Faversham to Tunbridge Wells

From Faversham we walk to Ospringe, and through the many villages of Kent. We sleep in the garden of the Plough at Stalisfield Green, and in the morning busk in Charing.

From here we walk along to Pluckley, Britain’s most haunted village, and then through Smarden into Biddenden. We are exceedingly tired, but make the final push to Three Chimneys, where we sing to the pub diners, and score bread, cheese and ale.

We sleep in a wooded bomb crater, just off the road. In the morning we walk to Cranbrook, where we sing in the sunshine to many folk. Then onto Goudhurst, by which time the day is advancing and we are fatigued.

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But on we push, toward Tunbridge Wells. Through various lanes, till we get lost after dark, and we nearly give up the challenge. But impelled by a fifth wind, we make it.

In Tunbridge Wells we sing for Radio Kent, and meet many kids and local people.

Ospringe is strong land, with an amazing church. From the footpaths is a sense that this land has known old monastic peace. It feels most calm and unhurried. We walk slowly through, toward the villages of East Kent. At Painters Forstal, we spot an unused playground, and try to film while being spun on the roundabout. Will likes to push them fast, although people rarely enjoy this small talent. Ginger comes rolling off mid-spin, and the camera narrowly escapes destruction. Shocked, half angry and half-relieved, we vow to be more careful with this delicate technology.

Chickweed grows in abundance all along the verges of this quiet place, and we fill our gathering pouches for later, noting as we do that its tiny white flowers are open, which betokens that despite the gathering clouds, there will not be rain any time soon.

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We are glad to find this proves correct, and we walk through wide valleys toward Stalisfield Green, the sky stays dry. Ginger picks up the discarded shotgun cases, to make a waterproof match box.

Then we walk through yew-tree woods, and into an area of great beeches. We turn a corner, and find the area felled, forested, harvested and dead. Small plastic sapling protectors, in neat little alleyways, are surrounded by sawdust and sundry branches, and huge mossy stumps of ancient massive oaks and beeches. One grey giant still lies beside the path, 100 foot of gnarled beech that now juts into the ploughed field, awaiting the smaller chainsaws to finish his destruction. We cannot understand how this was a good idea.

Then away, and into a hazel woods, along deep mudded tracks all covered in rotting leaf. Everything looks clear, but you slip and slide all unawares. It is times like these that a good walking staff becomes invaluable, to save us from tumbles and twists.

We get heartily lost in the woods, and emerge onto a tiny strip of road, surrounded by high woods and high fields. It looks as though it could be swallowed up by nature in a week. We ponder on how long the roads will last. They are certainly fast-travelling, even in foot, although they are punishing for the feet.

We walk through increasing darkness toward Stalisfield Green, and ask a passing lady if we are on track. Even in the dark, she sounds pretty. She says we’re going the right way, and that the stove in the inn has just been lit.

Into The Plough we tread, and we know we’re in the right place by a small placard on the wall, that lists in proverb form the words to a song called “The Farmer”: “I have hills, I have bowers, I have trees, I have flowers, and the lark is my daily alarmer. So come jolly boys all, here’s God Speed The Plough, here’s a health and good luck to the farmer.”

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We take bread and butter, and make chickweed sandwiches. We are all still greatly fatigued, and arguments re-emerge. But the appearance of a friend’s father, who wishes us all jolly good luck, and the locals’ interested amazement at our proposed journey, ensures the cracks do not go too deep. The landlord tells us that the police came and took away a man who pitched a tent in a local field yesterday, and that our best bet would be to sleep in the pub garden. With small trees, and good hedge-lines, it looks like the perfect place to lie low and rise early, so we do just that.

The sky, although it looks heavy and intentful, does not open, and after an hour of walking the day feels increasingly like Spring is arrived. We head toward Charing, where we’re going to try an early morning village busk, to see what happens.

The path to Charing is all ploughed fields, which clog the boots and cloy the feet, but we soon find the tractor ruts, where the ground is compressed. Walking into Charing, we duck through a hedge and find ourselves on the Pilgrim’s Way track, which we walked 4 years ago. This is the first time we have ever walked the same path twice. It is a curious feeling, to follow familiar currents. It is not like re-visiting a place, but a way.

Charing is made of ancient house, and fine streets, with its own fishmonger, butcher, baker and café. It is a fine little village, and feels like a community. It is 9:30 in the morning, and we are all hungry for our breakfast, but we whack out the sign and the hat, and sing a few numbers. People are amazed, but it seems to fit into the morning experience without being jarring. A heavy-set man, with a shaved head and gold tooth, steps over to us, and we’re not quite sure if we’re going to get asked to clear out. But he throws a handful of coins into the hat, and tells us he has done a whisk around in the café, and that a cuppa is awaiting when we’re ready.

