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The Low Weald of Kent and The Darling Buds of May

Length

11.5km (7.2 miles).

Transport

Two trains an hour (one an hour on Sunday) go from London Charing Cross to Pluckley (journey time 1 hour 15 minutes). Take the train nearest to 10am to get to lunch in time. For those driving, there is a paid car park at Pluckley station.

Maps

OS Landranger Map : 189, OS Explorer Map : 137

Toughness

1 out of 10: almost entirely flat, with one gentle climb

Walk notes

This is a fully updated version of this gentle walk in a low lying area of Kent, made famous by the writer H.E Bates, who lived in the village of Little Chart Forestal, passed on this walk. This is quiet country: there are no great landscape features, no grand houses, and yet this is a quintessentially English walk, with fields, orchards, a couple of ancient pubs (one allegedly the most haunted in England), and towards the end, a fine and unexpected view over the Kentish landscape.

The walk is at its most perfect in mid to late May when the apple blossom is out, the lanes are full of drifts of cow parsley, and there are not infrequently vast fields of yellow oilseed rape somewhere or other on the walk. Interest on the walk is provided by the arched ‘Dering windows’ seen on many of the houses, which reflect the fact that this land was owned for nearly nine hundred years by the Dering family, who received it as a grant from William the Conqueror.

Walk options

This web version of the walk includes an optional afternoon extension. There are two different versions of this – one which adds 3.2km (2 miles) to the walk, making a total walk of 14.7km (9.2 miles), and another which adds 6.5km (4 miles), making a total walk of 18 miles (11.2 miles). Both routes climb to a fine viewpoint on the Greensand ridge, with the longer version following the crest of the ridge for some distance. The extensions also include pubs that are possible tea stops, though the pub on the shorter version is currently (May 2012) undergoing refurbishment: see Lunch and Tea Places below

Places of interest

All the land on which this walk takes place was owned for almost 900 years by the Dering family: they only sold it in 1928. A particular feature of their estates are the distinctive Dering windows on all the houses. These have the appearance of eyes with brows arched in surprise, and were added during Victorian Times in reference to a legend that during a Dering baronet gave his Roundhead pursuers the slip by leaping to freedom through such a round-headed window. You can also see the Dering family crest of a black horse on the cowls of the oast houses, and in the south chapel of St Nicholas Church in Pluckley.

The writer H E Bates (1905–74) lived in Little Chart Forstal. His service in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War yielded many short stories such as Flying Officer X, but he is perhaps best known for The Darling Buds of May, a tale of rural life, which was made into the popular TV series starring David Jason and Catherine Zeta Jones. During the Second World War, doodlebugs (flying bombs) caused much damage, earning the village the nickname of 'bomb alley'. Little Chart’s medieval church was destroyed by a doodlebug and was replaced by the 1950s built St Mary the Virgin.

The TV series of The Darling Buds of May was filmed in the pretty village of Pluckley, but it has another claim to fame - as reputedly the most haunted village in the country, claiming at least 12 ghosts. In the Black Horse pub – once a moated farmhouse dating from 1470 – watch out for the discerning poltergeist who preys only on teetotallers. Take a seat by the door and you might see your orange juice swept aside by an unseen hand. Meanwhile the churchyard of nearby St Nicholas Church is allegedly haunted by a Red Lady who sobs as she searches for the unmarked grave of her stillborn baby.

Pluckley Station opened in 1842 and the timber-framed, Kentish-style clapboard building remains largely unchanged, possibly making it the oldest station in the world. When it was built, the staff would have comprised the stationmaster, two clerks, two signalmen, two porters who doubled as shunters, and a plate layer, or lengths man, who maintained the track. Not much evidence of any of them now!

Lunch & tea places

Swan Inn The Street, Little Chart, TN27 0QB (01233 840702). Located 5.8km (3.6 miles) into the walk, the Swan has a riverside garden and serves food all day from noon Wednesday to Sunday. It is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Black Horse The Street, Pluckley, TN27 0QS (01233 841948) . Open 11.30am-11pm daily. Food served noon-3pm, 6-9pm Mon-Sat; noon-4pm Sun. Located 8.2km (5.1 miles) into the walk, this pub has cosy, old-fashioned charm and a pleasant walled garden. It serves fairly basic food, and also tea, coffee and desserts.

St Nicholas Church , also in Pluckley, serves cream teas with home-made jam from the end of May to the end of August.

Dering Arms Station Road, Pluckley, TN27 0RR (01233 840371, www.deringarms.com) . Open 11.30am-3pm, 6-11pm Mon-Sat; noon-4pm Sun. Food served noon-2pm, 6.30-9pm Mon-Sat; noon-2pm Sun. Located beside Pluckley station, this former hunting lodge is now an award-winning pub that specialises in seafood, for which booking is necessary. Note that only a snack menu is available on Sunday evenings.

On the longer version of the extension, The George Inn (01233 756 304) www.thegeorgeinn.uk.net in Egerton is a possible tea stop, which seems to stay open all afternoon. On both long and short versions of the extension there is also a delightful rural pub at Mundy Bois (01233 840048), which currently (May 2012) is undergoing refurbishment: whether it will re-open as a pub or restaurant is not yet clear

Picnic : Just across the road from the Swan Inn in Little Chart, there is a grassy field beside the church, which makes a good picnic spot. The churchyard at St Nicholas in Pluckley village is another good choice.

Updates

Pre-2011 editions may use the revised version with 2 longer afternoon extensions. [details]

Afterwards
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Trains

Out: (not a train station)

Back: (not a train station)

By Car

Start: TN27 0RT

Amazon
OS Explorer 137 - Ashford Buy from: Amazon UK (normal) (waterproof) Amazon US
OS Landranger 189 - Ashford & Romney Marsh Buy from: Amazon UK (normal) (waterproof) Amazon US
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Version

Oct-12 This walk was fully revised in May-10. It is available in the current 2011 edition of the book, and as a PDF (link above). The map is only in the book.

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Walk Instructions

Download and print the PDF file for revised walking directions. But, for the map, see Time Out Country Walks volume 2