North Downs Way 9: Dunn Street to Chilham

I learned something overnight.  Something which was actually pretty obvious and staring me in the face the whole time.  And it’s this….you really don’t need that much stuff to have an ok time.  Let me elaborate….

I’ve always taken far too much stuff on walks, mainly because of the “this might be useful” trap.  But for this two day walk, I purposely planned it to be as minimal as possible.  Now this was helped a lot by the good weather forecast that we had for last week, when I first intended to do this walk, and I reasoned at the time that for one overnight with no need to enter proper civilisation, I really didn’t need to go overboard on clothes, toiletries or, for that matter, food.  So I focussed on building my packing around the things I absolutely had to take – tent, sleeping bag, sleep mat and stove (arguably, I could even have done without this) – and anything else would only go in if there was room.  Apart from what I was wearing, clothes were limited to a change of base layer, a change of socks and my softshell jacket for use if the weather went pear-shaped.  And food was limited to only what I planned to eat for dinner and breakfast, plus my usual walking snacks.

Anyway, as a result of this approach, I packed this morning with a smile on my face, having eaten exactly what I planned, and not having suffered at all from the reduced clothing or evening entertainment.  And I could really see the space in my rucksack as a result.

I only had two slight regrets.  First that my idea of turning in early and rising early didn’t happen and that I’d got delayed talking to the farmer, so had a much later than intended start.  And second that whilst a long walk seemed to have been good for my rib injury, a night’s camping and sleeping on the floor certainly wasn’t!

So it was 8:55am before I set-off from the camp site.  The plan today was ideally to get as far as Canterbury, but I’d have to see how it went.  I had a slight nagging concern that after 16 miles yesterday (nearly 20 when you factored in the effect of the ascent and descent) I might not be up to it – similar happened two weeks ago when a 17 mile slog on the first day knackered me, and particularly my feet, to such an extent that 6 miles was all I could do the next.  So I thought through my contingency options as I set off.  With railway stations at Wye, Chilham and Chartham Hatch, I had three places I could cut the walk short if I didn’t feel like doing the rest.  And none of those would be any more challenging to get back to, in order to resume next time, or indeed complicate how I broke down the rest of the path going forward.  So this meant I could just see how I went.

Heading out from Dunn Street
Heading out from Dunn Street

As it happened, I felt ok as the NDW took to the fields and opened up views towards the Downs near Wye.  But, with another sizeable dose of road and trackway walking, I knew this could quite likely not last.  I strolled across the field and even in a couple of places where signage was a bit weak, a confident sense of direction and reading the landscape saw me through.  Having watched a programme about natural navigation last week, I also found myself looking at trees a lot – to confirm to myself that it really is true that they tend to point north-east because of how they are bent by the prevailing winds.

I soon found myself on the Eastwell estate and a section of tarmac that took me to Boughton Lees.  And they are clearly keen that you don’t wander all over the place on the estate, as the signage is really quite good, including one which reminded me that I was on the European E2 path and briefly stirring thoughts of doing the whole thing.

I got to Boughton Lees and there had my only navigational issue of the trip, albeit a minor one.  Reaching the main road I followed the sign exactly and headed north along the A251 instead of crossing and taking the road the other side of the triangular village green.  But this didn’t last long – reaching the top left corner of the green, it didn’t seem right and there was no sign where I would have expected one.  For the first time that day, out came the map and within seconds I was back on the path.  I headed up a lane towards Boughton Aluph and before I knew it reached an important point on the North Downs Way.

Decision time - the path splits
Decision time – the path splits

It was also about an hour into the walk, and today I’d decided to try a new discipline – taking a 5 minute pause every hour and forcing a cereal bar down my neck, rather than ploughing on and on and then having a bigger stop for lunch.  I hoped that this would get me to Canterbury in under 5 hours and would not leave me energyless as the day wore on.

So I took a break at the path junction and reviewed my progress as I scoffed my snack.  From here I could take the Folkestone route and have a short day by stopping at Wye, a mile or two away.  That would be a convenient place to resume next time, and from there it was feasible to carry on and do whichever leg of the route I wanted to.  or I could stick with my original plan to do the longer northern option via Canterbury, returning back to this point on the southern leg once I reached Dover.  But by heading north I was committing myself to at least 5 miles more as the first viable stop point was Chilham.

But at this stage I felt ok, and as I took the Canterbury route I began to feel the benefits of my frequent rest and snack approach.  having quickly reached Boughton Aluph, the path headed up onto the scarp in  a long drawn-out crawl into King’s Wood, which would be my companion for a big chunk of the walk today.

A nice, and clearly old, mixed woodland with a well-defined wide track was very easy to follow and even when I reached path junctions with no signage for the NDW, I found the right way by using the rationale that as I was on a byway unless I was specifically signed to turn off onto a footpath I should continue on the byway.  It worked a treat.  Soon I had my second hourly rest and munch, and then was off again.  Suddenly, through a gap in the trees I spotted Canterbury Cathedral in the hazy distance down the Stour valley.  I calculated that it should be about 8-9 miles away, but it looked so much further.

The first doubts that I’d make it all the way crept in, and as I descended from the wood to join the lanes past the Chilham Castle estate I knew my walk was coming to an end for the day.  I’d made it much further than two weeks ago and my feet felt much better.  I could walk further, but reasoned that Chilham was a more logical place to stop than Chartham.  This way, when I resumed next time I would hit Canterbury around lunchtime, which would be convenient, and which would mean that I could stop overnight somewhere past Canterbury and avoid doing the 19 mile last stretch to Dover in a single day.  Providing I could find somewhere to break overnight next time, I would end up with my remaining 25 miles from Chilham to Dover falling into two roughly equal walks of 12-13 miles each, which was about spot on for what I find comfortable.

So the plan was formed and reaching Chilham village I turned off the Way to head for the station, reaching it about 12:10, just over 3 hours after setting out from Dunn Street, and having covered nearly 9 miles (or 10 in flat-equivalent terms).  I was happy with that, and have now come to realise that these two-day walks seem to work best when they total about 25 miles and no more.

Now I just need to work out when I will be able to fit in the remaining stretch – 25 miles to Dover, and then a further section of about 25 miles from Dover back to Boughton lees via the southern route.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish it off before my hill walking season begins in earnest around easter.  And I really need to polish off the NDW so that my wife doesn’t moan about me keep starting things and not finishing them.  I’ll also be glad to finish the NDW, as I’m starting to feel that I’ve had enough rolling farmland and woodland walking.  I think my next “local” long distance path will be something around the coast or following a river.  But let’s get this one done first.

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