5 years after I started the North Downs Way, I walked down the lane from the centre of Knockholt Pound, retracing my steps on my last day. We skirted around the edge of the Chevening estate and followed waymarkers through the woods.
Emerging at a stile liberally festooned with NDW arrows on every side we looked down into a grassy valley and tried to decipher which way to go – we couldn’t even use the trick of comparing the waymarkers from our approach side with those on the other side as they were everywhere. So we made an educated guess and followed the fence around the valley side heading in a roughly south-easterly direction. We got to the bottom and I realised that we weren’t on the NDW and I cursed aloud. A post has 8 NDW waymarkers on it, I follow the one going in about the right direction, and it’s still wrong. Please sort this out Kent County Council – grid reference TQ488589.
But we weren’t actually lost – we were just two field widths away from where we needed to be and we were soon back on track once we turned left at Chevening church.
Today’s leitmotif was clearly motorways, and we did our first crossing – over the M25 and then followed the A224 for a while before we turned off for Otford, sheltering briefly under some roadside trees as the rain started and we tried to judge whether it was worth switching to wet weather mode. We didn’t, and it was the right decision. We crossed fields and the railway before entering Otford and finding somewhere for a bite to eat, having forgotten to bring lunch in the mayhem at home this morning.
After looking at various pubs we ended up in the Pond View Cafe. It was overpriced considering the tiny portions and I urge anyone doing the Way to try one of the pubs instead.
After lunch, as so often on my walks, a big climb followed pretty much from the off – a slog up onto Otford Mount this time. The we spent the next hour or so following the top of the scarp slope alternately through woods or on open patches where we looked down on the wide valleylands below.
Then as legs started tiring we descended to follow the Pilgrim’s Way along the foot of the escarpment and slogged our way along a stony byway to the outskirts of Wrotham and the crossing of the M20.
Now it was just a matter of when and where to branch off for our campsite, although we did seriously consider a wild camp – but as soon as my son realised that he’d still have to clean his teeth if we wildcamped he voted for the campsite. Despite the 2 mile detour to get to it.
We got as far as Wrotham Water (no actual water to be seen though!) And turned right to cross the M20 again and shortly after the M26. Then a quick pitstop in a filling station to get essential supplies of alcohol and a short while after we were at Gate House Wood campsite.
The first thing that struck me was how quiet it was, and it stayed that way. We got the tent up and just as dinner was on the Trangia, it started raining. Into the tent we went, and this is where the Trangia comes into its own as it is quite safe inside, although ventilation is needed.
After dinner a neighbour came over and we spent an hour chatting about the various merits and demerits of various camping choices – me in a tiny backpacking tent and him in a big motorhome. A hot drink, some chocolate and the light started fading so we hunkered down in the tent for the long night ahead.
Distance: 19.1 km (+ 2.9km from NDW to campsite)
Walk time: 5 hrs
The next day…
We got going, eventually, in the morning after another lengthy natter with the same neighbour. Ideally, today we’d walk to Cuxton, but that’s a long way and I didn’t feel like it. My son, of course, was quite happy to forego another 10 miles + and so we made our way back to the bottom of Wrotham Hill for a lift home, but this time instead of slogging along the road we took the slightly more scenic route through the fields.