We do just so, and then take oats in milk sitting beside a sun-dial, outside the Archbishop’s Palace. It was featured on the TV show ‘Renovations’, but failed to win the funding. A trust is apparently trying to buy the place, with intentions to raise the requisite millions to make it shiny again.

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Charing is a most friendly village, and everyone waves or offers advice. It is a good start to the day.

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From here we head toward Pluckley, said to be the most haunted village in Britain. To avoid the M20, and keep off the higher-speed rural lanes, we walk the long way round, to the village of Little Chart. We find Cleavers for our cookpot, and stuff them into cloth bags attached to our bags.

Ginger at Little Chart

Ginger at Little Chart

From here into Pluckley we follow a B road, and pass by grubbed out orchards,

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and the curious sight of a wooden shed, in a woodland, containing piles of cut wood.

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At Pluckley we stop to eat our boiled egg lunch, and seeing the beautiful pub garden, are drawn to take the half-pints that will legitimize our picnicking. The landlord looks like a rocker, with tattooed arms and savvy brow, and he tells us a few stories about the local ghosts. “Course, this place is haunted. There’s 4 ghosts here. But they’re no trouble. I’d chuck the buggers out if they were, that’s how I work.”

He tells us that most ghost-hunters are town-lads, in cars, with earrings and baseball caps, and they cause no end of trouble for locals, hanging around waiting for hauntings. It is not our classic idea of a ghost-hunter, but there you go.

We’re told that the school-children will be let out of the village school in an hour, and that if we want to try busking then, we’ll probably meet success. But we feel the gravity of the path, and decide to keep walking.

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We enter Derring Woods, and are sore tempted to stay here for the evening. But Biddenden beckons, and after a rest in the village of Smarden, we walk onwards. It is getting dark, and a shady loud dog warns us off the footpath. We walk toward the woofing, and a lady calls out “Can I help you?” “We’re following the footpath to Biddenden” we shout back, and she calls the dog off, and directs us across the now-dark fields. “Beware of Mr Oldcastle, at the next farm. We call him Mr. Scary, and he doesn’t like walkers.”

We assure her we’ll be alright, but the warning echoes, and as we follow barbed wire fencelines in the dark, looking for the stile, and hearing dogs in all the surrounding farmhouses aware of our presence with amazing keenness, we get back onto the lanes. The legend of Mr Scary kept us back, and we sit to rest in the middle of the empty night lanes. A jogger runs past, slightly alarmed at our silent seated position on his normally empty track.

We walk the last of the lanes into Biddenden Village. In 1100 two conjoined twins were born in the village, and when one of them died and the other soon after, they left land to the village and a dole for the poor.

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Knowing a little of the famous Biddenden Siamese-Twins, who lived 35 years, and ran the brewery and the village, we were expecting the historic beauty of the place. Also knowing the reputation of Biddenden Cider, we head to a hostelry, all intent on singing for a plate of food. We are hungry, and very tired.

There is but one pub in the village, and it was not our first choice. But shelter and rest beckoning, we step in. A group of lads play on the slot-machine, and a few diners talk quietly. We are too tired to try and brave a way to sing, so sit in ease, until a local fellow gets curious and asks us where we’re walking to.

A short while later, having explained our need to sing for our supper, the pub recommends that we head along the last mile, to the Three Chimneys pub, just up the road. “It’s all traditional” they tell us. Then they prise a song out, and are happy to hear it. They try to press ales on us, but we are too hungry to hang around, so thank them, and take instead the proffered crisps. Any fuel is good fuel, sometimes.

Then along the fast and dark road to the Three Chimneys. We all feel much better walking, and get to this classic inn more energized. The pub is so-called, as French Prisoners of War were billeted nearby at Sissinghurst Castle, and this was the boundary mark of their parole. The prisoners called it ‘Trois Chemins’ (three roads), which the locals adopted and adapted into its present title.

We step right up to the bar-girl, and tiredly try to muster the gall of Showmen. She is bemused more than impressed. We sit down to rest awhile, and look in our kitty. We are down to our last £8, and don’t know how that will feed us all tonight. This is a high-grade dining pub, and pricey to boot. We decide to use Crowley’s advice, and throw ourselves into the trial, and rather than ration ourselves, to feast with what we have left, unconcerned for the future.

So three pints are bought, and we are broke. We are also beginning to lose cohesion of intention, and the idea is thrown in that we should just go and find the woods. But then the bar-lady gives us the go-ahead. So we take our pints in, and softly interrupt the six diners. It is a quiet night. We explain the walk, and sing a quiet Fiddler’s Green and John Barleycorn. Everything works out sweetly, and we are given gold and the offer of a bed for the night. Unfortunately the bed is 10 miles away, and we don’t want to get in a car, so we have to decline.

