The overall impression of the walk was a lovely day with sunshine, a warmish breeze rather than recent icy winds, meadows of buttercups, bluebells, fields of crops (wheat ?), hops, and those fresh green shoots of spring for us to describe for our guests, plus the scent of cow parsley beside the paths and the bird song that our guests could help us identify. Sadly the lavender in the fields was not as far advanced as I had hoped but there were plenty of lavender products in the Castle Farm shop.
However the day started at Victoria station on a rather unruly note! Trying to get the group together and round up latecomers who hadn’t checked in to base, I realised there was a subgroup roaming around sending panic messages inside the barrier rather than waiting patiently while the very helpful staff ascertained which platform our delayed train would come into. Fortunately we managed to assemble on the train and, apart from getting momentarily shut in the revolving toilet with two guests, the train journey went off without further incident.
At Otford I was informed that there would be duck-racing on the stream at Shoreham, which would be crammed with enthusiasts from near and far! I imagined something like The Mall on Coronation Day! I was annoyed at first, not to have been warned sooner, but in retrospect I was amused because prior knowledge would have deprived me of the last vestiges of sleep the night before! As it happened we arrived at the bridge at Shoreham as the organisers were setting up their stall and the first contestants were surveying the current rushing downstream with some scepticism and their ducks with doubt!
Hunger drove us to carry on along the path by the Darent to the Lullingstone Visitor Centre where we ate our packed lunches in the sunshine at the plentiful picnic tables provided. Others took advantage of the refreshments available in the café. When it came to deciding what to do after our lunch break, conversation became very animated. Rather than stroll up the slope of the Country Park and over to the wooden history sculptures for more fresh air, some people opted vociferously for the road straight past Lullingstone Castle to Eynsford, part of the route i had originally suggested for a more challenging walk. I was beginning to sympathise with Capt. Bligh, when Harriet stepped in and took the mic, so to speak, bringing the meeting to order. Once we were sure that guests in the mutinous group had enough sighted guides, the rest of us turned back through the cow parsley, along by the Darent to Castle Farm for lavender ice cream which we consumed amongst the pots of lavender and then carried on to the site of the duck racing at Shoreham and up the permissive path to the station there, to find they had put on an unscheduled train for us which rolled up as we arrived! We had to change trains at Swanley because of engineering works on the up-line. Once again platform information was a bit suspenseful but we made it back to Victoria to get ready for the week ahead, thoroughly refreshed.
Thank you to all the guests for their spirited company and knowledge of birdsong and to the guides, helpers and marshals for their contribution to the events of the day.
Photos by Pam and Patricia