Boughton Lees to Canterbury

 18th May

For the first time in some days it was dulling heavily. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to establish in which direction to head – we started our final day’s walking. Our route took us first along a country road and then off under a tunnel of trees.   It was another of those paths that made you feel that you should have been up at dawn to take the route to get your eggs to market in Canterbury…….. An ancient walkway. 

As we came out of the tunnel, we were confronted by the flint walls of Botolph Aluph Church. There is nothing of a village now but the size of the church would seem to indicate quite a large  community there at some stage. Crossing the drive to the church we struck out towards the long hill that was Soakham Down which seemed quite an appropriate name given the darkening skies. The skylarks continued to trill – a sound which has been with us since Winchester.  The views now are over the Stour valley.   We have reached the river which we will ultimately find in Canterbury. 

We then entered Kings Wood which was a delight.  It was a mixture of beech and yew trees and sweet chestnut coppice. We walked through the wood for several miles and during this time the rain started.  Although very damping, it was quite a light downfall in the wood and as we neared the edge of the woodland path, and the denseness thinned to the right, the guide book indicated we would have views over Godmersham Park (Jane Austen is back!!).   Well you might have done if you were 7ft tall but I had no chance.  Godmersham Park was owned by Jane Austen’s brother and is said to have been used as a backdrop to several of her books.  I will never know what it looks like from this trip……

The bluebells here are quite faded, but the bracken we saw emerging and tightly curled at the beginning of the walk is now much more advanced and the fresh green fronds have started to dominate the woodland.   

 Another milestone appears – this one shows we have just 10 miles to Canterbury. We are nearly there!!  A little further along there was an information board talking of an annual pilgrimage that takes place each year from St Martin in the Fields church by Trafalgar Square in London to Canterbury.  The board was placed as it was to mark the spot from which they could get their first sighting of the Cathedral.  No chance today – all I could see was mist!

We emerged from the wood onto a country road and after passing some rather wonderful half timbered houses we came to Chilham just as the gates were closing on the castle. 

  Chilham is a lovely spot and it now sports a pilgrim sculpture that we haven’t seen before.

  I thought they looked a bit bleak – maybe they have blisters too!

As it had by now started to rain in earnest, we decided to take advantage of the tea shop for a drink and a snack.  I had the best cheese scone of the journey.  When we came out it was pouring so we decided to defer viewing the church (supposedly one of the thousand best churches in England) until another day and press on.  We reckoned we probably had another six miles to go. 

Leaving Chilham behind we became more than aware we were definitely in Kent – we were seeing more oast houses and there were orchards.   One particularly soaking experience was going through a tree lined path between orchards with cow parsley so high and dense that it completely enclosed the path and rose over my head! It was cold and wet.  

 The next orchard was of the old variety with well spaced, blossom covered trees and sheep grazing or more accurately sheltering beneath them.  
However, a little further along the path we came to a farm with the intensive apple tree approach.  Little trees planted not more than a few feet apart. They always look to me as though they can’t breath!  The path was now very muddy and a bit slippy as we came down a hill and up the other side where there was almost a village of basic metal mobile homes – obviously accommodation for the army of pickets who will descend on the place in the Autumn. 

We decided not to take advantage of a seat with a view over the orchards (Roger’s Rest apparently) given that it was still raining heavily.  We continued on our way.  We eventually left the fruit farm behind and emerged into a pretty garden and continued down the road into Chartham Hatch. 

Just after passing two particularly nasty oast house conversions, and crossing a playing we came across a community area called No Man’s Orchard.  No tight planting here.  Just a large number of old English apple varieties growing in lush meadow land.  Apparently maintenance costs for the orchard are met from the proceeds of selling the apples. A lovely idea! Not long after this we came to Blean and the site of what is thought to be a Bronze Age fort. The area has been cleared and there was a picture of how it might have looked.  Fascinating.  All the way along the route there has been a strong sense of treading ancient pathways.  I just love it.   

Soon the sound and eventually the sight of the busy A2 was ahead.  Nothing more certain to bring you down to earth!  We crossed it on a road bridge and walked along a sunken footpath beside another orchard before crossing a bridge over a stream and then, striking up hill again,  arrived at Harbledown on the outside of Canterbury. 

It is always difficult arriving in a busy urban area after spending time walking in peaceful isolation through countryside.  Suddenly we were surrounded by traffic and had hard pavement under our feet. At a roundabout we caught our first view of the Cathedral in the distance.  

 Before long we were walking along the London Road into Canterbury and soon after the West Gate of the City.   

