Walk completed August 16, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 31, 2014 -- Day 46, Edenbridge (Cowden), 10 miles

Today I took the train to Cowden to access two walks described in my guidebook. Initially, the trail climbed to a high ridge to provide outstanding views on a lovely day. Then the trail meandered across pastures, over farm fields, through woods and along a river.  Sound familiar? It was a beautiful day for another walk through the countryside.

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies...

Carpet of flowers

On a clear day, you can see forever...

The corn is as high as ...
Wild flowers everywhere

Only once did I have difficulty finding the trail. Actually, I found it, but it was planted over with wheat. Generally, farmers leave unplanted a trail at least 18 inches wide, so walkers don’t damage the crop by exploring. This farmer, however, planted right across the right of way. Some walkers had worn a feeble path through the wheat, following the right of way, but I didn’t want to deal with the knee-high wheat. So I improvised another route along a bridleway and minor road, and guess what. I rounded a corner to find a lovely pub a few minutes after noon. I didn’t really need a break, but I sat in the courtyard for about 45 minutes, enjoying a lemonade and a salmon sandwich.

The only unpleasantness of the day was finding a pile of trash as the footpath crossed a road. “Fly tipping” (illegal dumping) is a problem in England where trash collection is generally billed by volume. Signs warning against “fly tipping” are everywhere, but people still do it – generally out in the countryside where nobody is watching. This trash pile will be cleaned up sooner or later, but there’ll be another to take its place.

Fly tip

Still, even a pile of trash couldn’t diminish a lovely day.

Church at Cowden


© 2014 Ken Klug

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 30, 2014 -- Day 45, Tonbridge to Edenbridge, 16 miles

The Medway Valley Walk, which I followed from Maidstone, ends at Tonbridge. The river continues on, but east of Tonbridge the Eden Valley Walk follows the Medway, until the footpath diverts to follow the River Eden, a tributary of the Medway. I walked both the Medway Valley Walk and the Eden Valley Walk against the  rivers’ flow – that is, uphill (although you would hardly notice).

I found Tonbridge to be a pleasant town, nicely maintained, with a busy commercial High Street. It has a variety of restaurant choices, and for a switch from pub food, I ate at an Italian restaurant last night. My only disappointment with Tonbridge is that, like all of southern England, everything is quite expensive.

Tonbridge at River Medway

Tonbridge Castle

I often have difficulty finding the trailhead and then following the trail in towns and villages. Perhaps one reason I liked Tonbridge is that the Eden Valley Walk is conspicuously marked, turn by turn, until you reach the countryside. Even then, the Eden Valley Walk was well marked all the way to Edenbridge.

Although never far from the river, typical pastures and rolling hills characterized the scenery. The trail passes by Penshurst Place – a misnomer, because the last word should have been “palace.” There I met Jack and Amanda, who are walking to Canterbury.


Jack and Amanda

Penshurst Place

I also passed by the church in Penshurst, and a sign requesting silence because “Court is in Session” caught my eye. How fun it would have been to actually sit in on a session of court – and maybe even dazzle them with my knowledge of English common law – but unfortunately it was a few minutes after noon, and nobody was around – probably recessed for lunch.

Church at Penshurst

Near Hever, the footpath cut through a cap of stone, perhaps granite, but it felt more like sandstone. The footpath has been there for years, and I was intrigued by the cut. Unfortunately, no sedimentary layers of rock were exposed for inspection.


A little while later, I came across a unique stile I have never seen: a lift gate to allow for dogs to pass through. Normally, dogs simply pass between the fence rails, but here, wire sealed the space between the rails.


All in all, today was a very pleasant walk through the countryside.

Old barn

Church at Edenbridge

Oasts being converted to houses

© 2014 Ken Klug

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29, 2014 -- Day 44, Wateringbury to Tonbridge, 10 miles

The tranquil River Medway that I followed today to Tonbridge bore no relation to the river last Christmas. On Christmas Eve, 2013, the river overflowed its banks and flooded vast areas along its route. Homes and businesses were seriously damaged, and some are still unoccupied. Boats were swept from their moorings at several marinas, and holiday caravans (vacation trailers) were swept from their sites. A lot of restoration work has been completed, but there is still a lot to do.

Today, the river was as smooth as glass, with boaters enjoying the sunny day. I also enjoyed the sunny day as well as the scenery on a pleasant trail following the river.  Outside of Yalding, I saw an oast house with a non-conical roof. I don't think that style is very common.


Medieval Bridge at Yalding
(at least 500 years old)
(note flood water stains from 2013)

I met only one other walker, Dene, who is from Rochester, at the mouth of the Medway. He is visiting now from China, where he teaches English.


I also encountered a group of sea scouts, from Deal, who were camping nearby and enjoying the river. I had a nice chat with the scout leader, but forgot to take his picture. I did take a picture of a kayaker who was enjoying herself, but forgot to get her name. Fortunately, she sent me an email, so I've added her name to the picture's caption. 


© 2014 Ken Klug

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28, 2014 -- Day 43, Wateringbury, 14 miles

Today was another perfect day for walking through the countryside. Overcast skies and a cool breeze from the north had me starting out wearing a long sleeve shirt, but it didn’t take many hills before the long sleeves came off. The sun broke through the clouds around noon, but much of the walk was in shade, so things couldn’t be much better. Actually things were better, because I had booked two nights in Wateringbury. Having left most of the weight in my room, I hiked with a light pack today.

The guidebook shows a loop walk from Yalding, a nearby village. I had to enlarge the loop to connect from my hotel, and then enlarged it again for personal reasons. I wanted to check up on the foal I saw yesterday, so I retraced my steps to Tutsham Hall.

