the percussion of rain on half-roof.

We wake for sunrise, the pink hue of promise in the now dry skies. Then we drift again to sleep, in the peace of the trees. Ginger rises first, and disappears. The others assume he has gone to make Tai-Chi slow movements somewhere close-by, and on waking, we call and whistle for him. We hear responses, but see no sign of him. Two hours pass, and inpatient to move, to find a stream and get fresh water, starts to grow.

Then Ginger, ducking under branches, appears with glad step and reddened face. “I must have walked 8 miles this morning. I went to stretch my legs, and got lost. Some fellow sent me completely the wrong way.”

We pack up, and move on, all thirsty and eager to step on. Ginger disappears once more to cut a wiggly hazel staff that he spots. Ed is carrying a Stang, a forked stick of unknown wood, that was given to him in Cornwall, and Will is trying a piece of stout Bamboo, which is very light and surprisingly strong.

We find a stream, and take some refreshment:
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And find the walk through Blean woods to be beautiful. It is all very Kentish.


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The woods end suddenly, and open onto pastures and telegraph wires.  We asecend a hill, and roll down the other side, toward Boughton Street. The vista of Kent is fine to behold, and we find late rosehips on the dog rose that sits by the roads.

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They are either very sweet, or bubbly and boozy at this time of year.

The sloping hill edges onto sheep-grazed parkland, where fine old trees grow strong.

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We meet gas-men on our way to Boughton, and they tell us about the ghost of gas-smells that seem to follow them about. “As soon as they see the van, they smell gas.”

We walk into Boughton Street, a mix of new and very old moneys. It is a beautiful little village, and we sit and rest our feet on a bus-shelter bench. Curious locals come out to offer advice, and one old boy, all green in puffy Barbour layers, with a nicotine stained white moustache, tells us all about his days as a folk musician in Crawley.
“That was the place, was Crawley. We’d be down playing in every place, and we’d be doing alright too. We had enough to buy the band a Rolls Royce Hearse, which took us to all the gigs. It must’ve coughed out a gallon just starting up, you know, so we were doing alright.”

We say we’ll check out this town, and he bids us farewell and good luck.

Still being on home-turf, we walk to a nearby house where friends live, to say goodbye, and enjoy the comforts of a good fire, carpets and a kettle. On our way to their house, we cross a motorway bridge, and wave at cars. Of 20, only one waves back, but that’s good enough to cheer us.

At the cottage, Joel from Syd Arthur is at home, and he lets us re-charge our camera batteries while he pours the tea. It is Shrove Tuesday, and soon the other housemates are all in the kitchen, preparing the pancake mix for later. But alas, we cannot wait around to sample, so our farewells concluded, we leave, to walk into Faversham. We’ve arranged to meet a friend’s dad, who is going to take care of some legal shenanigans for us.

We walk past the Shepherd Neame brewery, the oldest in Britain. It was not the oldest until a few years ago, when the previously longest-run Brewery closed down. It reminds us of the story of a man who felled a tree, and then discovered, counting the rings, that it had been, till he cut it down, the oldest living tree on record.

Shepherd Neame make good ales, the Early Bird, the Master Brew, the Spitfire and the Bishop’s Finger. This latter ale is the only beer brewed with solely local hops, with the famous East Kent Aromatic Goldings. A nearby hop-farm, on which we all yearly work, grows these hops for the brewery. It is good to be able to drink the ale you have had a hand in producing, a drink of community. On our last walk, we found Shepherd Neame ales being sold all across the country, but although they are amongst our favourites at home, we find that the local brews all taste best in their home area. They seem to make more sense, in resonance with the local air and soil.

Then we step in to meet our good friend’s parents (themselves good friends), and we very much enjoy the offered showers and toast. We’re told stories of working in Kentish prisons, and of the absolute unsuitability of the prison environment for any human. “There’s so many drugs in there. The prisoners say it’s the wardens that bring them in, and sell them. From the way they search all the visitors, and us teachers, I’d say its impossible that anyone else could be taking them in.”

“Well, they’ve got a monopoly to protect, over a guaranteed market, so they’re bound to be cagey about it” we posit.

We get the letter we need, and fix the house printer (restart the computer). A floor is then offered for sleeping, and we happily fall to.
In the morning, after breakfast and farewells, we step into Faversham town centre, intent on singing. It is an old market town, and full of odd historic juxtapositions. It’s definitely a town full worthy of exploration. Go and get lost there, and look around. Like so many places in England, it looks unappealing when driving through, but there are many nooks and secret views only accessible on foot, with time and keen eyes. We recommend a visit.

We set to singing, and the town is kind. A lady pops out with a pad, questioning us, and writing in shorthand. It is strange to witness, an arcane-looking script. We are singing beneath the town-hall, which stands on arched pillars in the centre of the town. The wooden pillars bear witness to hundreds of years of sign-posting, an archaeology of lost information, of small moments in transient civic consciousness.

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A policeman approaches as we busk, and Ed’s dad, a freelance photographer of serious casual skill, steps to meet him. “Would you mind standing over there, next to the boys, looking like you’re appreciating them?” A little bemused, the pristine Bobby, does so, then wanders off. Faversham is safe.

As we finish our singing, we take our busking funds, and go to buy a map for the local area. We watch the CCTV cameras following us jog through town. We hope the watchers there also enjoyed the singing.

We decide to take a hot cup. There’s the local economy to consider. The nearest café has four fellows milling around the front, classic Faversham lads. The youngest one quickly pipes up: “Here, the woods are that way!” he laughs. The eldest turns to him, and says “I think they know where the woods are.”

We step to them, and ask if this is a good place to take coffee. It is clearly not a chain, and is full of calm seated old folk, so we’re guessing the drinks are good quality. Old people tend to appreciate quality, we think. One of the lads outside says his mother works here, so we go in and order drinks, to sit and play with our new map.

During this sit-down, we start to fray a little, to bicker amongst ourselves. This change in life-pace, the forced dealing with ourselves and each other, coupled with uncertainty of the very near future, is not yet comfortable. It is difficult for us.

Cross, moving jerkily, we get up to leave. As we throw our bags on our brooding backs, a smiling woman appears, and asks if there’ll be any more singing. We explain that we’re leaving, and why we’ve got to get on; but as her face drops a little, we realize that this is exactly what we need, the opportunity and gift of restored group unity. We quickly look to each other, and Ed rolls out the first line of Harvest Song. We sing perhaps the finest rendition we’ve ever given. We hear her whistling it through the town as we walk out.

On our way to the footpaths, we pass roadside for 20 minutes. This is the main gripe with walking to towns – the bigger they are, the more people we can sing to, but the longer and nastier will be the walk in and out again.

But Faversham is a small town, and its surrounding environs tell historic tales as mysterious as its centre. It is thus (is this rude?) a pleasure to leave. We chatter about why people get stuck in big towns. Perhaps the environmental ugliness of their surrounding areas compels everyone to bustle in to the centre, to escape the encircling foulness of convenience industries.

Nearly out of town, a car pulls over and winds its windows down to talk. Inside, a man and his wife say they saw us singing, and offer us a visit to their cottage near Rochester, if we’re ever that way. Small meetings like this, a moment or two of human connection, the offer of support given in a stolen roadside moment, reminds us most strongly of the common bond of all people. The understood traditions of mutual humanity, of kinship, are the most ancient and most vital achievements of humanity. It is always most well to remember this.

All aglow and grateful, we leave Faversham, and walk toward Ospringe.

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