A County Ramble
By Richard Maxwell
Chapter 1 – Getting There
When they say check in for your flight 2 hours before departure, they don’t mean leave your house 11/2 hours before departure. Secondly, check your departure times, and last of all, it takes 2 hours to get to Heathrow Airport from Crossharbour via the London tube.
Since my mother missed her flight to New Zealand the night before, she was joining Geraldine, Michael Crestanello and I for our first English country ramble. The G-Shock alarm clock woke us up on a fine and frosty Saturday morning, much to our annoyance. I stumbled out of bed and showered, before waking Mum and Geri to do the same. Michael arrived at 8:15am and we left to catch the train to Otford, somewhere in Kent.
We arrived at the London Bridge train station and Geri went and got our tickets. We were to catch the 9:17 on platform 13. With 4 minutes left, we ran to the train and settled in. Geri handed out the tickets, all 6 of them. Oops, where is mine? Apparently I forgot to show my tube pass to the ticket man when everyone else did, so he thought he was only getting tickets for 3. Ho hum, ill just get a ticket when the conductor arrived. After sorting that all out Geri informed us that to get to Otford we had to change at … err … um …
“It starts with a ‘P’. Its ‘P’ something…” Geri suggested.
We gasbagged on the train, looking out at the London scenery while the train trundled merrily on its way. Michael pointed out an old flat/backpackers inn that he stayed at, and we read about the walk we were to do from Geri’s timeout book on country walks. We were quite away into our journey when someone pointed out that we should have changed over by now. We looked at the train map for intersections beginning with ‘P’. Sure enough there was a Peckingham Rye. Unfortunately for us, it was 4 stops behind us….ooops.
Geri verified that this train wasn’t going to Otford with a friendly black man sitting opposite to us. Since we were at a stop Mum ordered:
“Right, Everyone off! Lets change and catch a train back to Peckingham Rye!”
So all of a sudden everyone was up and running off the train. Within a matter of seconds of alighting the doors went “beep beep beep” and the train zoomed away to a destination quite far away from Otford.
“Who has the guide book?” Geraldine inquired.
Everyone one stared quizzically at each other with that slight guilty look of not knowing where something very important is.
“I left it on the seat when I was looking at the map, surly someone picked it up when we left the train?”
Everyone stared at the ground, shuffling their feet. We were now painfully aware that we were in the middle of nowhere, without a map nor a guidebook, and missing 1 set of tickets. However, a quick trip to the Streatham Common ticking office and we were told that to get to Otford, we would have to return to London. Ugh. The Lady gave us a train map of southeast England and London and we returned to the train platform to catch the train back to Peckingham Rye.
Ooops. We caught the train to Victoria instead. My bad. We got off 1/2 way to get our bearings and see if there was an easier way to get to Otford. Nup. We jumped on the next train to Victoria, I finally bought my tickets, and we caught the 10:43 to Otford. This time the train was defiantly going to Otford because the man next to us was going there too, saying he would be damned if he was on the wrong train!
The English countryside was quite pretty, partly covered in frost and mist, the fields and barren trees gave a feeling of cold beauty. The click clack and sway of the train was soothing putting us half to sleep. Michael and Geri were Whoa! Otford already!
Chapter 2 – Rambling
Brrrr a bit nippy! Anyway, 3 hours later for a 45-minute train journey, we were in Otford. The man told us that the town was just down the road, and that we should be able to get walking maps from there somewhere. We walked to the town, and what a pretty countryside town it was, fulfilling more English country village clich‚s than you could shake a stick at. The thing that got me was the ducky pond, complete with ducky kennels! Kewl!
Mum popped into a shop to ask where to get maps, while Michael crossed the road and went to ask in the bakery. Two answers. Firstly, there was a tourist centre type place just down the road, and secondly the bakers recommended going to the mad hatter shop just up the road.
Ok, the tourist centre opened at 2:30pm, so that was a no go. As Mum popped into the mad hatter shop, Geri, Michael and I went into the shop next door, which sold candles, teddy bears and other stuff. Mum came in saying that mad hatter sold maps from 4œ plus, but couldn’t offer any advice otherwise.
