June 2, 2018
This was another day of sheer tranquility off the grid as we walked, away from the byways but not without its humor and adventure.
We left Lenham at 8:15 a.m., wanting to beat the promised heat. I was wearing short sleeves and ready to turn my hiking pants into shorts if need be. I knew Brian had been working diligently to navigate our trail away from the highways which meant I may be walking in weeds or jumping mud puddles and might need my legs covered. The weeds that bit Lee and I on Day 2 are everywhere and by now we could recognize them, knowing they would bite us with a sting similar to a bee or ant. They are stinging nettles.
From Wikipedia: Urtica dioica, often called common nettle, stinging nettle (although not all plants of this species sting) or nettle leaf, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the family Urticaceae. It is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and introduced elsewhere. The species is divided into six subspecies, five of which have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation upon contact (“contact urticaria”). The plant has a long history of use as a source for traditional medicine, food, and tea.
I have had days when my arms are stinging and feel a sort of sunburn from these nettles, especially on those days when we were thrown into the bushes by speeding cars on the byways.
After eight days on the trail, Brian, our brilliant navigator had learned about the Pilgrim Way, the North Downs Way, the guide book and the detaiedl English O.S. maps. He had learned how to combine them to keep us away from the cars. His plan for the day showed no towns between Lenham and Kennington unless we went off the trail. We packed snacks, prepared to go all day without stopping at a pub if we had to.
The Pilgrim Way, the original medieval path cannot be followed because busy highways are now on the paths and there has been no provision for pedestrians. The North Downs Way is a national trail that has been maintained by the government over the years and often parallels the Pilgrims Way. Brian began to ignore our Pilgrim Way guide book and pay more attention to the North Downs Way signs. When the North Downs Way disappeared or took us into the traffic, he manipulated around the busy roads using a combination of his large paper O.S. maps, the digital O.S. maps (if we had cell connection for the GPS), or Google maps. His ingenuity of keeping us off the busy byways in this part of the journey was comforting and sometimes humorous as we looped around unmarked fields and neighborhoods.
We walked back up toward the ridge line from where we would pick up the trail. Here the North Downs Way and Pilgrims Way follows the mountain ridge above the valley maybe a mile or two from the villages below. Today we would be walking southeast rather than due east to Canterbury to avoid going over the mountains.
Long stretches of open fields, the last one in the sun, caused us to take a break in the shade. Off come our packs and I lay in the cool grass and close my eyes. Refreshed from snacks and water, we know we will soon be leaving the North Downs trail to find our way into the village of Kennington, a part of Ashford.
We are now leaving the trail walking through the edge of the large estate of the fields we were walking through. The trick is to find the village of Kennington, avoid a by-way or busy road without a sidewalk that will take us to our hotel. Read comments under the photos for explanation of our humorous adventure.
We arrive at the Conningbrook Hotel at 2:30. We were off the grid all day and never stopped at a pub. This lovely and classy hotel in a converted two or three story house treated us like royalty. They carried our luggage up the stairs, took our dirty laundry and washed, dried and returned it to us on hangers. They fed us well in their restaurant, dinner and breakfast the next day.
Tomorrow we walk into Canterbury, hopefully. Weather channels forecast warmer weather. I know it will be our longest walk, so it is time to prepare the backpack, keep the suitcase organized and rest the body. I am eager to see Canterbury but I feel a sorrow to end the pilgrimage. By now my body has adapted somewhat to the long days of walking, I feel a rhythm with the trail and nature. The last few days have been less stressful and I am pulled to wanting to walk all the way to Dover, but it is not an option. The airline tickets tell us it is time to go home soon.