When I arrived at the field where the foal was lying down yesterday, I spotted him standing next to a handler who was bridling another horse. The handler said the colt was fine, and that it’s common for young ones to spend a lot of time lying down, especially on hot days. Relieved that I hadn’t witnessed his dying throes, I then joined the guidebook’s loop walk.

Healthy colt

Not long after, I met Roy, a local, out for his morning walk. I asked him about the “Oast houses” I’ve been seeing. He explained that Kent used to be a major source of hop farming. Many years ago, Londoners used to come to Kent to spend family holidays picking hops. They got free room and board and a little pay, but mainly spent time outside of the city working and playing in the country. The harvested hops were placed in an “oast” where a small fire provided heat for the drying process. The conical roof of the oast is topped with a half-cone, which works like both a chimney and a weather vane. A rudder affixed to the cone directs the solid side of the weather vane towards the wind (and rain) and the open side away, so the smoke dissipates. There were many, many oasts in Kent when hops were a major crop. Nowadays, imported hops are cheaper, so hops aren’t a major crop in Kent. Many, if not most, of the former oasts have been transformed into houses, in keeping with England’s tradition of preserving the past.


Oast Houses

Oast Houses

As the day wore on, I passed through more orchards and fields. Outside of Hunton I met Jo and her beagle, Emily. Interestingly enough, Jo has spent some time in California, and now lives in an oast house in Kent.

Apple Orchard

Jo and Emily

At Yalding, I re-joined the River Medway and followed it back to Wateringbury. There is a lock at Yalding that allows boaters to continue navigating upriver. I may be passing more locks as I follow the river to Tonbridge tomorrow.

Raising the bridge over Yalding lock

© 2014 Ken Klug

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014 -- Day 42, Harrietsham to Wateringbury, 7.5 miles

As you may have noticed from my pictures, England works hard to preserve tradition. As I strolled through Harrietsham this morning, I came across more tradition being preserved. How interesting it would be if they were still pumping gas – petrol – from these old pumps. But as I got closer, I realized that the pump price hasn’t changed in half a century, relegating these pumps to nostalgia.


A welcome cloud cover relieved some of the sun’s intensity, but did not cool the temperatures or reduce the humidity. Not wanting to commit to a 14 mile walk through rural countryside without transportation alternatives, I took a bus to Maidstone, where I commenced a shorter walk along the River Medway. Within the city limits I encountered a few dog walkers, but once off the paved footpath, the only persons I saw were boaters – many boaters, in large boats (not the narrow boats I had seen on the canals).


Marina after marina lined the river. One pub, a few hundred yards off the river, called to me for a cool drink, but from the number of boats moored by the footpath, I thought better of stopping. Besides, I didn’t have my deck shoes.

Without any other walkers, I concentrated upon the scenery and the houses. “Oast” houses seem popular in this area. From what I understand, they are former grain drying buildings converted to houses. The rooflines seem to have been inspired by witches’ hats.

Oast house

Tutsham Hall

Approaching the village of Wateringbury, I came upon a touching scene. A foal was lying in a pasture. As I passed, it lifted its head slowly and looked at me, and then set it down again slowly closing its eyes, as if it were too tired to do anything more. Mama was standing over it, and three horses from the pasture across the road were watching. I don’t know if the foal was dying or merely sleeping, but the other horses seemed to be giving it inordinate attention.


After that scene, I needed someone to talk to. John was the perfect for the role, and he also poured me something refreshing to drink. My “no alcohol while walking” rule doesn’t apply when I’m within a quarter mile of my destination.


Reminder:  Click on any picture to enlarge.

© 2014 Ken Klug

July 26, 2014 -- Day 41, Ashford to Harrietsham, 13 miles

Today I moved from the Stour Valley Walk to the North Downs Way. My hotel in Ashford is located about two miles from the trail. To avoid the road walk, I took a bus to Boughton Lees (north of Ashford) and joined the North Downs Way there.  (For those following on maps, today’s walk starts at Boughton Lees, and passes north of the villages of  Westwell, Charing and Lenham, ending at Harrietsham.)

Almost immediately, I met Jonathan and Daren, confirming in my mind that the NDW would be populated by walkers – at least until they told me I was the first one they met in two days. They are walking the NDW, and started from Lenham today.

Jonathan and Daren

Like its southern sister (the South Downs Way), the North Downs Way runs along a chalk escarpment, providing panoramic views. The NDW’s escarpment is not nearly as high, so there are no difficult climbs like on the South Downs Way. Although the path passes through grasslands, pastures, and farm fields, woodlands populate most of today’s section. The woods occasionally hide the view, but they aren’t so dense to totally obscure it; more importantly, the woods provide shade for virtually the entire trail – an advantage on a hot day like today.

Shady woodland trail
Harvesting grains
Horse pasture

View from escarpment

Due to the ease of navigation, and the lack of other walkers, I made very good time today. Indeed, the only others I saw on the trail were Alan and Jennifer, from Dorking, and a large group of 100 or more pilgrims.

Alan and Jennifer

For much of today’s walk the NDW coincides with the Pilgrim Way, the latter trail linking the cathedrals of Winchester and Canterbury. The Pilgrim Way was established centuries ago when the faithful walked the distance to honor St. Thomas Becket, the former archbishop of Canterbury murdered at the request of King Henry III. Today’s pilgrims were bunched too closely together to have walked very far today. I suspect that they started today’s walk at a large cross etched into the face of the chalk cliff, not too far from where I encountered them. Unfortunately, there were so many of them and they were walking so quickly (additional evidence that they just started), that I wasn’t able to inquire at to their itinerary.

Cross etched in chalk hillside


Church at Harrietsham


© 2014 Ken Klug