1 July 2000. Gravesend to Sole Street, 3 miles.
A simple little start, albeit some while before a return; Adrian was aged 8 at the start, but 11 on stage 2. We started not in the town centre but the then Moat House hotel beside the A2; diligent ones can walk two miles south from the Thames along the A227. Nowadays, Eurostar trains hurtle past here, but at the time of our walk the route was still under construction, which added interest to the start. It’s pretty enough around Nash Street, and some of the fields must have seemed very remote to Adrian. The Railway Inn by Sole Street station relegated us to an annexe; something to do with Adrian’s age. 25 August 2003. Sole Street to Harvel, 4 miles.
There are very fine stretches here, around Luddesdown, where we had lunch in the Golden Lion. This little corner has some excellent open downland, and south of the hamlet there is a lovely little ‘hanger’ or dry valley. We left the walk at Boughurst Street Farm and diverted to the village of Harvel, where we had arranged a pick up with Barbara.
28 August 2004. South Street to Trottiscliffe, 4 miles (2 on trail).
We took the bus south from Meopham station to the closest point to Harvel, a place called South Street. We had time for a quick pint (well dad did) in Harvel’s Amazon & Tiger before retracing our steps to Boughurst Street Farm. After padding through Whitehorse Woods, suddenly you come to the scarp slope of the North Downs, with its wide views beyond. Not far from here are the Coldrum Stones, a neolithic site – Adrian ‘did’ ancient history (and subsequently graduated in it), so this was worthwhile. We diverted into Trottiscliffe for the night. It was the penultimate day of the Olympics: we watched Kelly Holmes win a gold at our B&B, the old rectory (a charmingly eccentric place – unfortunately no longer taking guests, I fear), then saw the men’s 4×100 relay team do the same while in the George Inn.
29 August 2004. Trottiscliffe to Basted, 5 miles (4 on trail).
We cheated a bit, taking the direct path from the village across the fields to the sand pit entrance at 650594 rather than retracing our steps to Coldrum – the mile and a half saved matters when you’re 11. The sand pit is a highlight of sorts, an industrial site perhaps but with a scale that has to impress. Even the stretch by the M20 is leavened by its heathland flora. Near Crouch we diverted off the way to pass through orchards being picked by migrant labour, down to the Plough at Basted. Last day of the Olympics; lunch was just in time to see Amir Khan’s silver boxing medal. Borough Green station is not far away, and the taxi was little more expensive than a bus.
12 November 2004. Crouch to Crowhurst Farm, 5 miles.
Mum gave us a lift to the road at 619553, just a few hundred yards from the Wealdway running south into Hurst Wood. The pleasant path rises slowly to Gover Hill, a good viewpoint on the greensand ridge, before dropping down to orchards and the pretty village of West Peckham, where the Wealdway and Greensand Way intersect. We were remarkably well timed for lunch at the wonderful Swan Inn. Not enough room in dad’s rucksack for its home-brewed beers though. It’s fairly straightforward from here, slowly dropping down to the Medway valley, past polytunnels just south of the A26. The main road has a bus service but we had arranged for mum to pick us up at Crowhurst Farm after her own day out.
4 June 2005. Crowhurst Farm to Tonbridge, 7 miles.
No public transport to the start, so it was a lift from mum again. Fields lead down to a tiny tributary of the Medway, the Bourne. The path here was choked by early summer flowers and nettles, so it was a case of finding a stick and exploring a way through. The Medway itself is not far south of the small village of Barnes Street, and it’s followed all the way to Tonbridge. The river is still easily navigable, while it flows slowly through changing countryside, with the occasional lock and sluice for variety. The pollen was steep today, and we were pleased to reach Tonbridge as it had a go at Adrian’s immune system. I had to make it up to him with a meal at Pizza Express.
15 August 2005. Tonbridge to Fordcombe, 9 miles.
A stage with many fine stretches. Essentially, it climbs to an outlying ridge of the Weald, after an initial stroll by the Medway out of Tonbridge. The Wealdway crosses under a railway embankment as it leaves the river: my father, who had lived in Tonbridge when Adrian’s age, had told me that he used to pick blackberries from a railway embankment at the little nearby station of Leigh, so perhaps had come to this very spot with his own father, eighty years ago …
Soon you climb up to the Weald at Bidborough. We had lunch at the Hare & Hounds, a place that was then content to rake in the cash from the uncritical: I have a memory of waiting staff stepping around a dog turd in the garden rather than bother to clear it up. (It later closed, but has reopened under entirley new management as the Kentish Hare.) From here the path seesaws up and down through Modest Corner (warning to walkers following Kev Reynolds’ old Cicerone guide: the Beehive is now closed) and Speldhurst, then the perfect little Avery’s Wood, to Fordcombe. We tried our best to catch the Tunbridge Wells bus, but on the way down, the train to Tonbridge had sat outside the station for twenty minutes (inches above the path!), and Hare & Hounds service had been slow, so we eventually gave up … only to start running again when we saw the one bus a day down to Ashurst station.