 After a bit of a debate we decided to go straight to the Cathedral to mark the end of our pilgrimage.  As a pilgrim you are allowed to enter without paying the extortionate fee and we were treated royally by a young lady at the welcome kiosk.  She kindly agreed to take a photograph to mark the occasion

I found myself quite tired and emotional at this point.  We had done it again.  We think in total mileage, including leaving and returning to the route, we had walked 150 miles in 12 days without a break.  

  We have had a great journey, the countryside has been beautiful and we have arrived back in Canterbury which seems somehow to have become part of our history.  
  Amen seems appropriate, but I am not sure about the chairs…….


Hollingborne to Boughton Lees

17th May

The observant amongst us will note that we are starting out about three miles  from where we stopped.  The reason for this is that, after about 11 miles walking yesterday, we arrived at The Black Horse, where were to stay overnight.  The plan of the company who arranged the walk for us was that we should walk on to Hollingborne and then be brought back and collected from the Black Horse and taken back to Hollingbourne to start the next day.  We decided that that was silly, so immediately adjourned at reaching the Black Horse. However, we did not feel it was quite so daft to be carried on for another three miles to the start the day……..!

For those interested in The Blister saga, I have to report that walking rather awkwardly for 11 miles to ease the discomfort, I have created another blister on the other side of my foot – great!

Let us move on….

We set out on the Pilgrims Way, yet again, fromthe Dirty Habit pub in Hollngbourne.   The route at this stage was a hedge lined metalled road with views down to the right down to the A20 in the distance over the fields. The pat eventually narrowed and as we neared Harrietsham we met two beautiful horses coming the other way .


Crossing the road, we continued on the Pilgrims Way.   The route became tree lined and about a mile later we came across a carved wooden sculpture of a monk on a bench. The sculpture is the one on the right…….

  We continued along the track passing houses and then the Marley factory, behind trees, just before Lenham. After crossing a road and we picked up the now stony Pilgrims Way track ahead, shortly passing a war memorial and a white cross cut into the chalky hillside. Please note I could see a bit more of this than of the white horse I took a diversion to see in Yorkshire, off the Cleveland Way. a couple of weeks ago.    Then I only saw the top tip of its ear – I never did see the horse……

My a good picture because of the angle, but I did see the whole cross. 

We continued in the same direction, but then came to a road leading up to a chalk quarry and we realised that we had, by continuing to follow the Pilgrims Way, lost the Downs.  (Singularly careless!). On past the road, a track took us upward and we had found the downs again.  We passed Highbourne Park, previously a chest hospital, and along into farmland.  We wandered across fields and passed a couple of farms, and looked down on some very large farm machinery holding up the traffic on the A20.  We could see Charing in the distance and eventually arrived at the top of Charing Hill.  Having crossed the road, we initially walked through houses and then left these behind and after passing another quarry,  we set out on a leafy path that we were to follow for several miles.  Along the way an old seat appeared (Athur’s sear apparently) which we took advantage of to have our lunch stop.  We had been walking for four and a half hours. It was a beautiful day and the dappled sunshine twinkled along the path. Near the end of this woodland path, it forked and we came out on a road.  

Here, at Dunn Street Farm, we arrived at a sign indicating that camping was available…… Now if I had carried a tent all the way from Winchester I would have been very excited at his point as it would have been the first opportunity to use it! I wonder if they get any takers?  I hope they do not spend too much money on marketing to the pilgrim fraternity!

We then came to the Eastwell Estate – very large and immaculate arable fields – with notices clearly stating ‘No Entry to the Public’.  Quite clear.  This caused sharp turns left and right to avoid offending the obvious powers that be.  Here we realised that in fact the downs were now in the distance to our left. 

  The farm buildings now came in sight. The Home Farm House looked very large and imposing  in keeping with the pristine landscape. After crossing another very large field we came to the driveway to the farm house and to the right, the edge of the enormous 40 acre Eastwell Lake. 

Just along from here, we came to the derelict church of St Mary’s  where, it is said, that the son of Richard 111, Richard Plantagenet, is buried.  It sounds a bit unlikely but it is said that when his father was killed on Bosworth Field, Richard fled to Kent (?!?) and lived a quiet life there for 60 years and on his death was buried in St Mary’s ……  Believe it if you like 

Our path then took us up over a slight rise and beside a rusting water tank (tch! Seemed quite out of place!) and down through a grassy field, crossing the drive up to the Eastwell Hotel and onto the road at Boughton Lees and another technical  hitch.

At this point the route divides and goes ahead to Dover or Canterbury.  Unfortunately we had been booked into overnight accommodation on the Dover route. This would have meant another 3 Mile walk in the wrong direction, with the requirement to walk back to Boughton Lees for the start our final days walk.  It was not going to happen!

We hopped in a taxi to Wye and will return to the route for our walk into Canterbury.   

