Monday, 29 May 2023

Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk - Stage 2, Pembury to Frant

Following on from last week’s ramble, on Friday I decided to knock off another stage of the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk. It was a rushed, and for me quite hasty decision, but with the weather set fair, and Mrs PBT’s tied up with a tax return, on behalf of yet another jobbing builder, it seemed a good idea. So, after a hasty breakfast, I donned my trusty walking boots, grabbed my walking stick, and headed along to the bus stop.

In my haste, I’d forgotten to pack a hat, and I’d also neglected to apply my knee brace. I realised both omissions, as I was approaching the bus stop, but with the direct service to Pembury, only running on an hourly basis, there was no time to return and retrieve these forgotten items. Fortunately, my knee held out, and there was no need for the additional support that a brace provides, but the hat was another matter, and one that I soon regretted.

The 219 bus deposited me at Pembury Hospital, which has become something of a major bus hub. I noticed a similar situation in Norwich, back in February, when I took a bus out to the Woodland Burial Centre at Colney – see link for explanation. The Norfolk & Norwich Hospital has expanded massively, since my last visit in 2015 (visiting my mother, shortly before she passed away in February of that year), and it seems as though all bus services heading out of the city, in a westerly direction, make a point of calling there.

The starting point of my walk was at the other end of Pembury, which meant a one-mile trek before starting on the TWCW, but after traversing a field, and then crossing the busy A21 trunk road, by means of a footbridge, I was transported to a different world of mixed woodland and pasture (mainly the latter). A series of ridges and gently sloping valleys, stretched away in front of me, for as far as the eye could see, and by the time I’d descended the first of these valleys, the traffic noise from the A21, had vanished.

My objective was to follow the footpath as far as the village of Frant, which lies to the south of Tunbridge Wells, enjoy a pint, and possibly a bite to eat at the George Inn, before catching a couple of buses home. I have to say that these OAP concessionary travel passes are a real godsend, when it comes to arranging both hikes in the country, and pub visits, so it’s not all bad growing older. This particular stage was a very doable 5 miles, so I was confident of arriving at the George in sufficient time to allow for a couple of pints, plus a sandwich. I perhaps, should have known better, as the problem I’d encountered the previous week, namely a poorly signposted route through woodland, surfaced again, not once but twice, as I am about to recall.

I’d been making good progress, largely following a concrete track running between a series of suitably rustic named farms, when the track led me into the ominously sounding, High Wood. At first, I welcomed the protective shade that the trees afforded, and I even managed not to miss the point where the path did a sharp diversion to the left, but as it disappeared into increasingly dense woodland, I encountered the first of several instances where those who had first drawn up the TWCW, and the individual who’d written the guidebook, had skimped on the detail, where it mattered most!. There was a clear fork in the path, and without the guidance of a way-mark, or instruction in the guide, I took the path on the left.

With the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, I should have taken the other, but after a long descent I reached a road which fortunately, allowed me to re-join the official route. I was not as lucky further on, as turning off the road, to the right of Hawkenbury Farm, the track plunged into a steep and rather narrow descent. Once again, I began wondering whether I was on the right path or not, but fortunately, a TWCW way-mark, indicated that I was. The path itself was rather muddy, despite the recent spell of dry weather, but being churned up by the hooves of countless horses, from the nearby stables, clearly hadn’t helped.

This section of the walk was starting to look familiar from a previous walk, although to my right what at the time were initial earthworks, had now turned into a full-scale housing development. I could see through the trees, that many of these new houses were already occupied, as I continued in what I assumed was the right direction. I was aware from the guidebook that the path was supposed to take a left turn, but despite keeping a sharp lookout, I saw no signs indicating this.

Eventually I reached what looked like the turning, although ominously there were no signs or way-marks indicating the TWCW. I bit the bullet and turned to the left. I emerged from the trees into a grassy area, hemmed in on one side by a security fence. The clue I was looking for, was the railway line, as according to both map and guide, the footpath follows the line for a short distance. I had heard the noise of a train earlier, so following my instincts I continued up a grassy bank where I’d caught a glimpse of the type of metal fencing used to restrict access to the railway.

