First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Across the Low Weald of Kent the sun was flooding paddocks and pastures with a rich wash of gold. It was one of those cold bright winter days when you can dream of spring, even though there isn’t a flower to be seen.
We set off from Dunk’s Green along footpaths dry and crunchy over the underlying greensand. Out in the fields it was a different matter. Brooks and ditches brimmed with winter rain, and every step brought a squelch and squirt underfoot.
On the outskirts of Plaxtol Spout a flock of siskins flirted among the alder cones they were feeding on. Beyond lay Old Soar Manor, a jumbled old structure with a very ancient building attached – a knight’s dwelling, built some seven hundred years ago by one of the local Culpeper family, of solid red ragstone with tiny arrow-slits in the walls.
Walking on, we wondered what this bowl of country might have looked like seven centuries ago. When did today’s immaculate apple and fruit orchards make their appearance, and when did money begin to lay out these manicured lawns and plant such immaculate hedges?
Up in Hurst Wood the ways were rutted and muddy, the views sublime. Winter had stripped away the leafy screens of the trees to reveal long wooded ridges in the distance, all painted in muted greys and blues by the low afternoon light.
We passed the smoke and small flames of a clearing where a forester was coppicing sweet chestnut, and descended green lanes to handsome red-and-white Yotes Court.
This lovely house was built in the last days of the Commonwealth by James Master, a gentleman whose expenses book still survives. What he spent his wealth on gives a good idea of who he was – a man of leisure, a hawker and rider, a gambler and cock fighter. A wide reader, too, and quite a dandy – his boot tops of sea-green silk were each embellished with a yard of costly lace.
The countryside where his house stands is embellished, too. Our homeward path lay past apple orchards and raspberry cages, shaven pastures and perfectly shaped hedges, among which the mellow brick farms and white-capped oasts sat ensconced like so many plump and satisfied judges after dinner.
How hard is it? 7¼ miles; easy; muddy in woods
Start: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green, Tonbridge, Kent TN11 9RU (OS ref TQ 613527)
Getting there: Bus 222 (Wrotham – Tunbridge Wells)
Road – M26, Jct 2a; A25 Borough Green; follow ‘Plaxtol’, then ‘Dunk’s Green’
Walk (OS Explorer 148): From pub, right along road. In 250m, left (615527, fingerpost/FP) to cross road (613433, FP). Bear left to stile/road (611534); right into Plaxtol Spout. Right (611537, ‘The Street’, ‘Crouch’). In 200m right (612538, FP). In 650m path approaches Old Soar; fork left (618541, arrow) to road (619540). Left; in 400m, right (‘West Peckham’); in 200m, left (624543, FP) into woods. In 200m, right (626543,); in 400m, right (628541); in 50m, left (white arrow). In 150m fork right (630540) to T-junction (631538). Left; in 150m, opposite gate, right (631540) down path, eastward for 1 mile to road (646539) in Swanton Valley. Dogleg left/right and on; just before Yotes Court, right at junction (650535) for ⅔ mile to road (641533). Right; in 15m fork left. In 400m fork left (636533). In 600m cross Gover Hill crossroads (631530); bridleway downhill to junction (630524); right, following Greensand Way for 1¼ miles to Dunk’s Green.
Lunch: Kentish Rifleman, Dunk’s Green (01732-810727, thekentishrifleman.co.uk) – takeaways available (ring to check).
Accommodation: Bull Hotel, Wrotham TN15 7RF (01732-789800, thebullhotel.com)