THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 10: Charing to Canterbury
Sunday, August 8th 2010
I returned to the North Downs Way on Sunday, August 8th 2010, having spent the previous two days exercising my arms by lifting pints to my lips at the Great British Beer Festival in London, rather than exercising my legs in the countryside. In an attempt to make up for all those calories, I decided to do the walk from Charing to Canterbury in one go.
I had previously done this walk in two stages on February 22nd and 23rd, when it had been around zero degrees, though at the time I thought that was warm compared to Oslo, where I had spent January and most of February. On that occasion it had been raining heavily for most of the previous week and in places the trail had been very muddy and slippery. When I set out to walk this stage again, I was keen to see how different it would be in good summer weather.
I began by getting a train from Canterbury West to Ashford, where I had a 25 minute wait to change trains to go one more stop up the line to Charing. From Charing Station, I walked uphill along Charing's High Street and the A252 back to the point where I had left the previous stage of the trail, across the road from Reeves Cottage (picture 1).
A little further along the A252 the North Downs Way turns down Pilgrims Way past a number of houses (picture 2) before the hedge-lined road passes between wheat fields with good views down to Charing on the right. Soon after passing a white house, the path bends to the left and then back to the right, climbing into an area of woodland known as Westwell Downs.
The paved road soon ends at the entrance to a quarry to the left of the trail, but the North Downs Way continues straight ahead on a footpath through the woods. When I had walked through these woods in the winter, logging activity was in progress around the early part of the path, which was very deeply rutted by the logging vehicles and very waterlogged after a week of rainy weather, with some very large pools of water across the path. There had also been several large piles of logs at intervals along the path.
With the logging now finished, the path had been repaired and the walking was now much easier, though evidence of the logging still remained (picture 3). Further on, the path passes through more pristine woods (picture 4).
The path mostly runs just inside the edge of the woods, giving some good views out between the trees and across the farmland below (picture 5).
Eventually the path passes a property called Wychling Over and joins a paved country lane, soon passing a flint cottage (picture 6) and then the buildings of Dunn Street Farm. In the winter, there had been several large patches of snow on the edges of the lane, but this time the road was only adorned with a chalk message informing passers-by that "Theo and Amanda waz here".
When the lane ends at a T-junction, the route continues straight ahead past a fingerpost and over a stile (picture 7) into a large field that was dotted with fresh bales of hay (picture 8).
The route follows a slightly downhill farm track across the field and into another large field, where I was able to capture an interesting sequence of images as the shadow of a cloud swept across the field (picture 9).
The North Downs Way follows the farm track with trees on the right until it reaches a sign stating "No Footpath. No Entry to the Public", where it turns right through the band of trees and then left along the other edge of the trees and across an open field with a large house away to the left. On the other side of the field the route arrives at a T-junction near the hamlet of Eastwell (picture 10) and continues straight ahead along a tree-lined lane which soon passed a flock of sheep grazing by Eastwell Lake (picture 11).
The lane continues over the hill and at the next T-junction the Way goes through a kissing gate into a field, following the right edge of the field next to a wire fence. Around 100 metres along the edge of the field, there is a new signpost (new since the last time I was here) next to a gate, indicating that this is part of a European long-distance path (picture 12).
Ignoring the gate next to the signpost, the route continues along the right edge of the field until it comes to a fallen signpost and veers to the left at about 45 degrees. Reaching the left side of the field, the route crosses a road and continues diagonally across another field until it reaches a kissing gate and crosses the A251 to one corner of the large triangular village green of Boughton Lees (picture 13)
The route follows the road to the right of the green, skirting around two edges of the triangle. Here I left the trail to go to the Flying Horse pub, situated halfway along the third side of the triangle. Although almost completely covered in scaffolding, the pub was open for business and I stopped here for a very nice chicken curry and a pint.
Being a Sunday, the local Boughton and Eastwell cricket team were due to play a league match against a visiting team and when two o'clock rolled around the teams walked out onto the green to begin their match (picture 14) with a group of enthusiastic spectators in front of the pub (picture 15).
Rejoining the North Downs Way at the corner of the green, the trail again follows a narrow lane marked Pilgrims Way. After about 500 metres, the North Downs Way divides at a three-way fingerpost (picture 16), heading off to the left towards Canterbury and continuing straight ahead to Dover.
As I was heading for Canterbury, I took the left-hand path, which skirts a field with grazing horses before heading just to the right of All Saints Church at Boughton Aluph (picture 17). The path then continues straight ahead crossing the road that runs past the church and then across a large field (picture 18) with good views ahead and to the right.
Reaching the other side of the field the path goes through some trees and a metal kissing gate, then across a minor road and onto another rough farm track through the middle of Soakham Farm, where a sign gives the visitor an important warning (picture 19). The former of these potential hazards was present, kicking a soccer ball around (picture 20), but the latter was nowhere to be found.
Behind the farm, the path climbs to the top of a steep field and enters a large area of forest known as King's Wood. From the edge fo the woods there is a good view back over Soakham Farm (picture 21).
The path follows the eastern edge of King's Wood for around 4.5km. The path here was mostly firm, with plenty of light making it through the canopy (picture 22), though there are a few darker sections (picture 23) where the path was muddy. In the woods I was passed by several mountain-bikers and joggers. This was in contrast to the last time I walked in these woods, when they had been cloaked in mist, virtually the entire path had been very muddy, and I hadn't seen another soul.
In the woods, the path passes another milestone showing 103 miles covered since Farnham (picture 24), though this seems to disagree slightly with the fingerpost where the trail divided about two miles previously, which showed 98 miles covered.
