With a significantly better weather forecast; windy but plenty of sunshine and little rain, we set off from Tyler’s Green, near Godstone. The morning’s sunshine however had made little impact on the surface water lying on the Gault Clay soils, which were as muddy as ever!
After crossing the M25 and heading up onto the chalk ridge, the going improved a little. However, with both horse riders and cyclists using designated footpaths (illegally) they soon become difficult on foot. It seems there is a real problem in that the North Downs Way which we are following for significant sections, is variously designated as a byway, as a bridle way or as a footpath (no access for vehicles, horses or bicycles). Despite this it seems that some riders and off-cyclists consider the whole length of it open for their use, making some sections so muddy and impassable on foot that we found ourselves diverting to tarred roads.
At Gangers Hill we were rewarded with a magnificent view eastwards along the North Downs, marred only by the incessant noise of the M25.
Our route diverted down and around a disused chalk quarry, now seemingly under restoration, and on to the Titsey Estate. Here we found a plaque marking the Greenwich Meridian.
Thus we crossed from the Western to the Eastern Hemisphere!
A short distance beyond, the Pilgrims Way is blocked by the Titsey Estate, and a diversion is necessary: either by climbing up to the top of the escarpment and back down again, or by passing to to the south on the Vanguard Way and back up to Titsey Village. We chose the latter. Wouldn’t it be a magnanimous and public spirited gesture if the Trustees of the Titsey Estate were to reinstate the Pilgrims’ Way path across the park to Titsey village along with the other permissive paths they have established?
When we got to it, we found the Church of St James the Greater in Titsey village, shut up and locked. Apparently a private church owned by the Estate, it is only open at specific times during the summer. Nonetheless we were able to enjoy a seat in the sun in the churchyard, on which to eat a late lunch. A kind lady at an adjacent house agreed to fill our water bottles for us. It transpired that she’d recently moved here from Cape Town. Despite the weather she said she was loving it.
From Titsey to the edge of the Chevening Estate, a distance of four and a half miles, the Pilgrims’ Way follows a tarred lane, along the foot of the escarpment. With very little traffic other than cyclists, this was not unpleasant and it gave us a welcome relief from the mud. Part way along this we crossed the border from Surrey into Kent – the fourth and last county of the English part of our journey. Home at last for Tom!
At Chevening the course of the Pilgrims’ Way is again blocked and diverted up to the top of the escarpment and back down again. Chevening House is used as a furnished country residence for a person nominated by the Prime Minister: usually the Foreign Secretary. When Theresa May was Prime Minister, she declared that Chevening should be shared between the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Trade Secretary Liam Fox. However Boris Johnson apparently pulled rank, and insisted that he and his family should have sole use of the mansion and its 115 rooms for Christmas 2016! What a nice chap!
Again, what an opportunity exists to reinstate the Pilgrims’ Way to its original position, which is well away from the house and any potential security risk. In fact we found the eastern entrance to the park to be completely open.
As light was beginning to fade and we still had a fair distance to cover, we paused only briefly at St Botolph’s Church in Chevening, and did not go in. We did however note an interesting cross in the churchyard, not dissimilar to one where we used to live in Chew Magna, though in rather better condition.
From Chevening we headed east in the failing light, and crossed the M25 for the last time. With head torches on we pressed on the last two and a half miles to Otford, crossing the River Darent on the way. Once one of the most heavily abstracted rivers in the South East today it was flowing strongly.
Finally at ten to seven, and in the dark, we reached Otford, our destination for the day.