Cuxton to Thurnham

16th May

Having made the dreaded toe as comfortable as I could, we left the beautifully converted barn where we had stayed overnight, to head off towards the Medway as our first challenge of the day was to walk over the motorway bridge. 

Our route took us first through woodland and then over a large field that gave us our first sighting of the Medway before we ventually emerged on a road that first took us under the Eurostar train line and then brought us out near the pedestrian access to the 3/4 mile bridge over the Medway.  

It looks a pretty long bridge as you start out….. 

 The number of the Samaritans appears at regular intervals along it.  

In the far distance the spire of Rochester Cathedral and the castle just showed above the Rochester city skyline.

  Having reached the other side of the bridge, we walked along a road that took us underneath the motorway and then another that this time took us over the Eurostar line.  We then followed a field side path which, when looking back, gave us great views of the bridge we had just crossed. 

   Our route meandered behind the villages of Wouldham and Burham and then along a road that took us past a large house called Fair View, which was something of an understatement of the view they had down into the valley.  We were the at Blue Bell Hill usually known as a busy road intersection on the M2 but standing on the actual hill it was a very busy spot, although the noise of the traffic could not be ignored.  

From here we turned right down the Hill and I, at last, got to see the ancient stones of Kits Coty.  I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have driven up Blue Bell Hill and seen the signs to Kits Coty and wondered what it was all about.  Today I found out!

  Kits Coty. The remnant of a Neolithic burial ground and reckoned to date from 3500 and 2800 BC.  It is a shame it has to be fenced off – it looks as if it shoukd be left free as part of the landscape……
There are a number of these old stones about in this area.  

Shortly afterwards there was to be my most serious disappointment of the day.  After crossing a railway bridge I heard an ice cream van!  An ice cream, I thought.  Great!  As we rounded the corner there it was – and just as we reached it – it pulled away?!? So near yet so far.  

There was little compensation in stopping to nibble my nuts for lunch by the White Horse Stone – another Neolithic item.  Somehow I would still have rather had an ice cream!!!

After lunch we headed off through woodland and then out round an enormous field of oil seed rape. Ugh. The crop was well above my head and the smellso pungent.  It was such a relief when we left it behind. Then, through another wood and after a steep climb we were rewarded by another North Downs Way milestone in a stand of yew trees giving us an indication of the distance we have travelled from Farnham.

  We left the wood over more Neolithic stones 
 Walking alongside another field we saw some amazing fungi……

It was then another long stretch through a wood and then out on the road and then on again, back into Boxley Wood. When we emerged from this, we were on the outskirts of the divided village of Detling.  The busy A249 runs through the middle of it and the rather beautiful Jade’s Crossing has to be used to get from one side to the other.  It was then another mile or so to Thurnham. We decided to walk down the lane rather than take to another high field edge and we came to the Black Horse a pilgrim inn for many years…… 


Otford to Cuxton

15th May

Another beautiful day. We hadn’t been out of our room since arriving at our American Diner (?!?) accommodation as we ate before being carried off to our accommodation, so it was with some trepidation that we set out for breakfast.  

There was no doubt about it, it was an American Diner! Even had an Elvis on display!
 The breakfast menu listed all sorts of excitements involving pancakes and maple syrup. I fairly conservatively opted for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon…….. 

I have to report here a bit of a technical hitch that has been developing over the last couple of days. A blister. Never has it been heard of except in the very distant past of my walking days – quelle horreur (spelling?).   Banging said appendage on the bed leg had not improved the shining hour. It was very painful. This and a 17 mile day was a bit of a worry so brought in reinforcements in the shape of friends Pat and David – we were coming up to the Gravesend sector – and decided to break off at lunchtime for Sunday lunch! I realise I will lose the purists among my audience at this point but so be it……… Keith who could have carried on decided to do the chivalrous thing (or it might have been the attraction of roast beef!) and adjourn too. 

With this in mind and my little toe and its injury covered as best as it could be, we set off. Otford is a dear little village.  Our route started at the duck pond whose claim to fame is that it is the only pond with ‘historic building’ status in the UK.  
With this attraction behind us we proceeded to clamber up Otford Mount.  A good old climb!  From there we moved into woodland and it was interesting to note that the bluebells which have so much part of the journey so far have started to fade as the season moves on.  The vibrant blue haze in woodland areas has disappeared.

The path then moved through meadow, open downland giving amazing views over Kent now, and hedge lined paths.  

 As we skirted Kemsing, dog walkers joined us on their Sunday morning strolls and runners sailed by.  We came across a milestone with the distances of the route identified.  Ominously there was a skull on the top – a deterrent for the light weights???

