Today has been about testing: maps, clothing, boots, waterproofs, knees, ankles and stamina. Everything passed OK except for my left knee, which became a tad uncomfortable towards the end of the day. Especially going downhill.
I locked the van away in its garage after last night’s adventure and strode out just as Vickers’ clock struck eight. It’s an old clock and it’s as well to allow a margin of +/- 12 hours to ensure accuracy. But this morning it was about right.
There was still frost underfoot as I crossed Dartford Heath. The remains of a light mist hung around in dips and hollows. Very pretty.
I remember this particular part of the heath well. As a teenager I used to race a stripped down, sometimes brakeless ‘track bike’ (or was it a ‘trek’ bike?) fitted with huge cow horn handlebars. We’d follow a network of rough tracks over the Glory Bumps and through the Donkey Pond. BMX was yet to be invented. About the same era we used to race karts on some rough old concrete tracks, abandoned after WW2 I guess. The fastest kart had a 175cc Bultaco motorbike engine, five gears and a top speed of about 100mph. We had to avoid people out walking their dogs I recall.
Navigating by the roar of the A2 I came out just by the Heath Lane Bridge, which I crossed, then passed the schools, abandoned at half term and into Wilmington. Here I was ignored. The proprietor of the Costcutter store in Wilmington managed to sell me a bottle of Lucozade without acknowledging my presence in his shop. He completely avoided eye contact and never once interrupted his flow of banter with the person on the other end of his hands-free call as he took my money.
I found a bridge over the M25 and walked down to cross the Farningham Road at Sutton-at-Hone. Here the National Trust look after St John’s Jerusalem.
St John’s Jerusalem started as a chapel and hospital for knights in the 13th century. It is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons from April to October.
The two bridges over the moat.
Down the lane a bit further are the cress beds, dug in 1460 to service the needs of the Royal Court at Eltham. Still in use today, the watercress beds also provide an ideal environment for grass snakes and water voles.
The trail approaches South Darenth with its imposing mill chimney but I turn left
towards Gill’s Farm where lives a colony of escapee Carassius auratus. They have been there for a few years and seem to thrive in the British climate but mostly keep well concealed. They can be enticed to show themselves for food on a sunny day.
I stopped for an early lunch at the Ship Inn on Green Street Green (very good food). Lucky I stopped when I did because the Wheatsheaf at Westwood is now closed and the Black Lion at Southfleet burned down to be replaced by ‘Black Lion Cottages’. The going, beyond Southfleet, gets heavy, with that sticky mud that clogs your boots and keeps building up on them. I reckon each boot weighed 10kg by the time I reached New Barn.
At Nash Street my route joined the Weald Way which I followed to Sole Street station and the train home.