It’s over two weeks now since my two-day jaunt along a section of
the North Downs Way, and I suddenly realised that I hadn’t
really chronicled the route I took, the sights I saw or people and
things I encountered along the way. What I will say is, looking
back, I am extremely glad I grasped the opportunity of those two
glorious mid-October days to make the most of the Kent
countryside
and spend a night away, in the comfort and
tranquillity of a traditional, old English inn.

Before booking those two days, I had a feeling that the country
could be heading into some form of lockdown; although I
didn’t appreciate at the time quite how restrictive this would
be. Still, as a colleague of mine I fond of saying, we are where we
are, and with precious little else to write about, what follows is
the account of my walk.

My walk was due to start from the large village of
Charing; a settlement built on the slope of the North
Downs
, at the junction of two major highways. In order to
reach the village, I caught an early morning train coast bound
service from Tonbridge, changing trains at
Ashford.

The interval between arrival and departure at Ashford
International
, was one minute; an impossibly short time as I
discovered, given the distance between platforms. This was despite
the service from Tonbridgearriving a few minutes ahead of
schedule, and my best efforts to make the connection. I hurried
down the steps to the subway, passing under the currently disused
international Eurostar platforms.

 

I almost made it, but with the dispatcher blowing
his whistle, and
shouting at me to move away from the departing train, I missed the
London Victoria-bound service by less than 30 seconds. After
apologising for my foolhardiness, there was no option but to wait
half an hour for the next train. Fortunately, the café on the
platform I’d just come from, was open, and rather irritatingly,
that was where the train to Victoria would be departing
from.

I was able to grab a rather good cup of coffee and take
advantage of the bacon roll offer. £2.99 for a coffee, but
only £3.99 with a sausage or bacon roll thrown in. The
downside was the Covid restrictions which had rendered all
the inside seating as out of bounds – what a miserable, little,
anti-social bastard, Coronavirus is!

I managed to find a vacant seat on the draughty, rainswept
platform, thinking that the weather wasn’t boding well for my
walk. Fortunately, by the time my train arrived and transported me
the short six-minute journey to Charing, the sky was
clearing, and that was the last I would see of the wet weather for
the next few days.

Charing station lies to the south of the village, whilst
the NDW passes close to its northern extremity, so there was
an uphill walk, through the attractive main street, in order to
reach the trail. First, I had to cross the busy A20 road
the main thoroughfare between Ashford and Maidstone,
before the opening of the M20 motorway.

Despite having formerly resided in both these towns, I knew very
little of Charing, apart from the nightspot it once boasted,
called “King Arthur’s Court.” Housed at the now
permanently closed, Swan Inn, a mock-Tudor roadhouse, built
in the 1920’s, King Arthur’s was the “in
placeâ€
for trendy Ashford youth. But with soul and
disco, not really my scene, I wasn’t exactly a regular visitor.

As mentioned, my route took me up the rather narrow, village
High Street, past an abundance of attractive and historic
houses and shops. One former kitchen shop now houses the
Bookmaker’s Arms micro-pub; currently the only pub in a
village that is home to over 2,700 inhabitants.

Quarter to nine in the morning was obviously far too early for a
swift pint, so I continued my walk, up through the village to where
the High Street narrows further and becomes the
appropriately named “The Hill.†At the top I
crossed the busy A252 Faversham Road and continued for a
short distance before turning left onto the Pilgrims Way
and, for me, the point where I joined the NDW.

As I wrote in an
earlier post
, the “Pilgrims Way” is a
relatively modern name for an ancient trackway, although pilgrims
on their way to Canterbury would undoubtedly have

made use of it. The track runs almost directly below the escarpment
of the downs, which meant it was relatively flat. It is also tarmac
for most of the route, which was an added bonus, although there was
a stretch where the hard surfacing disappeared and was replaced by
the wettest and muddiest conditions of the entire walk.

Amongst the contrasting sights I passed along the way, was the
Memorial Cross, cut into the chalk grassland in 1922,
just above the village of Lenham, to commemorate those who
fell in the Great War. The cross serves as the village war
memorial and is clearly visible for quite some distance. You
can’t help noticing it as you pass along the A20; a road I
have travelled along dozens of times. This was the first time
though, that I’d seen from close quarters.

Further along, the Pilgrims Way passes the rear of the
sprawling Marley Works, which were established in
1923, originally as a joinery works making doors and
windows. The Marley name is well-known today, with factories
in other locations of the country, whilst the works here
concentrate on producing plastic drainage pipes and roof guttering.
It is quite well camouflaged, by hedges and trees, and the only
real sign of the hustle and bustle taking place behind this natural
barrier, is the hum of machinery and the noise made by forklift
trucks, trundling between the various buildings.

I eventually reached the small and attractive village of
Hollingbourne,which lies on the southern slopes of the
North Downs. The attraction here was the Dirty Habit
pub, which provided a welcome lunchtime break and the opportunity
for a well-earned pint of Harvey’s.  I wrote about the
pub, in some
detail here.

The final four miles of the first day’s walk were undoubtedly the
hardest, as after leaving the Dirty Habit, the NDW
climbs right to the top of the escarpment. The ascent was worth it
in terms of views, but it was a tough going, following on from the
nine miles I’d already walked. The route wasn’t that easy to
follow either, with the waymarks either missing or
none-existent in the first place.

You can read more about
this section here
, where I describe how I eventually
reached the end of the first day’s stretch, and my resting place
for the night, at the lovely old Black Horse Inn, at
Thurnham.

 

 

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