What little fitness had been instilled in my legs in Wales already felt like it was ebbing, and so it was time to top them up. The aim was simply to do a long walk and carry a decent load – and to have a bit of up and down. That ruled out staying my side of the river – it’s pancake flat here. I quickly hatched a plan whereby I’d catch the Tilbury ferry to Gravesend and do a big circular walk on the North Downs from there, finding somewhere to pitch up overnight. The sort of thing I’ve done many times before, usually when training for a bigger walk to come.
The fact I’ve done this a few times also meant that it would be difficult to plan out a route without significant stretches I’d done before. So I decided to simply print out map sheets for the area and make it up as I go. Indeed I probably would just wander aimlessly for some of the time without even consulting the map. This was, after all, the area I grew up in.
The ferry dropped me at the Town Pier and I headed up the High Street, the shops seeming to change every time I visit. I had an errand to do in the florist and then was on my way, choosing for once to take the “back route” out of town. I headed along Parrock Street, decided not to climb Windmill Hill and paused a few minutes to look down over the Rugby club ground and beyond it, my old school. And finished my chips obviously.
Memories of school PE came back at this point – I was on the longer cross-country run route we often did, although I remember there wasn’t much actual country in the cross-country. This was always a good point to reach – it was downhill all the way from here – unless of course you were on the first lap of several.
Heading for Singlewell now, I passed the houses my grandparents used to live in and got stuck into the grind up to the A2. Three miles into the walk and I stepped off the tarmac into Jeskyns Country park and took advantage of the cafe there for a cup of tea. A small child riding on a parent’s shoulders demanded a high-5 as I passed.
Through Jeskyns and I entered Cobham, a regular staging post on these walks. Behind the church there’s a path that leads through a series of orchards and across the railway. This dumped me onto the Wealdway, this section of path well-trodden before. So I left this after a couple of fields to explore a new path. This turned out to be the start of a load of primroses, first a few clumps in the woods, then a whole lane edged with them.
I emerged near Harvel and had a bit of a sit and a ponder about where to go next. The afternoon was advancing well so I needed to start thinking about heading for somewhere with some camping options. Unless I wanted to hide at the edge of a farmer’s field, this meant the edge of the escarpment where there were plenty of woods and big grassy meadows.
I crossed a road and climbed up a field north of Holly Hill. I’d noted on a previous passing of this field that it had some interesting looking spots. From this angle though it looked different, and the “bull in field” sign was a bit off-putting. Nevertheless I “accidentally” missed the path and explored the field margins. Not finding anything I liked with a view that wasn’t in sight of a house, I carried onto the exit, seeing the bull waiting there. All in all I was glad I wasn’t stopping here. I don’t mind camping in with sheep but certainly not with cows or horses. Across the road I found myself in a big sloping field and found a spot towards the far end out of sight of anywhere.
Up went the ionosphere and I set about dinner – my home dehydrated chilli. This rehydrated well but as I found to my cost the next morning, was possibly a tad too spicy for backpacking. If you get my drift…
An early night as I intended to be up and away as early as possible in the morning. I was walking for 6:30 and enjoyed the sun coming up through the trees as I took to the woods, broken with periodic patches of open field.
This was familiar territory now, and the plan now was to join the North Downs Way and follow it up towards Cuxton. This took me through “Slug Meadow”, scene of my first North Downs camp.
The North Downs Way turned left to cross the Bush Valley, but I carried on for a bit, emerging lower down the valley and finding a convenient bench overlooking Cuxton and Rochester for second breakfast.
Second breakfast turned into an hour long stop as it merged into brunch and a general realisation that I didn’t want to walk much further.
I climbed out of Cuxton and into the Ranscombe Estate, veering west for the Darnley Estate and a visit to the mausoleum.
Feet smarting a bit now and knees and ankles protesting, I walked out into Cobham and took a slightly different route to the A2 and Singlewell before retracing my route through Gravesend to the ferry.
This has been a useful walk as training for the Big Walk in May, but left me feeling a bit disappoinyed with my performance. Last week I’d done bigger days, carrying a bigger load and for longer and I’d cracked through it with more ease than I did this walk. It was almost as if the lack of a specific target or route induced a kind of lethargy in me. Maybe I need a fixed target. I hope so.
The walk also gave me the opportunity to try out a few gear combinations in readiness for May. As a result I’m pretty close to a finalised gear plan. More about this in a later post.