THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 7: Wrotham to Rochester
Sunday, August 1st 2010
This was a day where the weather just couldn't make up its mind. There were dark clouds hanging around for most of the day (they're quite prominent in the pictures towards the end of the walk), but it was bright and sunny until quite close to the end of the day and didn't actually rain at all.
I caught the train down from London to Borough Green & Wrotham Station (picture 1), where I picked up some supplies from the Co-op store right next to the platform.
From the station it was a twenty-minute walk back to Wrotham, where I passed the ancient-looking parish church (picture 2) on the way back to the point where I had left the North Downs Way previously (picture 3). The trail leaves the road next to a recycling point, and I could hear the sound of smashing glass bottles getting ever louder as I approached.
The trail goes though a short section of woodland until reaching a road where it turns left and crosses the M20 overpass (picture 4). At the roundabout beyond the overpass, the trail takes the rightmost road, which it soon leaves to follows a parallel footpath to the right of the road.
A few hundred metres later, the path rejoins the road and enters an area signposted as Wrotham Water (picture 5), though little water was in evidence. For more than a kilometre, the trail mostly follows the edges of large, undulating fields just above the road, with woodland visible up the slope on the other side of the fields (picture 6). When the trail reached the end of the last field, I took picture 7 looking back the way I had come.
Leaving the field, the trail briefly rejoined the road again before veering off to the left and climbing a stony track through Hognore Wood (picture 8).
As the track levels out, it passes a high red brick wall (picture 9) and a couple of cottages before reaching a road. The trail turns right along the road and almost immediately turns right again (though the signpost for this turn has been expertly hidden in the trees), just before one would pass the Vigo Inn (picture 10). I had been planning to stop here for lunch and a cleansing ale, but unfortunately I found the Vigo Inn closed, with a For Sale sign in a window.
Fortunately, food was to be found just a few hundred metres further along the North Downs Way, which crosses through the Trosley Country Park. The park's Visitor Centre (picture 11) is a short detour uphill from the trail and serves snacks and burgers. The ale however, would have to wait rather longer.
The North Downs Way follows an almost straight line through the woods of the park (picture 12), where there were quite a few groups of walkers along with a number of dogs out walking their owners.
Reaching the end of the park, the trail curves to the left and climbs. Passing through a gate, the path then turns sharply to the right and descends steeply to a three-way junction where it crosses another long-distance path, the Wealdway.
At this junction, I took a detour along the Wealdway for about ten minutes to the Coldrum Longbarrow (pictures 13 and 14) -- the remains of an ancient burial mound dating back at least 5,000 years. Under some trees next to the mound, a group of about half a dozen people had set up a campsite, but the less said about the smoke emanating from that direction the better.
Returning to the North Downs Way, the trail follows a bridleway just inside the treeline for well over a kilometre before turning to the left along a rough footpath between two fields. At the end of that path, the trail enters the woods and climbs steeply up Holly Hill, with occasional views back down the hill between the trees (picture 15).
At the top of the climb, the path reaches a metal kissing gate and a T-junction at Holly Hill Lodge (picture 16). The path continues straight ahead past the lodge and follows the sealed road for about a kilometre until the sealed section gives way to two rutted tracks at a fork in the road. The North Downs Way follows the right-hand track, passing some green bollards that are used to restrict vehicle access.
Shortly after the track starts to descend, the North Downs Way leaves it to the right at a section of broken metal fence with a broken stile (picture 17). The trail crosses several fields and goes under two sets of power lines before crossing a road and passing through a wooden gate into more woods (picture 18).
A long, 40-minute, stretch of woodland walking through Scrub Wood and Wingate Hill follows. The path here feels very isolated, with no traffic noise and only the sounds of birds and the occasional mysterious creature disturbing the undergrowth. A couple of times these creatures emerged breifly onto the path before scuttling away again (picture 19).
Towards the end of Wingate Wood, the path begins to go downhill on a long flight of steps (picture 20).
At the bottom of the steps the path leaves the wood and heads across several large, undulating fields (picture 21). Far off to the right of one of these fields, one can see an oast house (picture 22) -- a type of building used in days gone by for drying hops, though most surviving oast houses have now been converted to residences.
Eventually, the trail begins to climb again to join a paved road at the small hamlet of Upper Bush, where there are several attractive old houses (picture 23) and a milestone showing 114km covered since Farnham (picture 24).
Leaving Upper Bush, the trail veers off to the right of the road, cutting across a field towards the left of a row of houses (picture 25). Crossing the road, the trail goes through a gate into Mill Hill Wood, climbing to a railway bridge and crossing it.
Once over the rail bridge, the path crosses a shallow valley (picture 26), curving to the right as it climbs the opposite side. Near the top of the climb, the Medway Valley comes into view on the right (picture 27) with more of the North Downs visible on the other side of the valley.
The path continues past Ranscombe Farm, reaching a road where it turns right and follows the road through a line of trees and downhill. Beyond the trees, the Medway Bridges come into view (picture 28).
The path continues to follow the road downhill towards the River Medway, turning left when it reaches the A228 and following it for a few hundred metres until crossing it by an underpass. Continuing along the other side of the A228, the path crosses above the channel tunnel rail line and M2 motorway carried by the Medway Bridge (picture 29) before turning right about a hundred metres beyond the overpass and following a path down onto a dedicated pedestrian and cycle section of the Medway Bridge.
For the last half hour before I reached the Medway Bridge, I could see some quite dark clouds gathering above and to the north. These can be seen quite clearly in picture 30, which looks across the Medway towards the town of Rochester just after I started to cross the pedestrian bridge. Also evident from this picture is that you actually have to cross a significant part of the bridge before you're actually over the river.
As you cross over the bridge there is a good view downstream along the River Medway and over Rochester. Looking over the side of the bridge, I saw a boat towing several other boats (picture 31).
Once over the bridge the footpath veers off to the left and descends to a road that goes under the M2 motorway (picture 32). Here I left the North Downs Way for the day and walked in the opposite direction into Rochester, reaching the railway station in about 30 minutes.
The distance covered on the North Downs Way for this stage was 18.6km, while the total distance walked for the day was closer to 22km.