I’m very fortunate living where I do in a thriving provincial town in the Garden of England, surrounded by some beautiful and, at times, spectacular country side. My adopted home town of Tonbridge might have its detractors, but it has plenty going for it, including a pleasant river-side setting, a 13th Century castle, fast road and rail links to the rest of the country and, at long last, some great places to enjoy a pint.
The town is also fortunate to have an area of unspoilt, but managed countryside on its doorstep in the form of Haysden Country Park. The latter occupies an area of about 65 hectares (160 acres) in the Medway Valley, to the west of Tonbridge, and includes a range of habitats such as river, grassland, freshwater lakes, marshland and woodland.
The park stretches from Barden Lake at its eastern end, westwards to Haysden Water. The River Medway runs along the park’s northern edge, away from the Leigh Flood Relief Barrier and Storage Area. The latter scheme plays a crucial role in the protection of Tonbridge from the threat of flooding.
13th Century Castle. There are lengthy hard-surfaced paths circling the whole of the sports ground, both along the banks of the river and through nearby woodland, and it is one of these which leads to the country park.
As the weather was quite clement on Saturday, certainly for early November, Mrs PBT’s and I decided to take a trip down to Haysden Country Park. The idea was to take a walk around the lake, in order to assist with my wife’s ongoing rehabilitation, but also for a spot of brunch. There is small, lock-up café along with a picnic area, just along from the car park, and I knew from a couple of friends who carry out voluntary work at the park, that the café serves up a mean bacon roll, plus a decent cup of coffee.
Suitably refreshed, we took a walk along to the lake. The path passes under a bridge which carries the Tonbridge-Redhill railway line, before opening up into the expanse of Barden Lake. There was a brisk wind blowing, but with the sun shining it felt quite warm for the time of year as we began our walk along the northern shore of the lake. Like us, there were lots of people out enjoying a spot of fresh air and the views across the water. There was even the odd fisherman, bunkered down in a bivouac.
The various meanders taken by the Medway and the presence of a number of gravel beds, meant the river was rather shallow and difficult to navigate, so since the river was used by canal boats a navigable diversion was constructed around this section. The Shallows then became a quiet backwater stream which is gradually developing into marshland. Eileen remembers spending many a happy day there, as a child, playing and paddling in shallow water, which was crystal clear back in those days.
The hours of unpaid work which this group puts in each month, helps to ensure the park retains its all year round appeal, and also encouraged wild life to flourish. Most importantly, it ensures this Local Nature Reserve and Site of Nature Conservation Interest, remains unspoilt for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
One final point which ought to be mentioned, particularly in a blog which majors on beer and pubs, is that a short distance away from the entrance to the country park, is the former Royal Oak pub. This late Victorian, two-bar public house closed some time around 2010, and has since been converted into two private dwellings.
The former landlord claimed that not enough people were using the pub, and whilst he may partially have been right the Royal Oak was ideally situated to capitalise on its proximity to Haysden Lake, and would have been the ideal spot for a welcoming beer. I can’t help feeling an opportunity was lost, somewhere along the line.