  The route meandered some more before descending after a large field to a narrow lane clearly marked as the Pilgrims Way. 
  We followed this through to the top of Wrotham Village.  It was a lovely stretch, fairly flat and giving rise to thoughts to the number of feet that had walked it over hundreds of years. 
  Please note that my pictures of Keith are always with Keith at the same distance ahead.  I want it to be known that it is not that I deliberately keep at a respectful number of paces behind him,  but more that his paces are longer than mine……..!

After passing the northern boundary of the village we had to negotiate our way across the A and M 20 and then we were back on the Pilgrims Way.  After passing several houses we veered off the narrow lane to walk along the edge of two large fields before descending on to the road once more.   We shortly arrived at the entrance to Hognore Wood and having walked through it, began the long climb of Trottiscliffe Down (pronounced Trosley).  We know the long haul up this hill as it marks the end of a favourite local walk of ours.  A real case of getting your head down and plodding.  

Eventually we arrived at the road at the top of the hill and in no time were enjoying liquid refreshment at the tea shop in the country park while we waited for our rescuers to carry us off to the pub for lunch.  Fantastic!

We were duly delivered to our accommodation in Cuxton in the very late afternoon having done 11 out of the 17 miles of the day.  Hopefully it will mean I can walk another day!

Oxted to Otford

14th May

It was a chilly morning and dulling heavily when we set out to go back to the route.  We retraced our steps surprisingly quickly and were soon on our way.  Fairly early on was the amusingly named Titsey Plantation where we crossed the line of the Greenwich Meridien – it had been much heralded, but in the event it happened without any evidence of where exactly it was!!! So much for that!

Our route meandered up and down in its own jolly way.  Each time we emerged from Woodland there were amazing views over the valleys below but they were not shown off to their best advantage without the sun. We eventually came out at a broad path with enormous houses on both sides, spaced out behind high fences with exotic wrought iron gates again.  It was probably the longest length of flat walking we have experienced since we started out!

  The houses themselves felt almost as though they were Surrey’s last stand before we crossed the border into Kent.  It was near to this point that we came across a sculpture carved out of a dead tree.  

  We gradually became conscious that we were following the course of some red and white streamers.  A lady came puffing up beside us to inform us that they  were for a road race taking place between Worthing and Knockholt (what an earth can be that exciting in Knockhholt to make it worth running from Worthing!?!). Not wishing to be party poopers, we hoped we would be past their route before the runners proper materialised.  We didn’t see any so both we and they were spared!
The day eventually began to brighten and we walked over the top of Westerham Hill and Brasted (we were now in almost ‘home’ territory as these are places we walk).  Chevening House  appeared in the valley below us, a big stately pile, and then we were looking down on the junction of three major roadways – the M25, M26 and A21 which rather disturbed what might otherwise have been a peaceful corner of the landscape. 

Reaching a road we walked up to the roundabout which is the Bromley turn off to the M25 and walked over the busy motorway and eventually down into the village of Otford.  There being no appropriate accommodation in Otford we were being met and carried off to somewhere ‘suitable’.  Arriving early we took the opportunity to eat at a pub and have a reviving drink.  

The ‘suitable’ accommodation turned put to be an American Diner…….!

Reigate to Oxted

13th May13th May
It was another lovely day. To return to the path we had to climb the very busy Reigate Hill. After a few yards we turned off the road and took a steep bridle path to the top where we turned right and headed east again. Crossing the footbridge taking us over the road we arrived in a very busy car park with a refreshment kiosk and, much to my amusement, with a row of deckchairs lined up to face the sun. There were all sorts of activities taking place – including a ladies exercise class with thick elastic bands attached to trees and ladies doing leg exercises! Imagine this with the continual roar and fumes of the M25 traffic over the hedge! What?!?? Why would you!!!

We moved on (chuckling) to Gatton Park – originally said to be one of Capability Brown’s largest projects and comprising a lake, ponds and woodland. The garden formed part of an extensive estate whose house was destroyed by fire in 1934. It’s grounds now form part of the Royal Alexandra and Albert Boarding School. There was certainly a lot going on! There were vast playing fields and young people taking part in various sports. To our right was a very modern circle of metal sheets mimicking an ancient stone circle. I don’t think stone henge need fear competition……

Another thing we have noticed is the health of the wonderful horse chestnut trees. We have passed some splendid huge examples. They seem to show no evidence of the disease that has affected some of their specie. 

Our route next took us across a golf course which had stunning greens that I think had been Capability Brown inspired. We then passed along to Merstham Cricket Ground and out onto the wonderfully named Quality Street that reflects a most gracious time for the village. Sadly it is now crushed between the M25 and railway lines into London. 

