Last week I was all packed and ready to go on this walk, but for one thing – my fitness. On the morning of the walk I realised my ribs were still not healed enough for it to be a sensible thing to do. So reluctantly, but in hindsight pleased with myself for making the right call, I changed my plans and hoped that the weather would hold for another attempt later in the month.
Now with another week of rest, I can feel my ribs getting better everyday, although they still hurt like hell when I first get out of bed in the morning. But yesterday I had to go to the post office in town, a round-trip of about 4 miles on foot, and felt good. In fact rib-wise I felt better after the walk than before. So I decided last night to risk the walk, and when I considered the family calendar for the rest of the month, I realised that this was my only real chance to get a 2 day walk in. So it was decided.
My wife dropped me off at Swanley station, my new jumping-off point for the rest of the path, because of its rail links to the east of Kent, and its handiness for the drive over the Dartford crossing to home. I arrived in the nick of time for the train just after 9. Changing to a bus in Maidstone, I was in Detling for 10:30.
Luckily the bus dropped me right on the path, but I still had to cross the A249 again. Up onto the bridge, named Jade’s Crossing after an 8-year-old girl who was killed with her grandmother while crossing the road, and built after the villagers campaigned for 20 years for a crossing over the busy A dual carriageway that had cut their village in two.
Soon I was heading out of Detling, once more into the open countryside. The path left the road and I headed left along a field edge towards the escarpment and a 90m climb. Skirting the southern edge of White Horse Wood, I reached a decision point. I hadn’t given any thought to peak bagging when planning this walk but as I headed up to the scarp I realised that Detling Hill was on my hills list and was one of the high points of the North Downs. It was a small detour and not much climb, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, but not having looked the hill up before coming on the walk, I didn’t know what it’s credentials are (it’s a Marilyn). The direct path round to the viewpoint has been cut-off by a fence and the path now routes you up and round to the left, passing very close to the actual high point of the hill, which from what I saw wasn’t marked and for that matter wasn’t even clear where it was. At a crossroads in the wood, by a bench, I explored a bit looking for a higher point, and then took the right turn towards the viewpoint and the trig point (official 2m below the actual summit). I stood at the trig point and took in the view from my 57th Marilyn and 91st HuMP.
I cut back down to rejoin the NDW itself and emerged onto the road just below the remains of Thurnham Castle. But I didn’t make the short detour upwards to visit the site itself, as I was already concerned about the distance I had to do considering sunset was shortly after 6pm. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t overdo it today and was aiming for a speed of between 2.5 and 3 miles an hour which meant that with 16 miles to cover and ascent likely to add an equivalent of another 3 miles in terms of effort and pace, I needed to get on with it.
Up I climbed into Clively Wood and just as I was getting my ascent rhythm up, the phone rang, and it was a business call that I had to take. The call over, and with a new business opportunity on the table, and my thursday meeting postponed, I could get on with the walk in the knowledge that I didn’t now have to stop mid-afternoon for my original planned business call, which at that stage of the day could well have meant the end of the walk as I might never get going again after. I also didn’t have to worry about frantic last-minute prep for my thursday meeting when I got home, which meant I could enjoy the walk more.
Soon I was passing Coldblow, one of the few camping barns on the route, but which was not viable as an overnight stop for me because of the way my progress had panned out. Then back into the woods and another interruption – a 10 minute chat with a couple of ladies walking the other way, which started when they admired my Pacerpoles, meaning that I then spent time extolling their virtues.
But my last interruption of the day over, I built some momentum and was soon making good progress across the escarpment, alternately at the top of fields stretching down into the valley below, and then through woodland, and the tree “tunnels” that are so much a feature of the North Downs Way.
I descended into Hollingbourne and briefly toyed with the idea of a pub lunch. But I couldn’t really spare the time and I knew what effect such a stop would have on my progress in the afternoon, so I continued on the road heading east out of the village. Now began a stretch of road and trackway walking along the Pilgrim’s Way that lasted pretty much all the way to Charing. But I needed a break and so at the first opportunity at a field corner with some convenient tree trunks to rest on, I stopped for lunch.
Since I didn’t bring much food with me, lunch was brief, but I felt better for the rest, although when I got going again the first couple of hundred metres I felt stiff. But I soon loosened up and focussed on eating up the miles, as I reckoned having only done about 6 so far, I had another 10 to go. I wanted to be at the camp site for about 5 to give me time to pitch-up and sort things out before sunset. That meant I couldn’t hang around, so got my head down and plodded it out.
I stopped briefly at the Pilgrim’s bench near Harrietsham, not for a rest, but because it really needed a picture, and then was on my way again.
Next stop was the war memorial on the hillside above Lenham. I’m pretty sure that as a child my parents told me it was to mark the site where a wartime pilot crashed and died, but today I found out that it is actually a more general war memorial, carved out of the chalky hillside.
Past Charing, with time marching on and me starting to flag, I soon found myself once more in a wooded part of the track and becoming increasingly suspicious about the accuracy of the distances shown on the signs, as it felt like much further. Now as 5pm loomed the last mile and a half was really slow and my feet were reminding me that a daily distance of 13-14 miles equalled comfortable, and that after that point I tailed off rapidly.
At 5:10 I limped into Dunn Street Farm camp site, paid my £6 and found the camping field. It was empty, totally. So I had my pick of spots, and spent a few moments trying to find the best balance of shelter from the wind and views of sunset/sunrise. The tent was up in 20 minutes, 16 of which was spent trying to drive the pegs into the hard ground and with me eventually resorting to using my shoe as a mallet.
I got a brew on, walked to the middle of the field to get a better view of the colours in the sky to the west and then returned to my tent for dinner, which consisted of two out of date Wayfarers meals. They looked like vomit, but tasted ok, although they won’t win any Michelin stars.
And then, with the sun down and darkness rapidly taking over, I retired to the tent for the night. Discovering that with my head torch batteries failing (which I did know beforehand) and that it takes 3 batteries (which I hadn’t realised), not the two spare that I had with me, reading and writing up the day’s walk didn’t last long, and so instead I opted for bed, thinking that I’d go to sleep early and then be up really early tomorrow to knock-out tomorrow’s walk by lunchtime. So with it not even being 8pm, I hunkered down to let the sounds of the rustling trees lull me to sleep.