THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 9: Hollingbourne to Charing
Thursday, August 5th 2010
This easy 14km stage of the North Downs Way follows the Pilgrims Way in a fairly straight line through flat and gently sloping farmland.
Arriving at the railway station a little before noon, I retraced my steps from the end of the previous stage, going back past the school, through the churchyard and along the main street (picture 1) to the Dirty Habit pub. After a nice lunch and a pint in the pub, I rejoined the North Downs Way just outside, where it follows a lane to the left of the pub.
The lane soon leaves the town and starts passing between large rolling fields (picture 2). Continuing straight ahead, the lane becomes a rutted track, passing by Mile Hill (picture 3). Along this section I passed a teenager on a small motorbike who seemed to be having a good time tearing along the trail at high speed.
Further on, the path becomes a shady sealed road once again and passes a couple of houses on the left side before crossing another road that leads south to the village of Harrietsham (picture 4).
Continuing along the Pilgrims Way, I reached a viewpoint (picture 5), where a bench is partly occupied by a life-size statue of a medieval pilgrim. Before long I also passed by the Marley Works (picture 6), where loud machinery could be heard. Along this section I was also greeted by a local gentleman in a four-wheel drive who stopped to ask about the camera I was carrying and suggested that I would get some good pictures a little further along the road.
A little while after the road passes a long, tall red brick wall the views open up (picture 7) and the road turns off to the right. Here the North Downs Way continues straight ahead on an unsealed track for about 500 metres before joining another sealed road at some cottages with a row of strangely shaped trees in front of them (picture 8). The road soon turns to the right towards the village of Lenham, while the North Downs Way continues ahead on another unsealed track.
As I had been making good time so far, I decided to follow the road (Faversham Road) into Lenham, a walk of about ten minutes. In the village I found the Red Lion pub on the edge of the village square (picture 9), though perhaps "car park" would be a more truthful description than "village square". The pub was serving Timothy Taylors Landlord, one of my favourite beers, so I felt obliged to stop for a rest and a pint before returning to the North Downs Way.
Leaving Faversham Road, the trail follows a gravel track through open fields where you can watch the shadows of the clouds moving across the rolling hills (picture 10). In the grass on the left edge of the track is another milestone, showing 92 miles (147km) covered since Farnham, though it looked like someone had tried to scrub away the distances in those new-fangled kilometres.
Eventually, the track comes to another road where there are several information boards for the Lenham Chalk Cliffs which rise to the left of the road while there are also good views through gaps in the hedges on the right (picture 11).
The trail quickly leaves the road to the right and soon crosses another road before following a rough track through the vast wheat fields of Cobham Farm. In the middle of the farm the trail passes close to a couple of large barns, one of which seems to be derelict (picture 12). On the other side of the barns the track passes an attractive farmhouse with a conservatory, before continuing between the fields.
Beyond Cobham Farm, the route follows a mostly shaded path with occasional views of Charing out to the right (picture 13). After about half an hour, the path passes several cottages and a pair of gates labelled "The Old Pumphouse". A short distance later, the path reaches the A252 road next to the pretty Reeves Cottage (picture 14).
Here I left the North Downs Way for the day, crossing the A252 and turning right for a short distance before turning left down The Hill which soon becomes the High Street of Charing. Next to the post office, a road to the left leads to the ruins of an Archbishop's Palace and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (picture 15), whose tower had been visible at times from the trail above the village. At the bottom of the High Street, I crossed the busy A20 and followed Station Road past several attractive half-timbered houses (picture 16) towards the railway station.
My timing apparently wasn't very good and I had about 55 minutes to wait at the station (picture 17) for the next train. While I was waiting some dark clouds started to pass over the village, and I captured the dramatic image in picture 18 just before the train arrived and the heavens opened.