My instincts proved correct, and I reached the Tunbridge Wells – Hastings rail line at the top of the bank. Had I reached the right point on the trail though, and did I need to turn left or right? The answer came in the form of a train, and as it disappeared away to my left, I just managed to catch a glimpse of the word, “Hastings” on the rear of the final carriage. Further confirmation came from a train travelling in the opposite direction, with the words “Charing X” on the front of the leading carriage.

Saved from being forced to endlessly walk around a non-descript area of woodland, I set off with a spring in my step, emerging back into civilisation at the side of a very nice property called Windmill Farm. This was a place I recognised from a previous walk, and shortly afterwards the path emerged onto Benhall Mill Road, which crosses the railway, and then leads to the rather prestigious Nevill Golf Club. I headed towards the clubhouse, which again looked familiar, stopping for a brief chat with a couple of golfers, who confirmed I was heading in the right direction.

I wasn’t quite at the end of the walk, but I was definitely on the final straight, as after following the wall marking the boundary of Tunbridge Wells Crematorium and Cemetery, I emerged onto the busy Bayham Road. A concrete track, on the other side of the road lead up to Brickhouse Farm and then into Chase Wood. There was no danger of getting lost here, as I have walked the steep path through this wood, in both directions. It is quite a climb though, and I was pleased when I eventually emerged from the trees into the first of two fields that I knew would take me into Frant.

I arrived at the attractive looking George Inn at a quarter to three, and fortunately for me, the pub is open all afternoon on Fridays, and at the weekend. Not so fortunate was missing the last orders for food by 15 minutes, but I was much more in need of liquid, rather than solid refreshment. As if sensing my thirst, an old boy sitting outside, made the rather obvious observation that I looked in need of a pint, adding there was a nice garden at the rear the pub. Thanking him for his concern, I stepped inside, turning to the left, as the area to the right looked more like a restaurant.

It was nice and cool inside this heavily beamed old pub, and whilst it took a short time for my eyes to adjust to the dark, I spotted on the bar, a hand pump dispensing Harvey’s Sussex Best. There was another beer on sale as well, but I only had eyes for a pint or Lewes’s finest. I enquired about food, but learned what I already feared, that the kitchen was now closed. A packet of crisps would have to suffice, and taking the old boy’s advice I took pint plus crisps into the large and well laid out garden, where I found a comfortable chair and convenient table, in the shade of the back of the building.

You just know I am going to tell you the beer was good, and boy it certainly was, worth at least a 4.5 on CAMRA’s NBSS scale. Apart from me, there was an extended family occupying a couple of the tables in the centre of the garden, but I was just content to sit there enjoying my Harvey’s whilst basking in the self-congratulatory glory of having completed another section of the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk. This was despite poor, or non-existent signage at crucial junctions, and written directions that were both vague and rather wishy-washy. It seemed the guide’s author preferred instead to wax lyrical on geographical features, stately piles, churches, ruins, and other “Points of Interest” along the way.

More of that for another time, and returning to the George, I had the difficult decision to make of staying for another pint or leaving in order to catch the bus back to Tunbridge Wells. The 254 bus is only an hourly service, so regrettably I drank up and made my way along to the main A267 for the 15:17 bus back to Tunbridge Wells. It was two minutes early as well, so I was lucky to have caught it, but it dropped me outside the railway station, where I had a short wait for the bus back to Tonbridge.

Returning to the George – the pub seemed popular with locals, which although a good sign, did mean that with many of them sitting round the bar, it was difficult to take more than a few photos. The George is effectively, still a two-bar pub, even though both areas are linked towards the rear. I realised that I had been in there at least once before, but it was a long time ago. I was also convinced there had been another pub in the village, apart from the George and the Abergavenny on the main road. However, looking at the 1987 local Sussex CAMRA Guide, the one which, according to the introduction, I had helped survey, this was not the case.

The George seems to function much more as the village local for Frant, as opposed to the Abergavenny Arms, which is much more food oriented. I like both establishments, although given the choice, I prefer the George. Next time though, I might take the bus out there, and revisit both pubs.

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