We walked back to the train station, as Geri remember that the walk started from the station car park. Before we started we scoffed down the sandwiches that Geri bought that morning. We walked alongside the car park, over the railway tracks and into a residential area. Knowing full well we had no idea where we were going, Michael rushed ahead to ask an elderly couple which way to go.
“Oooh, you don’t want to go this way. You want to head back to town, past the church and castle, then follow the sign that points to Shoreham”
A Castle in Otford? We walked back over the railway tracks and down another path next to the car park. It took us past a field to this cool church. Michael and Geri went off ahead while Mum and I looked at the old gravestones next to the church. Quickly board, we set off after the others. Mum took the hard way, clambering through a hedge and jumping over a ditch, while I just followed the path out.
We got to this old abandoned brick castle. Apparently this bishop’s castle rivalled the one in London for its size and splendour, however it fell out of favour and only a corner tower remains of the 22 million-ache castle (it was BIG). For some reason no one wanted to take any photos, but after I whinged for a bit they soon complied. We had a bit of a look and then headed off to find the sign that pointed to Shoreham.
We walked past the ducky pond again, found the path out of Otford (thank you Richard), and officially started our walk. Soon we noticed these little yellow circular signs, marking the trail. We walked though a field, crossed the railway track (again), through a residential alleyway and promptly got lost AGAIN. We crossed a road and found a path going up a hill. There we met some nice English people.
Coming from Shoreham, the middle-aged couple gave us directions to Shoreham. Strange that. Many thanks were given, and we were off up the misty green-grassed English hill. Half way up we turned right to walk along the hedge, Geri suggested that we should walk to the top of the hill, but was cut off mid sentence by a combined “NO!”. Lazy people unite! As the path was sloped, we all wished that our left legs were slightly longer, so to ease our funny gate. We continued our walk though the beautiful English countryside, crossed a road, and arrived in Shoreham.
“That was quick”
Chapter 3 – Shoreham
Shoreham was again, another pretty English town. We went into the churchyard, which was lit up with the afternoon sun, and took some pictures. Mum disappeared into the church, so after spending 5 minutes scraping the mud off our boots, we followed suit. Empty but full of history, there were gravestones in the floor, some as old as 1634 (whoa, New Zealand wasn’t even discovered by then!). It had a new stained glass window (2000) and the smell of a church. There was even a cool photo of a big town parade outside the church taken sometime in the 1920s. We left and I enquired how my mother got in.
“Churches are never locked”, was her reply.
“Oh”, I stated quite convincingly. I couldn’t think of a better retort to defend my ignorance.
Mum was calling for a much needed tea break, so we went off to find a local. We walked over the river, via an old stone bridge (next to the river was a bench right on the water, with a stone cross coming out of the river next to it). The door to the pub had a notice on it politely asking those with muddy boots to clean them before entering. Hmm, looks like we will have to find another pub, because our boots are dirtier than a 3rd year mechanical engineering student.
We decided we would try a pub in the next town of Eynsford. So when a stranger approached the pub that we were loitering around we decided to ask him the way.
“Excuse me sir, are you by chance a local here?”
“Errr, yes” the rounded middle-aged man wearing a dot-com t-shirt hesitantly replied.
“Would you be able to tell us how to get to Eynsford?” was the next question.
“Would that be by car or foo…”
“Ah, well then. You would be wanting to go back over the bridge over there, and if you turn left, you will be presented with a path to Eynsford, next to the river.”
“Thank you” we all replied.
We walk back over the bridge; past a family wading in the shallow of the river next to the stone cross in their Wellingtons, and to a path along the waterside, just like the friendly man described.
Chapter 4 – Some More Rambling
We walked for quite a bit next to the river. Geri the eagle eye was spotting cool birds left right and centre. At one point Michael and Mum, who were ahead of Geri and I, stopped to have a chat with a young man fishing in the river (which looked more like a canal, as it was bricked in on both sides). We caught up, and much to Geraldine’s squeamishness, we found out he was using live maggots as bait. The fisherman told us about the English fishing (20œ licence to own a rod, then a licence to fish somewhere, getting as costly as 1000œ/year), as well as why the maggots were kept in a sawdust like material (to prevent them from getting dirty).
Just past the Fisherman we crossed the river and came to the Something-a-rather park centre. It was a park where people came to walk around it, picnic, or just have a family outing. After yet again cleaning our feet for 5 minutes we went in to have a look see. Nup, nothing to see here, move along you lot. We continued along the path that went between the back of the centre and the river, when all of a sudden Geri stopped in her tracks.
