Chalk and Brambles

The sky is looking a bit grey as I set off, and I momentarily wonder if I’ve made the right choice of gear. The plan is do the bulk of the walk today, find somewhere to bivvy and then have an easier walk back. But a bivvy, even one with a hoop, isn’t the most comfortable place to hunker down if it’s going to be a wet night. However, despite current appearances, the forecast is positive, and anyway I’m sort of committed now.

I cross the not very busy main road, plunge through a gap in the bushes, and am instantly removed from normality, or at least such as normality is these days. Here is calm, and more importantly no people.

I’ve not walked this path before, so it is good to strike out across the wheat field. A left turn and the field is replaced with a rougher pasture before the path leads to cross another road. Here there are people, none seen, but the noises of people going about their business on a Saturday afternoon in a small village. The scrunch of a car on a gravel drive, a horse in the field I’ve just left and in the distance a muffled bark of a dog.

A different matter when I emerge at the place where I will cross the 10 lanes of madness, that is the A2. Luckily there’s a bridge.

The other side of the bridge, calm returns as I stand and look at the two options – the familiar path to the left and a less well-known one to the right. The right-hand path is chosen, but I’ve not read the map properly as there’s actually two paths this side. But I only see the one that runs alongside the A2, not the one that runs straight across a golf course. Despite it not being the path I intended, it’s actually ok, and arguably better than dodging little flying white balls.

I emerge at the village war memorial. Last time I was here, it was bustling with Sunday morning cyclists and a noisy clamour for parking spaces. None of that today – the place seems deserted. I walk along the empty main street and into the churchyard.

At the back of the churchyard, and the outlying “overflow” graveyard, I step through a gap in a tall hedge and into a large apple orchard.

The way here is easy to see, bare earth scoured clean of vegetation by countless pairs of feet over the years. Notwithstanding the fact that I came this way two weeks ago, albeit in reverse.

The orchard eventually, (as it’s three quarters of a mile to cross it), gives way to a field of barley (I think, but I’m rubbish with plants) and I enjoy swishing through the sea of rippling stems.

Familiar paths take me to my next decision point: my more usual paths in the direction of Luddesdown, or a barely remembered more westerly route. In a spirit of adventure I take the latter and bypass the ancient village.

A road is crossed and I arrive at the foot of the Great Buffalo Field. I remember last time I had to cross this it proved to be a bit of a pain to find where to aim for. Here the giant beasts patrol with impressive commitment and a chess game of move and countermove ensues as I attempt to skirt the herd and reach the gate on the other side.

Lanes now take me south past the eastern outliers of Meopham. This way is not used much, and the path is encroached often by brambles and nettles. The path being on the side of a valley winds up and down seemingly at random.

Legs are a bit sick of all the toil by the time I emerge onto a minor road, and rather than take the rest of the path, that would take me into Harvel, I take the road to get some easier and quicker distance under my belt.

It doesn’t feel very welcoming though. There are a lot of signs warning of surveillance, and the bushes seem to have eyes. Vehicles fly by with wild abandon. Several times I step into the foliage to save my skin.

I leave the road, climb steeply through a wood cresting a small ridge, and find myself on the familiar territory of the Wealdway. Although only briefly, as soon after I take a fork I’ve not taken before.

The day is in decline and my thoughts now turn to where to aim for to bed down for the night. A meadow looks quite inviting with some promising patches at the sides, but there is someone crossing the field and so I continue.

I climb up onto Holly Hill and take my rest at its summit. Dinner is taken too. There is no one about, not even any noise nearby. I briefly consider dossing down up here.

Something tells me not to, and I get on my way again, but first stop to take in the fading light and the distant silhouette of the tall buildings in the City. Quite frankly, that’s as near as I want to get to them.

As I descend the hill to the road, 3 cars draw up in formation and with a great deal of fanfare. I’m glad I’d not just laid out my bivvy at the top of the hill – it’s about to be invaded.

I flee north up the road and descend the further slopes of the hill, nothing here taking my fancy. A steep path descends through a wood to a new place. I’ve not been here before. I attempt to cut around to a likely spot suggested by the map and find myself running the gauntlet of game birds running amok before me. A short patch of very rough vegetation stands between me and a gate, beyond which is a proper track, and a proper path.

The vegetation tears at my unclad legs, haste to be on the “right” side of the gate making me impervious to the lacerations forming on my lower limbs. This is the final straw, as the balance tilts firmly towards Type 2 Fun. It’s time to find somewhere to stop for the day.

The next field is a pretty scraggy affair and clearly isn’t frequented much. It will do. But it’s a bit slopy, and a few spots are passed up. Finally I find somewhere that will do (just) at the bottom of the field right by a hedge. A few sticks need to be moved, and the orientation of the bivvy is pretty much determined by the slope.

I’m soon in my bivvy, and as is often the case ears are alert to the surrounding sounds – rabbits, birds, angry farmers toting guns etc. It’s always a relief when darkness completes its victory over the day.

I sleep (somehow), but it’s an early awakening. I lie there for quite a bit until tractor sounds coming closer stir me into action. I’m packed and away quite quickly.

As is always the case, a much better spot is found within 10 minutes of starting walking.

I climb back onto the escarpment with a simple plan. The path will take me to intercept the North Downs Way, and then it’s easy map-less walking all the way home. I’m in no hurry, which is just as well as I’m still a bit tired.

The sun is out as I cross the Cherry Garden, Slug Meadow and The Clearing With No Name Yet.

There’s a bench at the far side of The Clearing With No Name Yet, and it proves to be a good spot for breakfast. I take my porridge and coffee in the company of Graham and Colin whose memorials are permanent fixtures to the backrest.

A couple of runners pass by, one even stopping to say hello to Graham and Colin.

I’m on my way again, ambling through the woods, on one of my favourite parts of the Downs. There is no hurry, it’s very much a “go at the pace I feel like” sort of day.

I leave the forest to descend from the ridgeline and cross two valleys.

I find out when I’m the other side of Upper and Lower Bush and struggling up the hill to Cobham Woods, that all the green tubes are protecting vines – apparently the farm is trying its hand at viticulture.

The other side of the woods I’m reunited with the A2 and then it’s just a short walk back to the car.

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