Sunday, 18 July 2021

When things don't quite go to plan

It’s often said that the best laid plans go astray, and I found this out for myself on Thursday, when I was forced to abort a walk, I was undertaking, along another section of the North Downs Way. The strange thing is that looking back, I can’t really offer an explanation as to what happened.

To elaborate further, and set the scene, I taken three days annual leave this week, Wednesday-Friday which, with the weekend, makes for a nice long, and well-deserved break. My original intention had been to knock off two further sections of the NDW, involving an overnight stop on the way. There was a nagging doubt though, which led me to water down my original plan and, after what happened, I’m extremely glad that I did.

It might seem rather trivial, but for the last few months, I’ve been suffering with an ingrowing toenail. It’s affected the large toenail on my right foot, and if I catch it wrong it’s bad enough for me to wince with pain. It has been getting better, albeit slowly, so whilst I was tempted to push ahead with my two-day hike, discretion proved the better part of valour.

My scaled down plan was to walk from Oxted in Surrey, to Dunton Green – just to the north of Sevenoaks.  Dunton Green is virtually a suburb of the latter but like Oxted, it does have its own railway station; an important considerate when planning any long-distance walk of a linear nature. I could therefore take a train from Tonbridge to Oxted (even though it involved a change of stations), walk an 11-mile section of the NDW, and catch the train home from Dunton Green.

That at least was the theory, and things were going fine until roughly three miles into the walk, my left knee started to ache. I’d been more concerned about my ingrowing toenail on to pay much attention to what was occurring on the other limb, but what started as a stiff knee, soon got steadily worse.

I pressed on, buoyed up by the fact that after a session of walking through fields and then woodland, I was now on a lengthy metaled track that was not only easy going on the feet, but was heading slightly downhill. The stiffness persisted though, and I was now feeling a dull and rather unpleasant ache in my knee of a similar nature to what arthritis suffers have to put up with.

At the end of this shady, tree-lined road, with some very exclusive and expensive looking properties, known as Chestnut Avenue, I was faced with a choice – should I carry on, or should I abort the walk? I didn’t want to do the latter but there would have been an “escape route” so to speak, as having just crossed the busy A233 Bromley-Westerham road, I knew I could get a bus to either of these towns, using my “old-gits” bus pass. In fact, I’d just seen the Bromley bus tearing up the hill.

That would have been the sensible thing to do, but I was only four miles into a ten-and-a-half-mile walk, so it seemed crazy to abandon it at less than halfway. Foolishly, I decided to press on kidding myself that the discomfort and pain would go away. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and by the time I had climbed back onto the crest of the ridge, my knee was really hurting.

What made things worse was it hurt to lift my foot and lateral movement was also rather painful. It wasn’t too bad just dragging my left foot, until I reached a field where the grass had been left to grow and obscure the path in places. Dragging didn’t work then, as my boot kept getting snagged in the long grass, causing a sharp pain just below, and to the side of my knee joint.

It was then that I was overtaken by a fellow walker who, noticing my discomfort stopped to enquire if I was alright. I explained what the problem was and asked if he had any paracetamol or perhaps even some Neurofen in his bag? Unlike me he was carrying a First Aid kit, and whilst there was no anti-inflammatory medication therein, he did have a pack of paracetamol. I accepted these gratefully, even though they were a year out of date, and whilst it might have just been psychological, the discomfort to my knee did feel some easier after 15 minutes or so.

This "Good Samaritan" was a seasoned hiker. He was probably at least 10 years younger than me and considerably fitter. He was heading for Otford, with the aim of getting 30 km under his belt, but despite this, he offered to stay and accompany me to the nearest point where I could be “rescued” either by taxi, or by son Matthew.

I thanked him for his concern and kind offer of assistance but said I would be OK and that he should continue with his 30 km walk. My plan now would be to head for the nearest pub, grab a pint and phone for a taxi to take me to the nearest station, which would be Knockholt. The only trouble was the Tally Ho – the nearest pub, closed in 2019, prior to the pandemic, which meant a further couple of miles walking, to the large village of Knockholt Pound, where there are two pubs, quite close to each other.