16 February 2006. Fordcombe to Chuck Hatch, 7 miles (6 on path).
We returned to Fordcombe via the bus from Edenbridge. From the village it’s down to a short stretch near and by the Medway. Given that a railway runs through it, the flood plain has a remote feel around here. The Dorset Arms at Withyham is a quality establishment, and the slow uphill tread south from here is very pretty, with lovely views behind and the Five Hundred Acre Wood, of Ashdown Forest, ahead. We nipped out of the forest for our overnight accommodation, at the smallholding of the Paddocks in Chuck Hatch.
17 February 2006. Chuck Hatch to Buxted, 10 miles (8 on path).
A Roman road tracks through Ashdown Forest at about the place where the wood ends and the heathland begins, so we spent a few minutes trying to find evidence of a fossa or similar. Then there is the broad step out on to this great wild space, with views that encompass all the major hill ranges of the Wealdway. We had a glorious day for it too, though part of me wonders whether a full on south-westerly gale might not have been better preparation for the real walking Adrian might have done in years ahead (he turned out to be a cyclist). But this magnificent stretch is over in little more than an hour, the descent starting soon after the trig point on Camp Hill. The Foresters in Fairwarp was a straightforward village local – nothing wrong with that – and we then made good time down to Buxted Park, and cut through the park to the station.
1 April 2006. Buxted to East Hoathly, 9 miles (8 on trail).
It’s been a dry winter, but the flood plain of the Uck beyond Hempstead Mill was remarkably damp. Goodness knows whether the Wealdway is passable in a ‘normal’ winter (should one ever now occur). You then follow a pretty little tributary up to Tickerage Wood, and from here we diverted (via the Vanguard Way) to Blackboys and the excellent and ancient Blackboys Inn. We picked up the path again before the loop to Newplace Farm, and were surprised that shortly after there’s a field stretch where the right of way has been ploughed up. Hawkhurst Common was fun: we battled into a chilly little wind, and I told Adrian that this was a bit like the size and contours of the summit plateau of Ben Nevis; these would be considered good conditions for the Highlands. We dropped down to East Hoathly past a deserted stables and the graves of race horses, including Irish Oaks winner Princess Pati. Mum and grandma were waiting in the village churchyard.
4 August 2006. East Hoathly to Hellingly, 7 miles (6 on path).
A family pub lunch at the King’s Head, tap of the 1648 brewery, was a pretty good way to start. The Six Bells in Chiddingly – a music pub – would have been a good stop too, but there is only so much crawling you can do with a teenager in tow. The highlight of the stage is the delightful churchyard with integral cottages at Hellingly; you encounter the River Cuckmere too. We left the route at Horsebridge to the only accommodation we knew of, the nearby Travelodge, but we saw as we passed it that another King’s Head, in Lower Horsebridge, had rooms too.
5 August 2006. Hellingly to Wilmington, 8 miles.
A very annoying start. We lost the Wealdway at the turn off south, in new housing, so had a road plod through an estate. The stretch by the Cuckmere to Upper Dicker was fascinating though; it looked like a savannah. A very large field soon after was a nice little navigation poser causing a compass lesson. The village shop in Upper Dicker was our watering hole, as it was too early for the pubs of Upper Dicker and Arlington. Over the railway and A27, the Long Man and South Downs came ever closer to view. At the Giant’s Rest in Wilmington, we waited on the lawn, fed and ‘watered’, bathed in glorious sunshine, for our lift home.
12 February 2007. Wilmington to Beachy Head, 9 miles.
Time to finish at last, having worked out that it was doable by public transport, if taxis for the start and finish are allowable. As befits the season, this was a rougher day than when we had left Wilmington, but dry apart from a few showers on the pull past the feet of the Long Man. This is an impressive stretch, bringing in to clear relief the scale of this massive chalk figure. Now I had noticed with Matthew that at about the age of 14 teenagers change from ‘I can’t do this’ walkers to ‘why are you so slow?’ – at least mine do, for Adrian was the same. After lunch in the Eight Bells at Jevington he fairly raced up to Combe Hill, at one juncture practically vaulting a stile, while dad was still following behind. The wind ripped through us along the ridge above Eastbourne though and whatever the merits of the mighty cliff even dad was pleased to see the Beachy Head hotel in front of us. So that was another knocked off: no more children to induct, alas.