But buoyed by this good magic, we sing a Tom of Bedlam to the empty dining room, and, in laughing, return to the public bar and our bags.

There we watch the chefs leave the pub, and lock the kitchen. Our bellies rumble, and our feet ache. We have thankfully all remembered to loosen our boots on sitting. It is the kind of thing that one person remembers first, and the arranged call is “boots”, to let the others know.

The bar-lady then gives us ales on the house, and tells us that a couple in the next room would like to hear a song or two. One of them heard Tom of Bedlam, and recognized the Steeleye Span link. She likes the band, while he ribs her for her taste. We too find them a difficult but incredible band. Some of their music hits the mark so perfectly, is right on the cutting edge of evolving folk traditions, but a lot is closer to the glam-clash experimental soft-rock of their era, which is harder to digest with modern guts.

Anyroad, we sing them songs, and explain the journey, and they are incredibly kind, and rustle us up plates of bread and cheese, and ask us all sorts of intelligent questions, that are good for us to try and answer.

So they leave, and slip us a note as they do, and then we leave, and the bar-girl also slides us the money from her tip-jar. The night being clear, and our legs newly refreshed, we walk with springing steps to the first trees we see, in a big bomb crater 50 yards from the now-silent road, and sleep.

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In the morning we waken a little dry, and head to the first stream to find water. This takes a good hour, but we get there. We also find an early woodland full of Ransoms garlic, a fine treat to waken our morning mouths and bodies.

The day is full and hot, and we walk quickly toward Cranbrook. We pass a beautiful lake, all shady boughs and gentle sloping banks, and imagine a world where it would be full of clean water, without the road litter and unknown car-batteries. An oily sheen covers it, and plastic is all about. What would be needed, we wander, to make this lake again a place the local people enjoy, in the beauteous reflection of which they could take pride?

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We pass a fine windmill into town, and are optimistic by Cranbrook. A woman steams past us up the hill, pushing a huge double pram. With her obvious tiredness, but steely satisfied joy, we reflect that this must be a fertile place.

In town, we find a perfect shop, selling fresh rolls and local fruit, cured meat and fresh-ground coffee. We take breakfast in the graveyard of the Church, at the corner of the High Street. Everyone here is very smiley, and tremendously well-spoken.

A couple of lads in sports-clothes, who are walking by and curious, ask where we’re going, and we chat. They tell us they’re about to make rockets, out of Diet Coke and Mentoes. Apparently the reaction produced from an admixture of these two sweetened treats, is enough to launch the coke bottle into the heavens. They wish us luck, and we them.

Then we sing a few songs, and it goes very well. We soon have covered the cost of our breakfast, and can buy a new map. We are given advice on routes into (Royal) Tunbridge Wells, and addresses to stay, if need arises, in and around the town.

So through a beautiful woods we go, all downhill and filled with classic bike jumps. It looks like a lot of fun, but hairy as hell.

At the bottom of the woods, Ed ventures off into the trees on one side, and Will to the other, to dig a hole and poo in it. Ginger waits on the track, and as he does a lady comes along to say “Oh, weren’t you one of the singers who rejected me, in the pub last night?” She had offered us the place to stay, and Ginger laughs as Ed and Will try not to be seen, squatting in the trees on both sides. Ed chose the better side of the track, as he found Sphagnum moss there, while Will only got beech leaves.

Then up the hills, and into the woods, past logging operations. We stop to listen to the “cackling Whump!” of the tall pines coming down. The forest earth shakes. We find huge ant-hills

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and get nicely lost.

Eventually we emerge, besides an electricity sub-station, beside which young colts play.

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Then along toward Goudhurst, our trousers rolled upto our knees, through a pheasant farm.

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Ascending to the town, we are tired out, but happy to find a bakery, selling its hot sausages at half-price. We are protein and sugar hungry, so eat and fill our water reservoirs. Goudhurst was home to a famous battle between a notorious gang of smugglers (The Hawkhurst Gang) and the residents of the village.

“Although smuggling gangs were generally supported by the local population, as they provided much needed and well paid work, the murderous brutality of the gang had turned the residents against them. At Goudhurst the people formed the Goudhurst Band Of Militia, led by “General” George Sturt, a former army corporal. Enraged by this defiance Thomas Kingsmill, a native of the town, threatened to burn the town and kill the residents, setting an appointed time, the 21st of April 1747. When the gang attacked on the appointed day the militia were well enough trained to shoot dead Kingsmill’s brother George in the first volley of a battle fought around the church. Two more smugglers died before the gang withdrew.” (wiki)

A busy fast road runs through this village, which is ridiculous, as children and old folk are wandering up and down it, browsing the antique shops and grocers. We sit and rest in the shade.

