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Orchards and Perfick Villages Around Pluckley

A gentle ramble through the countryside made famous by fictionalKentish family the Larkins.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Orchard tracks and footpaths, some field margins, 17 stiles

Landscape Apple orchards, pasture and pretty villages

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 137 Ashford

Start/finish TQ 927454

Dog friendliness On lead quite a bit, but they'll enjoy this walk

Parking On street in Pluckley

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the church, turn right and head up to the main road. Walk uphill, turn right by the Black Horse car park sign and make for a gate. Cut across the playing fields and through a gap in the hedge into an orchard. Carry straight on keeping the windbreak on your right-hand side, then maintain direction to cross a metalled track by Sheerland Farm.

2 Continue through the orchards to the road. Bear slightly left, then join a footpath by a brick wall. Follow this, climb a stile and follow the fence line on your left, to cross two more stiles at the bottom.

3 Your route continues ahead, through a gap in a wall, up to another orchard and over a stile. Turn left now and follow the track with the windbreak on your left. Bear right, go over another stile and walk towards a brick wall. Turn right and walk through the orchard to the church. Turn left and go down some steps to join the road opposite the little Swan pub.

4 Turn right, then nip over a stile on the left and head diagonally across the field - go to the left of the lone tree. Cross a stile, turn right and walk along the field edge to cross a bridge and a stile. Bear left, then right at the end of a garden to the road - you'll see duck ponds on either side. Follow the tarmac lane, pass a house and, at a waymarker, turn left and walk past the picture postcard village green of Little Chart Forstal.

5 Nip over a stile on the right, then walk down the right-hand side of the field, climbing two more stiles to reach the road by the riding centre. Turn right, take the first road on the left past the farm and follow it to Rooting Manor.

6 Where the road bends left, cross a stile by some gates, turn left and walk along the top of the field. Turn right as you pass through the windbreak and walk up the track. Follow the track that leads to the left and go through the orchard, eventually bearing right and up to Surrenden. Follow the track on your right, cross a stile on the left and walk up the right-hand side of the field to join the track. Nip over the stile and continue to the road. Cross over, walk through the orchard, then across the playing fields. Turn left and return to the church at the start.

There can be few such memorable fictional families as the gutsy, lusty Larkins; irrepressible Pop, voluptuous Ma, beautiful Mariette and the gaggle of young, noisy, children. This walk takes you through the heart of The Darling Buds of May country, for not only was the television series filmed at Pluckley, but the creator of the Larkins, H E Bates, lived at Little Chart which you pass on your route.

Herbert Ernest Bates, to give him his full name, was born in 1905 in Northamptonshire, and moved to Little Chart in 1931 when he and his wife discovered a run down old barn near the village. They converted it to a house, which they called The Granary, and Bates lived there until he died in 1974. Bates worked as a journalist before publishing his first book and quickly established a reputation for his stories about country life in England. During the Second World War, when he served as a Squadron Leader in the RAF, he continued to write, his stories appearing under the pseudonym Flying Officer X. He was astonishingly prolific and one of his most famous books, Fair Stood the Wind for France (1944) was written while he was on leave. Other books, like The Purple Plain (1947), drew on his experiences in Burma during the Second World War.

Bates wrote short stories, novels, plays and pieces on gardening and country life. But in everything he wrote, his love of nature shines through, and in the Larkin books he brilliantly captures the beauty of the countryside around Pluckley. There are copses full of bluebells, nightingales in the woods, fields choked with strawberries and trees laden with cherries, cobnuts, pears and plums. Bates also writes of 'miles of pink apple orchards? showing petals like light confetti', and this walk takes you through the heart of some orchards. In spring you'll be able to enjoy the blossom, in autumn you'll see the apples - which, as elsewhere in Kent, often seem to be left to rot on the ground. Apple growing goes back to Roman times and the first large-scale orchards were planted for Henry VIII. Apples were highly prized and even in Victorian times ordinary people could only afford to buy windfalls and bruised fruit.

There are over 6,000 different varieties of apple, and hundreds of types of pears, plums and cherries. Sadly, vast areas of orchard have now disappeared from Kent, due to competition from imported fruit. However people are becoming more interested in eating local produce, so one day you might get the chance to try famous Kentish apples like Beauty of Kent, Gascoyne's Scarlet, Kentish fillbasket and Sunset. As Pop Larkin might have said 'Perfick'.

Where to eat and drink

You pass the Black Horse at the start of this walk. It's a large pub and serves everything from soup and sandwiches to Sunday roasts. They serve food every day except for Sunday evening. Alternatively, you can try the Swan at Little Chart, which dates back to the 15th century and also offers good pub food.

What to look for

Orchards are not the wildlife havens that they used to be, as they are sprayed with insecticide and tend to be densely planted. Still, it's worth keeping a look out to see if you can see any orchard butterflies, such as the small tortoiseshell and red admiral which feed off rotten fruit. Hedgehogs also enjoy fallen apples and sometimes get a bit tipsy if the fruit has started to ferment.

While you're there

Pluckley claims to be the most haunted village in England, boasting about a dozen ghosts. They range in form from a highwayman, a monk and a gipsy watercress seller, to a Red Lady who wanders through the churchyard, and even a marching band. On top of that there's the furniture in a local inn, which has a habit of moving around by itself.

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