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Joust a Stroll Around Offham

An undemanding walk that starts at Offham's village green, where medieval knights would practise their tournament skills.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Easy woodland and farm paths, though not always well signed, some sections of busy road, 3 stiles

Landscape Flat agricultural land and woods

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 148 Maidstone & the Medway Towns

Start/finish TQ659574

Dog friendliness Keep on lead, particularly busy road. Flat terrain makes it good for older, stiffer dogs

Parking On-street parking in village

Public toilets None on route

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1 With the village green and its distinctive quintain on your right-hand side, walk along the main road and then turn right up Tower Hill. Go up the hill to Blaise Farm and continue straight ahead, over two stiles. Your route now takes you straight along the track, past the site of a former chapel dedicated to St Blaise - the patron saint of sore throats. He was once said to have miraculously healed a boy who was choking to death on a fishbone. Sadly you can't see any ruins from the footpath - it's hard to imagine that it was ever here. It's an easy stroll now to the edge of the wood (this must be the flattest walk in Kent), where you go sharp right along Lord's Walk, which runs along the edge of the wood.

2 Join a wide track and keep ahead gradually walking deeper into the woods. Keep ahead until the trees thin and you reach Bramble Hall Cottages. Come down to a busy road, then turn left and walk up to a crossroads. The road ahead leads to Great Comp Garden, a charming garden surrounding a 17th-century manor. It's one of the less well-known gardens in Kent but is certainly worth a visit.

3 Turn right and walk up the road, take great care as the traffic's very busy. Keep your eyes peeled for a small right of way sign at a gap in the hedge on the right-hand side, opposite a golf course. Walk along this track, through a market garden. When you see a hedge ahead of you walk along its left-hand edge. Continue to a typical farm oast house and then walk across to a small wood.

4 A stile leads you into the wood and the path goes left, then skirts round the boundary of a quarry. The path brings you out to a main road, where you turn right (take care, it's very busy). After a short distance, cross over and go up the lane on the left. Continue to a footpath on the right. Follow this, crossing over one track, and keep walking ahead to reach a second junction. Turn right and keep ahead, then turn left and return to the village green.

Ever fancied trying your hand at jousting? Well now's your chance. For on the village green at Offham is a quintain, the only one that's still in use in England. A quintain, or tilting post, in case you weren't sure, is a wooden post used by knights practising for jousting tournaments. You know, the sort of thing you see in films where the heroine hands her hanky to her lover then watches tearfully as he gallops off to do battle with the villain who wants to claim her for himself.

The quintain is about 9ft (3m) high with a centrally pivoted, horizontal piece of wood on the top which swings about rather like a weather vane. There's a target board at one end and a dangling wooden truncheon at the other.

The object was to hit the target with your lance, then gallop away quickly before getting a whack on the back of the head with the truncheon. It was an effective way of practising horsemanship and of improving one's accuracy with a lance - though probably best not done when nursing a hangover. The Offham quintain is still used every year in the village's May Day celebrations.

Apparently Roman horsemen sometimes trained with quintains, but the practise is most commonly associated with medieval knights. In the 12th century, mock battles or mêlées, were a common form of both entertainment and exercise for young knights and could get quite violent. These mêlées grew in popularity and began to concern the authorities and senior churchmen. Such gatherings of armed men could easily be turned into open rebellion and threaten the stability of the country.

During the 13th and 14th centuries the more formal activity of jousting became popular and gradually took the place of the mêlées. Jousting involved two knights in full armour charging at one another on horseback. The object was to unseat your opponent with your lance. Although jousting took place at tournaments, it was not only a game. In the 14th century competitors could be killed, or captured and then held to ransom as the result of a joust. It wasn't until the end of the 15th century that jousting was practised solely as a sport.

This walk, which is very flat and suitable for people who tend to find going uphill and clambering over stiles difficult, takes you from the village green down to the edge of the woods. At this point you are not far from King's Hill, a new settlement built on the site of West Malling airfield. Pilots from here fought in the Battle of Britain, jousting with planes, rather than lances, as their weapons. You then walk through the wood, on to the road and back to Offham by way of a farm.

What to look for

At Addington, north of Offham on the other side of the A20, there is evidence of a neolithic settlement. Burial chambers were found close to what is now the village green and are believed to date back to 2500 bc. Prehistoric pottery has also been found here making it likely that Addington is one of the oldest settlements in Kent.

While you're there

The 18th-century manor house at West Malling was used as a rest station in the Second World War by air crews from the nearby airfield. The cellar was apparently known as the Twitch Inn and was lit by candles. Airmen, including some famous flying aces, wrote their names in the soot from the candles that covered the ceiling.

Where to eat and drink

There's the Kings Arms pub in Offham itself, or if you fancy tea and cakes rather than beer, try the Old Mill Tea Room in nearby West Malling. They serve light lunches, home-made cakes and cream teas.

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