After passing a row of beautiful houses, we turned left by a very handsome Tudor House and took a footbridge over the M25 which was very scary. It looked a very light structure with the nose to tail M25 traffic thundering underneath. There was then a bit of road walking and two railway bridges before we took off again into the countryside. The cinder foot path took us to an underpass that ran beneath the M23. Beyond this there was a track up to a meadow and then we walked across and up a large field towards a hedge lined track. Here we met some wonderful dogs out walking with their proud owners ( what happened to the mongrels of my childhood? ) and passed some more amazing Surrey houses that must have had incredible views.

Another road heavily on edged with flowering wild garlic led us back into woodland. This, in turn, brought us out into an area called Gravelly Hill where we took advantage of strategically placed benches with a splendid panorama of the valley below while we ate our snack for lunch. We sat in the sunshine and just soaked up the moment.

Eventually we felt we had to move and headed into the wood at the end of the clearing. The path followed round the hillside. The ground to our right dropped away steeply. Not the time to trip over a tree root!  Steps appeared and we started to descend the slope. Rather amusingly we then came out onto a road by a warehouse. The guidebook described the area ahead as ‘a very untidy patch’ – and so it proved! There were huge lumps of concrete, cans and old cartons, a rusting set of stairs, bundles of wire and even two rusting cars. An untidy patch indeed. Passing up a drive with a few houses to our right we came out onto a path overlooking another, very much smaller, vineyard. 

Now for the wildlife!  We have walked constantly accompanied by birdsong which was lovely, but another phenomenon that some (!) were excited about were the most gigantic snails along the path.  

The path was in the open was short lived,  for in no time we were into woodland carpeted with wild garlic. 

 At a large beech tree we turned again and eventually we continued along an undulating track before arriving at the top of a very steep flight of steps. This stage of the day is not good for long staircases. Ugh! However,  it was nearly time to leave the North Downs Way for our accommodation in Limpsfield. Just a walk around the perimeter of a field of barley and after skirting the fenced boundary of a chalk quarry, we left the route and headed towards the M25 again. We found our way to the bridge over the motorway – always a spooky moment – and we were on the south side and finding our way along a road of mansions eventually arriving at the less exotic end and an excellent bed and breakfast. After a thorough cleanse we adjourned for a highly recommended Gurkha meal, which was excellent.  
And then home to bed……

Guildford to Dorking

11th May

To get back to Ye Old Ship we retraced the route down the hill.  To our right cars were nose to tail queueing  to get to work.   A young schoolboy passed us.  Large bag on his back, drooping shoulders – he cut a very different picture to that of the boys we saw from the ¬£12,000 a term Winchester College just a few days ago. His get up and go had very definitely got up and gone……..

We eventually arrived at the ‘Ship and in no time – just a sharp turn to the left and a few yards down a narrow, steep hill called Ferry Lane – we were in the countryside again!  There was a minute bridge over a very narrow water way and even an ode to the water!


 Nearby was a bridge over the River Wey and we were off.  

The weather was very dull and overcast.  Our route initially took us through Shelford Park and then through a residential street called Pilgrims Way. This sported a very splendid row of beautiful lime trees with their bright green leaves shining in the damp air. Leaving  the road we entered woodland and after briefly crossing a road again we were beginning to climb – always a good thing to get your first climb of the day early.  St Martha’s Hill lies to the East of Guildford and at the top we got our first of what was to be many amazing views over valleys below. We had reached the Downs.  (I have never quite known  quite known why such ups are called ‘downs’….. another of life’s mysteries……….).

  Even in the gloom of a damp Wednesday morning it was impressive.  St Martha’s church with its graveyard is said to be built on a site sacred to Bronze Age people. They knew a picturesque spot when they saw one!  However,  I was also interested to learn it was the parish church for the area at the foot of the hill – hard work for the coffin bearers as there was no evidence of a road up……….l
Leaving Martha behind we moved on.  Our route took us down and through woodland again.  Before long we were up again hand is time on the Albury Downs.   I think they have the hang of it now as there are a number of seats along the ridge – the people in whose name they are placed there obviously realise there is a need for a bench after all that climbing…….. Not for us pilgrims of course – we are made of sterner stuff (or some of us are?!?)

We have noticed another material change to our surroundings – the sandy soil has been replaced by chalk.  The Downs proper – it is official! Our walk took us away from the hill top views and to a Visitor Centre where I was amused to see very jolly evidence of Life in the Third Age – a merry group of pensioners undeterred by the weather!

  After crossing the A25, the still busy predecessor of the horrendous M25, we were back into woodland on an old Drove Road.  A reminder of the old parts we are travelling. Our walk continued on through woodland, but by now it has started to rain as we passed a concrete circular tank – a dew pond. As we moved on through woodland the heavens really opened and for about three quarters of an hour we walked through pouring rain, with rain bouncing up from the path and the route ahead could only be seen through a curtain of water.  All that could be done was to just keep moving forward.  We were back to bluebells to both right and left – a blue haze through the rain. 

