The North Downs Way Again – Part 3: Westwell to Detling

07:52 as I opened my eyes and glanced at my watch – bugger! Could have sworn it was quarter to 7 or so. I leapt out of bed in a semi-panic – I was going to start a big day already behind, and have my choices made for me.

This is what comes of downing two ciders on a hot evening and going to bed too early. I woke around 2am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so read for a bit before trying again. I next surfaced just after 6, and decided to lay for a few minutes before getting up and being on my way.

But just before 8 it now was and I’d have to live with it. I downed my breakfast and coffee as I packed away, and finally hit the trail just before 9am.

Roads and easy byways helped me build up a decent amount of momentum and I blasted past Charing and onto the war memorial on the hillside above Lenham.

Here I did take 10 minutes, as I was making good enough time to quell my fears of being up against it all day. Easy walking would recover any lost time, and in any case I’d forgotten that I’d need to finish later today, so actually I wasn’t really behind at all. What I had possibly lost was the chance of making it all the way to Rochester today, but that was always a bit of a tall order.

Even though the panic had subsided, I tried not to let up on pace – the further I got down the trail, especially when it was some of the less remarkable walking to be had on the NDW, the more flexibility I had.

Soon, I was meeting up with this chap, who I remembered from my previous visit in 2011.

I could potentially have stopped in Hollingbourne, but knew that if I did it would be a long stop, so pushed on. Unfortunately, this meant a steep climb straightaway, but once I was up, I was up and stayed there.

With Maidstone in sight, I did find a spot on the hillside for lunch. And it did indeed drag out a bit: a hot day, with a lot of demand for fluids and my umbrella was in demand as it was impossible to find a comfortable spot in shade anywhere.

Now I approached Thurnam castle and decided I didn’t have time to pop up there for a look. Detling was firmly in my sights for refreshment and to take stock of progress.

Finally, after a lot of pointless up and down on that section, I was dropping down to Detling and fell into the Cock Horse. Both a pint of cider and a pint of coke were needed to rehydrate. As I sat there, a ping on my phone warned of thunderstorms. Yeah right, I thought, so decided to have a detailed look at the forecast.

Which was for sustained rain for most of the night and the next morning as well as the thunderstorm. Which I instantly knew I didn’t fancy: I’d stayed largely dry so far, and would quite like to stay that way. The decision to stop was straightforward. I was feeling tired anyway, and could pick the trail up here easily enough next time – after all that’s exactly what I did the first time around.

Travel home was a bit of a challenge in terms of balancing cost and speediness, but I soon hit upon the idea of a train to Swanley and a lift home from there. Which worked brilliantly.

I’m now left with 127km to do westwards to Farnham, which I’ll probably split over 4 days, or 2 lots of two days. Then there’s 56km from Wye to Dover via Canterbury which I’m due to do during the Kent Pilgrim’s Festival. It’s laughable that I took 10 years to do this trail, and now I should have it polished off in a little more than one month.

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