Right by the path was this big fat brown robin, with a dusty red chest. Just sitting on the branch of a midget tree next to the path, watching the world go by. Geri got the zoom lens out and we took a photo, while Michael managed to get quite close to it to take a photo with his camera, just split seconds before he spooked it and it flew away.
Because of Geri everyone is seeing robins along the walk. We even spotted some pigeons in a tree on the other side of the river.
Chapter 5 – The Balloon
Soon the path deviated away from the river and towards this big paddock. As we crossed over this paddock I saw this object smack bang in the middle, gently floating around in the slight breeze. On further investigation I discovered that it was a helium balloon.
“What … the … hell … is a helium balloon doing here? In a paddock in the middle of nowhere!”
We figured it was one of those balloons that people let go of somewhere, and it had just ran out of helium and landed there. Just like that.
We grabbed the balloon, and soon the discussion turned to A.A. Milne’s character Piglet, and the episode about the balloon and Eeyore’s Birthday. Therefore we named the balloon Piglet’s Balloon, and tied it to a fencepost, lest it blow away again, or suffer the same fate as Piglet’s balloon. Quite a surreal experience really.
Chapter 6 – The Castle and the Roman Ruins
We soon came across a brick castle gate, looking very castle like. Unfortunately, that was the only bit that looked like a castle. A wall surrounded the property, and past the gate was quite a huge forecourt before a typical posh English country house. We continued walking and Michael went to peek over a fence to see what was on the other side. There were some trees and some grass on the other side. Ooooh.
We walked along some more pretty countryside, and came to this big corrugated iron shed. Looking inside we discovered that it was the Roman Tiled collaged bathhouse thingy. At œ2.50 a pop we were too cheap arse to pay. So we continued on walking.
We asked someone walking in the opposite direction how to get to Eynsford. We were told that we just continue along the road we were on; go underneath the viaduct, and that the town was 10 minutes way from that.
The Viaduct was this HUGH red brick train bridge spanning a valley and river. It was at least 100m high and it was big arsed. With about 5 legs with round arches at the top it was quite big, and equally impressive. We walked past a sign pointing to a bird place (with vultures, hawks, eagles, owns and other birds of prey), which was shut and under the big arsed viaduct we went (it was dripping water). We continued past some out of the way toxic chemical treatment plant, and finally arrived at Eynsford.
Chapter 7 – Going home
Pub? No, too expensive/busy/small/insert excuse here. We saw a sign pointing to the railway station and I, err, we decided to walk to the station. Looking at my watch I saw that it was 4:13.
“Hurry up guys, train is in 4 minutes!” I cheerfully said, with full confidence in the ability of British rail transport arriving on time to the minute.
Everyone was annoyed with me, as I always made them run for transport in London, be it tube, DLR or train, so running for the train at Eynsford was no different. We got to the station, crossed the bridge over the railway track and go to the platform, just in time to walk straight onto the train. What splendid timing.
Chapter 8 – Going home, for real
We all caught the train to Victoria station, tube to Canary Wharf, and DLR (Dockland’s Light Rail, driverless train) to Greenwich. Where we wandered around for 30 minutes before finding a pub in which to have a quiet pint. Mmmmm beeeeeer. Still, after last night we were not going to trust London transport to get us to the airport in time, so it was really only 1 quiet pint that we had.
Well, we left at 7pm for Heathrow, via our house to pick stuff up. We made it with 1 hour to spare. So Mum decided to shout Geri and I dinner (thanks Mum!). We share a plate of chish and fips, and a plate of carchnos, along with a few more pints (waahaaay!). There was this load crowd of drunken shot drinkers making lots of noise, but they went away. Soon it was time for mum to leave, so we took some photos and waved furiously as she disappeared through the departure gate. Tiptoeing to see the last glimpses of mum to make sure that she actually made it.
Well, our flat kitchen got messy 5 minutes after Mum left, testament to the sloth that are the flatmates of our flat. Apparently Mum’s skis went to Argentina and the rest of the family got itchy feet after hearing about me and Mum’s exploits.
P.s. Mum’s skis turned up 5 days later, Safe and sound.