My partner and I are walking the North Downs Way, bit by bit. We started in 2014 and now we are getting near the end (wherever that is – Dover or Canterbury – going East the NDW ends in a loop!) We use public transport to get to and from the start and finish points. This is our latest section (and my first attempt at a TR).
Stage 15. Bearsted station to Harrietsham station 26/03/2017.
On this stretch the North Downs Way is not very close to reliable public transport. We worked out that Bearsted, Hollingbourne and Harrietsham stations were all only a mile or so from the North Downs Way so we travelled from Victoria to Bearsted. To reach the Downs from here you walk up Thurnham Lane, which climbs from the station following a fairly minor road. You pass a smart row of terraced cottages called ‘Fancy Row’, looking as if they have been transplanted from a big town to open countryside. More shocks ensue as the quiet lane goes under both the M20 and the HS1 train line in quick succession. Next up is Thurnham Court (see photo), an early 17th century minor stately home, built with a strange mixture of chalk blocks and brick. This private house has been much altered and extended. Adjoining the grounds is St. Mary’s church, a Norman foundation which, given the proximity of the chalk downs, appropriately constructed with lots of flint. Just beyond you reach the actual village of Thurnham and the Black Horse pub, on the corner of the road named Pilgrim’s Way. Before the steep climb to the top of the Downs this would have been a good place for a food and drink stop (but don’t arrive on Mother’s Day because every table will be booked).
From the pub go East opposite Thurnham Lane up a cul de sac, soon turning right onto the NDW itself. The path goes around the base of a mound topped by the ruins of Norman motte and bailey Thurnham Castle. This woodland, part of the White Horse Country Park and the Kent Downs AONB extends to Kent County Council’s Millennium Wood, growing along the hilltop, having already planted 20,000 trees. The path tracks around the contour of a blind valley, turning back to run South East, along the scarp edge of the wooded downs. Celandines, violets and primroses as well as the first few bluebells punctuated the open wooded hillsides. There is also gorse of course. The path is surprisingly undulating, crossing several separate blind valleys on stepped steep sections. We were rewarded for the climb with dramatic views across the Medway valley to the Weald beyond, spring sunshine glittering off the serried rows of arched poly-tunnels, like glistening surf or swell on a sea frozen in time. (The area can still claim to be The Garden of England.)
The path crosses a minor road going steeply uphill then passes a very smelly pig farm. On top of the Downs is a part of the Millennium Wood with information panels and a handy bench to enjoy the view across the Medway to the Weald. Shortly after this the NDW sweeps down and around a promontory before rising back to the ridge. More climbs and descents follow. We crossed a minor road which climbs the hill but our path continues in woodland for another 2 km before beginning a sharp descent towards Hollingbourne village. The track runs along a field boundary, way above a hollow way, then emerging onto that road in the centre of the village, near the Dirty Habit pub. The pub clearly fancies itself (claiming to date from the 11th Century) and required us to remove our walking boots even though they were not at all muddy on this dry day, so we sulked off down the NDW track towards Harrietsham station. This is a straight level track along field boundaries but fairly slow going. We wanted to get to Harrietsham station for the next train, due in only 40 minutes. We cut it fine and fairly raced down the last 1km of tree-lined track, emerging into a leafy lane which turns right just before the railway track to lead directly into the station. We crossed the footbridge and made the train with two minutes to spare.
Total distance 13.7 km (8.7 miles), time (excluding stops) 3.5 hours, ascent 390m.
I have tried to upload a few low resolution pictures of this stretch. You can see more pictures and an interactive OS map of the walk at www.greenlives.org.uk/ndw15.html