  The rain eventually eased up and we took shelter under trees resting on the lip of another dew pond to eat our lunch.  I have to report little evidence of dew in the pond but a lot of human detritus – plastic bottles, old cartons and papers – the normal leftovers of over wrapped living, plus odd bits of branch and leaves.  A real melange of doubtful content.  
The North Downs Way continued on out of the woods, along grassy paths and on the occasional cinder track which provided a relief from the puddles the rain had created. We moved into the National Trust owned White Down Lease with great views to the south over meadows and pastureland and then crossed a chalk track known as Beggars Lane and then on to a ridge which provided more misty views as we dodged in and out of woodland.  

It was at this stage that we started to see brick pillboxes left over from the Second World War.  These continued to appear at intervals as we started to climb again. Several pillboxes later ( I can understand these at vantage points when we were out in the open, but was not sure what they could see in the trees……) we came out into a clearing to see Dorking, our overnight stop location, ahead. To the south on the horizon we could see the tower just visible in the distance of f Leith Hill.  Leith Hill is the highest point in the South Easr. Luckily we have not got to climb that one on this trip. 

Eventually we reached Ranmore Common which should have been near our final destination for the day of Denbies, the largest vineyard in England.  Luckily for us Mr Gregory thought it might be a good place to eat on the premises. It was at this stage the night before that we found out that they  had mistakenly booked us in for Friday…….. I fear that had we found this out after walking 14 miles it might have brought on one Mr Gregory’s mean moods and Mrs Gregory might have had the vapours. As it was we had the galling experience of having to walk another couple of miles into Dorking through Denbies vineyards to get to our revised accommodation .  We were not amused.  


Farnham to Guildford

10th May

It was the first time I have had ever woken up in a half tester bed ……..

What a difference a day can make.  It was a very old fashioned room, full of a mixture of brown furniture and books with faded covers.  The twin beds had never been twinned. Keith’s was very old but did not have the curtained grandeur of mine!  One of the great joys of these journeys is where you end up each day and this stop proved to be exceptional.  

Our hosts were from a different era.  Alexine was an author.  Warren definitely ex army with a handshake that crushed your hand so hard it brought tears to the eyes and you hoped he did not notice you wince.  The house from the outside was large in a faded glory sort of 20’s design.  The lights were suspended on brown cords.  The walls in the dining room were covered with portraits of distant ancestors. Gentle folk.    There was no sign of an ‘en suite’ but there was an old fashioned bath room down the panelled corridor, but, we were told, ‘you have a hand basin in your room’ ……. For the wash down with a flannel?!

They were charming. Sadly Warren was very deaf but he appeared at breakfast in a very dapper orange cravat. Alexine’s white hair was just about caught in a bun, she was tall and slim but slightly stooped and had the most amazing smile. We assessed that she was probably close to ninety.   Besides serving breakfasts to passing guests (there were two other couples beside us on the morning we were then) she is working on a new volume, this time about the civil war and goes to The British Library once a month for research.   

Amazing!  After we had bought her book, a historical novel based in Farnham, she showed us to a hole in the hedge (the house was in a sort of clearing on a tree covered plateau above Farnham).  This led to a private, muddy and slightly overgrown steps, that took us down to a lane and then to a footpath that led to the North Downs Way.   We had turned east.  We were en route to Canterbury.  The route immediately feels very grown up and ordered.   Our route sign now is an acorn.  It is very well signposted.   

It was raining from the start of the day but it was a gentle rain and because the route often took us through woodland so we hardly noticed.  As Keith says, there is no such thing as bad weather it is just that you are wearing the wrong clothing…….  I was duly ‘kagooled’ and gaitered and the weather didn’t intrude on what was a lovely walk.  What was noticeable was that the earth had become quite sandy.  It was quite springy under foot and we had returned to blue bell country.  It was mainly an agricultural landscape interspersed with woodland and a couple of really sandy ‘heaths’.  It was a very gentle day’s walking with no major climbs or descents – there was a feeling that we hadn’t yet got to the ‘downs’ aspect of the journey.  We saw very few houses on this leg of the route but there were lots of wild flowers and hedgerows busy with birds twittering.  It was a lovely walk.  

