First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cloudy summer’s day across the Kentish Downs, with rain simmering not far away.
The remnant flint walls of Thurnham Castle couldn’t keep a mouse at bay these days.
From their shelter we admired a prospect over Wealden valleys tangled with thick
dark woods, then dropped down the castle mound to find the North Downs Way.
Pilgrims, packmen, rogues and vagabonds have been travelling this ancient trackway
for many millennia. It ribbons along the flanks of the downs, a pale line scribbled
through the woods and across chalk downlands where sheep nibble the rich
vegetation, a salad of herbs and wild flowers.
We looped round the head of a dry chalk valley, the olive-green turf bitten to a close
sward of smooth grass. A shower came rattling through Civiley Wood, polishing
leaves and stems. Nettle-leaved bell flowers glowed a milky blue in the shade of yew
trees whose knotty forms resembled limbs flayed back to muscle and bone.
Out in the open, the chalk grassland of Cat’s Mount lay washed with an astonishing
spatter of colour – yellow froth of lady’s bedstraw, gold twists of bird’s-foot trefoil,
sky blue powder-puffs of scabious, purple thistle tufts and white florets of yarrow. A
multi-hued haze of flowerheads that stretched ahead along downland flanks preserved
to maintain this precious and rare environment.
The North Downs Way ran on across the slopes. One or two bees were braving the
mizzly air to forage among the flowers, but the butterflies were all in shelter and
waiting for a peep of sun.
At Broad Street Hill we left the old trackway for the woodland paths of the Hucking
Estate. The Woodland Trust bought this 230 ha estate back in 1997 when only one-
third was under trees. Now it’s two-thirds wooded, a mix of ancient woodland and
new plantings, with broad paths mown through the trees and across the open grassland
that link the woods.
Much of the surrounding farmland of this part of Kent is tricky for walkers, with
neglected rights of way, a lack of waymarks and footpaths smothered under crops.
But at Hucking the Woodland Trust actively encourages walkers to wander and enjoy
this varied mosaic of landscapes.
At the peak of the hill stood a wooden sculpture of a shepherd in cap and baggy
jacket, one of the sturdy, silent men that spent their lives minding the downland
sheep. He seemed a fitting spirit for these wide hills and woods.
How hard is it? 7¼ miles; downland and woodland tracks; easy, but NB several steep
flights of steps on NDW.
Start: White Horse Wood Country Park, Detling, Maidstone ME14 3JE (OS ref TQ
Getting there: Signed off A249 (Sittingbourne-Maidstone)
Walk (OS Explorer 148): From car park head south across grass; cross track; follow
‘Castle’ signs to cross road (808583). Fenced path to castle. Left across mound
opposite; path down to North Downs Way/NDW (809582). Left, and follow NDW for
2 miles to cross Broad Street Hill road (836571). In 100m, dogleg left/right
(‘Viewpoint’); follow Woodland Trust/WT arrows past shepherd sculpture (840569).
In 150m fork left (WT); in 100m left (843569, kissing gate/KG, WT); ahead on path
through wood. In 300m at bench, fork left; in 400m leave woodland (839574, KG).
Half right to go through KG opposite (WT sign); woodland path to Broad Street Hill
road (838577). Left for 800m to meet NDW (836571). Right; retrace route to car
Lunch/Accommodation: Black Horse Inn, Thurnham ME14 3LE (01622-737185,
Hucking Estate – woodlandtrust.org.uk
White Horse Wood Country Park – 01303-266327, kent.gov.uk
Maidstone TIC (01622-602169)