Leaving King's Wood, the North Downs Way joins Mountain Street, which it follows for about one and a half kilometres to the historic village of Chilham. The last half of Mountain Street has the high stone wall of Chilham Castle on the left, though a section of the wall has metal bars, allowing a view of a lake and the castle (picture 25).
When it reaches the village, the wall turns left and climbs School Hill (picture 26) to the attractive village square (picture 27). A friend in my beer brewing club sent me a picture of the same scene as in picture 27, from his visit to Chilham in 1966. Aside from the age of the cars, the square looked exactly the same.
Just inside the castle gate on the edge of the square is Castle Cottage, a 300-year-old house, which is now a very comfortable B&B, where I spent the night on my previous visit.
The route of the North Downs Way crosses the square and passes by the White Horse Inn (picture 28), where I stopped for a mid-afternoon pint. The White Horse Inn is an historic coaching inn, built in the 1400's and mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Leaving the pub, the route continues into St Mary's churchyard (picture 29) and follows the concrete path around the left of the church, veering off downhill into the trees just to the right of the second bench (picture 30). Unfortunately, there appears to be no signpost or waymarker here (the next waymarker is about 50 metres down the path), and the previous time I was here I ended up losing the path and taking a rather lengthy detour.
The path soon leads to the busy A252 road, which it crosses and continues up a narrow lane on the other side, appropriately named Long Hill. After a kilometre of gentle climbing past hop farms, the lane arrives in the curiously-named village of Old Wives Lees. In the middle of the village, the North Downs Way makes a ninety degree right turn into Lower Lees Road, following the road for about a kilometre and passing the first of several converted oast houses on this part of the walk (picture 31).
Oast houses, with their distinctive steep roofs and cowled chimneys, which rotate to face away from the wind, have traditionally been used to dry hops after harvesting. Hot air would pass from a fire or kiln at the bottom, rising through several floors covered in hops and out of the chimney at the top. Modernisation has seen most oast houses fall into disuse, many having been converted into residences during the last few decades. From the 1750's until after World War Two, young workers from London would flock to the Kent countryside in autumn to work on the hop plantations, picking hops and carrying them to oast houses to be dried. The most feared person on the hop farm of old was the "tallyman" -- the person responsible for tallying the weight of hops picked by each worker, and thus how much the worker would be paid.
Shortly after passing the oast house, the road forks and the trail follows the left fork to a T-junction, where the path leaves the road through a gate in the hedge and heads downhill through a tunnel of trees between two fields (picture 32). In the winter, there had been a lot less foliage on the trees and the tunnel hadn't been nearly so dark.
After a couple of hundred metres, the path emerges into open fields (picture 33) and turns right along the bottom of the valley before turning uphill to the left of the line of beech trees, which are placed to act as a windbreak to protect crops in the fields. The path alongside the line of trees is actually a good deal steeper than it looks in picture 33 -- the reverse view back from the top of the hill (picture 34) gives a better impression of the steepness of the climb.
At the top of the climb the path skirts around two sides of a wheat field before crossing a broken stile and starts to head downhill into a rather large fruit orchard (picture 35). Descending on a track through the middle of the orchard, the path passed a mixture of young and mature trees -- the mature trees bearing many green apples. Down the hill, the track passes farm buildings and caravans used as accommodation for fruit pickers, before passing under the Faversham to Canterbury East railway line and following a lane through another part of the orchard. Here the chimneys of another large converted oast house (The Barn Oast) were visible above the trees (picture 36), though in the winter there had been a much better view of the oast.
Just before reaching the driveway of the Barn Oast, the path leaves the lane and follows a rough track uphill with dense woods on the left and part of the orchard on the right. At the top of the hill, the route joins a concrete footpath along the edge of the woods, passing a wooden bench with "Roger's Rest" carved into the back, from which there were good views over the orchard and the railway line and on towards Old Wives Lees (picture 37).
After passing a house and a large barn the Way takes the left fork in the path, passing through Hatch Farm before reaching a gravel road that leads to the paved Hatch Lane next to Hoppers Oast (picture 38). The path crosses Hatch Lane and follows New Town Street into the village of Chartham Hatch.
The first building in the village is the Chapter Arms Free House (picture 39). I had stopped here for lunch on my previous visit, but on this occasion the pub was closed for the afternoon.
Continuing along New Town Street, a joke in the local names became apparent as I came across houses signed as "Chapter Two" and 'Chapter Three". At the end of the street the route continues along a fence-lined footpath between houses, crossing another street and skirting around the edge of a playing field to a path into the woods. The path soon enters No Man's Orchard (picture 40), a 10 acre apple orchard and nature reserve maintained by the local community since 1947.
In the middle of the orchard, one can find a huge wooden snake in the grass next to the path (picture 41) and an information board detailing the history of Kent's apple orchards, 95% of which have disappeared since the 1960's.
Towards the other end of the orchard, the path turns left through a kissing gate next to an even larger wooden snake head hidden in the bushes, and into the dense woodland of Bigbury Wood, where the traffic noise from the A2 started to become apparent. In the middle of the woods, there was a large clearing where logging had taken place since my previous visit (picture 42).
At the end of the woods, the route passes through a metal gate onto a road that crosses over the A2. Once over the bridge, the path leaves the road and follows an overgrown path alongside the A2, climbing steadily before turning left and descending to the valley floor along an even more overgrown path next to a wire fence.
At the bottom of the valley, the path crosses a footbridge over a small stream before climbing again to the outskirts of the historic city of Canterbury, passing the National Trust's Golden Hill Nature Reserve (picture 43) before following Mill Lane to a roundabout.
Next to the roundabout stands the Victoria Hotel (picture 44), where I happened to be staying, so I ended the day's walking here, having covered another 28km of the North Downs Way.