The Low Weald of Kent and The Darling Buds of May
Main walk: 11.7km (7.3 miles).
With shorter extension: 14.2km (9.3 miles)
With longer extnension: 17.7km (11 miles)
OS Landranger Map : 189, OS Explorer Map : 137
Main walk: 1 out of 10, almost entirely flat. Extensions: 3 out of 10
This is a 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 late April or early 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.
Since the main walk is quite short, two options to extend it are offered, one being a short cut of the other. The shorter version of the extension adds 3.2km (2 miles) to the walk, making a total walk of 14.9km (9.3 miles), while the full version adds 6km (3.7 miles), making a total walk of 17.7 km (11 miles). Both routes climb to a fine viewpoint on the Greensand ridge, with the longer version following the crest of the ridge for a short distance. The extensions also include pubs that are possible tea stops.
Two trains an hour (one an hour on Sunday) go from Charing Cross to Pluckley (journey time 1 hour 15 minutes). A slightly quicker, but more expensive, option is to take a Southeastern High Speed train from St Pancras, and change there to approach Pluckley from the other direction. Take the train nearest to 10am to get to lunch in time. For those driving, there is a paid car park at Pluckley station.
|Points 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 and Tea||
Swan Inn Little Chart, (01233 840702). Located 5.8km (3.6 miles) into the walk, the Swan has a riverside garden and serves food from 12pm to 2pm Tuesday to Saturday and from 12pm to 4pm Sundays. If you plan to eat at this pub on Mondays phone to check it is open as there was some uncertainty about this in April 2017.
Black Horse Pluckley, (01233 841948). Located 7.8km (4.8 miles) into the walk, this pub has cosy, old-fashioned charm and a pleasant walled garden. It is open 11.30am-11pm daily, with food served all afternoon until 9pm.
The Barrow House Egerton (1233 756 599), 11.5km (7.1 miles) into the walk via the longer version of the extension, was revamped as a gastro pub in 2016. Its restaurant area is open for lunch from 12-3pm daily, but it serves food all afternoon in its bar area. The latter is also a comfortable place for tea, with some cosy sofas by a fire.
The Rose and Crown in Mundy Bois (01233 840048), is 14.4km (8.9 miles) into the walk via the longer version of the extension, and 11.7km (7.2 miles) via the shorter version of the extension. It is also reachable via a 1.5km (0.9 mile) diversion from the main walk route. This pub has a delightful rural location and is open all afternoon daily. It serves food till 2.30pm and from 6pm Monday to Fridfay and all afternoon till 9pm on Saturdays and 8pm on Sundays. It makes an excellent tea stop, with a pretty garden with a view of the fields and plenty of comfortable sofas.
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 seafood restaurant, for which booking is necessary, but you can also have drinks in its bar are.
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.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk