Although Easter is very late this year its coming heralds an annual event that has become a well established tradition. I am talking about the Good Friday Ramble, an event organised by members of Maidstone & Mid-Kent CAMRA branch which is now in its 42nd year.
Despite it longevity the formula has remained the same, and perhaps that is why, four decades later, the walk retains its appeal and popularity. The walk organisers (and there have only been two of them over the past 42 years), will plan the route around a suitable country pub – one which is capable of accommodating a party of 20-30 walkers. The walk will start and finish at somewhere convenient for people to get to by public transport, so this is normally a railway station.
The locations have varied over the years, but I’m fairly certain we have covered most of Kent; certainly anywhere which is easily reached by rail, from Maidstone. Once assembled the group then sets off at a leisurely pace across country, following public footpaths wherever possible, to a suitable local pub, for a lengthy lunchtime stop.
Being a CAMRA organised event, special care will have gone into selecting the pub, so as well as being able to accommodate a fairly large group of ramblers and feature a good food offering, the pub must stock a reasonable selection of well-kept cask ales.
This has normally been the case, but there have been a few howlers over the years and who could forget the walk along the Medway Valley, on one of the coldest Easters on record, to find ourselves in a pub which not only didn’t serve food, but was also bereft of any form of heating.
We were aware of this beforehand, and although the pub allowed us to eat our sandwiches inside, that was definitely a case where a hot meal would have provided some much needed internal warmth. I also recall that an hour or so into our stay, the beer ran out – the pub’s excuse was that a party of thirsty Morris Men had paid an unexpected visit the night before. The same applied with another old pub, high up on the North Downs, which again lacked heating (and cooked food), where it was actually warmer to sit out in the pub garden!
These hiccups aside, we usually end up somewhere decent, where both beer and food are of a suitably high quality, and where we are made to feel welcome. Suitably refreshed the group walks back to the starting point, normally by a different route; although there have been occasions where the route chosen has been a linear one.
These annual rambles provide a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people one hasn’t seen for a while, in my case often since the previous ramble. As one wag succinctly put it in the past, “It’s always interesting to see how many of us have survived another winter!”
That remark, of course refers to the fact that none of us are getting any younger, so as a reflection of this the walks are gentler and less arduous than they were nearly four decades ago, with less hills and other natural obstacles. They are also shorter, being typically around seven to eight miles, rather than the ten to twelve miles traversed in our youth.
Although I am a member of West Kent CAMRA, I know quite a few people in MMK Branch; the result of having lived in the county town during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and still keep in touch with old friends from this time. I am normally joined by a couple of my West Kent friends, both of whom appreciate a walk through the beautiful Kent countryside.
This year’s ramble was quite a local one for me, and took in a pub which I have walked to on several previous occasions; although not by the route the walk organiser chose on Friday. You can read all about where we went, and the beer and food we enjoyed, in the next post.