I hooked up with Pam, Kathy, Shep, Adam, and Teresa at Café Ritazza in Victoria and we all jumped on the train to Borough Green and Wrotham. Just outside the M25 it was a new station on me. We stocked up with some sandwiches and drinks in the Co-Op and headed off down Borough Green's pleasant main street. The wafts from the chip shops were very inviting but we continued downhill on to Thong Lane before the road curved round into the charming village of Basted.
We pondered the small lake for some time watching the ducks (with several ducklings) and coots go about their business. We passed a burnt out house and wondered what the story was there. As we reached the top of the first of many small hills on this route we spotted a pub, The Plough. It seemed too early to stop and the book had recommended another pub not much further on. Even the friendly customer outside who called us in didn't break our resolve to plough on past The Plough. It turned out to be a mistake but we couldn't have known how much of one then.
We passed through a wheat field and wondered if we could get up to anything as naughty as Theresa May. But instead of pissing away millions of pounds on a self-defeating election and then pissing away a billion more pounds paying off a bunch of climate change denying, anti-abortion, homophobes to prop up a minority government we just sang some songs to ourselves and chatted.
We passed several oast houses and were keen to sample some of the wares made in these places. The book had recommended The Harrow Inn on Ightham Common and described it as 'cosy' with 'hearty quantities of well presented food'. It was anything but.
It could've been a wonderful local pub, we've visited many on our travels, but it was all undone by one major flaw. The landlord was, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolute cunt. He seemed rude enough when we arrived and he told us it wasn't a pub but a restaurant (despite the fact that it clearly was a pub and there were both empty tables and tables with people not eating sat on them). The fact some of us were planning to eat didn't enter in to it. Shep, Pam, and I ordered a Loddon bitter. Adam tried to do the same but was told that he couldn't have one as he wanted to save the beer for more important customers that were due that evening. I regret not calling him a wanker loudly in front of the other patrons and walking out. It had started lightly raining and the tinpot dictator offered us one final indignity of telling us we'd have to sit outside in the rain. There we sat drinking our admittedly tasty pints (those of us fortunate enough to get served) and wondering what could've made a human being so small minded. When we took the glasses back to the counter, instead of smashing them into his ungrateful stuck up face, he seemed quite surprised. We won a moral victory but if you're ever in Ightham Common do not visit this shithole.
That's undoubtedly the worst pub experience we've ever had on any of our walks but we weren't going to let it ruin our day. We passed another pub, also called The Plough, and considered we'd have been better served than either Plough than the Harrow. Through the quaint village of Ivy Hatch and past the huge pile of Ightham Mote we went, more oast houses, more cattle, and more hills.
A long, slow ascent took us up on to Greensand Way proper. The Greensand Way is a 108 mile long path that leads from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent. We clearly were only walking a small stretch of it today. Walking more than 100 miles would just be crazy.
From the top we could hear the sound of the music festival and I think some of us considered we'd rather be there with a cool beer than running out of breath walking up a hill in what was, now, turning out to be quite a warm day. The views across the lush Kentish countryside were spectacular and, after a couple of miles, the track brought us to Knole Park. The book had warned us that the resident fallow and sika deer may 'look adorable, but they shouldn't be approached as they can be dangerous'.
They were no bother at all and, on occasion, even seemed to be posing for photographs. The large park (created for the archbishops of Canterbury to indulge their passion for bloodsport in) contained brilliant trees, a huge country house, and plenty of other walkers but the deer were sure winners of any beauty contest.
Knole Park pretty much emptied out into Sevenoaks town centre. An admirable mix of the ramshackle and the showy. A Lamborghini garage and some shops with fonts straight out of the 70s. Surprisingly hilly we took solace in the Crown and I had a pint of Pride of Kent IPA. Swiftly followed by another. The old 'two pint mistake'. The jukebox knocked out some good tunes, the chat was convivial, and the craic was good.
The service there was good but our final port of call Raj Bari more than made up for old grumpy bollocks earlier. They could not do enough for us. Want a starter as a main? Sure. Want a main as a starter? Sure. Fancy some extra poppadums? Sure. They didn't have Bangla but the Cobras kept flowing. Adam was so happy he sent compliments to the chef and, at one point, almost started dancing!
We'd turned it round. A walk that was in danger of being overshadowed by a rude over privileged nob will now instead be remembered as a fun day with tasty curry and, as ever, most importantly, good friends. We could all drink to that.