We passed through one small village, with small cottages and busy front gardens.  The pub – the Good Intent – was in a state of refurbishment, but notices assured us that it was ‘Business as Usual’.  After crossing a very busy road, our route took us to a very busy art gallery and studio complex. This was bristling with retired ladies lunching in the noisy tea room. What it did have was an exhibition that we could not resist – paintings of the Silk Road.  The artist had, we found, painted in Uzbekistan and we recognised aspects of Samarkand and the surrounding areas that we new.  The paintings were interesting and very expensive.  Fascinating that they should appear at the end of a woody footpath in Surrey………

Enough of civilisation.  Back to the walk.  Our way moved up from a slightly odorous pond beside the gallery (I am not sure that their eco friendly loos were quite up to snuff) and followed the leafy path to a farm on the Losely Estate (think ice cream).  We were nearly at the end of the days walking.   However, the day was not to be without its ornithological excitements.   There to our left in a fallow field was a bird of prey.  It’s hooked bill and beady eye surveyed the area with the superior attitude that seems to exude from these creatures and showed a total disregard for the two excited humans staring over the fence at it.  What confidence! It glided off a bit but then settled in the grass again.  What was it watching or guarding?  Who knows 

We meandered off, soon to arrive at Ye Olde Ship Inn where we were to leave the path for our hotel.  Regrettably this proved to be a mile off.  A long descent to the edge of Guildford and an equally long ascent two roads away that rendered us determined not to retrace our steps even to eat. The ‘hotel’ was a very efficient basic hostel for travelling salesmen.  Very clinical and clean but pretty characterless.  A night for washing put clothes and not much else.  

Alton to Farnham 

9th May

Well the summer is over – it is dulling heavily. Nevertheless there is walking to be done – Alton to Farnham marks the final day with St Swithun which is a shame because our guide book definitely has a medieval feel …… 

 From Farnham we move to the North Downs Way to guide us to Canterbury. The routes combine to create what is known as The Pilgrims Way.  This is thought to be the route taken by a penitent Henry II following the murder of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.  Since then it has been walked by countless pilgrims. Although we have not seen it very often along the way, it is indicated by the scallop shell the same as the one that denotes the pilgrim route to Santiago –  

 However, I digress.  Back to our pilgrimage.  The route out of our accommodation took us back past The Butts – an old archery green –  on the way into Alton and then through Alton town.   Alton, like many of the places we have travelled through, was mentioned in the Domesday Book.  However, unlike some of the others, there was little evidence of the town’s historic background as it bustled into another Monday morning.  

There is nothing quite like a grey Monday.  My ‘good mornings’ were met with everything from utter amazement to being totally ignored!  Hey ho!  We walked the length of the High Street and then followed an alley way that ran parallel to the main road and then eventually emerged at the playing field of a college.  We were gradually getting out of town.  As we left the main town behind the houses started to get bigger again and gradually the converted barns and large residences started to reappear. After crossing a newly ploughed field and and walking  through a small wood we came out to the very upmarket village of Upper Froyle.  Here we were to experience the first of several technical hitches of the day.  After running the gauntlet of a number of beautiful houses, several with very recently thatched roofs, our guidebook told us to look for a stile to our right 500m after the Old School House.   Having found the Old School House, we spent the next half an hour walking up hill to find the turning.  No turning – with or without a stile!  After retracing our steps back to the Old School House we found the stile opposite the school house.   Hmmmm. 

There was then a long walk over woodland, fields and farm land.  The deep ridges of potato fields, the pungent smell and acid yellow of oil seed rape.  Barley shoots a foot high.  Our route crossed vast fields and woody hollows. We found cowslips in abundance here – great to see as they were in decline so recently. 

 Another delight was the new bracken shoots.  Fresh bright green sticks emerging from the ground for about six inches.  They are topped with tightly furled curls.   They look a very small beginning for the big bracken fronds that will cover vast tracts of land as May moves into June.  From small beginnings……….
We were then advised by our esteemed guidebook to take care walking through hop fields – which I think have been gone long since – on our route to Bentley. The hop guide cables were the worry – there was no worry – there weren’t any there!  The hops have been overtaken by horses.  

It was at this point we came to the biggest technical hitch! Our guide told us to ‘continue across the open field’ and to pass a cottage on the right. We started out across a meadow and at the point we reached an enormous field – we found the sign post lying on the ground and our route sign (a small scallop shell with two croziers) facing skyward.  This was a little awkward.  Having looked around for further signs, we decided to cross the field even though the field had got no sign.  Once we got to  the other side there was absolutely no indication of the route.   Great!

I rested on a stile while Keith heroically scouted around for some clue as to the route. There was no sign and no cottage.  We knew we were some way short of Farnham so we had to try to pick up the signs again.  After another long delay we were moving forward again in the general direction of north and after some time we found a sign. We were back on track.  

