The Elham Valley Way (plus a bit…)

Last year I managed to make myself go out for a camp in every month, and although some of those were done in the course of a multi-day walk, some were very much a matter of forcing myself out to sleep. For 2022 I wanted to do something a bit different – specifically to make those walks more purposeful. So I have set myself the challenge of going out for some sort of multiday backpack every month, even if it’s just a little one.

The emphasis is therefore, different, and much more about the journeys themselves than sleeping out. I’m not even going to make myself camp on these trips if I don’t want to or if it makes no sense. I’ll get out enough for camps anyway.

This month’s effort is the Elham Valley Way, a route in East Kent between Hythe and Canterbury. It’s a bit over 35km long, meaning it could be done in one big day in the summer months, but is too much for a winter day. So a two day walk at this time of year.

It’s not then much more to extend the walk to the north coast, so that’s what I did – adding on about 11km to Whitstable. When I then considered that travel to the start would see me arrive at Folkestone, it was obvious that I would start the expedition from there and walk along the coast to Hythe to pick up the EVW proper.

As luck would have it, I woke a couple of hours early on day 1, and rather than try to force myself to go back to sleep, opted to get an earlier train, and give myself some more flexibility. So I was in Folkestone for 07:30, which meant that after the short walk to the seafront, I was enjoying sunrise over the English Channel.

I even managed to find some coffee on the coastal walk to Hythe – a van pulled up right by the promenade.

Arriving in Hythe, the start of the walk was pretty non-descript – just a metal arrow sign pointing up the hill away from the town centre.

I trudged up the hill to emerge from the last scraps of residential area into a golf course. This was also the top of Blackhouse Hill, topped with a trig pillar.

Through a bit of woodland next before emerging at Dibgate Army training camp. A lane took me to cross the railway and in short order the M20, and HS1 line. A short stretch along the A20 under the Channel Tunnel Rail Link got me to the outskirts of Newington – a quaint village.

It had that cared for vibe to it, with the locals putting up their own signs to lead you out over some rough grassland – not “stick to the path” type signs, but signs explaining the wildlife etc that could be found.

On the edge of Peene, I had originally intended to leave the path here and head off to a camp site, but this was ludicrous at not even 11am, and would still have been a bit of a waste at the 1pm I should have been passing at. So I pushed on.

The next stretch was the only bit of the Elham Valley Way, which largely follows the course of a former railway line, to actually walk along that old railway line. Consequently it was good flat walking, but it was over all too quickly.

Descending from the embankment into field margins and a muddy woodland stretch with enough standing water and low hanging branches to make it feel a bit like an obstacle course. by now the EVW shares its course with the North Downs Way – a stretch I do not remember at all. A bit further on, it become 3 for the price of 1, with the Saxon Shore Way in the mix too.

I took a break on a fallen tree in a field just before the climb up to the radio station. At the top of the climb I found a nice bench and view.

Somehow on the muddy descent from Tolsford Hill, I lost the main path and found myself on the spur into Etchinghill. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing as I decided to cut the corner off and use the public footpath across the golf course to rejoin the EVW. And it was a nice gravel path rather than mud!

I was soon in Lyminge and ready for whatever refreshments the village offered. Which wasn’t much. I did find a small cafe right next to the path, but it was very much a coffee, cake and sandwiches sort of place, when ideally I fancied a bit more. But it did the job.

Across fields following the Nail Bourne and I reached Elham as the afternoon was dying.

I just had time to take in the sinking sun before heading off for my overnight accommodation.

Day 2 and it was a cold one. The ground was frosted over as I resumed just north of Elham.

It took me a while to get into the rhythm and it wasn’t until I’d hit the minor road through Covert Wood that I built some momentum. A little way past that though, I climbed up a field edge and got the most glorious view of valley mist below me. on finding a bench at the top, it was an easy call to stop for a coffee break.

More fields and small roads brought me to Kingston, then Charlton Park (a keep to the path signs sort of place) dumped me in Bishopsbourne. Just up the road at Court Lodge Farm, my 1/4 mile detour really paid off. I arrived just in time to still order breakfast, and it was divine. Even more so with homemade chocolate brownie to follow. It was a real effort to get going again.

But get going I did, and easy walking brought me to Bridge, and after crossing under the A2, Patrixbourne.

Here I was once more re-united with the North Downs Way – the other arm of the eastern loop – which would coincide with the EVW the rest of the way. It’s also recently been re-badged with “Via Francigena” signs, to promote the pilgrimage to Rome.

The next stretch into Canterbury, I remember reasonably well – lots of open fields, and farm tracks. And the wood I remember being full of bluebells that April day in 2016 I walked that section. Familiar ground always brings a lightening of mood, and I was content to just let the walk happen.

Soon it dumped me into a business park and the edge of Canterbury though. I made my way to the Cathedral, and the Elham Valley Way was done. Tick.

I made it out the other side of Canterbury before calling it and heading for my overnight accommodation.

The next morning, I was faced with about 8 miles to the north coast, and made an early start. Bit of a slog through the woods, and now I wasn’t following a waymarked trail, more likely to go wrong. Which I did.

The worst bit was a field at Ellenden Farm with nothing to indicate the direction across an irregular shaped field. Made worse by it being one of those “Keep to the path, or I’ll set the dogs on you” sort of places. I did eventually get to the other side with a lot of zig zagging, to then be faced by an overgrown thorny tunnel to the stile, and a stile with no cross piece to help you over. By this point I was annoyed. But more was to come.

Arriving at the A299 to find my planned route not feasible – I would either have to play chicken with the traffic, or re-route to a more recognised crossing point. I found a unmapped way through a field, which was apparently part of Wraik Hill nature reserve, although you’d have though Kent wildlife Trust would make the kissing gate wide enough to get through with a rucksack on. Nope.

This gave me a scrubby path alongside the A299 to a nearby junction, where I could cross over and simply follow the main road into Whitstable. I made the mistake of stopping at a Pie and Mash shop on the way in for breakfast, which took over an hour to arrive. The place was also rammed with exactly one mask being worn – mine. I was glad to get out of there.

But, now back in a haunt of my childhood, it was then a simple matter to find my way to the beach to dip my feet in the water, and call the trip done.

This trip is also the subject of a 2 part video series:

and…

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