Saturday, 16 December 2017

16/12/17 - London Countryway - Stage 1 - Gravesend to Sole Street

Distance - 7.23 Miles
Start - Gravesend
Finish - Sole Street
Geocaches - 11
Pubs - 3

2017 started with a number of goals.  Walk 1000 miles.  Find 1000 Geocaches.  Start the London Countryway.

What's the London Countryway, I hear both my blogfans ask?  Well, its a 1978 Guide written by Keith Chesterton detailing a circular walk around London.  Think the Capital Ring and the London Loop but further out.  Here's the book and the route which is going to keep me busy on monthly trips to the Smoke.

The Guide
Not Sure who or where they are
The Route
Oh Yes, I'm going to Marlow, where the Butchers is also a Pub

Couple of considerations.  Where to start?  The book arbitrarily suggests the most Southern point of the Loop but in keeping with the Capital's other great circular paths, I start at the most Eastern point.

The 2nd consideration is how accurate is a 30 year old book going to be?  Fortunately, a couple of handy on line references from Beer Blogger Des De Moor and Dick Bowman, who provides GPX files, help enormously.

So Gravesend takes the prize as starting point, even if Keith says "Gravesend is rather a disappointment....  Tilbury is better to be in and Gravesend is better to look at".   Keith is off his tits.  No-one who has ever got lost looking for the ferry terminal has ever said such kind words about Tilbury.

Alighting the train, I am met with a cacophony of brass bands and carol singers.  Nice touch, but I can't hang around, I need to find Pocahontas' statue.   Google her - she's more than just a Disney Character.

Pocahontas - 1596 - 1617
Red Indian Princess in Gravesend
Early stages of the walk are not too much fun, we need to get out of Gravesend and there's no real green paths to take.  Instead, I follow in Dick's footsteps and head up Windmill Street and along Central Avenue.  Nothing to see here.

A couple of obstacles get in the way of the first piece of greenery, Jeskyns Park.  The old A2 is now a cycle track and a new 6 lane superhighway has been built.  I think about playing frogger for a nanosecond before ignoring out of date OS footpaths and cross at Singlewell.   It's a good job I did, as its the only place to cross the HS1 train line.

Jeskyns is a nice enough wide open place for Kentish folk to hand feed cows (unsure what with) and walk dogs.

Jeskyns Park
Feed the Cows
Jeskyns Park
Cobham Entrance to Jeskyns Country Park

Cobham village wasn't visited in the guide book, but every one on-line recommends it.  Who wouldn't want to have a pint in a pub frequented by Charles Dickens and mentioned in the Pickwick Papers?

The Leather Bottle, Cobham, Eponymous Beer

Well, that depends on the quality of the pint.  There's no doubting the authenticity of the pub, it's picture post card and plays up to its literary connections to the max.

Leather Bottle, Cobham
The Leather Bottle's Credentials
It's a Greene King.  They sell a best bitter called "The Leather Bottle".  It was near undrinkable.

Leather Bottle, Cobham
London Glory - My Aris
I don't stay for long.  Surprisingly, for a small village, there are two other pubs.  Take my advice and avoid the Ship Inn - it's more London Glory and massive laminated menus.

The Darnley Arms, Canterbury Ales Reeves Ale

The signage gives the appearance of a pub closure but this is where the locals drink.  Never heard of the brewery, but a much better pint and some bar hanging locals who were keen to know what I was up to.

Darnley Arms, Cobham
I assure you, it is open
Darnley Arms, Cobham
That's how I like my pubs on a sunny day

Not far to go to the end of Stage 1.  It's up past the church and into the Kent Countryside.  The most direct route is through the hop fields, but there are some Geocaches to get that will lead me to the same destination.   I did say I was after 1000 before the Jools Holland does his hootenanny.

Cobham Church
Nice Circuit of Cobham Church
Hop Fields
View of the Hop Fields from the Geocaches
The Cock Inn, Luddesdown, Harvey's Sussex Best

The best pub is saved until the end of the day.  Less than 0.5 mile from Sole Street Station is a gem of a county pub, standing isolated in a country lane.  Its even got a multi geocache, where the pub phone number is used to reveal the location of the treasure.

Further home based research show that its also a regular in the Good Beer Guide, inlcuding the latest edition.   When I set off this morning, I didn't even know that I was going to Luddesdown.   Nice to think that my own observations of a place closely matched those of the local CAMRA representatives.

It's a wonderful treasure trove of nick nacks, roaring fires, photos of Winnie and top, top quality beers.   None are labelled but the chalk board reveals an old favourite, served in absolutely tip top condition.

The Cock Inn, Sole Street
Pub of the London Countryway - so far
The Cock Inn, Sole Street
Never felt more British

The final half mile delivers me rather more muddy than I would have liked to Sole Street Station for the 15:00 to Victoria.  Fittingly, there is no other traveler on the either platform.

I'll be back to see if there are more travelers in the mornings.  Tickets for Stage 2 are booked in January.

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