(South Downs Way and Weald Way), but for two people who haven't carried out much walking recently, it was long enough.
The weather was dull, over cast and a little chilly when we left
Tonbridge, but the forecast had promised that if the sun managed to
break through then we could expect temperatures in the low teens - not
bad for late February! The forecast turned out correct and by the time
we two-thirds of the way towards our destination it was time to discard
the coats and enjoy some unseasonably warm weather.
The first half of our route was across the rolling countryside, part wooded and part grazed, that separates the two towns. It was a journey I have made countless times before, either by road or train, but never on foot. Eric on the other hand has walked the many paths in this area on numerous occasions, so much so that we didn't really need to refer to the map we had brought for reference. We passed under the impressive brick viaduct at Old Forge Farm, that carries the Tonbridge to Hastings rail line, before climbing again and making our way into High Brooms. The scenery unfortunately became steadily more built up as we approached the aforementioned, which is in effect nothing more than a suburb of Tunbridge Wells. This area is also the location of the town's industrial and retail parks, and evidence of this was especially visible when our path became sandwiched between the various car-dealerships that have sprung up in recent years and the railway.
Our path then took us round the back of the gasworks (lovely!) and on through several newly-constructed estates, before coming into Tunbridge Wells itself. Eric, who spent his childhood years in the town can remember when all of the built up area we passed through was open countryside, but alas all that is now a distant memory, and evidence of a rapidly increasing population in this already over-crowded part of the South East is all too clearly visible.
Sustenance was called for, both solid and liquid; the first was supplied in the form of a bacon baguette, purchased from one of the town's bakers, the second was naturally enough a glass or two of beer. We ate our baguettes in Calverley Gardens (the local park), taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. This left us in the vicinity of one of Tunbridge Well's best pubs, the Grove Tavern. Situated in the "village" area of the town, the Grove claims to be one of Tunbridge Well's oldest pubs. Ably run by landlord Steve Baxter and his team, the Grove is the perfect place to drop into for a warm welcome, a well-kept pint (or three), plus some lively conversation.
The pub was quite quiet when we walked in, but we received a friendly welcome from barmaid Sally, who turned out to be an old acquaintance of Eric's. The Grove has Harveys Best and Taylor's Landlord as its regular beers, alongside a couple of guest ales. Yesterday these were Goddards Scrumdiggity 4.0% abv and Acorn Yorkshire Pride 3.7% abv. Normally I would have gone for one of the guest ales, (probably the Acorn), but seeing as this was the occasion of my first pint of cask ale of 2012 I wanted to drink something I was familiar with. Although both Harveys and Taylors are personal favourites, this time it just had to be Landlord, and what a mighty fine pint it was! It's difficult to describe just how good it tasted, but when you've gone the best part of a year without a pint of cask ale passing your lips you're hoping for something special when you finally break that drought, and I was not disappointed!
I could easily have drunk several more pints, but having been off the beer for so long made me wary of over-doing things, and besides I'm still on the medication. Eric made up for me my moderation though, and as we sat at the bar, enjoying the beer, the pub slowly began to fill up. It turned into a good afternoon, with some interesting and lively discussion, mixed in with the odd joke or two. The whole thing made me realise just how much I had missed sessions in the pub.
I risked another half, and Eric had a couple more pints., but eventually we decided to call it a day, said our farewells and walked down the hill towards the station, from where we caught a train back to Tonbridge. It had been a good day out, and a most welcome back to the world of beer and pubs!