North Downs Way: Borstal to Lenham
I arrived early at Rochester and as it was a Sunday, there were no buses to Borstal so I got a cab to where I’d finished before, arriving at 8:30 AM. Today was going to be a day of varied weather and geography, wit some long parts of the walk on bridleways and others on the downs with plenty of descents and climbs. It was the 2nd day of 2022 and there had been plenty of rain over the Christmas week so I was expecting lots of muddy paths, on the other hand it was predicted to be an unnatural 19 degrees celsius today. Heading off under the Medway bridges and then along a road for about 1km till Nashenden farm where the path heads Westwards for a bit, over the Eurostar line and through a field, before heading southwards on a bridleway though woods for a few kilometres. The day was clear and there were great views over the River Medway to where I’d been walking the last time I was on the North Downs Way. On the downside the bridleway seemed to function as a local dumping spot for rubbish, it seems the long drive down to the bridleway was easier than taking a trip to the local dump. There were a few people out, mainly dog walkers and odd runner.
After a few kilometres the bridleway changes to a metalled track, passing the Robin Hood Inn, I’d stopped for a drink here previously but at 9:30 AM I doubt if it would be open and it would be too early for me in any case. I headed on to Blue Bell Hill and it’s view point, feeling a little hungry, but looking in my rucksack, realised I’d not put my lunch in it, I was pretty sure that there was a service station a little further on so I wasn’t too worried about going hungry. Getting to Blue Bell Hill was a slippery experience as the path had become a muddy and slippery and this continued as I made my way down Blue Bell Hill, pausing to let a few very muddy mountain bikers and a couple of very clean horses pass by. Towards the bottom of the hill are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber around 5000 years old, it would have originally been a long barrow but now only the entrance stones remain. After a crossing a busy road and heading along a wonderfully dry path with no mud the route goes under the A229 to where the service station is. I brought some crisps, nuts and a some chocolate wafers and sat down outside to eat some of them. There was a large group of bike riders here and a smaller group of off road motorcyclists, with others occasionally appearing and roaring off down the various paths. Despite the noise of the busy A229 and the bikers It was still a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the sun which was now out and the sky was pretty clear of clouds.
I set off again, going past the White Horse Stone, set just off the path which is probably the remains of another burial chamber. Just after this I missed a turning and made a massive navigational mistake, heading off along a bridleway for about 1.5 km until it reached a road. This was my own fault for not looking at the map enough and even when I did, not relating it correctly to the path I was walking on. I should have been going uphill and through some woods not along a bridleway. Annoyed with myself I headed back to locate the path that I had missed, I’d walked past it without a second glance, an hours wasted walking.
The newly found correct path headed steeply uphill though Westfield Wood to reach the top of the chalk escarpment, passing a way marker giving the distance to Farnham as 79 miles or 127 km, Canterbury 34 miles or 55 km and Dover 46 miles or 74 km. Heading along side a massive field with a terribly muddy path, the going was pretty slow but eventually the path headed through some woods and the going got easier. I remember getting lost here the first time I’d walked the North Downs Way, the signage was better this time and I stayed on the correct path. Previously I had got lost in the woods and ended up near the road I’d gotten too early this day, clearly this area was not good for me in the navigational sense.
After passing Harp Farm and a small amount of road walking it was not too far to Detling from here, I was looking forward to taking a rest there, the damp woods and lack of places to stop many’ that finding somewhere to sit was difficult. I kept meaning to make a sit mat from an old thermarest I had but had not managed to. I was soon on the outskirts of Detling crossing the busy A249 using a footbridge built in 2002 and known as Jade Crossing opened in 2002, after the death of Jade Hobbs and her grandmother in 2000. The first time I’d walked the North Downs Way, this footbridge had not been built and the route crossed the A249 further up the hill. It was a frightening experience and when I crossed a car came hurtling towards me, the driver being bothered enough to repeatedly sound their horn at me but not apply their brakes. I was never in any danger though as I was almost across but if I had been beeping your horn is not going to force someone to get out of the way of a car approaching you at 60 mph, though switching lanes or applying your brakes might give them a chance. I’m glad that no other walker or the people of Detling have to experience what was an awful road crossing.
I stopped on the other side of the footbridge, to have a break and get something to eat from the village store. Next door to the village shop was the village hall and there were a lot of people with their dogs waiting outside and more arriving, I thought it was some sort of dog show. Before enter the store a bunch of trail bikers came round the corner of the road, came to a halt, lined up and then went roaring off, a few of them pulling wheelies as they went. I think that if they were trying to impress people they failed dismally, no one even given them a glance, they were followed by quad bikes which made an awful racket. I left the village store with two spinach and feta filo pastries, which was pretty much all they had left and headed off through the village.
The next 6 or 7 km to Hollingbourne followed a pattern, a lot of uphill walking, following a descent, generally on muddy paths, though occasionally there were some small sections on minor roads. At one point it started to rain so I paused to put on my waterproofs this being a delicate operation as my boots were so muddy, that I had to take them off to allow my waterproof trousers to be put on without getting totally muddy. By the time I’d put them on the rain had stopped but looking at the now overcast skies I thought it wise to keep them on. There were few people about but I did get overtaken by some mountain bikers and had a chat with them, they were both covered in mud but seemed to be enjoying themselves. In some places the mud on the trail was deep and following the mountain bikers it had been freshly churned, though in some areas there were motorbike tracks, they were too wide to be from bike tyres. I don’t think footpaths are mean’t to be used by motorbikes and this had probably contributed to the overwhelming availability of mud. A little way outside of Hollingbourne it started to rain again and I thought about ending the day here but decided to keep going at least to Harrietsham which was another 5 km or so. The Dirty Habit pub at Hollingbourne seemed to be quite busy, it had had an upgrade since I was last here with an outside area, a paint job and some mural painted on the side of it.
The route from Hollingbourne continued along the Pilgrims Way mainly on bridleways, some of which were on metalled roads and some on muddy tracks, I was tired by now but thought that getting to Harrietsham would be no problem, as it was only about 3 km. After a few 100 metres the rain increased, this coupled with tunnel like trees on either side of the bridleway made the day seem very dark and gloomy and visibility became quite restricted. I was passed a couple of times by 4 x 4 drivers coming towards me, the track not being wide enough for them to pass so I had to clamber up the banks. The bridleway continued in a series of slight descents and ascents, small streams forming on some of them. I decided to finish the day at Harrietsham, the rain and gloom had defeated me but as I approached the road to get to the village, the weather made an abrupt change, the rain stopped and gradually a bright blue sky emerged from the grey skies. This had a really uplifting affect on me and I decided to continue on to the village of Lenham another 3 km or so from where I was.
The last part of the day was still on the Pilgrims Way but on a metalled track so the walking was easy, though my feet and legs were feeling quite tired by now. I passed a wooden sculpture of Brother Percival from the Canterbury Tales, and later a massive pile of flints on the edge of one field near the appropriately named Flint Lane. The sky was wonderfully bright now, with a clear blue sky, though by the time I reached the footpath for Lenham it was dusk. I hurried across a muddy field, eating my last filo pastry and cleaned my boots in some puddles before heading off to the train station, just managing to buy my ticket in time for the train.