I realise that I regularly get excited and decide that my latest walk was the best walk ever. I do the same with films and books, often my favourite book is the last thing I read, and my favourite film is normally something I have seen pretty recently. BUT this really is one of the nicest walks in the UK! We had perfect weather; one of those crazy blue skies without any clouds, plus a cool breeze to stop us getting too hot! Plus last weekend the bluebells started to pop out, so we were able to walk through several different gorgeous bluebell woods. I love the two weeks of bluebells more than any other time of year, so I has SUCH a happy walk!!
The bluebells were just getting started as we wandered past, so if you don’t have plans for Easter weekend, please just copy this walk. It is just too perfect to miss!! Imagine how much prettier things will be next week when all these bells open!
Anyway, this is the sixth section on the North Downs Way to Dover. It starts in the lovely village of Otford, and finishes in Cuxton, close to Rochester. There is a good mixture of walking along the top of the Downs, though open countryside and through gorgeous woodland. There is quite a lot of up-and-down sections on this walk, but the effort is definitely worth it for the views. If you need a map for this walk, I found one online here.
The walk starts at Otford train station, you just cross the tracks and take right to join the pilgrims way. There is a slow, slightly steep climb up to Otford Mount. It didn’t seem as steep as the climb up to Box hill though, so if you have been following the North Downs way in order, your legs will be able to cope with this easily. Once you make it to the top of the hill, you get a lovely view backwards towards Otford.
Next you follow the North Downs Way markers through some fields and along the edge of the first lovely bluebell wood of the day. I was so excited to see my first bluebells of the year that I managed to lose my friends and husband (who sensibly all kept walking…) I had to run for a while to catch up.
Once you’re out of the woods you wander past horses and a field full of scaredy-sheep. Most sheep are pretty relaxed to see humans wandering past, but these guys were terrified of us! They ran to the opposite side of the field. Maybe they thought we’d come to steal their lovely fluffy coats!?
Next we walked along the edge of another bluebell wood and down some steps to our first amazing view of the day! This was the start of Kemsing Down Nature Reserve. The grass was covered in bunches of yellow primroses, and had views out to the Kentish countryside. While we were there, the views were gorgeous, if a little hazy. We walked along this ridge to emerge at a viewpoint overlooking the village of Kemsing. There are some happy grass-munching horses and a large cross.
After the viewpoint, you need to turn left, parallel to another pretty bluebell wood. The path now alternates between woods (carpeted with purple flowers), bright green fields and ridges with views from the top of the North Downs. There was a way-marker half way along the path towards Wrotham. It said we have now walked for 60 miles!! Just another 65 miles to go!
As well as bluebells, there are some pretty white flowers carpeting the woods. They reminded me of stars in the sky, but they were covering the forest floor. Edit: I just had an e-mail to tell me they are Wood Anemones. Thanks Margaret!
After a little while the path descends down a grassy hill to meet the Pilgrims way again. We decided that the view from the top of the hill was too nice to miss, so we stopped here for lunch.
Once you’ve made it to the bottom of the Downs, just follow the Pilgrims way into Wrotham. (Our guide said this is pronounced “Rootam”, just in case you were pronouncing it wrongly in your head!) As we got closer to the village we saw some huge challenge obstacle-course-type event happening. Marc thought it might be fun to take part, but I have to admit, I am not convinced… Everyone looked knackered!
The Village of Wrotham is right next to the M20, but because the M20 is cut into a chalky trench, it doesn’t create as much of a roar as the M25 on previous walks. We walked past a noisy football match on the village green and then wandered up a tree-lined path before we even realised that we’d reached the motorway!
You do need to be careful near these roads. There is a bridge over the M20, but the cars heading over the roundabout don’t seem used to walkers! We had to run across the road between impatient, speedy drivers. Once we’d crossed the motorway the Pilgrims way quickly turns away from the road. It really didn’t take too long for the car noise to calm down and for it to feel like we were in the countryside again. The path is squished between two tall hedges, so the tall blokes with us had to duck between branches. If you don’t want to squeeze, the quiet road next to the path goes the same way!
Quite soon the path turns back into more woods. I think this is called Hognore Wood. The bluebells were beautiful bathed in dappled light. The route takes you up to the A227 (and past a very dirty road sign to Wrotham and Gravesend!) Turn right down a quiet road that leads to Trosley Country Park.
Trosley Country Park was the busiest part of this walk. We didn’t see many other hikers (not even dog walkers!) for most of the day. Maybe everyone was busy gardening and getting ready for the first barbecue of the year? We have seen more walkers even on soggy days, so I am not sure why so few Kentish folks were out and about. Anyway this Country Park was the exception. There is a café, loos and a really nice picnic area that was pretty full of people and puppies. The Country park is covered in beautiful woodland on top of a hill, so whenever there are clearings in the trees, you can see gorgeous views down to the rest of Kent. The bluebells were a little less dense here compared to the other woods, but they’re still lovely.
There isn’t much of a marker to show when you leave Trosley Country Park, but suddenly there were less people around. Anyway, the North Downs Way descends down to fields again. Then, after a little jaunt along the Pilgrims way it climbs back up towards Holly Hill. As the path had been quiet for quite a long time, I decided to use this moment to take off my leggings as I was pretty warm. Of course, as soon as they were half-way down, (I was negotiating them over my walking boots) a man ran up the steps with his dogs! How embarrassing!
Our map didn’t mention that there is a viewing point at Holly hill, but we stopped to see some pretty views down to Rochester and the surrounding countryside. For once, we couldn’t hear a motorway, so it was perfect!
After Holly Hill you follow a road with views down to some chalk cliffs and a chalk-pit. There are loads of flowers like primroses, violets and massive dandelions next to the road. I loved seeing a house (barn!?) built from large flint rocks. We also found a field full of black sheep! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole heard of black sheep before! They really stood out as silhouettes against the bright green grass.
The last leg of this walk goes through lots of smaller woods that make up Rochester Forest. The path meanders from woods to open meadows and then back into woods. My friends (and husband) were used to seeing bluebells by now, so I spent quite a lot of time taking photos of delicate blue flowers, then running to catch up with everyone. Oops. If you can’t walk the whole way along this route, then starting at Cuxton and just visiting these woods would still be a good way to see bluebells.
Once we emerged from Rochester Forest, there was a last dip in the path. You walk down into a green valley, and then climb back up straight away. The fields were full of very pregnant sheep when we came past, so pretty soon they’ll be lambs lolloping around here. There are some round hop-houses with interesting conical roofs to the right at Dean Farm.
This year (2017), the last few fields on the walk are planted with rapeseed (or canola to Americans). I have always liked the bright yellow fields, but I find the smell a little over-powering in mid-summer. At this time of year they are just getting started, so their fragrance is pleasant, rather than hay-fever-inducing!
And that takes the walk past Upper Bush and Lower Bush into Cuxton. We stopped at the White Hart for a couple of drinks. The bar staff were pretty rude, but they have a large beer garden, so we were happy to stay anyway. We caught a train to Strood (just a few minutes away) and then jumped on the High Speed train back to London. The ticket inspector was a really jolly bloke with the cutest train hole-puncher!