Rochester in fine weather is much nicer than Rochester in the rain. The red-brick buildings lose something of their seediness and the streets bathed in sunshine have a genial look to them. It's still not a place I would hurry back to, but it was good to see something of its other side.
The town makes much of its literary connection. Charles Dickens lived nearby and featured it in several novels. The Pickwick Papers has the travellers putting up at The Bull (a sucker for anything Pickwickian I stayed there myself the first time I walked the North Downs Way). And there are various signs stating, for example, that this is where Uncle Pumblechook lived - all well and good if you've read Great Expectations but rather confusing if you haven't!
I got a meal at The Golden Lion, a Weatherspoons but none the worse for that. The rest of my brief stay was spent looking for light, nutritious food that would fit into a rucksack. I found a greengrocers in the High Street which supplied me with fruit, as well as bags of hazlenuts, brazils and sunflower seeds. Most of the fruit had to be thrown away as it bruised quickly inside the pack, but the nuts were an inspired choice. A handful kept me going for miles.
I found my way back to the Medway bridge and set off across the dizzy span. The view back to Rochester is impressive, but unless you have a head for heights don't look down! Back on terra firma once more the trail heads inland, bypassing the village of Cuxton.
A long loop out past Upper Bush brought me back to the escarpment. The Way for the next few miles ran through woodland, with only occasional glimpses out across the Medway valley. It was while walking this section that I realized I was getting a blister. After five miles. It didn't bode well for the rest of the walk.
The previous spring I had replaced my old walking boots with pair of ultra-light shoes, not much heavier than trainers, and for the whole of that year I didn't experience a single problem. This one was probably caused by the heat and the fact that I hadn't done much walking over the winter. The remedy was the usual one: shoes and socks off, massage feet, allow to dry. It seemed to work and I had no more trouble that day.
At Holly Hill the path encounters a lane leading to the edge of the escarpment. If you think you are going to enjoy the view for long, think again. The Way plunges over the edge, fetching up on the edge of the fields below. You are slightly above the flat lands so there is something to see, but it's just not the same.
Another mile and it's up again. You'll get used to it! It's character-building, and it's also good training for Surrey where the ascents are twice as high. Once on top the Way leads on level paths through the pleasant woods of Trosley country park. At the end of the park by the Vigo Inn it drops once more. Along the lane, over the M20 and you're in Wrotham.
It was evening when I reached Wrotham and being thirsty I found my way to one of the pubs. It was a strange, uncomfortable place. The bar was filled with loud men talking in loud voices about golf. For about five minutes nobody seemed to realize I was there. Eventually someone approached and asked me what I wanted. I had one drink, thanked them and left.
There followed several miles along stony tracks at the foot of the downs, before the Way climbed once more. It was the last ascent of the day. For three miles I followed the escarpment through darkening woods until I came to Otford Mount. As I crossed a small paddock a fox loped past in the twilight.
I finally settled down in the shelter of a fallen tree. The moon rose through the branches, filling the woods with a mysterious light. Faint on the breeze came the roar of traffic, but otherwise all was still. I certainly slept well.