THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 14: Etchinghill to Boughton Lees
Monday, August 16th, 2010
I began the day by walking over to Canterbury's main Bus Station, where I caught the #17 Stagecoach service to Etchinghill (picture 1), a journey of about 40 minutes. From the bus stop next to Etchinghill's pub, I walked the kilometre or so up Westfield Lane to the point where I had previously left the North Downs Way, in front of the Tolsford Hill Radio Station (picture 2). Once I was out of the trees that shelter most of Westfield Lane, it became apparent that it was a lot windier in exposed areas than it had been down in the sheltered village.
The North Downs Way goes through a metal kissing gate and follows the line of the fence along the side of the radio station. Reaching the end of the fence, the route passes through another kissing gate and turns left into a large open field with views in almost all directions. Unfortuantely, the windy conditions had caused a lot of dust to be picked up into the atmosphere, partially obscuring the views (picture 3). The path follows the field edge with a low wire fence on the left, until it reaches a stile in a wooden section of the fence (picture 4).
The waymarking on the stile is unfortunately quite misleading. There is no waymarker for walkers heading in this direction, and the waymarker for walkers heading in the opposite direction is on the other side of the stile, suggesting that the route crosses the stile. This is actually not the case at all -- the route stays on this side of the fence and heads downhill along the field edge, keeping the wire fence on the left (picture 5).
At the bottom of the field, where a flock of sheep were congregating, a kissing gate leads down to a road at a three-way intersection (picture 6). The route crosses the road, passes through a gate to the right of the fingerpost and turns left along the field edge. Soon after crossing the road, I spotted a helicopter flying low over the ridge to the right of the path (picture 7).
After following the field edge parallel to the road for about 300 metres, the route follows the fenceline uphill to the right. Part of the way up the hill, the path turns left over a stile next to a metal gate and follows the edge of a steep field, with the village of Postling visible downhill to the left (picture 8).
At the end of the field, the route turns right and briefly climbs uphill again before turning left along the edge of a wheat field, where a farmer was operating a harvester close to the path (picture 9). At the far end of the field, the path reaches a wooden gate where the land drops away steeply, giving a superb 180 degree view over fields and farms ahead (picture 10). Through the gate, the path turns right then soon left again, heading along the side of the ridge in the right of the picture.
Before long, the path starts to descend, crossing a valley and climbing the other side via several fields where cattle were grazing and where there were views back along the trail to Tolsford Hill (picture 11). Here the waymarked route differed from the route shown on the Ordnance Survey map, climbing along the right edge of another field that was littered with bales of hay to reach a minor road, where a fingerpost points to the left across Farthing Common.
The minor road soon reaches a main road, where the waymarked route rejoins the route on the map and turns right, past a car park, before crossing the road through a gate into a field, where the path parallels the main road. From here, the view stretches out a long way to the west, but the dusty atmosphere caused by the high winds earlier in the day made the view quite hazy (picture 12).
A few hundred metres along the main road, the path crosses a minor road, continuing to parallel the main road along the edge of the next field before crossing a stile and turning left to follow a wide grassy track over Cobb's Hill (picture 13). At the end of the grassy track, the path crosses two stiles in quick succession (picture 14) and from here there are wonderful views over the village of Stowting and across the valley.
Beyond the second stile, the route follows the left edge of the field downhill, crossing a stile and a lane at the bottom of the field, continuing a little further downhill on a narrow woodland footpath before turning right onto another lane that leads into the small village of Stowting. From the small triangular green in the village, it's a short walk along the road to the right to reach The Tiger Inn (picture 15), where I stopped for some refreshment.
From The Tiger Inn, the path follows the field edges parallel to the road, crossing about half a dozen stiles before rejoining the lane. The lane passes a telephone booth and begins to climb. Near a pylon, a fingerpost directs the route away from the lane to the right, following a shady footpath gently uphill through the woods (picture 16).
Crossing a lane the path continues to climb gently along the edge of Long Wood with fields dropping away to the left (picture 17). A bit further along, the path begins to descend and I overtook an elderly couple who were slowly driving a horse and buggy along the track (picture 18).
As the track descends, it goes through a metal gate, and continues with woods on the left and grassland on the right until it reaches a second gate and turns right on a quiet country lane. The lane climbs steeply up Brabourne Downs before turning right and levelling out. At this point, there is another great view back down the hill to the valley below (picture 19).
After about 300 metres, the North Downs Way leaves the lane to the left on a farm track. At this intersection I came across a German family (picture 20) who it turned out were somewhat lost, having been looking for accommodation just outside the village of Hastingleigh, which lies about three kilometres to the north of this point.
Having set the family back on the correct path, I continued on the track, which goes more or less directly ahead for a little over a kilometre before joining a sealed lane for another 500 metres until it reaches a T-junction. At the junction, the route goes along the road to the right, signposted to Waltham and Canterbury. After a further 300 metres along the narrow, hedge-lined road, a fingerpost on the right edge of the road points through a metal kissing gate in the hedge on the left side of the road, leading into a large open field.
The route heads across to a pair of wooden gates in the far edge of the field, taking the right hand gate into another field, where the path follows the left edge towards Cold Blow Farm. The route goes through three wooden kissing gates in quick succession as it passes close by the farm buildings, before bearing slightly to the left towards another wooden gate on the far edge of a large field (picture 21).
