There is a choice of routes
About half a mile north-east along the path from Boughton Leys the North Downs Way splits into two alternative routes. One goes via the Cathedral City of Canterbury and the other to the coast at Folkestone, both routes end up at the finish in Dover.
Continuing my walk along the North Downs Way I chose the Canterbury route which is about 35 miles long through the heart of the Kent countryside. The reason for choosing this route was that in my teenage years I went hosteling in Kent with some friends and I wanted to visit Canterbury Youth Hostel again (for old times sake!) and maybe see if any parts of the Kent countryside brought back any memories.
It was an incredibly beautiful day when I reached the junction of the two routes. The sky was a dazzling clear blue with hardly a cloud to be seen. It was a cold January day but once I got walking I felt warm enough. I felt so privileged to be having such fine weather for my final days of walking the trail, I was feeling really excited as I set off up the path with a light heart.
Flint stone churches
I had not walked far when I came across the stunning 13th century flint stone church of All Saints in the small village of boughton Aduph. The red tiled roof contrasted brilliantly with the light flint and rubble walls in the bright blue sky. As I walk in different parts of our country, I love seeing how different churches in different locations are built from the local materials. In this case flint stone, which is often found in chalk lands. This was the first of many flint churches that a came across on my walk, all of them unique in character but so ‘Kentish’ in style.
Climbing up onto the chalky downs I entered into Kings Wood. The wood seemed to be enclosed by a high wire fence which I think is normally used to enclose deer, there was also an unusual gate into the wood made of the same material with a narrow entrance. It was clearly intended to be used as a game enclosure of some sort, but no matter how hard I looked I did not see any deer. Just a couple of people walking their dogs.
It was a very attractive wood of mixed trees, but much of it seemed to be beech judging by the reddy-brown leaves that covered the ground. I really enjoyed walking through the wood it was very peaceful with a kaleidascope of winter colours that played in the sunlight. It was also through these woods that I had my first distance sight of Canterbury.
Chilham village is delightful in more ways than one. The village square is very charming surrounded by period buildings with the church of St Mary at one end, and Chilham Castle at the other. It is a classical medieval village layout. There are several tea shops in the village square and a pub near the church, being about half way along the walk it is an ideal place to have lunch. I had brought some sandwiches and a flask with me so avoiding the temptation of one of the tea shops I went and sat in the church. I felt a little blasphemous eating in a church, but it was warmer than outside and I felt somewhat justified as I listened to the wind howling round the church steeple.
Not far from Chilham in the village of Old Wives Lees (interesting name!) I saw my first Oust House. These distinctive buildings with their conical roofs were once used to dry the hops that made English beer. There were lots of them in Kent at one time when hop fields were all over the county. My mother has often told me tales of picking hops on sunny days during the war, and I have grown up to associate Kent with them. So I was very happy to see the oust house in Old Wives Lees, it felt like at last I was really in the heart of Kent.
Walking through orchards
Between Old Wives Lees and Canterbury I was often walking through orchards and fruit farms. This must be a beautiful place when the blossom is out, unfortunately that is not January! Kent has one of the warmest climates in the UK which makes it ideal for growning all kinds of crops especially fruit. Horticulture has been the mainstay of its economy for many years. This is why Kent has been known as the garden of England since the time of King Henry VIII.
I really enjoyed walking through the orchards, it was a timeless landscape where the fundemental methods of farming have not changed.
The North Downs Way enters Canterbury from the west after crossing the A2 dual carriageway. It is not a large city and it does not take long before you reach its heart. A street more suited to a village led me to the impressive old city gate reminding me that in medieval times this was a place of great importance.
Beyond the city gate the street that led to the west gate of the cathedral, which was the end point of today’s walk still had a medieval air about it. Narrow with three storey buildings on either side, it felt like a tunnel channelling me towards the great cathedral. Which I guess is exactly what it did do for hundreds of years to the pilgrims making their way to this holy site.
I did not particularly want to go into the cathedral but I was hoping to see it. Perhaps you can imagine how disappointed I was to find my way barred at the west gate by a barrier and a booth, that informed me that I had to pay to enter the grounds. I was not that keen to see this ‘holy place of worship’. Walking away I was left contemplating who these buildings were meant for, those who had a faith, or those who had money in their pockets (and yes I know their upkeep is costly).
I did not let this final disappointment colour my day though, it had been a great day’s walking and I was very content as I made my way through the eastern side of town to find the YHA hostel where I was staying for the night.