Stowting to Detling is not the most interesting part of the North Downs Way. In fact much of it is a slog. It starts off well enough with a climb over Broad and Wye Downs, though you are often just the wrong side of the crest, with only occasional views. But after Wye there is an interminable section along the foot of a low escarpment; a long, straight, stony track, challenging to both feet and willpower. Finally, at Hollingbourne, the downs regain height, and the Way gets back to where it should be.
I was up at some ridiculous hour, just as dawn was breaking. It was an overcast, murky morning with a cool breeze wandering over the ridge. There was light enough for walking, and I didn't have a single reason for staying where I was, so I set off.
After a warm, windy night the ground was dry underfoot. This always makes starting out more encouraging. There's nothing worse than looking down at your feet after an hour and finding that they are already soaked! For the first few miles I coasted along, admiring the view when there was one and thinking of nothing much when there wasn't.
I passed the striking gully at Broad Downs, and continued to Wye Downs. Here the track leaves escarpment and turns west, descending to the village of Wye. It was just after seven when I got there, and everything was closed. Breakfast? Not a chance!
From Wye the Way picked an uncertain course, through an untidy landscape of little orchards, sheds and rubbish tips. After some miles it emerged near the attractive village of Boughton Lees.
Just beyond the village is Eastwell Park, sheltered by wooded slopes rising to a low ridge. It's a pleasant walk through the park and the adjoining farmland. At Dunn Street you reach the foot of the downs once more.
Passing Dunn Farm I noticed that the campsite was still open. I had stayed there once before, on my way to Canterbury, and remembered it as a clean and basic site, very reasonably priced. The only disadvantage is that it lies almost exactly half way between Dover and Rochester, so unless you are loitering or putting in killer days you will probably get there too early or too late. Nothing wrong with that, if you aren't in a hurry; and there is (or used to be) a decent pub a quarter of a mile down the road in Westwell.
Dunn Farm to Hollingbourne is a section I hope never to see again. A chain of roads and flint-studded tracks leads along the foot of the ridge. The tarmac is hard, the tracks rutted. There's little shade and little to break the sheer monotony. On a hot day, when you are already footsore, it's purgatory.
Ok, there's the odd view. On a clear day you can make out the line of the South Downs, beyond the A20. Then there's a war memorial. It's about a mile after that bit on the map marked "Sewage Works, disused". And there's the Marley Cement Works where they make (or used to make) roofing tiles. Not much of the building is visible, but the fence is very pretty!
As I approached Hollingbourne the hot and humid afternoon broke, and there was a sudden storm. I managed to reach the Dirty Habit just as the rain came down. Though it doesn't get the best of write-ups on the website Beer In The Evening: "By discouraging people from congregating round the bar and insisting on taking orders at the table (yes, even for drinks), they've effectively turned this into a posh restaurant and snuffed out yet another village pub", I didn't find it too bad. I'm not sure I'd want to take a rucksack inside, but the courtyard was quiet and the staff friendly. I sat under a large umbrella until the sun re-emerged.
After Hollingbourne the ridge rises once more. The climb from the village to the summit is over three hundred feet. Once on top there's a fine walk along the edge of the escarpment to Detling. For the first time you can see the western arm of the North Downs Way across the valley of the Medway. For those not enamoured of the Kentish section it's a heartening sight!
After a good meal at the pub in Detling I found my way to Penny Spring Farm. Though it's a Camping and Caravanning Club site they seem very relaxed about non-members staying in their pleasant, grassy paddock. The wind was getting up as I pitched the tent; and that night a gale roared over the ridge, snapping and tugging at the fabric. It kept me awake for a few minutes, but after that I don't remember a thing.