As I walked along, the mellow Autumn countryside worked its magic – restful and wonderous
Starting from the Medway Bridge
Walking along the North Downs Way, I got used to the frequent sound of traffic. Sometimes it is only a distant murmur but at other times it is right ‘in my face’, but the starting point for this walk had to take the prize for noise and hectic intensity of traffic!
The Medway Bridge crosses the river Medway east of the town of Rochester. It carries the M2 motorway and the High Speed 1 railway across the river. I am sure you can guess how noisy that is. There is a pathway on the eastern side of the bridge that the North Downs Way follows. The day that I crossed the bridge there was a low autumn sun and a strong wind blowing across the bridge. Crossing the Medway River made a dramatic start to the walk both visually and audibly.
The sun reflected off the dark morning water making the shapes of the many moored boats stand out like solid blocks and the distant town of Rochester was a dark silhouette. The River Medway is quite wide here as it nears its estuary. Below the bridge it looked busy in a different way to the roaring engine noises next to me. Many boats were moored along its banks, small industries touched its shores and many houses seemed to fight for a place to overlook its waters. There were lots of people going about their business in a more peaceful and tranquil way.
After crossing the Medway bridge it took a while before I reached the downs above the Medway Valley and was far enough away from the noise of traffic to feel the peace and tranquillity of mother nature which I so often associate with these long distance paths.
It was a very extensive view from the higher ground and one worth taking a bit of time to admire. What I enjoyed most was looking at the downs on the other side of the valley and working out whereabouts Ian and myself had walked on my last stint. Something I would ponder several times that day. The further south I walked, the more of the downs running west to east I could see and it was with immense satisfaction that I gazed over them thinking “I have walked that”.
More woodland walking
It was not long before the path delved back into the familiar woodlands that had been the main feature of most of the North Downs Way. The trees were starting to turn now and there was a tinge of brown on the edges of the leaves on the trees and hedgerows. There was a faint carpet of leaves on the ground and in places, beech nuts crunched under my feet. Autumn is one of the most engaging seasons of the year to walk in. The sharp blue sky contrasted with the changing colours of the trees. The brown of the ploughed fields and yellow of the corn stubble making a wonderful kaleidoscope of colours. Brightly painted in the fresh morning air.
The sun this time of year lies low in the sky creating long shadows. Even at its midday height, it still shines directly into my face often causing me to squint like Clint Eastwood. The sun’s orangey tinge colours everything around it, adding to that mellow Autumn feel as I plod along. It is the time of year when nature is closing down and even though it is a really windy day, as I walked along its slumbering paths a kind of mellowness affected my walking, relaxing my gait and slowly bringing a gentle calm to my whole being.
Finding some amazing Neolithic stones
Near the village of Kit’s Coty there are three Neolithic sites, as I said in my last blog when we visited Coldrum Long Barrow. I was really surprised to come across these ancient monuments in Kent. I have always associated them with the more wilder parts of our country – not in the home counties.
There are three sites that are just off of the North Downs Way – Kit’s Coty house, Little Kit’s Coty house and the White Horse Stone. They are all within a half-mile radius and are well worth the small detour from the path to see them. I cannot help but have a sense of awe looking at the huge sarsen stones, wondering how these people managed to man-handle them into place. It also puzzles me where these large sandstones came from (I am not very clued up on the local geology). All I have seen on my walk is chalk and flint.
I met a guy on my way to Little Kit’s Coty House who challenged me to count the stones. He reckoned that I would never count the same number twice. I confess I declined the challenge and when I arrived at Little Kit’s Coty House, I preferred to sit drinking coffee and admiring the view instead. It was a great spot for my morning break. Many of these sites have such folk-lore and mystery about them and some like the White Horse Stone are still frequented by modern Druids.
About three miles further down the path is the A249 a busy dual carriageway that cuts the small village of Detling in half. This has been a notoriously dangerous road to cross when walking the North Downs Way until 2002.
In 2000 a young girl called Jade was killed crossing the road with her grandmother. After their deaths, funds were raised by public subscription, Maidstone Borough Council and Kent County Council to provide a footbridge crossing the A249. Today it is known as Jade’s Crossing.
Reading the plaque under the bridge was both moving and inspiring. It is very sad that it took such a tragedy for the local councils to provide a bridge that was obviously needed, and inspiring to see what public consensus can do. I walked over the bridge with a sense of reverence thinking about Jade and her grandmother, the pain and the loss that must have been felt in their families with a young life pointlessly ended. I also could not help wonder how the accident had effected the driver of the vehicle, killing someone in a road accident must leave you traumatised for the rest of your life, especially when one of them is only four.
The last few miles to Hollingbourne
Not far from the village of Detling is Thurnham Castle. It is a bit of a climb up a steep slope that runs beside the North Downs Way path to reach the remains of this old motte and bailey Castle. There is not much of the castle left, just a few walls, but I found it interesting to see how the builders had made use of local materials. The walls were made of flint stone, cemented together with what I guess was their version of concrete. Very different to the traditional stone walls that are normally associated with castles. I am not convinced that these walls would have stood up against some of the siege engines that were used in the middle ages. As far as I know, the walls were never put to the test, they simply fell down over the years since the castle was abandoned.
The North Downs Way for the next few miles was very much up and down the slopes. In places, steps had been cut into the downs where it was particularly steep. Up until this point the ascents and descents had not been too bad. I was just starting to moan about the fact that this was proving to be a demanding finish to the walk, when the path stepped out to a ridge of grassy down-land with massive views towards the west.
Walking along this grassy finale was almost overwhelming. The wind was incredibly strong, thrashing the long green and brown grass. The sun was pretty low in the sky – nearing its rest for the day from the clear blue sky. The view was mesmerising. I was more than happy to just stand on this view-point and try to take in all these things. It was a perfect end to a day’s walk. Nature was putting on one of it’s finest displays.
I felt really grateful for the day and all that it had brought to me. It’s history, colours, views and ‘wild tranquillity’!
I could have stayed on these downs for ages but the long journey home was nagging at the back of my brain. Turning south, I plodded down the hill towards Hollingbourne Station where my car was parked, very satisfied with the days adventures.
Map of the route
Watch the video