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Arriving back on U.K soil after 14,000 miles
It’s now been 2 months since I finished cycling, and inevitably I have itchy feet. I’m being kept more than busy but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regularly wake up disappointed to not be out under the stars. So what better time to find the adventures waiting on my doorstep?
Following in the footsteps of some real bona fide adventure bloggers who champion the ‘micro-adventure’ idea such as Al Humphreys and Tim Moss, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s plenty of scope for something exciting to be done over the course of a few days or a weekend. The much-anticipated Royal Wedding came along last weekend and I can honestly say I was absolutely thrilled. Not about watching the wedding of course, I’d rather eat off my own leg, but rather the fact that it provided a 4 day holiday for most of the nation. The perfect chance for a micro-adventure, but what to do?
Rochester Cathedral, the starting point
Keen to get down to Canterbury to visit my girlfriend, I figured it might be good fun to walk there. Unfortunately that’d take all 4 days of the holiday, so I compromised by taking a train to get out of London, planned a two day jaunt and roped my pal Will into providing me with company.
At 6am on Friday morning, while Britain was still dreaming of flag-waving a bunting-shaking, we were on a train bound for Rochester. It was a rather uninspired start as Will got a penalty fine for not buying the correct ticket. If there’s one way to get over a problem however, it’s to tramp it into the ground and so we walked the issue into insignificance.
We chose to follow a section of the North Downs Way - 153 miles of National Trail tracing in part the ancient Pilgrims Way between Canterbury and Winchester. In keeping with this theme we began at Rochester Cathedral before heading off into the Kent Downs.
The path really is very enjoyable to walk, and combines easy trail walking with some pretty strenuous climbs up into the hills. The weather was good, and our energy levels high after far too many beans for breakfast and lunch. Other hikers were scarce; our one major encounter was with Simon-Eric, a seasoned North Downs Way man on his way to Canterbury for a canoe trip. His beard brought back memories of the good old days when I was cycling and didn’t feel the need to shave for weeks on end. I didn’t tell him this thought; that would’ve been weird.
At the 15mile mark Will and I walked through our first real village of the day, Hollingbourne. Fortuitously there was a pub, and despite my budget of £20 for the whole trip (including train ticket) we decided a pint was in order. And a picked egg, of course. As you may have guessed I’m not exactly the most British person you’ll ever meet (especially because I come from Ireland) but there are some traditions that are very appreciable. The early evening pint is a favourite with me.
Will was still waking up...
The weather nosedived about 7pm, so we found a sheltered spot under some of the few evergreen trees on the Downs. More beans were in order for dinner but the spitting rain put paid to any more real merry-making so I rolled out my bivvy and sleeping bag and wrapped up. Unfortunately Will didn’t have a bivvy so ended up sleeping inside my plastic pack liner, essentially a glorified plastic bag. Consequently I was a much happier camper the next morning. Much happier.
We started the next day with breakfast on a bench in Charing, which is possibly the most quintessential middle-class English village I’ve ever seen, adorned with bunting, flags and the statutory elderly gent in a tweed jacket with eyebrows growing out of his cheeks. To be fair though, he was very pleasant despite the way we looked (and probably smelled) after a night in the woods, and so our beans went down as well as ever.
Looking down at the Downs
The rest of the day was much the same as the first, except that we unconsciously went a lot faster. By 4pm we were walking through a field of bluebells just a few miles from Canterbury. We’d covered 21 miles the first day, and now would have done an additional 24 miles by the time we got to the city. The sun was splitting the late-afternoon sky and between us our only complaint was a paltry blister or two. We were met with cold beers from the fridge, a refreshing shower and a good home-cooked meal (in that order, which says a lot about our priorities.)
Including my train ticket to Rochester, the 2 day, 45 mile walk cost me £19.80 pence. I managed to completely miss the Royal Wedding shenanigans and had a real eye-opener to the beauty of the rolling English countryside. Best of all, it felt amazing to be back out in nature and spending a night in the fields. Some things really can’t be bought with money, and waking up to the sun rising over a hazy Kentish hill is one of them.
Being short on time and money is no excuse for not having an adventure. I’m sure just about all of us can afford 2 days and £20 – a lot of people spend at least that amount during a regular night in the pub. Something like the North Downs Way is great because it takes away a lot of the work of navigation, but still allows you to go and ‘get lost’ if you like. Even better, there’s routes like it all over the U.K. Why not try out your closest one?