The North Downs Way is a national trail in the UK that starts in Dover in Kent and ends 153 miles later at Farnham in Surrey. I’ve been to Dover many times, but I am yet to experience Farnham, and suspect that when I do it will be because of the North Downs Way. The trail was launched in September 1978 and as the name suggest roughly follows the North Downs, a ridge of chalk and sandstone laid down during the Upper Cretaceous period when the land was under water, and later raised by tectonic movement. The trail does a magnificent job as a rural, often wooded ribbon winding deftly through a very densely populated region with urban areas and major transport infrastructure close by. It has natural features that genuinely make it easy to forget just how close it is to the motorway or the HS1 rail line that links London to continental Europe.
The North Downs Way enters my circle of active travel (walking or cycling from home for exercise, during the covid “Stay at Home” lockdowns) at Jade’s Crossing at Detling village and extends to Trosley Country Park. Jade’s Crossing is a foot, hoof and pedal bridge over a busy dual carriageway, and an example of “an accident has to happen before anything is done” highways planning when 8 year old Jade Hobbs and her grandmother Margaret Cuwertz were killed by a car driver whilst trying to cross to get to the village shop. Trosley Country Park homes a range of ecosystems including old yew woodland and grazed meadows, in a distinctly escarpment landscape, as well as having a café that provides the best bread pudding in the region. Right from the start at Detling this part of the route sets out a theme of local and nationally important nature reserves beginning with The Larches moving on to Boxley Warren then Bluebell Hill, Nashenden Valley, Ranscombe Farm, Holly Hill and Trosley. Thanks at this point have to go to the people, often volunteers, working with Kent Wildlife Trust, Plantlife, Kent County Council and the small local groups for maintaining these areas, as well the National Trails office.
Another linking feature of this trail segment are the Medway Megaliths, a group of neolithic features with the Coldrum Stones, Kit’s Coty House and White Horse Stone being a stone throw from the Trail.
The local exploration stimulated by the lockdowns enabled me to note and experience the transitions of a full year along this part of the trail. It’s been frozen by hoar frost and blizzards and baked by Kent sunshine. The hazel and alder catkins give way to hedgerow flowers of blackthorn and hawthorn. Snow drops then bluebells then yellow archangels carpet the wood land floors. Time spent hunting for orchids is amply rewarded. Birds appreciate the variety of wooded edges and meadows, and raptors cruise the ridgeline.
It’s a place to gorge on nature’s powers for well being and in less restricted times to enjoy a beer in the secluded copse garden of the Robin Hood Pub.