I live in Maidstone & work in Folkestone, a commute of just under 40 miles & 45 ish minutes each way, nearly 80 miles or an hour & half sat in the car every day. Five. days. a. week. Blurgh.
Last week I decided enough was enough & that come Friday, I’d not succumb to the easy yet boring allure of driving to work & instead I’d hop on a train bright and early, work my usual day & then head home on foot. Here’s how it went…
I set off from the office just before 5, aiming for the North Downs Way & the hills that loft over the Seaside town of Folkestone. I must have looked somewhat odd as I trudged through the urban sprawl, dodging between rush hour traffic and queues of people lining up for their fish n chips all whilst weighed down by a pack that in the morning had seemed very lightweight but which now felt as though a baby elephant had hitched a ride. Of course, far from a day’s office work having sapped all my energy, I realised that I’d not filled up my water bottles when I set off in the morning and had only done this before leaving work, hence the increase in weight!
The great thing about Kent is that from nearly everywhere you are within mere minutes of the countryside and I was soon standing on top of the ‘Downs, looking out over Folkestone and the office from where I had been sat staring blankly at a computer not an hour before.
This speedy transition from noisy town centre to majestic countryside was to be the last bit of good progress I made for a while as a combination of my overconfidence in not feeling I needed to read the map & a reliance on the national trail waymarks to lead the way, resulted in a few off piste excursions & a lot of time wasted before I finally arrived at the small village of Postling at which point I decided to swallow my pride & crack out the map. From here, I dropped the original plan of following the North Downs Way and instead stuck to the Pilgrims Way which runs roughly parallel & occasionally links up with the National Trail but for the most part runs at the foot of the Downs rather than straight up and over them, much easier!
Speed and distance covered picked up and I was soon barreling along the ancient trackway, escorted by a couple of bats, swooping and diving around my head until they had delivered me safely at the doors of The Tiger. A true oasis of a pub, The Tiger had been recommended to me by a colleague at work when I had told him of my intended route and thankfully the recommendation was sound, the pub was not a mirage and I arrived in time for last orders.
Having caused a stir in the pub by casually asking how far the next village was (20 minutes drive) and declaring my intention to walk not only to the next village but on towards Maidstone, I quickly changed batteries, pulled on some warmer clothes to combat the cool summer’s night air and marched off into the night, looking around hopelessly in the dark for a spot to bivvy for the night.
Making use of the map once more, I identified a nearby hill with some perfectly aligned contours as being my “hotel” for the night and upon arrival was pleased to find a friendly looking tree with an expansive view overlooking Ashford in the distance. Knackered, I was soon fast asleep, tucked snuggly into my bivvy bag, only to be awoken at sunrise by the mooing from a herd of curious cows that had wandered into my “hotel”. Having a healthy fear of any beast armed with four stomachs and packing 1000 pounds of beef behind it, I quickly packed up my gear & checked out, heading now for the village of Wye.
Arriving in Wye a little after 8am, the day was already hotting up so I took the chance to re-supply, filling my dwindling water bottles and taking on some valuable nutrition (wine gums). Although I had packed my recently acquired (Army Surplus) Trangia meths stove and pans, I really didn’t pay enough attention to nutrition for what was to be a near 24 hour adventure, packing too little in the way of proper calorie rich foods. Lesson learned. The stove however, performed amazingly and has replaced my old campingaz bottle set up.
With the heat rising I carried on towards Maidstone, making rapid progress through Boughton Lees, Eastwell & the Tuscan like landscape around Charing,
By the time I crested Charing Hill, the wheels had started to come off and I had made the decision that upon arrival in Lenham, I would drop off the trail and call it a day. Whilst the walk & heat had taken their toll on me, I still felt able to continue physically but by this point I had developed a vicious case of chafing around my thighs and despite liberal amounts of vaseline doing a valiant effort at keeping the pain at bay, eventually I just couldn’t face another step.
From Lenham I treated myself to a very unadventourous taxi home. Whilst I was disappointed to have not made it all the way home under my own steam, I was still satisfied with my effort, clocked at around 46km on the Endomondo mapping app and I knew that I had seen & heard things I otherwise wouldn’t have had I simply driven home.
1) Take time to plan the route properly, work out distances and likely altitude ascent/descent.
2) Keep the map out and navigate properly, a little time spent map reading saves a lot of time getting lost!
3) Use the right gear. I used my 45 liter Berghaus Arete, a great lightweight pack ideal for climbing or as a roomy day pack but I found the straps didn’t provide enough padding and dug painfully into my shoulders. Also, apart from a handy pouch in the lid, there are no extra pockets other than the main bag itself, this meant I was frequently unloading gear to get to what I needed.
4) Find a bivvy spot whilst it’s still light. When wild camping it pays to arrive late & leave early to minimise the chances of disruption to you or others, however looking for a spot in the pitch black is not advisable either. Find a good spot whilst its light, retire to a pub and then return after dark. Sorted.
5) Don’t scrimp on food. Whilst I might be packing a few extra pounds around the waist, the importance of carrying enough fuel for the journey was highlighted to me on this trip, Wine gums just don’t cut it!