Halfway : Medway Valley Walk
So halfway through June, we’ve completed Walk 10 and are now halfway through the 20-20 Challenge. Its been a bit relentless in pace this month as I was keen to catch longer days, good weather and quieter routes.
This walk was planned originally to be a 20 mile linear walk from Tonbridge Castle along the River Medway to Aylesford Priory. However as I’ve already highlighted logistics are a challenge at the moment as we can not share car journeys, so each walk is beng adapted to an ‘out and back’ or circular route.
We therefore set off from Yalding and headed to Allington Lock, just outside Maidstone.
The starting point was just outside Yalding by the canoe launch points at the lock.Its quite a busy stretch of road but it offered parking which was key as the usual car park is currently closed.
A short walk towards Yalding station, past a field of Llamas, brought us to the riverside path. Already river life was underway here with someone having a Kayak lesson and others preparing their boats for a day cruising the river. Although this path follows the railway track most of the way, it was incredibly calm and peaceful.
It was a muggy day again, and the skyline had many threatening dark grey clouds gathering so we were hoping to miss any downpours. Just a few metres along the path we were rewarded with beautiful river views and a Heron taking off. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera – but I can’t capture everything for you!
There was a real community all along this path – from the kayakers and small boat owners through to the fishermen and those that had made their homes along the riverbank. There were several small caravan sites along the way – one was not for permanent residence but the others were. They all had beautiful views across the banks and on a lovely day many were sitting on small verandas outside.
The scenery and landscape was constantly changing. From woodland to fields and wide reaching views. These first few miles were incredibly peaceful and the river was a delight to walk beside. Many of the trees here were exceptionally old but in good health , although there were also several that had fallen across the path adding extra beauty to the trail.
We were now moving from Nettlestead into Wateringbury. It was bustling around here and we had two route options from here to Teston. We decided to continue following the path at this point and save the alternate for our return. We crossed Bow Bridge to pick up the path and below us we could see the swans gliding on the river.
Also below us was a guy on a stand up paddle board – we seemed to keep pace with him for the next mile or so. Our route took us up above the river now towards the hamlet of Tustham and the paddle board kept coming into view when we had the river back in sight.
This little hamlet was gorgeous. The initial path had a sign with a rather formidable warning, but proved to be out of date thank goodness. I know very little about this place, but the views were stunning and the buildings looked idyllic. It also hosts one of the World War 2 pillboxes that can be found along the river Medway.
From here we followed the lane back towards West Farleigh & Teston. Here we crossed the river over the Grade 1 listed bridge that dates back to the 15th century. This bridge is only one vehicle wide and without a footpath. It has little bays built into it on each side so you can tuck out of the way and admire the river view.
We joined the path again along the river . This time we not only had the railway running parallel, but also the A26. However, it felt a million miles away as the river was in a small valley beneath them, just dotted with fisherman along the banks.
As we continued along the path towards Maidstone we headed through a narrow section. There were a lot of Coronavirus signs here making you aware that you would not be able to social distance. Its the first time we have seen these on our walks. It does seem that the authorities here are rather keen on signs – I’m still making a mental list of what the etc could be on this sign!
The path here switched to tarmac and the banks of the river were lined with an eclectic mix of houseboats. Many also had a small garden alongside all lovingly tended and the vegetable plots were very impressive too. Again there was a real sense of community here and the river here was lined with large old trees.
We were now just over a quarter of the distance on this walk, but already felt we had seen so much more than on our last few walks. We now reached East Farleigh and again it took on a bustling atmosphere as we approached the bridge and lock.
From here on, we were approaching the outskirts of Maidstone, and both sides of the river were now lined with apartments or houses. The houses had gardens that swept down to the riverbank – many had built decks so they could sit or fish at the waters edge.
It wasn’t long before we could see the Archbishop’s Palace on the opposite bank signalling we were in the centre of Maidstone.
There was a definite change of atmosphere. The banks of the river were lined with benches and these were largely occupied by groups who seemed to have turned them into makeshift pubs – complete with pub umbrellas.
We had to head away briefly from the river to navigate the large central roundabout by the Crown Court and then rejoin on the opposite bank to head out the other side of Maidstone.
We had just 2 miles now to get to Allington Lock which would take us to just over the 10 mile marker and be the turning point. However, just under a mile from here we were greeted with this – today is the 15th June..:
Typical! Lots of planning to make sure we didn’t have to walk around by the car when we arrived back and now we were going to be 2 miles short!
We turned round as alternate routes were through residential streets and we made the decision to walk past our car and along the path in the other direction when we got back to Yalding.
Close to this turn around point there was evidence of rejected bounty from some magnet fishing abandoned on the riverbank.
We also decided to stick to this bank of the river for as long as possible to bypass the bench drinkers. This meant an opportunity to look round the grounds of the Archbishop’s Palace a bit more.
The weather was very changeable now as we retraced our way back along the paths. It was very very muggy and we were feeling that oppressive heat starting to drain our energy and resolve. Probably coupled with the fact we knew we had to walk past the car when we got back and find a further 2 miles.
However the light was beautiful and the river was shining on the route back.
It seemed to take a lot longer to head off the tarmac path and back on the natural paths. Ruby took every opportunity to jump into the little streams that flowed into the river – cooling her paws and tummy in the clear water.
This time we walked through Teston Country Park and past the lock back to Wateringbury.
As we were now on the opposite bank we could just see a few landmarks from this mornings walk through Tustham – particularly the WW2 pillbox.
So we found ourselves back near Wateringbury and then on through the fields towards Nettlestead. It was so much quieter here, and as we approached the final field we were greeted by such a magical sight as the air was filled with floating seed heads just bobbing around us. The video doesn’t do it justice but gives you an idea!
So now we were back by the car. Poor Ruby was keen to get back in it , but we still had 2 miles to clock up. We walked past the car towards Teapot Island and headed along the Valley Walk towards East Peckham. We knew we had to walk a mile out and it felt like the longest mile we’d ever walked!
It was clear the path here was not used so often as it was much narrower and overgrown. We were listening hard for the app to shout 19 miles so we could turn back towards the car. It was a lovely route, but our tired feet weren’t truly appreciating it.
Finally the app buzzed and we turned and headed back.. I was really quite achy now. Three 20 mile walks so close together were starting to take their toll . Even though we stretch, rest and recover in between, its a reminder that it is very much a challenge. Neil’s comment of the day was ‘Why didn’t you say 20 Kilometres..”
If only lockdown hadn’t played a part, we could have finished this walk here on the banks of the river with a lovely glass of something cold and some delicious food – but it was not to be this time.
We ambled back to the car, and of course (!) we were still 0.04 miles short (grrr), so we walked past the car – much to Ruby’s annoyance – and back again til we got the 20 mile beep.
20 miles done. Walk 10 of 20 done.
Halfway there and new trainers now on order as mine are starting to wear thin and the canvas has holes appearing now.
Despite the struggle at the end, we both loved this walk and I hope that maybe I can do the original planned 20 miles of it another time – I will check the route is fully open first!
As always this is a reminder that these walks are part of my 2020 challenge to complete 20, 20 mile walks to raise funds for the Macular Society. If you would like to encourage me (and I need it at the moment!!) please do consider making a donation, however small, if you can here:
Thank you for following this challenge – hope you are enjoying the story!