Saturday, 26 March 2016

Good Friday 2016 - Annual Ramble

It was that time of year again; namely the annual Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA Good Friday ramble. Apparently this was the 40th such walk, and the 39th mapped out and led by veteran ramblers Dick and Pam Wilkinson.

North Kent was the area chosen for this year’s walk; a gentle 5 mile circular stroll from Newington station, to the Three Tuns at Lower Halstow and back. As is often the case over the Easter weekend, train travel was disrupted by engineering works, but for once the disruption and the rail-replacement buses laid on by the train company worked in our favour (or at least it should have done).

As the work affected a large chunk of North Kent, there was a bus running from Maidstone East, via the Medway Towns, all the way to Faversham. As this bus also stopped at Newington, we were able to take advantage of this direct service, rather than travelling half way around the county in order to reach our destination. For my friend John and me this was a simple case of catching a train from Tonbridge to Maidstone West and then walking across town to the East station and jumping on the bus.

That was the theory; but unfortunately our driver took a wrong turn in Rainham, which then involved a long detour to get back on track. The bottom-line was we were about 40 minutes late reaching our destination. Around half of the group had driven to Newington, so a quick phone call from those of us on the bus, told them to get going and we would see them at the pub. As it happened we caught up with the stragglers in the other group before we reached Lower Halstow.

The weather was sunny and surprisingly warm. I didn’t need the thick coat I had set out in. The walk followed a mainly northerly direction towards the Medway Estuary, and we were rewarded with some spectacular view across the river, towards the Isle of Grain as we mounted what must have been the only hill on the walk.

We made our way towards the river, the ground gradually sloping downwards. The countryside was looking good in the bright sunshine; although the going underfoot was quite soggy in places, after the previous day’s heavy rain. It was somewhat disparaging to learn that Friday was going to be the best day of the Easter weekend, but it was good to be out in the fresh air enjoying the sunshine.

Halstow Creek
Eventually we reached the edge of Lower Halstow, and then took the scenic route round to the Three Tuns. The village is set at the end of one of the many creeks which are such a feature of this section of the Medway Estuary. Before the river empties into the Thames at Sheerness, it widens into a basin with numerous islands, of varying size, plus the aforementioned creeks. This is an area rich in wildlife, especially birds and, because of its sheltered aspect, is a stretch popular with those who like “messing around in boats”; as opposed to those who prefer the more challenging aspects of sailing on the open water.

On the path round to the creek, passes the picturesque church of St Margaret of Antioch. The church has parts dating back to the 8th Century; although it was largely re-modelled during the 12th and 13th Centuries. It is in a lovely setting, on raised ground overlooking the creek, and on the lovely spring day which we experienced on Friday, was looking at its absolute best. There was an old Thames sailing barge, moored in the creek opposite, and all the way out into the estuary, the water looked as calm as a millpond.

St Margaret of Antioch
And so to the pub, which is set on a bend in the heart of the village. The Three Tuns is a long, white-painted attractive looking building, said to date back to the 15th Century. It is a large pub, with a series of inter-connecting rooms, with walls of exposed brick-work, and the myriad of beams one would expect in a building of this age. There is a secluded and sheltered garden at the rear, where many of our party had already taken up residence by the time I arrived. I wouldn’t have minded joining them, but my friends John and Keith had saved me a space at one of the tables inside the pub and, more importantly, had got me a beer in!

The Three Tuns is a free-house, and on Friday had beers from Bexley Brewery, Brew Buddies, Canterbury Brewers and Goachers on offer. Unfortunately the German Twin Hop from Canterbury had just run out, but the un-fined house beer, produced specially for the pub by Brew Buddies of Swanley, was in good form. The Goachers Imperial Stout was also in excellent condition; mind you it needed to be, as sitting next to me at the dinner table were Phil and Debbie Goacher; owners and founders of Goachers Brewery. The Three Tuns is a regular outlet for the company’s beers, and often stocks their mild. Several of us complemented Phil on the quality of the stout, but he said that with winter now over, they would unfortunately not be brewing any more of the beer until the autumn.

