North Downs Way: Otford to Borstal
The weather report was not too bad with no rain forecast and I managed to arrive early at Otford station, I was aiming to get to Cuxton today, a distance of 24 kilometres, beyond that there was the crossing the Medway and Rochester. The weather was cloudy though no rain had been forecast and despite being the week before Christmas it was reasonably warm, though I was wearing a synthetic jacket to keep me warm. Still it was a damp looking day and it had been raining recently so I was expecting another muddy day. Picking up the route from just outside the station, it was a short time before I was heading somewhat steeply uphill to Otford Mount and my first muddy path of the day as I headed on through a number of fields.
At Kemsing Down Nature Reserve It was not long until the path emerged on to down grasslands, it had suddenly become quite misty and there were no real views to be had, though a cross set above the chalk slope and the walls of Otford manor did loom out of the gloom. Skirting the edge of Otford Manor manner and then heading on through some fields, I had to keep checking my map and compass to ensure I was heading in the right direction. After crossing a road, I was barked at numerous times by a dog as I passed a stables, the dogs owner was saddling a horse and there were a few horses about. I was not bothered by the dog, it seemed to want to be friendly but was just doing what dogs do. Crossing some of the fields became quite difficult in places as the horses had churned the mud so it was back to hopping and hoping that there was some semi solid ground to land on.
After crossing a small road the way continued through a small woodland called Summeryards Wood which had some worrying signs, a little way after this there was a stone way marker giving the distance to Farnham as 60 miles, the distance to Canterbury as 54 miles and lastly the distance to Dover as 65 miles. This was welcome news as it was good to know that I was nearly half way to Dover, by the end of the day I’d be well over that. The route continued on through more fields before crossing another road and heading steeply down hill to meet the Pilgrims Way.
The Pilgrims Way took the form of a bridleway here and was open to most traffic, including horses, horse carriages, bikes and cars, or so the sign seemed to indicate. It would take me on an easy path all the way to the village of Wrotham, but before setting off along it I stopped for a break and a couple of coffees from my flask. It was about 3km to Wrotham and the walking was fairly easy, the only problem encountered was having to cross a large patch of mud, which required finding a route through some wood at the side of the bridleway. Once in Wrotham I headed into the village, hoping to find a pub that was open, but all of the three pubs in the village were still close, it was only just 11 AM so I guess it was too early.
Wrotham is one of those villages next to a junction of two motorways, so leaving it requires a bit of road walking and a bridge over the M20, followed by a bit of road walking, going past some more evidence of fly tipping. For about 2km the route follows the Pilgrims way, sometime on a small road and occasionally dipping into fields, before heading steeply uphill though Hognore Woods. On the way up I was passed by a 3 motorcyclists and then emerged onto a busy road, my map indicated that there was a pub on the corner of the road but it had closed and was now a home, so I quickly headed on to Trosley Country Park. There was cafe here, busy with cyclists and dog walkers but while having a rest I just drunk the rest of my coffee and had a sandwich.
The path through Trosley Country Park was enclosed by woodlands and was quite dark, but there were a lot of people about, lots with their dogs. All the photos I took here came out badly, not because of the conditions but because I am not a great photographer. After leaving the Country Park and descending quite steeply, I encountered the Pilgrims Way again and headed along, it was nice to be out of the gloom and back in the relative sunlight. A little later the route crossed a field and headed steeply up some stairs towards Crookhorn Wood, eventually reaching a road at a T junction.
Heading along the road I was passed in both directions by some cars and the 3 motorbikes I had seen early passed me again, before the path headed off through some woodlands, which went on for around 3km before descending in a northerly direction to emerge in a misty valley opposite an ascent to North Wood. I stopped here for a bit, sitting on my map while I ate and rested for a short while, it was not far too Cuxton, which was the end of the day according to the guidebook. It was however only 2:15PM so I decided to push on past Cuxton and finish up on the edge of Rochester at Borstal.
Heading up and over North Wood, I headed through a farm, on the outskirts of the small village or hamlet of Upper Bush. This farm had been planted with hundreds of vine plants covering many many acres, in fact as I kept walking there were more and more of these vines, it seems like a boom in English wine is coming. Getting through to Upper Bush was a little complicated as there were not any way markers though the farm, though there were a lot of paths, but I was soon on the outskirts of Cuxton. Another different sign pointed the way, there seems to be a huge variety of way markings and signposts on the North Downs Way in Kent, at least 4 different ones today, as well as the occasional acorn ones.
Heading up a path behind some houses and crossing a bridge over a railway were I met 3 people walking an Alsatian, we chatted a bit and I continued on, though the dog seemed to want to come along with me, it kept running up to me and then wanting to play. Going uphill again and skirting the edge of a field brought me to the path towards the Medway bridge. It was a quite complicated route to get to the Medway Bridges, two of which carry cars and another which carries the Eurostar train, it was not a pleasant experience as there were lots of cars and plenty of rubbish before getting to the bridges footpath. Once on the bridge the roar of traffic was immense, it was about 800 metres across the bridge, I was passed by a few people, some walking and some cycling but once on the other side I was finished for the day. I waited for a bus but none seemed to come so I ended up walking into Rochester, which added another 3km to the days walking and it was dark by the time I reached the centre of town. I had thought to get a drink but the pubs and bars were too busy, a lot busier than I thought they would be as the Omicron variant of Covid was pretty active at this time, so I forwent a drink and got a cup of tea at the train station.