Exploring the North Downs Way: Part 5

On Saturday, Nige and I ticked off another section of the North Downs Way and it was lovely to be joined by friends Alan and Ally. We jumped on the train to Otford from London Victoria in the morning arriving just before 10am and happy to see sunshine rather than rain clouds we set off East towards Cuxton, 25km away.

The last time we ran a section of this trail was back in April with some Never Stop London friends and from Oxted to Otford we explored bluebell-lined woodlands and thick yellow rapeseed fields. In contrast, this time we enjoyed dry, sandy trails through wheat fields and lush meadows blooming with wild flowers. That’s what I love about this trail – it’s so diverse depending on the season you choose to explore it so there’s always something new to see. Our mission this week was to continue to join the dots of this beautiful trail from Otford to Cuxton.

From Otford, after a small section of road, we found the trail and with it our first climb of the day – up, up, up, slowing us all to a walk. We bumped into a few ramblers on our journey and, chatting all the way the miles ticked by. We talked race history, upcoming challenges, kit recommendations, snack preferences and everything running-related. Alan is a very experienced endurance runner, completing SDW100 earlier this year, while Ally is a trail running newbie but soon to be addicted, running NDW50 this year with her eye on other big races in the future.

We bumbled along at a nice social pace, talking, snacking, holding gates open for each other and regrouping every so often to stay close together.

The first little town we came down to was Wrotham, quiet despite the close proximity of the buzzing M20 motorway, and as we resisted the urge to divert to the swings and slides in the playground we found ourselves back on the trail again and entering Trosley Country Park. Here our navigation skills were tested as signs for the North Downs Way disappeared, we found ourselves on the Pilgrims Way, which overlaps the NDW, and arrows directing us every which way in all colours led us onto small Country Park walks. With a little map reading, Google checking, questioning local dog walkers and luck, we followed the main path and our noses and found ourselves on the right trail, skirting the little village of Vigo towards Upper Halling.

From here the signs became a little easier to follow and as our destination became closer we embraced our surroundings and luck that the rain that had been forecast had held off, despite the looming clouds above us. We passed through a field of the noisiest sheep, climbed Boxhill-like steps and reached almost 750m of ascent over our day, until the River Medway came into view and we reached the outskirts of Cuxton.

To get back to London we had two options – to catch a train at Cuxton and change at Rochester for London Victoria, or continue on the North Downs Way towards Rochester then cut off into the town to catch the direct train from Rochester. We’re runners – of course we took the second option! and so from Cuxton we continued to follow the trail, which bizarrely led us over the extremely busy M2 motorway bridge, into Borstal and finally to Rochester. Here we stopped our watches at just over 32km – a great days effort – found the nearest pub for pints and a refuel, then dashed past the beautiful Rochester Castle to catch the train to take us back to the city in just 40 minutes!

Thank you to Alan and Ally for their company and incredible photos of our journey and good luck to all the Centurion runners taking on the NDW100 next weekend – 100 miles of this trail non-stop from Farnham to Ashford! I’m in awe!

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