As I turned away from the trail last night, I noticed that there was a problem on the other side of the road – an apparent path closure. I had a brief look at the sign, promising myself I’d mull it over overnight.
When it came to it though, I completely forgot, and found myself back at the trail staring at the sign the next morning.
Obviously there was an argument in favour of heeding the sign and finding an alternative route – except there wasn’t really one. The footpath to the north didn’t look in great condition, and in any case I was here to walk the NDW, not other random footpaths. But, if I took the plunge and found workmen (that “shouldn’t be disturbed”), I may have to backtrack and take it.
Still it was only about 8am, all was quiet and there were other arguments in favour of continuing. Firstly, I had no way of knowing how long that sign had been there, and whether it had been forgotten about in the wake of completed works. Then there was the fact that the path hadn’t been completely barricaded, so maybe it was ok for someone to walk down – just maybe not for cycles or horses. Or the locals used it anyway with no problems. Was the closure excessive caution – shutting off a whole path for an obstacle that could be easily circumvented – the archetypal “health and safety gone mad”. Then there was the ambiguity of the sign itself, saying that the path was both closed but that also workmen shouldn’t be disturbed – did that mean it should only be considered closed when being worked upon ? And if so how would you know.
Finally for me was the fact that there was (a) no more formal closure notice from the local highways authority, and (b) no diversion provided.
There was enough argument in favour of continuing, but I’d have to take the chance that there was actually something going on.
A little way down the path I spied a tree with a recently severed branch – could this be the reason ? A bit further on though I could hear machinery, which I initially thought was in the adjacent field. But no, it was ahead of me on the path. I came upon a couple of workmen, and a couple of machines wide enough to take up most of the path. They seemed to be scooping up debris from something or other.
I did disturb them, so great was my surprise. But they let me through.
Past this it was a little scoot along the top of some downland before descending a nice coombe to duck under a disused railway. I was now on familiar ground – the Elham Valley Way, which I walked in January.
I remember that the immediate aftermath of this junction was a narrow windy stretch through low hanging trees and bushes with eroded path collecting water. Today though with everything dried up it was no bother at all. Through this and into a sloping field with a large fallen tree, which I took a rest on – just like in January.
The climb up through The Beeches to the top of Tolsford Hill was well remembered too, but here things started to go awry. Here the 3 trails (NDW, EVW and Saxon Shore Way) diverge in a way that means you have to keep your wits about you.
The NDW and Elham Valley Way go around north of the radio station before splitting – that was no problem. The Saxon Shore Way goes south around the radio station, which was also no problem but may have contributed to the later problem.
I got to the north west corner and was faced with a waymark pointing south – towards the Saxon Shore Way. Yet the waymark pointing back the way I’d come was oddly positioned for if I’d come from the south. I followed the arrow anyway, and a hundred yards or so further on, I looked at the map. And I was clearly in the wrong place. I backtracked and captured some evidence for Pete (the trail officer).
Now I headed north west down through the fields to Staple Farm and the next navigational problem. Here a link trail heads for Postling (or so I thought), with another arm of the fingerpost apparently pointing uphill (I wish I’d photographed this to be sure), but at the very least it would have been a footpath. I got up there and nothing, not realising the path had hopped the other side of the field boundary without me noticing. A look at the map, and I was well off. So back down the hill to join where the NDW should have re-emerged from its dalliance with Postling.
And it’s here that the real problem is. On the map the NDW does a 90 degree left turn, and there was nothing to indicate this. Another one for my email to Pete.
The path through the next field brought me to a gate where I finally picked up a waymark. Phew. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security on this trail as the waymarking is generally good. So good, that the map is often more of a progress check than something to actively navigate by. But every so often you really need the map.
I wasn’t done with problems yet – it’s funny how once you start going wrong, the rot sets in and you have challenge after challenge before you get back on an even keel. The next strip of access land had a myriad of trodden routes through it, and it wasn’t clear from the waymarking which one to take. I ended up too high, wasting effort on the climb. It may well be that I just missed this one though. The Natural England signs showing the access land at each end, did nothing to help either – they didn’t even mark the position of the trail.
Finally, I rounded a corner approaching Farthing Common and pulled out of sight of the Tolsford Hill radio mast, convinced that it had somehow been radiating bad vibes in my direction.
Stowting yielded a pub that was shut until 3pm, and so on I went, finding a bench along a stretch of path overlooking Brabourne. The next stretch to Broad Downs and Wye Downs passed in a bit of a blur. Until, I saw this…
Here, too, were people – something the trail hadn’t provided much so far. If anything, too many people. I didn’t linger longer than needed to take some pictures. Wye was near, and I really wanted a cold drink and an ice cream.
The Co-op yielded both, but consumption of them coincided with a rain shower. Was the curse of Tolsford Hill alive and strong ?
I started paying more attention from here onwards, as this was now the stretch that I’ll be leading a walk along next month. A straightforward walk to Perry Court Farm and across the A28, then I almost got lured by the obvious path slanting away on the other side. But seeing people coming along a dog leg path, I looked at the map and confirmed that was the NDW. Disaster averted.
Boughton Lees, and the point where the two eastern arms of the trail become one (or split off if you’re heading east). I sat on the green watching a woman with an exceptionally well-trained dog.
All that really lay between me and camp now was Eastwell Park, and it was pretty much a straight line. I stopped to natter with an estate security chap who was binocularising something in the distance which I assumed was a bird of prey. But no he was keeping an eye on some kids lurking along a distant footpath, concerned in case they set foot off the path. We also chatted about the old ammunition store clearly visible on the hillside, but not shown on the map.
Flagging a bit now, I only had a couple of (very large) fields to go to Dunn Street Farm campsite. Tent up, I collapsed inside and didn’t stir for ages.
It was a no-cook dinner sort of night, washed down with a couple of ciders lugged from Wye. And I was going to pay for that the next day….