Today was a mixed bag – sunshine and pleasant tracks for the first two thirds, followed by an somewhat hairy walk on a narrow, but fast, road.
Last night at The Bakery in Tatsfield, I consulted the map and the available accommodations. For this, I have to shuttle between three or four apps and sites – the pilgrims way website, maps.me, the Hipmunk app, and the Airbnb app or hotel booking site. I decided to set myself a short target, in the hope that I might wash and dry my clothes at an Airbnb in Kemsing,
I set off after a perfect breakfast. The village of Tatsfield retains the shopfronts of a bygone era, but things have moved with the times. The bakery, once a bakery, is now a restaurant. The Post Office is currently closed but will be reborn as some kind of shop – I hope it will be viable. I headed first to St. Mary’s church, which has a pilgrim’s corner with a stamp and a greeting to pilgrims.
From here, I followed the North Downs Way past another golf course, then onto the hills overlooking the south. At some point in the morning, I crossed from Surrey into Kent. This little triangle of Kent between three motorways (M25, M26, and M20) is pretty enough to delight the groups of girl guides from south london, who were excitedly tramping over the same hills as me. But the noise of the traffic on the roads is always in the background, and it gets a little tiring. After a ploughman’s lunch and a chat with two elderly ladies at the Tally Ho pub, I walked past Chevening, the grace and favour home that prime ministers have usually loaned to their foreign secretaries. It looked unoccupied.
Soon after I passed Chevening, I had to cross an office park and skirt a quarry to join a road with a bridge over the M25. Once more, I was on the “right” side of the belt road. But the walk from this point was not enjoyable. The fast road that descends toward Otford is called Pilgrims Way West, but it makes no concessions for the pilgrims after whom it was named. It’s narrow and curving, with steep, overgrown verges that offered little opportunity to put distance between myself and the passing traffic. The grimaces of the cyclists that I saw, confirmed to me that I wasn’t being over sensitive. This was quite a nasty road to walk. On the way into Otford, I skipped the opportunity to explore the Otford Solar System – a scale model of the objects in our solar system at their positions on 1/Jan/2000. I was confused about the positions of the planet markers that I could see along my way into Otford. It didn’t make sense to me that Uranus, Mars, and Jupiter should appear to be adjacent. But, with this plan of the whole model, I understand that I intersected with the model as a comet, describing a line through the outer edge of the solar system. (I was burning through the sky. Three hundred degrees. That’s why they called me Mr. Fahrenheit…).
Otford is a pretty village with historic buildings, a village green, and a church that looks unusual to me. I suppose it’s the 17th Century point on the top of the 12th Century tower that makes it seem foreign to my untrained eye. Kemsing, as far as I can tell, is Otford’s less classy neighbour. It’s not at all poor, but it’s a planned development of 1970s and later semi-detached houses. Matt’s Airbnb is one of them – with a purple bricks “sold” sign at the entrance. I guess he is in the process of moving out – which makes it one of the strangest Airbnb experiences that I’ve had. I’m the sole occupant of a four bedroom house with some rooms cleared of furniture. First thing I had to do on arrival was work out how to turn on the water heater and washing machine. Everything functions just fine, but it’s all a bit more work than I’m used to. Now that I have a couple of sets of clean clothes, perhaps I’ll camp tomorrow. We’ll see how courageous I feel.