Through the next gate the path once again follows the field edge to another wooden gate, and then follows a fenced path between fields to emerge via yet another wooden gate onto Broad Downs (picture 22). Like most of the wooden gates since Cold Blow Farm, this one has the waymarker discs on top of the fenceposts rather than on the sides. This is good from the point of view of showing exactly which direction the path goes, but makes the waymarkers hard to spot from a distance.
The path runs along the downs a few metres to the right of a wire fence, and the trees on the left soon thin out, revealing views off the downs towards the town of Wye. Unfortunately, the views were still rather hazy (pictures 23 and 24), though the high winds that were responsible for the haze had died down to a gentle breeze.
A little further along Broad Downs, the path passes by the top of The Devil's Kneading Trough -- a deep gully cut into the side of the downs (picture 25). As I passed by, I noticed several children scrambling over the slopes of the gully as they flew kites in the gentle breeze, and wondered how they would have coped in the gale that had been blowing earlier in the day.
The North Downs Way continues to follow the grassy track uphill with a fence to the left. When the grassy track ends, the route follows a path signed "Nature Trail" through some woodland to a road, where it crosses a T-junction and leaves the road again, following a well-worn path a few metres to the left of a wire fence.
The path now follows the edge of the Wye Downs (picture 26), with the town of Wye just visible in the haze about three kilometres off to the left and sheep grazing in the grassy fields to the right.
About a kilometre along the edge of the Wye Downs, the trail passes above the Wye Crown -- the outline of a large crown, carved into the chalk of the downs in 1902 -- though the crown is difficult to see from this part of the trail. Above the crown, a couple were sitting at a lookout, gazing out towards Wye (picture 27).
The North Downs Way soon reaches a log fence, where it turns right through a metal and chain stile (which I've since discovered is called a Ramblers Gate) and heads downhill along the edge of some woodland to meet a road, which the route follows to the left. A few hundred metres along the road, the route turns left onto a path through the woodland and continues downhill (picture 28).
When the path leaves the woods, it continues gradually downhill along the edge of a field with a hedge on the right, before crossing a lane onto another field-edge path, this time with a hedge on the left. Eventually the path becomes a road through an industrial area on the edge of Wye, then crosses an intersection and follows a path down to the right of a large brick building.
Beyond the building, the path turns left towards a church tower, with a tall hedge on the left side of the path and allotments on the right. The narrow tarmac path leads into the churchyard and heads diagonally across it to the left of the Parish Church of St Gregory and St Martin. The path meets the road in front of the church, where there is probably the best view of the flint structure with its typically Kentish square tower (picture 29).
Crossing the road and heading away from the church, the route follows Church Street and then turns right into Bridge Street, soon reaching The Tickled Trout Inn (picture 30). Just beyond the pub, the road crosses the Great Stour River and reaches a level crossing beside Wye Station, where the gates of the crossing are still opened and closed manually by the Station Master every time a train passes (picture 31).
Once the gates were opened, I crossed the railway track and followed the route to the left at the T-junction. Little more than a hundred metres later the route leaves the road to the right, with a fingerpost indicating that I had just three more kilometres to cover in order to complete my walk along the North Downs Way.
The next little section of the path is quite overgrown, but soon improves after crossing an elaborate stile (picture 32) and follows a fairly straight line across a field and then along grassy field-edge paths for a little over a kilometre until it reaches Perry Court Farm.
The route follows a narrow path past a row of plastic-covered hothouses (picture 33), then through part of an apple orchard, where the trees were heavy with fruit, tne over a stile and across the A28 Canterbury Road. On the other side of the road, the path turns left behind a tall hedge, briefly following the edge of a wheat field before turning right and crossing the field. The path then turns left along the far edge of the field, turning right at the end of the trees and following the edge of another wheat field (picture 34) until it reaches a metal kissing gate in the hedge and turns left onto a shady lane.
Around 200 metres along the lane, the path reaches a familiar location -- the spot where the North Downs Way divides into two branches (picture 35). Having already taken the other branch to Canterbury, this meant that I had now completed the full length of the North Downs Way, though the only witness to the fact was a horse that had come up to a gate a few metres up the other branch of the Way.
The distance covered on this final stage of the North Downs Way was approximately 19.5km, bringing the total distance walked on the National Trail to around 245km.
Before heading along the road towards Boughton Lees, I tried to take a self-portrait (picture 36), though it took a few attempts to get the light level roughly right as it was quite a dark location in the late afternoon light.
Scarcely ten minutes later I was enjoying a well-earned pint in the Flying Horse pub in Boughton Lees, though I couldn't stay very long. The last bus leaves Boughton Lees just before 6pm, and I didn't arrive until a little before 7pm, meaning that I had to retrace my steps back to Wye Station before dusk.
On the 45 minute walk back to Wye, I was able to use my binoculars to get a good look at the Wye Crown, carved into the side of the downs above Wye and illuminated by the setting sun.
When I did eventually make it back to Canterbury, I celebrated with a good meal and a couple more pints at the Bishop's Finger pub, just around the corner from Canterbury West station.
One national trail down, eighteen to go.