More very nice houses with ornate gateways (which were often to be seen opening and closing without any sign of human intervention), pristine gardens and neatly pruned hedges.  We were in stockbroker country – we had crossed from Hampshire to Surrey…….. and we started out on what was to be the last and longest mystery of the day.  We took the bridle path as described.  An hour later we were still walking up hill and down dale.  We passed perhaps three large houses on the way, but nothing else.  We were walking through a land of vast estates. The land beyond the fences was very definitely ‘private’.  Some of the fields had sheep grazing.  There were beautiful horses – but no sign of our route into Farnham. We were saved by a lady in an enormous black car who I hailed as she appeared through yet another pair of magical gates. She directed us down to the art institute.  We were saved from walking for ever!

As we found that our accommodation for the night was out the other side of Farnham, we took the precaution of having food in town before venturing out to the eyrie that was to be our home for the night. 

That experience is best kept for tomorrow…….

Alresford to Alton

8th May

Another beautiful day dawned.  A quick nip into the town to post a card revealed a perfect and very beautiful little Georgian town.  There were few people around but by the time we emerged to start the day’s walk, church bells were in full peal and early dog walkers were collecting their Sunday papers.   

Our route took us out along the road to Bishop’s Sutton.  To our left the track of the Watercress railway could be seen just down from the horizon.  The village reached, as we turned out toward our next landmark we had to cross a ford.  The tentacles of the Itchen are still with us!  Luckily a bridge was available for those on foot – otherwise it could have meant a very soggy walking day.  As it was it was glorious.  Birds hopped in and out of the water and chattered in the hedgerows.  The stream sparkled.  Then there was a hoot and – great excitement – the Watercress Line steam engine trundled across the landscape!

Back down to earth and steam era attractions over the instructions went a little awry at this stage – the left turn that was due to materialise didn’t – which meant a loop along a country lane instead of a walk over the field which probably put another hours walking on the day.  Hey ho!   It was no hardship. There was no traffic except an old English motorbike chugging past.  What’s another mile or so between friends?!?

The next village was stunning. Ropley had a whole row of thatched cottages.  The gardens were stocked full of flowers and vegetables. We walked on through the beautiful stately homes that we have come to expect to line our route. In one ofthe smaller establishments, a family was out gardening – the little boy rather loudly asked the time of Dad…… It couldn’t really still be half past nine and hours of gardening before lunch?!? The balloon over his head indicated!

It was very warm and we dipped into the open village shop cum post office to buy more water which we consumed in their courtyard as it was cold and wat and not to be missed.  We moved on again. Out of the village and away up a hill and over fields and up again.  Every so often toot of the Watercress Line could be heard wafting over the landscape. For us it was then up again, this time to reach a forest carpeted in blue bells.  It was breathtaking.  Such a strong blue against the fresh green of the new leaves of the woodland.   The canopy of the trees also provided some almost welcome relief from the sun as we had reached mid day.  Beyond the branches the sky was a cloudless blue.  England at its best!

We left the wood without any sightings of the roe deer mentioned in our guidebook and struck out across a newly ploughed field. It was then down to a road and up over another field. The horses in it lazily turned their heads as we passed. Even the horses in Hampshire seem a cut above the rest!  Following this superiority it was down to earth when we reached a much heralded garden centre teaming with cars and elderly mums being taken out for Sunday afternoon tea.  Trolleys laden with plants crossed our path heading for the patios and borders of their purchasers. Still we wandered on. 

By now we were heading for the village of Chawton – the location of the last home of Jane Austen. The route there was incredible.  First we walked along a broad track through woodland.  Once again the woods were full of bluebells.  Our path then took us out into bright sunshine and open fields and just the overhead a red kite wheeled – so low that its red forked tail and the distinctive markings on its wings were clearly visible  – it was magical.  What a treat!

The next ‘treat’ was probably one of the largest houses I have ever seen. It was described as a ‘farm’ but it was huge and from the look of the building works going on, it was still growing!! It was made out of red brick and looked out over the valley.  To top it all it had huge iron gates and – incredibly – two large Chinese lions on the top of the gate posts!  What were they doing there?  I could not help but feel that there was a Chinese temple somewhere missing its lions…….!!

This was certainly the walk that just never stopped giving – for we then arrived at Chawton.  One chocolate box picture house after another.  Cricket being played on the village green….. The perfect Sunday afternoon.  What was even better was that there was a tea shop and time to put the rucksack down and have a glass of cold lemonade.  Nectar of the gods!

From there it was a short walk into Alton and a very worldly bed and breakfast in an ex Catholic Church!! ‘Joan’ was very jolly and just off out for champagne to celebrate her birthday.  I almost volunteered to tag along!! Being a bit partial to a few bubbles – but I am not sure St Swithun would approve………

Instead dinner with an old friend and another day on the road drew to a close.