North Downs Way: Sandling to Hollingbourne

Our progress along the North Downs Way continues, albeit slowly.

We resumed towards the end of April 2023, some six months after completing the previous stretch, from Cuxton to Sandling.

Sandling is some miles before the official end of the Cuxton to Detling leg, and we had needed a 101 Sapphire bus to connect us with a nearby railway station.

We rejoined the same bus service to return, departing from just outside Maidstone East Station, and were deposited close to Cobtree Golf Course by 10:50.

We had chosen to walk this section on a Friday, rather than our usual Saturday, to ensure better transport connections.

We hoped to get some way beyond Detling, completing half or more of the next 9.3 mile section from there to Lenham. We aimed to reach Hollingbourne, possibly even Harrietsham, a couple of miles further.

But the guide warns that the section after Detling contains several lengthy ascents and descents so, in retrospect, it was unrealistic for us to push beyond Hollingbourne.

In the event, we needed the best part of eight hours to complete this walk – some eleven miles in all, including the additional stretch to Hollingbourne Station.

It was fatiguing for all three of us, partly because of the terrain and the occasionally muddy conditions, but also because Tracy and I were keeping pace with Jackie. It is surprisingly difficult to maintain a far slower pace than normal!

Conditions above ground were good – mild but not too warm, with good visibility and regular sunny intervals.

After alighting from the bus, we followed the A229 a half-mile northwards, to rendezvous with the NDW, using an underpass to reach the White Horse Stone.

Officially, this is the Upper White Horse Stone – the Lower Stone, some 300 metres to the west, was broken up at least two centuries ago. Both could have been part of chambered long barrows, but no-one knows for certain.

A Nineteenth Century antiquarian first recorded the myth that Hengist and Horsa’s battle standard was deposited here in the Fifth Century. More recently, the Stone has been adopted as a sacred site by modern-day heathens, notably those observing the Odinic Rite. No doubt it was they who had adorned it with flowers.

Having paused for photographs, we began to climb up, through woodland, to the ridge that would take us all the way to Detling.

This section is part of the Boxley Warren Nature Reserve. We passed a NDW milestone, showing us at roughly two-thirds distance, framed by thousands of bluebells.

At the top of the climb, we found ourselves on the edge of open farmland, the woodland continuing on our right hand side. Re-entering the trees further on, we came across a makeshift shrine to the ideas of Fritz Shumacher.

This would have been curious enough in itself, but sitting beside it, we encountered an amazing couple.

They were Danish, in their 80s and had started a three-week hiking holiday in Rochester a few days previously. He liked beer, so they scheduled their walks to finish in pubs, where he could drink and they could both talk to the locals.

They both wore matching boots, similar to wellingtons, but with laces, and told us that, whereas in their 70s they were comfortable walking 20km a day, now they were walking only 10km!  But they still carried everything in their rucksacks.

We chatted for ten minutes or so before they departed ahead of us, but we caught them again on the bridleway between Lidsing Road and Hermitage Lane, which had been much disfigured by forestry work.

Here he had stopped awhile to exchange calls with a lonely bird.

Descending to Detling, we took the Jade’s Crossing footbridge, pausing to read the sad story of how it was built following the deaths of eight year-old Jade Hobbs and her grandmother, run down on the A249 below.

We took our lunch on a bench beside Detling’s war memorial, opposite the Cock Horse pub.

(A cock horse – as in ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’ – was an animal kept specifically to pull heavy carts up local hills.)

The memorial commemorates, amongst others, 67 service and civilian personnel at RAF Detling who lost their lives when it was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 13 August 1940.

Finishing our sandwiches, we welcomed the Danish couple to their destination (though there was some talk of settling for a ginger beer and continuing onward) before continuing on our way.

We were soon climbing above the Pilgrims Way, entering White Horse Wood Country Park.

Somewhere along here, I passed a sad little pink note, lying forgotten on the path:

We took the recommended detour to visit the remains of Thurnham Castle, but it took us a little while to find them! Not much is left of the Twelfth Century fortifications built by Robert de Thurnham, which were already ruins by the Sixteenth Century.

The subsequent climbing and descending proved difficult, though several encounters with lambs gave some light relief. We even passed two effecting an escape from their inevitable fate.

Having reached the farm at the bottom of Coldharbour Lane, the path leveled out, continuing along the top of the ridge. Soon we had entered the Hucking Estate, owned by the Woodland Trust.

As we approached Hollingbourne, I was annoyed to see two or three ‘beware of the bull’ signs. Landowners have no business keeping a bull on a public footpath or, for that matter, threatening walkers needlessly with such signs.

By the time we arrived above Hollingbourne it was already well past six. We descended to the Dirty Habit pub, closed following a serious fire in October 2022, then passed through the Village.

We admired All Saints Church and, particularly, Hollingbourne Manor,a late Sixteenth Century manor house built by the Colpeper family.

We missed our intended train, but were fortunate that the next service went to Victoria, from which we returned via Clapham Junction, arriving home a little before nine.

It had been a very long day.


May 2023

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