North Downs Way – Chilham to Canterbury, the final leg
Saturday 15th October saw the final legs of Ken's epic North Downs Way walk – 22 of them, in fact. The 22 legs walked the final leg of the journey which had begun, I believe, at Box Hill on 20th July 2013.
see here). It was an easy, if rather long, journey – with lots of small station-stops the closer we got to Chilham. We were visited a few times on the journey by the train conductor, at first just checking the tickets, then up for a chat. As we approached our stop his on-board announcement of the next station included a greeting and a warning to all of us walkers that whereas we would face rain ahead on our walk, he'd be in Canterbury in a few minutes and totally dry!This stretch began with a group of eleven meeting at Victoria Station for the train to Chilham, where the previous walk had finished on 23rd July (
It had, indeed, begun to cloud over as we'd got closer to our start, but for most of the way the rain held off, or at least only came down relatively lightly. Thus it was that we were able to enjoy a quick look at the attractive village of Chilham, with its quaint houses, castle and 15th C. church, to which we paid a quick visit. Then it was up and then down, and then up and down again in numerous successions – with here and there a levelish patch - as we made our way along the downs.
For a considerable part of the route we were passing through apple-growing areas, at a perfectly good time to do some scrumping if one were that way inclined. Of course, some of the windfalls had already been got-at by wasps and the like, so would have been no good for the supermarket shelves. I am sure that had we tried the good parts, they would have been totally edible and delicious – apart perhaps from the cooking apples. On the large orchard associated with Nickel Farm there was a township of mobile-home type accommodation, specifically for the apple-pickers of whom we saw numbers as we passed through. Shortly after the orchards we stopped for a while at the public house on the edge of Chartham Hatch, then continued through Petty France and a variety of pleasant countryside – including a field with a unicorn posing rear-end-on to us and pretending to be a sheep (or maybe asleep), and another with no white sheep of the family amongst all the black ones. On this stretch too was the Iron Age hill fort of Bigbury Camp – which looked like a hillside rather than a hill fort, as most Iron Age forts do – and an open-to-the-public orchard which looked more like an orchard than the commercial ones do. No Mans Orchard, as it is called, is a rare survival of a traditional Kent apple orchard. We got some apples there, and there was a large snake.
Crossing the A2 (originally a Roman road, I suppose: “A2 Brutus”) we were soon making our way into Canterbury itself. The guide book route into town takes you down London Road, then right into St. Dunstans Street, where we had to wait at a level crossing for two trains to pass. We were in view of the Westgate Towers, said to be England's finest medieval gateway, and where we soon posed for a photograph. Then along the pedestrianised High Street before turning left to the Cathedral Gate. It's funny, but within Canterbury it is difficult to see the Cathedral, and even when we got to the gate an entrance fee tended to make viewing even more difficult. Some of the group elected to pay up and go in, whilst four others walked right around the cathedral by means of the closest roads. Even then, you could only occasionally see the top-most spires. They've got it well hidden.
So, by then the original eleven had split up a bit, and four of us went into a M. & S. tea shop for a cuppa. When we left it was pelting down, but we'd a train in mind and headed fasly and wetly to Canterbury East Station by way of the bus station and the city walls. Gaining those was where we also gained some of the rest of the group, and gaining the station we gained the remainder. So - mostly - we all travelled back together. We had a carriage to ourselves, presumably because the original train conductor had warned all the rest to be on the look-out for us. My O.S. map with its draw-the-route facility made the distance 7.8 miles rather than Ken's guide-book 6, but a grand time was had by all. I think.
I'd not joined in all of the walks that comprised the route from Box Hill to Canterbury, but congratulations to all that did, and to those that did some but not all, and congratulations and thanks to Ken for organising and taking the lead in this most enjoyable venture.
Paul Ferris, 17th October 2016