Bar the odd frosty night, it’s been a mild autumn in the south of England. Many leaves are still on the trees and there is some spectacular colour in the landscape as winter approaches. This picturesque time of year doesn’t last long, though. So, with a bright Sunday in prospect, I decided to explore a new part of Kent.
Halling is a small town on the River Medway, a little upstream from Rochester as the Medway narrows going southward. It is flanked by chalk hillsides, grasslands and woods. Historically, the river was the most important form of transport in this region, supporting the industries of the Thames and Medway estuaries. Much of the Medway’s industry derived from the geological history of the North Downs and included barge building, chalk extraction, lime burning, brick making and cement manufacture.
Researching my trip, I found Medway Council’s excellent (bar the low-resolution maps) guide to walking in the area which is available here. I did not strictly follow any of the listed walks but, from Halling, walked a roughly circular route: north towards Cuxton, north-west to Lower Bush, south through hilltop woodland then east down to Holborough and up to Halling via the marshes. The landscape is varied in its character and topography, from the marshes and Medway at low tide, to the extensive network of woods west of Cuxton.
As a first-time visitor to the area, the day was about reconnoitring a new location rather than expecting to create good pictures. I left the car and started out from Halling heading towards Cuxton via the marshes.
No sooner had I got going than I met a situation familiar to every walker: a blocked footpath – flooded, in this case. This frustrated my specific desire to get close and on the ‘right side’ of a cement factory to take a picture. Anyway, I retraced my path and walked up Pilgrim’s Way towards Cuxton. Just before reaching Cuxton, I turned sharp left and followed a public footpath, climbing steeply through fields towards the woodland.
In the woods, it was darker and cool – so much so that condensation often fogged the filter on the front of my lens. Deep oranges, yellows and pale greens were brought to life in patches by low sunshine coming through the trees. Leaves were everywhere underfoot, thick on the ground.
Eventually, I emerged at the south-western edge of a flooded chalk quarry. Much of the land in this region is owned by Blue Circle Industries – or more correctly Lafarge – and Blue Circle signage and fencing is pretty ubiquitous. I rejoined Pilgrims Way before heading towards the river at Ladds Lane, which bisects fields and chalk grassland. At the bottom of the lane, meeting the main road, you find the rather bizarre Hilborough Lakes development, built in a ‘New England cum Kent’ style of architecture on land that (of course) formerly housed a cement works.
With dusk approaching, I crossed the main road and headed east towards Holborough Marshes and the river. The path across the nature reserve was rather dull but things got more interesting when I reached the Medway. The weather was perfectly still and the far shore was mirrored perfectly in the water. Only when I had walked up the bank and reached the outskirts of Halling did I get close enough to the river for a decent vantage point. In the last of the day’s light, I took a series of pictures around the bend of the river before heading home.
All told, it was a good trip and I intend to go back to the area. Next time, I’ll be conjoining a couple of the recommended routes to do a longer walk. After that? Well, there’s always the Medway Navigation.