Wealdway – Hartlake to Leigh

Distance: 14.7 km

Steps: 27,734

Maps: OS Explorer 136, 147

Weather

The wood to the west of Hartlake Bridge is tiny. Maybe 200 metres x 50 metres. I selected the most covert, dry, sheltered spot and began to set up my basher at 8:30pm last night, just as the light began to fade. By 9:00pm it was full dark and my bivouac was complete. I got into bed and I was sound asleep within minutes. I awoke briefly around midnight to find that I had neighbours. One male and one female, two voices, talking very quietly, about 30 metres away I guess. I went back to sleep.

I was up soon after 06:00am and back on the trail before 07:00am. Walking west and eating the remains of my food as I went along, I soon reached Eldridge’s Lock.

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There are dozens of dog walkers about at this time of day. I got to Tonbridge just after 08:00am. The town is now much developed beside the river from the days we used to moor Kajani here (1989?). Luxury apartments now extend to just beyond Town Lock on the south bank and all the way to Cannon Bridge on the north bank. There are signs saying that you can still moor here at £5.00 per night but nobody was.

I carried on along the south bank and reached the town bridge. This was our highest navigable point on the Medway as our tiny mast wouldn’t go under the bridge. There’s a pub just here on the river where Matt Sankey used to DJ with vinyl.

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I paused for a breakfast bap in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle. I’ve got a blister on my left heel. That’s never happened before! I’ve been wearing these Meindl boots for two years now. I must be walking funny. I blame the Parkinson’s 😦

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Was tempted to ride the model railway but it seemed to bring me back to where I started from so I declined and carried on walking west past the rugby pitches.

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The Wealdway passes under the Tonbridge-London railway line and continues beside the Medway. There’s plenty of fish in the river along here. I’ll return for a day out. I walked another 4 km beside the river, lakes and flood defence measures, passing under the A21 dual carriageway. Then I reached Leigh where I got the train home to change my socks etc.

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Wealdway – Wrotham Heath to Hartlake

Distance: 24.1 km

Steps: 45,672

Maps: OS Explorer 148, 136

Weather

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Did you know that you can save 10% on the room rate at Premier Inn, just by booking a ‘saver’ reservation on your phone whilst standing at reception. They don’t tell you this unless you ask! Declined their kind offer of hot food for breakfast and departed the Premier Inn at 09:00am. I turned immediately left towards Platt. It’s a steady gentle gradient rising 50 metres over 1 km. A good start to warm up.

Laurel hedges abound in Platt as local residents attempt to distance themselves from Wealdway Walkers

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Before I succumbed to the temptations of a comfy bed and a hot bath last night, my wildcamping destination had been planned to be Shipbourne Forest in Crouch. I breakfasted there today. It’s not pretty: recently coppiced hazel and beech, some birch. Bit boggy here and there. I definitely had the most comfortable option.

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I walked south 3 km through Shipbourne Forest/Mereworth Woods. It’s a long, dry, pot-holed road and I met only two dog walkers. No other hikers. This brought me to Gower Hill, a pretty site maintained by the National Trust with outstanding views to the west and south on a clear day (which it was). The weather brought a few fluffy clouds but an otherwise clear sky.

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Another 2 km brought me to West Peckham, where Blake never saw an angel but there was a lone lawnmower man lovingly tending the tiny cricket green. I enjoyed an excellent cheese ploughman’s lunch sitting outside the ‘Swan on the Green’. There was no cricket today but the pub was very busy with lunchtime trade; locals and ramblers.

 

The signage and waymarking for the Wealdway has so far been excellent. With a keen eye for the signs you could walk the trail without a map/compass. I wouldn’t because for me, the map work is part of the fun. But that’s me.

There has been just one exception to this confident statement. Barnes Street. Here the sign points south down a drive and through a farmyard. The walker is directed through a field of sheep (with dire warnings for dog owners). The path fizzles out. I found myself on the wrong side of an irrigation ditch and had to back track. I had to walk round a ploughed field to reach a gate I’d identified on the map as leading down to the River Medway. Probably my error but I would have been in trouble without a map/compass.

I walked west for 1/2 km on the south bank to East Lock.

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Then crossed the river at the lock, where there are a pair of WW2 pillboxes, and walked another km to the west where the path ducks under Hartlake Bridge. There once was a tragedy on Hartlake Bridge. The modern bridge is made of concrete and steel and is of sturdy construction but it wasn’t always so. In 1853 the bridge was a rickety old wooden structure, much in need of maintenance. It collapsed while a cart of hop pickers was passing over it. 30 people sadly drowned in the river below. They were aged 2 to 59 and were all Romanis from one extended family.

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I made my camp in the woods 200 metres or so beyond the bridge. The overnight weather promised to be dry and there was no wind. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

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Wealdway- Gravesend to Wrotham Heath

Distance: 28.7 km

Steps: 51,938

Maps: OS Explorer 162, 148

Weather

Today has been the London marathon and St. George’s day. The weather has been ‘the hottest day since …’ Nice, but hard work for runners and walkers alike.

A big thank you to Nic, Lee and Iris for putting me up last night. Great barbecue. Iris has St. George’s Day Parade today. Hope all went well 😁.

I got up bright & early for the 08:22 train.

There was a carnival atmosphere on the train with every seat taken by marathon runners, friends and families. Standing room only 😃

I was early, ahead of my schedule, so I visited the Pocahontas memorial in Gravesend,

on my way to Gravesend Town Pier.

Gravesend is a charismatic town on a Sunday morning. Wetherspoon’s is already full with family guys out for an early cuppa.

Tightened my boots at this very spot and set off. I followed Wrotham Road out to the A2, which I crossed via the rabbit bridge then on to Ifield, Nurstead and Nash. Lunch in the (very friendly) Railway Inn at Sole Street.

From here I walked beside Camer Park (translates literally from the French: ‘Park to take drugs in’). Then south to Coldrum long barrow, maintained by the National Trust since 3800BC. Kelly Sands and I had a picnic lunch here, many years ago.

But for the modern wooden fencing, the view from Coldrum must have remained unchanged since neolithic times.

As I came to St Vincents near Addington, I heard the unmistakeable sound of live music. I judged it to be in a distant pub garden. But no, as I approached a lone house, I realised that the loud rock music was coming from inside a garage. I had heard it from at least a km away, pity the neighbours. It had been a long, hot day an had the option been available, I was have seriously considered calling a taxi. But I walked on. And so I reached Wrotham Heath, and much in need of a bath, food and a rest, I opted for the Premier Inn rather than wild camping in the woods, but heigh-ho, I’ll wild camp at Tonbridge tomorrow 😜

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