First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The three brick oast houses beside the A20 at Harrietsham looked like a trio of square-built Kentish women going a-marketing in russet coloured cloaks. Each was capped by a hood like a nun’s coif, a slender white cone upheld against the windy autumn sky.
It was a leafy path from the railway station up towards the North Downs, an avenue of golden field maple and thorn trees heavy with crimson haws. Winter wheat was beginning to spring in the pale grey clay fields that lay knobby with greeny-white chalk lumps. The breast of the downs billowed like sheets on a washing line, a succession of curved slopes of beet where every individual leaf was pearled with last night’s raindrops. I didn’t turn round until I was properly up there, 200 feet above the plain, lord of a prospect of fine houses peeping among red and gold trees, and long misty miles towards the Kentish Weald.
Near Ringlestone I passed through a field of ewes, perhaps 150 of them. Every woolly rump had been smeared with colour. The three rams responsible – Mr Blue, Mr Green and Mr Red – limped after the flock wearing chest holsters of raddle, wearied beyond measure by their tupping duties. The passage of a hot air balloon over the field caused the ewes to flee in a panicking crowd, but the three Reservoir Rams couldn’t even raise a shamble.
Little Ringlestone Cottage stood under crooked chimneys and a camel-backed roof. Its owner leaned contentedly on the pond fence. A fine afternoon for walking! Nice quiet spot, this. How old’s the house? Oh, about five hundred. A little creaky, but a wonderful place to live. Beyond the cottage, spiky sweet chestnut pods had fallen from their parent trees to lie across the footpath. I crushed one underfoot and popped the triangular glossy nut into my mouth. Kritziturken! Like munching blotting paper steeped in sal volatile. I spat it out in fragments – lesson learned.
There were deneholes in the flanks of the dry valleys – pits dug in medieval times to win the alkaline chalk that sweetened the acid clay. I walked south again by timeless trackways with thick hedges and wide verges, under the yews, hornbeams and oaks of High Wood. The ancient Pilgrim’s Way carried me for a stretch; then it handed me on to paths through huge open fields swirled by plough and harrow into milky whorls, down past Goddington Oast and into Harrietsham, with the low autumn sun lighting the pale Kentish fields and the long roll of the Downs above them.
Start & finish: Harrietsham station, Harrietsham, Kent ME17 (OS ref TQ 866529).
Walk Directions (8 miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 148): At Harrietsham station, Platform 2 (866529), pass footbridge and take path beside railway. It swings north to cross a road (OS ref TQ 870532) and continues. At gate (873535), bear left (footpath marker) to cross North Downs Way/Pilgrim’s Way (NDW/PW). Climb path, following footpath signs, to road at Lower Deans farm (872546). Right for 10 yards; left over stile (fingerpost). Diagonally across field to yellow arrow (YA); left along field edges to cross road near Merlewood Farm (874552). Follow left-hand field edge for half a mile to road and Ringlestone Inn (879558).
Right for 30 yards; left up track. Pass Little Ringlestone cottage; cross stile. Follow fence on left; in 30 yards cross stile (880560;YA). Aim across field, left of pylon; follow YAs for ⅓ mile to cross lane by Park Farm (880565). Diagonally left; follow hedge to road at Yew Tree farm, Wormshill (878569). Right for 150 yards (Blacksmiths Arms is 100 yards further along road); then left over stile. Aim diagonally right down slope to valley bottom; uphill through gap (874569); across field and through shank of wood (871569). Climb slope to left of old quarry; over stile; turn left (869569) across field to join clear trackway of Drake Lane on edge of wood (866568). Follow it for ¾ mile to Ringlestone Road (865558).
Left for 40 yards; right past barrier; on along lane for ¾ mile, descending through High Wood to edge of trees (856549). Ahead downhill; left along Pilgrim’s Way (854546) for ⅔ mile. Turn right down third hedgerow on right (863542 – at top of slight rise) for ¼ mile to meet track by waymark post (861538). Left for 300 yards; right where track doglegs (red ‘Byway’ arrow) for ¼ mile to tarmac road at Goddington. Forward under railway; immediately left (860532; fingerpost) on path beside railway. In 350 yards, cross stile, diverge from railway over ridge to meet gravel path (864529). Left with fence on right, through kissing gate to reach station.
Lunch: Roebuck, Harrietsham (01622-858951/858388); Ringlestone Inn (01622-859900, www.theringlestoneinn.co.uk); Blacksmith’s Arms, Wormshill (01622-884386)
Accommodation: Black Horse Inn, Thurnham, Kent ME14 3LD (01622-737185; www.wellieboot.net) – characterful and welcoming
More Information: Maidstone TIC (01622-602169); www.enjoyengland.com