The Three Tuns
I went to order a second pint, only to find that too had run out! The pub was obviously busy, with a crush at the bar at times. We did learn though that by timing visits to the bar, it was possible to avoid this. The fine weather had obviously helped bring lots of people out, and as well as good beer the Three Tuns offers excellent food. Being a pie-man, I opted for the pie of the day, which turned out to be steak and kidney.

When the pie arrived I was at first disappointed as it appeared to be the all too common pub thing of the meat and gravy in a small casserole, with a pastry lid on top. A closer inspection however, revealed that this was indeed a proper pie, as not only was the pastry short-crust, but it also extended down into the dish, completely enclosing the filling – just as a “proper pie” should! With new potatoes, vegetables plus a small jug of extra gravy, it was just what I needed after my walk, and with a pint of Imperial Stout to accompany the food, it was the perfect pub meal experience, so far as I was concerned.

A "proper pie", but in a dish
We left the pub shortly after 3pm, but not altogether. The group sitting out in the garden had decided to stay for another pint, but John, Keith and I departed along with a handful of others. We had a reason for sticking together, because Keith had also driven over and had kindly offered us a lift back to Tonbridge. There was a catch though, as desiring a longer walk, Keith had parked his car some distance south of Newington, which meant a slightly longer walk back. This didn’t matter, as the ramble itself had not been particularly challenging distance wise, although with a cracked heel to contend with, I could, on this occasion, have done without the extra mile and a half!

Our walk back from the pub followed a different route, and given the warm weather, I could definitely have done with a thinner coat. It was a steady uphill climb from Newington, but eventually we reached the golf-course where Keith had parked his car. It was nice being driven back to Tonbridge, instead of having to rely on the vagaries of the rail-replacement bus service, and we were back home an hour earlier than we would have been otherwise.

Once again the Good Friday ramble had proved a most enjoyable day out; affording the opportunity to catch up with old friends whilst enjoying a walk in the lovely countryside of a part of Kent I don’t get to see that often. The attendance was 23 persons; although I’m not sure it included Dick and Pam’s two grandchildren. Oddly enough there were no dogs this year, but it was not because our canine friends would have been unwelcome in the pub; far from it. Next year will see Dick and Pam leading what will be their 40th yearly ramble, so we will wait and see whether the couple have something extra special in store for us.

I would also recommend a visit to the Three Tuns. According to WhatPub, the pub is close to a bus route; presumably one leading out from the Medway Towns. Even better is the fact the Saxon Shore Way* long-distance footpath, runs through Lower Halstow, so it would be good to combine a visit to the pub with a gentle walk along the coastline.

*The Saxon Shore Way is a long-distance footpath in England. It starts at Gravesend, and traces the coast of South-East England as it was in Roman times as far as Hastings; a distance of 163 miles (262 km) in total


retiredmartin said...

Lovely piece.

I do like those Kent creeks, particularly around Faversham, but the one you walked is good too. While camping on Sheppey the other year I met a chap who just sailed his boat (?) between Gillingham and Sheppey which sounded fun.
Another underappreciated part of the UK.

Paul Bailey said...

North Kent and especially the parts along the Medway and Thames estuaries is definitely an underappreciated part of Britain, Martin. Despite me living relatively close, it is not a part of Kent I visit much, apart from occasional forays over to Gravesend to visit my brother-in-law.

Some of my reluctance is due to poor north-south transport links (especially public transport), but much of it due to a preference for the more obvious attractions of the High Weald, the Greensand Ridge and Ashdown Forest; places which are right on my doorstep.

The creeks along that north Kent coast do have an attraction all of their own, and there are some good pubs to be found along there. You mention Faversham, and without having to think hard I can come up with pubs like the Shipwright’s Arms at Hollowshore, the Ship at Conyer and the Three Mariners at Oare. All three are good pubs, even if the last one is a Shep’s tied house!

An old friend of mine, who was on the Good Friday walk, has a sailing dinghy moored at Lower Halstow. He is getting on a bit now, so has had to put the boat up for sale, but I remember us taking the boat out on the stretch of the Medway, just north of Gillingham. As I said in my post, it’s a great place for just messing around in boats.