The sun was shining brightly as we departed Halling. From the church we headed down to the riverbank and the old ferry steps. Formerly this would have been the place where we crossed the Medway. The tide was out and we could clearly see the redundant steps rising up the far bank. From here our route took us along a pleasant riverside walkway southwards. We were greeted by several dog walkers and joggers out enjoying the morning sunshine. How welcome this weather was after what we’d been through earlier on our walk!
We crossed the Medway by the new Peters Bridge: so recently built that it doesn’t yet feature on Ordnance Survey maps. The bridge connects Halling and the rail and road infrastructure with a large new housing complex on the east bank known as Peters Village. Built on the former site of the Peters Lime and Cement Works at Wouldham Manor, this is quite an attractive development, with a village like structure, and a pleasant riverside walkway. The walkway even has a soft track for horses!
From Peters Village our route took us Burham Court. Here stands the 12th century Church of St Mary, which we were pleased to find open. We found the inside of the church quite bare and cold. Just a few pews and benches, with no organ or any other instrument gave the impression that it isn’t very regularly used.
After stamping our pilgrim passports we then headed southward towards Aylesford, crossing some seriously wet ground. From Aylesford our path turned uphill onto drier ground. A horse-mounting step in the lea of a stable shed at Great Cossington provided a suitable place to sit and eat our lunch. On up to the base of the chalk escarpment we crossed the busy A229 and railway, joining the North Downs Way again.
Shortly we came upon a vast acreage of vines, planted on the south facing slopes of the Downs. In a while we met some people working on the vines and stopped for a chat. We gathered that this is part of the large Chapeldown Wine Estate, which manages several hundred acres of vines. The main grape variety is Chardonnay, which they grow for sparkling wine.
At Boxley we visited the Church of All Saints and St Mary. A hand bell ringing practice was going on in an upper room of the belfry. They sounded very good! A Norman church with 13th century additions, what seemed particularly remarkable was the steepness of some of the roof pitches, currently being repaired.
From Boxley we passed more vineyards to reach Detling. This village was cleaved in two in the 1960s by construction of the A249 Maidstone to Sittingbourne Trunk Road. Tragically, no provision was made for pedestrian access across the dual carriageway, resulting in four residents being killed attempting to get from one part of the village to the other. The most recent accident involved an 8 year old girl Jade Hobbs and her 79 year old grandmother killed in 2000. Following a campaign by local residents a footbridge was built in 2002, which has been named Jade’s Crossing. We were certainly grateful it was there.
We called at the Church of St Martin in Detling but sadly found it locked. From Detling we headed southeast to Thurnham and the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Another locked church – so disappointing. We managed to find an email address in a parish magazine in the porch, so we sent a message expressing our disappointment and asking whether something could be done to address this, given the importance of these churches on this ancient pilgrim route. We noted that the email address uses the name ‘Pilgrims Way Churches’. There is even a Pilgrims Way plaque set in the wall by the church gate, complete with scallop shell.
From Thurnham we headed south to the railway station at Bearsted where we ended our day’s walk.
To sum up: a lovely, gentle early spring day. We saw at least one magnolia in full bloom and, at Boxley, a horse chestnut just coming into leaf. 11th March – goodness that’s early!