In the meantime, I phoned home, just to let Mrs PBT’s know I would be late, and not to worry about my dinner. Answer, she wouldn’t worry, unlike Matthew who phoned me back with a message of concern mixed with slight anger. The latter seemed to be centered around what was a person of “my age” (I’m in my mid-60’s, for heaven’s sake, and not my 90’s), indulging in a dangerous activity, such as walking in the English countryside?

His concern didn’t extend to coming to pick me up; not that I expected him too, but he couldn’t understand why I needed to get to a pub. I tried to explain that it would be far easier for a taxi to pick me up there, than to come looking for me along an unclassified road. Not wishing to belittle your average minicab driver, but I suspect OS grid references are not their strong-point, and not easy to follow anyway, even with the aid of a satnav.

Furthermore, wasn’t he forgetting the time him, and I missed the last bus back from Roppelts Keller, in the heart of the Franconian countryside, and our attempt to walk to the nearest village, find a pub and then call a taxi? The fact we could probably have phoned for a cab from the Keller itself, is down to a combination of too much Kellerbier, and 30 degrees of heat. 

We ended up thumbing a lift that day, and whilst this thought did cross my mind, who would be likely to stop to pick up a complete stranger, in the middle of a plague pandemic?

Knockholt Pound it was then, and with a steady, but increasingly grim determination, onwards I trudged. It didn’t help me getting lost in woodland to the north of Chevening Park, where I encountered the only mud of the entire day, but I emerged on the road running between the settlements of Knockholt and Knockholt Pound. The latter is larger than the former and, as mentioned earlier, is home to two pubs. The nearest of these is the Three Horseshoes, and was the one I chose, but slightly further on is the Harrow – a Shepherd Neame tied house.

Fortuitously, for someone who isn’t a huge Shep’s fan, the Three Horseshoes is a free house and had London Pride and Harvey’s Sussex Best on tap. I opted for a pint of the latter and sat out in the extensive and well-laid out garden at the rear of the pub to enjoy my well-deserved pint. As a bonus the beer was on top form!

I’d already asked the girl who served me if she could recommend a local taxi firm, and she said the pub would call one for me. I suggested leaving it 30 minutes, in order for me to enjoy my beer, so was slightly taken aback when the landlady appeared and informed me that her husband would run me to the station.

A nice gesture thought I until he appeared and led me to a waiting mini-bus-cum-taxi. It then dawned on me that this was perhaps a sideline of the landlord, and the vehicle was used to transport guests to their desired destination(s), after a night out at the pub.

I clambered in, and off we went, with me keeping an eye on the meter which was ticking up the cost of the ride at a rate that seemed far in excess of what one would normally expect. I wondered whether he’s left it switched on the after midnight, double fare rate, as we pulled into Knockholt station with the fee showing nearly twice what I considered a fair rate.

Never mind, I was at a point where I could catch a train home, so after shoving my card into the conveniently sited, card-reader affixed to the interior and topping up the driver's pension, I thanked mine host and hobbled across to the ticket machine and then the stairs leading to the down platform. After changing trains at Sevenoaks, I arrived back in Tonbridge shortly before 7pm. Matthew collected me from the station, and Eileen had a freshly cooked pizza waiting for me, so all’s well that ends well.

I still don’t know what the problem with my knee was, as after my dinner and a refreshing shower, I swallowed a couple of Mrs PBT’s anti-inflammatory capsules, and the discomfort disappeared. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep and my knee felt OK the following morning. I took things a bit easy, but still spent most of the day pottering around outside.

I even got around to assembling the “oil-drum” style barbecue that I bought from Homebase, during the last hot spell, which had subsequently sat in its box, since then. All the sections, fittings and components were present, and for a once the instructions were easy to follow. We’re going to "fire it up" tomorrow, as the Australians would say.


retiredmartin said...

Yes, what's an old man like you doing engaging in hazardous activities. You should be sitting in your armchair at home sipping cans of DIPA, not risking life and limb in Oxted.

Cheeky lad.

retiredmartin said...

NB Yes I'm joking Paul. Ingrown toenail very unpleasant. Keep walking though.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Martin, I knew you were joking, it’s the bare-faced cheek of the youth of today. Old indeed?

I will get my own back by suggesting, or possibly even insisting, that Matthew accompanies me on the next section of the walk, which will only be an eight mile stretch.

That way he can “keep an eye” on his old dad, whilst at the same time enjoying a piece of the Surrey (I’ve crossed the border now), countryside.