Section 9: A country stroll at 5.5 miles (9 kilometres), warm and breezy. Solo
Otford should be famous for two things: Britain’s most impressive roundabout and its ambitious and eccentric scale model of the solar system. The solar system is covered in the previous section, but take a look at the roundabout:
A roundabout with a pond and duckery. Otford doesn’t do half measures. I never expect the mundane in Kent, it is full of Jutes.
I restart the PW by the church: bells are ringing and the door is open. Inside a choir is belting it out accompanied by a harp and it is magnificent. It turns out there will be a wedding in a couple of hours and they are getting in some last minute practice. It’s going to be some wedding, there are rose petals to throw everywhere. Otford is playing a blinder today. I’m even prepared to overlook the poxy sticker instead of a stamp.
The churchyard is lined with indigo plumbago and the bumblebees are buoyant. Becket’s well is in the next field but I’ve passed it before I remember to look. I go over the pedestrian railway crossing and wish my son was here, remembering the one at Mellis.
Much of this is enclosed snicket, and not a bad path. Somewhere to the right is the site of a huge Roman villa. I’d considered off-roading this section and using the North Downs Way instead which goes up high on the ridge but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s villagey and lived in, and looked after. I’m ignoring the downloaded OS route as well which wants me to follow the A road.
I spend a little time investigating Oxenhill meadow which is a huge and inviting space, but eventually tear myself back to the route which takes me step by step to the village of Kemsing.
Here’s another well which last week the villagers celebrated with a well dressing. St. Edith’s well (sister of Æthelred the Unready) reputedly cures eye problems, like the well by the Wey at Guildford. I guess in the days before opticians and spectacles, eyesight was a huge concern. We have a blindness to the time before ophthalmology just as some people now have blindness to diseases such as polio and measles because vaccines mean they have no memory of how bad life (and death) could be. Throw your or your ma’s glasses away and see the difference to your quality of life. I’m musing over this at the Italian deli & café, and that whenever I bring a raincoat I don’t need it, selectively blind to the times when I do.
On the way up to the next church there’s a plaque commemorating the crowning of king George V; whether we like it or not we have a new one now. It was 111 years ago, so I realise I’m confusing him with George VI who I can remember being on old 10p pieces.
In St. Mary’s I hear more bells, only this time the gorgeous jingle of hand bells being practiced inside by some teenagers: a simple, round and lovely tune made of musical bubbles. I busy myself with the stamp and looking for medieval graffiti but really I’m listening not looking.
I’m a bell lover. I was very fortunate to visit the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (dating from 1570) before it was ignominiously sold to American developers against a preservation bid. Later I look them up and find both churches’ tower bells were cast at Whitechapel, as was Big Ben and the Liberty Bell. Still, at least you will be able to have a bell themed coffee in the bell themed café of the bell themed boutique hotel they’re developing it into. Instead of an actual bell, obviously. *
There’s a wide open grassy hill and then a road with views of the downs before I am squeezed back into enclosed paths which I sometimes share with silver fox cyclists. In the hedgerows are tall campanulae, bellflowers, which makes me very happy. In the distance I can see oast houses, very Kentish. I pass a sign for Cobwood, and I’m reminded of another traditional Kentish sight, the cobnut, from hazel trees all around here.
In the distance there is rising woodsmoke when I spot the crowd of martins circling above, then suddenly the bird of prey. I think it’s a buzzard, and then it caws loudly and ChirpOMatic agrees.
As I get closer to Wrotham I wonder what the smell is, I really must have a bath when I get in. I spot the mushrooms. Oh, of course.
There is so much to harvest here; nuts, apples, sloes, berries, hips, fungus; you could live for weeks on it. Not me obviously, I would poison myself and die in a ditch.
There’s one more stamp at Wrotham church and then it’s homeward, to my supermarket harvest and my berry scented bath, to read my book with my glasses and remember the bells. I hope the wedding went well, they’ll be picking rose petals out of their hair for days.
Other walks on the Pilgrims’ Way
I use The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts as a guidebook, it’s pretty much essential for this walk. You can buy it here or from good independent bookshops.
I also use a GPX file imported from British Pilgrimage Trust into the Ordnance Survey app. It is available from their website and occasionally differs from the book.
* note: Just today I heard that the company that bought the Whitechapel Bell Foundry premises will NOT be renewing their application to turn it into a hotel. So the story of greed and cultural asset stripping may have a happy ending after all, as the London Bell Foundary group try to buy the building back and reestablish a working foundry with Factum Foundation. I sincerely hope they succeed.
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