Back to west of the Medway
Friday 31 May 2013: Borstal to Hollingbourne, 16 miles (15 on trail)
Soon you’re heading up a prow of the Downs, passing the little Boxley Warren nature reserve, back on to the escarpment, with good views south over the Medway valley. Blue Bell Hill is a better name than place; here the Way is coralled beside the busy A229 for a while. Beyond the White Horse stone megalith, the ridge soon resumes, the Way sticking resolutely to it apart from a brief dip at Detling. Here, at last, I had an excuse to stop and eat – my first NDW pub,such will power! Beyond Detling, there’s a country park leading to close to the ruined Thurnham castle, before a few dry valleys poke up onto the ridge to give a different, more intimate, feel, and the final descent to the pretty village of Hollingbourne.Monday 3 June 2013: Hollingbourne to Wye, 16 miles (15 on trail)
There are good long striding stretches on this stage, many green lanes and country lanes, the first 11 miles out of Hollingbourne being entirely coincident with the ancient Pilgrims’ Way. As such there’s no village until the edge of Charing is reached. Also the escarpment is less marked here, indeed the 600ft contour is not breached at all. Across the Stour valley, the Greensand hills reappear, with the Weald further away, and one or two very distant glimpses of the sea too. Beyond Dunn Street, the parkland of Eastwell Park gives wide open spaces, and I had time to treat myself to a pint by the village green of Boughton Lees. The last few miles, by contrast, have some rather prosaic farmland, though the imposing downland of the next stage becomes increasingly prominent, the Wye Crown showing the way forward.
Tuesday 18 June 2013: Wye to Folkestone, 16 miles
Prominent above Wye is the Crown memorial, cut into the chalk in 1902, and the Way goes straight up to it. From here there is an intriguing downland stroll with many undulations – this is another 2000ft day – starting with the orchid-rich grasslands of the Broad Downs, a national nature reserve though once an artillery range! I was planning a pint at Stowting but alas the pub was having a day off. After a roadside stretch there’s a switchback above Postling, and then a climb to the radio station on Tolsford Hill; the Way, so usually obvious, is a bit less clear on the ascent, and I manage to go a little astray for a while. Here the Way coincides with the Elham Valley Way for a mile, as far as the long-gone railway through this valley, and then enters an impressive dry valley beyond. At last, the sea, France in clear sight, and if to underline the point, the Channel Tunnel terminal beneath your feet.Monday 24 June 2013: Folkestone to Shepherdswell, 17 miles
Not many people would walk through Dover on the Way, but as I planned to walk both its Folkestone and Canterbury loops it made sense for me. But first, to get there: sea cliff walking, some of the finest in the country, in the south-east perhaps the finest stretch other than the gem that is the Seven Sisters. Unlike the Sussex counterpart however, there is a tad too much inland intrusion, bits of ribbon development here and there, and later the A20 too. But the Sisters can’t boast the view of France, with the ferries scuttling across like water boatmen on a pond, nor the Battle of Britain memorial, nor, if I remember, Highland cattle grazing the grass. All that, and an approach to Dover itself that threads the ramparts of the Western Heights.In Dover, a chance to sit by the little patch of shingly beach for a while – no Channel swimmers today, this is their traditional start/end point, a long-distance venture far beyond my abilities (I can manage 25 metres, not miles). Then soon out of the town, heading north on its Roman road for a while, before cutting westwards past the little church at Waldershare and the parkland beyond. Unexpectedly perhaps, bits of industrial heritage – old pit buildings and the colliery railway – follow: for Shepherdswell was, until the late twentieth century, on the edge of the Kent coalfield.
Monday 24 March 2014: Shepherdswell to Canterbury, 11 miles (10 on trail)
That wet winter, plus the dodgy achilles, got in the way of continuation, but I finally got around to a resumption after a nine-month gap. There’s a pleasant downland start over the antiquities of Three Barrow Down, and Womenswold is one of the very prettiest of the villages on the Way, but this is another stretch bedevilled by road, this time the A20 again. Mercifully there’s a right turn just beyond the surprise of the grand house of Higham Park leading above sculpted Bifrons Park into Patrixbourne, another smashing little place. Unhappily, it still bore the scars of the winter’s flooding, from the Little Stour tributary the Nail Bourne. Pumping machines were still working, the ford across the bourne was closed to motors, and a few sandbags were still in place.Beyond Patrixbourne there’s an entrancing little primrose-lined lane, but the last few miles into Canterbury are all on tarmac, little else of it enticing. I was looking forward to a bit of time in front of the Cathedral but you have to pay money (and quite alot), not just to get inside it – to be expected these days – but, before 4.30, even to enter its grounds! I took one picture, from the money till, and plodded slowly to the station.
Getting to Canterbury just left a dozen miles of the loop to be closed before the whole NDW was completed. This made a pleasant bank holiday expedition for Barbara and me, with an overnight in Canterbury courtesy of Chilham train station.
Saturday 23 August 2014: Wye to Chilham, 8 miles (5 on loop)The little church at Boughton Aluph is a pleasant, if early, stopping off point before the climb up onto Soakham Downs (a name that has surely led to much merriment on days less clement than this – the clouds of the picture never delivered). From here, the Way stays close to the scarp in woods for a couple of miles or so, slowly declining, with occasional views through the trees into Godmersham Park. Just after a deer leap – essentially, a one-way trap so that deer can easily come out of the woods but not back in, and nibble the saplings – the Way heads back down, with a lane into Chilham. Arrival there was a surprise to us: we had no idea we were breaking the walk at one of Kent’s prime chocolate-box villages.
Sunday 24 August 2014: Canterbury to Chilham, 8 miles (7 on trail)Quite possibly saving the best for last; or, more accurately, boring bits at the beginning, middle and end with exceptional walking before the middle and very good walking after it. Soon after Canterbury’s houses are left behind, first of the orchards is with you, then after crossing the modern by-pass is a top-quality long mile. Notice underfoot a change from chalky soil to sandy, rabbit warrens abounding, and look for the outlines of the Iron Age Bigbury Fort – the only hill fort in Kent, and an early victim of Caesar’s invasion. Through interesting woods, pine prominent, you are soon in No Man’s Orchard, a relic of how orchards used to be – and we were passing apples in peak season. Beyond prosaic Chartham Hatch is commercial fruit-growing territory, the modern orchards of mega-grower FW Mansfield spreading acre on acre around Nickle Farm. Eastern European pickers, many of them in family froups, were arriving at the portakabin village right on the route. There’s one last patch of tree-belt before the road work through Old Wives Lees and downhill into Chilham. Just the day to sit outside at a country pub.