Then away, onward toward Tunbridge Wells. We don’t know if we’ll make it tonight, but it would be good to meet our friend, who lives on the Pantiles. We get a phone-call en-route, from Radio Kent, who book us to come sing tomorrow at a show before midday. We have the deadline, so we move on. The map is removed, and re-folded, at a reassuringly regular rhythm.

We had originally said that we didn’t want to do this, to walk 20+ miles in our first week, in order to keep our strengthening gradual. But this challenge has arisen, so will be followed.

Our motivation lags about 6 miles out of town. Ed’s feet are hurting hugely, from his new boots and heavy bag. At the peak of his difficulties, we take a wrong turn, and walk a circular mile in the dark. This does not help. So we consider lying low in the hedges, but we recall the joy of challenges when they reach crisis point, the endlessly penultimate straw on the camel’s back. As we retrace our steps, walking gets easier, as though it was our bodies’ anger at walking away from their destination that was making it hard. On the right path again, we feel better.

We decide the quickest and easiest way for our feet to cover the next few miles is to walk beyond the crash barriers, on the grass verges of an A road. This is unpleasant, but exhilarating, and impels us to move quickly. The jettisoned rubbish is incredible in its diversity and apparent utility. There are Stanley knives, good shoes, and assorted lumps of iron. It is a rich place, in its way. But we DO NOT recommend going to look. This is dangerous territory, where humans get eaten. Beware the roadside.

Then we clamber up the bank, and into instant woodland. Every step into the darkness, away from the rushing metal boxes, is well taken.

We walk through a field of ancient cow-pasture, an impossible path of sunken hoof-holes, creating a million tiny ridges and furrows. It is classic ankle-snapping land, so we are careful.

Then onto a track way, and through the woods into town. For the last of the miles, Will half-pushes Ed’s bag, as he leans back, to relieve pressure on his swollen feet.

At the edge of town, under the first orange lamp, on the first kerb, we rest. A lovely Scottish man winds down his car-window, and tells us exactly how to get to the town centre. We nod along happily, but are too tired to hear.

Then we walk the last mile, past a road being re-rolled, and assorted milling gangs of drunk kids snogging. One girl runs after us with a heavy sandwich board from a local café. “I’m carrying it for you…” she hiccups after us.

In town, we meet our friend Dave, and retire to his home. He won’t let us rest, but forces us out to meet other friends. We hold it together long enough to get back, almost fall asleep while cooking, then sleep solidly.

In the morning we pack up and wander up to the BBC studios. We can’t agree what song to sing, so flick coins. Rambling Sailor it is.

The presenter Pat Marsh is a friendly guy, animated and skilful. It feels like a good interview, a clearer exposition of our intent than previously given. Immediately after, the South East TV people come to chat, and arrange to film us busking later.

Excitedly, we go to take honey and lemon, as Ginger’s throat is hoarse.

Singing a song to recently met friends, from the balcony of the building, we spot the man with the camera. “Stay up there lads, and give us another.”

We then go out to chat with this one-man camera/sound/interviewer. That morning he had been interviewing one of the richest men in England, who owned hotel chains and grew English ‘champagne’. Now he’s here, having a pint with us. He says he likes his job very much.

On the bandstand, we chat to kids, then sing a few numbers. The kids are intensely curious: “Is that a magic hat? What is the stick for? Why’ve you got a bag?” When a 6 year old asks “What was that song about?”, after we’d sung The Rambling Sailor, we tell him: “It’s about a sailor, who come back on land, and walks about making new friends.”

The youngster nods wisely, as an old lady close by guffaws uproariously.

A local fellow outside his pub is incredibly baffled by it all. He was part of a gang of jeering people earlier, which we found perfectly understandable. There we were, on a bandstand with cameras pointing at us. Who did we think we were?

But when the cameras go, and we come to ground-level, and carry on singing, he approaches and tries to get to grips with it all. “But, what, no KFC or anything like that? Where d’you sleep? And how do you pay for it all?” It takes awhile, but comprehension seeps in, and by the end he won’t let us leave without a final song. We give him a Tom of Bedlam, he nods, and we leave.


2 Responses to “Faversham to Tunbridge Wells”

  1. tom and han says:

    that was a loveley read – walking into summertime… we miss you boys!

  2. Vicki Parsons says:

    Very interesting reading keep it up boys!I look forward to the next installment especially about Dunfold.Glad you liked the supper hope you had a good sing-song.See you soon.Love Mum

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