Six weeks after running 50 miles along the North Downs Way, I set off back to the trail to continue the journey, with the aim of getting to the end by the end of the summer.
The farthest along the trail I had gone so far was to Maidstone, the end of my 28 mile run in ultra training. So I planned to continue where I left off and run to Lenham, about 15 miles away.
There was no magic for the route-picking – I looked at Google maps to find train stations near the trail that would take me back to London, and Lenham was about the right distance away for me. Having not run more than 8 miles in one go in the past month I didn’t really want to over-do it.
So on a grey morning, I woke up early, volunteered at Brockwell Park Run and then caught the train to Victoria to get on another train, just slipping inside as the door closed as I’d slightly mistimed how long it would take me to get a coffee!
An hour or so later I was in Maidstone, in beautiful sunshine. The only problem with Maidstone is that it is a couple of miles away from the NDW itself. Not a problem if you are running, but quite annoying if you are out to hike the trail. Running, you are out of Maidstone in no time and along a nice quiet road through the pretty village of Boxley – although I did almost get doored when some stupid woman in Maidstone decided to open her car door onto the pavement right into me!
But I had soon left all that behind and just had the green hills of the North Downs ahead of me, and the nagging knowledge that I was about to have to go right up there. It’s the rule of the North Downs Way – if you see a hill you are going up it!
And it was very steep when I came to it, leaving my calves aching and my chest heaving even though I was only walking! At last I came to the top for a lovely section of running through woodland (Boxley Warren), the ground soft beneath my trail shoes after the recent rain, but not muddy due to the weeks of hot dry weather before then.
It wasn’t along before the path turned to the right for a km of lovely downhill, not so steep as to be technical. I ran past a couple out for a walk and I later discovered the woman to be the grumpiest woman on the trail… They were walking right in the middle of a wide path, plenty of room either side, so I ran down pretty quickly past their right hand side. As I approached I called out “good morning!” but I caught her face as I went past her and she was NOT pleased with me.
I got to the bottom of the hill, into Detling, and there were no NDW signs. I was getting the website up and running to check the route when I saw the couple were also at the bottom and peering at a guidebook. I thought with their guidebook and my Google maps we could easily work it out so went over to say hi but again, the woman was having absolutely none of it and walked off ahead of her husband without even acknowledging me! Only a grunt from her in response to my cheery “have a lovely day!” as I ran off, having worked out the route!
Here I had to cross a flyover bridge over the A249, put up in 2002 as a result of a 20 year campaign by local residents as a result of pedestrian deaths at the crossing. It was a very fast road so I was grateful of the crossing!
Once over the other side I set off at quite a pace as I didn’t want the grumpy woman to catch up with me again. For a little way the NDW ran along the Pilgrims Way road, but in my haste I missed the turn-off back onto the trail and ran half way to Thurnham before I realised. I didn’t want to go right back to the missed turn-off because of trying to avoid Mrs Grumpy but luckily there was another footpath that would take me up the hill towards Gorse Tor Farm, where I was treated to some absolutely stunning views.
From there it was up and down through fields for miles and miles (about 4-5), with some steep steps climbing up and down, another wooded section through Civiley Wood and stunning views as I ran across the top of the Downs.
I was still feeling good all this way, snacking on a bag of haribo, stopping to take lots of photos, walking the uphills. I had about 6 miles to go as I turned right and ran downhill for another km into the town of Hollingbourne. There’s a station here, but I wanted to run a little further so kept going. The route for the next 5-6 miles was all on a small country lane which narrowed for a section into a bridleway. After so much up and down it was quite nice to finish with a long straight flattish (nothing on the NDW is completely flat!) section, although by the end of six miles of continuous running I was starting to feel pretty tired! And also hungry – one bag of haribo is not really enough for a 3 hour run over lunch time!
I got to the station to find out I had 14 minutes until the train left (the next one an hour later) and there were no shops. And I was HUNGRY! A quick Google showed a village store up another road so I decided to run as fast as I could for 5 minutes, if I hadn’t made the shop by then I would have to come back. Luckily, after 3 minutes I reached it and a really friendly lady served me a bottle of chocolate milk, a classic magnum, and a punnet of strawberries. An athlete’s lunch I’d say 😀
I turned around, sprinted back to the station, and was just crossing over onto the right platform when the train pulled in. Another final dash to arrive just before the doors closed so perfect timing yet again! Lovely day out, finished off with a beer on the sofa and an evening watching the start of the Tour de France.