A long second day had brought me to within ten miles of the Medway. Which was fortunate, because as I emerged from my tent the sky overhead looked distinctly threatening. The forecast was dodgy and getting worse.
For some reason I didn't take any photos for at least five miles. This may have been because they were almost all through woodland and there really wasn't anything to see. Though the path wasn't particularly well way-marked I managed to find my way as far as Westfield Wood by following footprints and keeping to the contours. At one point I emerged from the trees, but the view out over the Medway was obscured by a grey curtain of rain. It was not an encouraging sight.
From Westfield Wood the track turned left, descending sharply to the foot of the ridge. Some standing stones were marked on the map, but I managed to miss them. I was more interested in whether the petrol station marked on the map sold coffee - as indeed it did.
On a damp morning a single cup of coffee can turn a limp cheese sandwich into a breakfast worth eating. For some reason cold water just doesn't work! Suitably refreshed I crossed a main road and followed the Way north-west along the foot of the downs.
This is not the North Downs at its best. The river Medway has carved a passage through the chalk and roads and railways have followed. The organizers of the Way did well to plot any sort of course through the tangle of concrete and steel. Unappealing it may be, noisy and litter-strewn it undoubtedly is, but at least you can walk it without getting killed.
Where possible the Way diverts onto quieter paths. One of these takes you past Kit's Coty House, a stone structure which once formed the entrance to a Neolithic chambered long barrow. It's probably around 5000 years old. Another branches out over Bluebell Hill and Burham Common, along a chalk spur ending near the Medway bridge - a peaceful stroll until you hit the M2.
The trail continues over the Medway, making use of the same crossing as the motorway, but for me the walk ended at the foot of the bridge. A bus was waiting as I got there, so I headed into Rochester for some much-needed food.
I had stayed in Rochester the last time I walked the North Downs Way. It was a wet Saturday night and I was alone in a strange town, so I found my way to one of the local pubs. It was quite an experience. Two extended families (at least I imagine that's what they were) sat at opposite ends of the bar, regarding each other with mutual hatred. You could hear the hat pins being sharpened for battle! I'm sure it all ended in a brawl, there or outside in the street, though I didn't stay to find out.
Another memory is of breakfast next morning at a café down by the market. It was in the days before the smoking ban, and you made your way to the counter through a haze of cigarette smoke. Foil pie wrappers were set out on tables as ashtrays. It was friendly enough, though, and the food was ok. I had just finished eating when the door opened and one of the stall-holders entered. Spotting a friend through the fug he bellowed, in a voice strengthened by years of shouting the price of plastic clothes-pegs: "'ELLO JEFRO! Go' a new motor!!!"
Thus Rochester! My walking for that year was over. The rest of the trail could wait.