[singlepic id=401 w=320 h=240 float=centre] On this walk I am exploring the Downs through North West Kent, starting at Rochester. It is over a month since my last Exploration, but the weather has been awful and you need clear air and some sunshine to take good landscape photos, unless you are looking for a special effect. Our damp, grey June made everything look dull and muted, so I held of till things improved, which it did on the last weekend of June. So I left home at 7am on Saturday 29th under broken cloud planning a 3 day trip, and took my tent and sleeping bag so I could be closer to the land and get some early morning shots. This meant carrying more than I’m used to, but it all was light enough for me to forget about it most of the time.

Kent is the closest English county to continental Europe, very fertile, and it’s landscape is gentle, so it has many ancient settlements, including the two oldest cathedrals in England: Canterbury and Rochester, and as my train crossed the River Medway, the high castle keep and cathedral made a fine sight. The high street is long and straight and full of character, with many buildings of great antiquity and remains of the town wall. I needed a map of my route for the next two days so popped into the visitor centre and bought the 1:25,000 map of the Rochester area, but they didn’t have the Sevenoaks map for the next section of my walk, so I bought the 1:50,000 map without checking if it linked to the Reigate map I’d bought with me. This was an error.

Ate a delicious cooked breakfast, then sauntered up to the cathedral and castle, which sit on a hill above the river. The cathedral is a nice size: not huge and too imposing, but light and colourful inside, and there are very friendly, knowledgeable people who welcome you in. I like the quiet corners in and around cathedrals, and Rochester has a large crypt with a quiet chapel, and some lovely grassy courtyards. Living in the old houses near a cathedral like this must be quite special: lovely buildings with a great outlook and character.
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The castle is a simple tall keep towering up behind its walls and dominating the town and the river. I took some photos, then started my walk, heading down to the river and upstream. I was following the North Downs way, heading west this time (I’ve been going mostly east in previous episodes), and it crosses the Medway by the new M2 crossing. The river bank is lined with recent apartment blocks, so it feels quite suburban, but the views north towards the hills where I was heading were nice. The motorway bridge climbs high above the river with a cycle and foot way on the east side that reminded me of many such crossings during my Lands End To John O’Groats walk (see Le Musical Jog).

Needing water, I headed towards the village of Cuxton, but then realised that I was missing Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve which is apparently great for wildflowers and views. So I bought a bottle of water, then left the village on footpaths that rose steeply up to what I’d been told was the best area. After crossing a couple of arable fields the crop changed to emerging blue flax, and behind this was a swathe of colour: yellow hawkweed, violet thistles, white cow parsley and lots more. I stopped and rested, enjoying the peaceful scenery, then continued up the hill and onto the next flower meadow. This contained pyramidal orchids in profusion along with little blue butterflies and a few meadow browns fluttering among them. There were also some inspiring downs views beyond the swathe of flowers.
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I descended steeply to Lower Bush, stopping to photograph a compliant brimstone butterfly, then up through the fields to the ancient settlement of Upper Bush with its picturesque timber frame houses. The path then keeps to the high ground for a few kilometres, following the Medway through attractive mixed woodland and a few meadows. A couple of these were very rich in flowers, including more orchids and a lovely mix of flowers and grasses, whereas other fields that had been cultivated were covered in dock, or were a flinty desert. It is likely that these fields were cleared of trees to get farming subsidies, but the land is stony and not very fertile so agriculture was unsustainable, and now they are just wasteland. We waste a lot of time and money like this: destroying a beautiful, rich natural ecosystem to replace it with a cash crop that fails.
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Even on this warm, sunny Saturday I meet few people on The Way, but I give one of my Chiltern Landscapes cards to everyone I do pass, just in case they are intrigued and read this blog, or buy a book! If you are reading this because of a card, please let me know by email.

I take photographs when I see something interesting, which could be a view that pleases the eye, or a building, or a swathe of flowers, or a creature, and I usually take several shots at different exposures to get the right balance in the image. I don’t particularly have a book in mind at this point, but want to build up a good sized library of images to choose from when it comes to putting a book together.

It was a warm afternoon, and perfect for walking, but I had run out of water and the route I was following bypassed all settlements until Wrotham (pronounced Rootam apparently), which was about 8 miles further on. I had been on the go since 6.30am, and it was now 4pm, and that seemed an awful long way, so I thought I’d ask someone at a house I passed to fill up my bottle. The path became a lane descending past Holly Hill to an intersection that my route crossed, and there was a house there, however it was gated and there was no-one visible, which seemed to be the way of things in this area. I passed one such house that not only had large gates, but two huge doberman dogs that barked and jumped at me. Because of the water situation, I decided to stick to the road that passed a new village called Vigo, thinking that this would be quicker and I might find some water. It turned out to be 3 mile yomp on the road which wasn’t very interesting, but it was quick.

My road joined the A227, and round a corner I came upon The Vigo Inn, initially thinking it was closed, it proved to be open and the boxer, Brandy, didn’t stir from his position on the floor, but looked appraisingly at me. The owner, Val appeared and I drank a delicious pint of shandy and filled my bottle with water and we chatted. It is a music venue, and there was to be a band that night, and she wasn’t really set up for guests, but when I said I was prepared to camp, she offered me a spot on her adjacent field and some supper. There was also a shower and loo available, so my problems were solved: it was a relief not to have to do another few miles walking.

I pitched my little tent under a small oak tree, with Brandy barking at me in an effort to get me to throw sticks for him, then retired to the bar for supper and consideration of tomorrow’s walk.
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I had covered 22Kms (15 miles) and enjoyed some interesting sights and lovely scenery only spoiled the final yomp and difficulty in finding water. It was a good ending though….. except that I discovered that there was a 5Kms section of my walk not covered on any map that I had. Oops.

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