As part of our 2021/22 Action Plan, Kent Community Rail Partnership worked collaboratively with the team at Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to discover a way for Kent CRP to connect with their Experience project.
The Experience project aims to bring more sustainable tourism to the Kent Downs AONB and extend the typical tourist season earlier into Spring and later into Autumn. This was combined with a desire to promote sustainable ways of reaching the Kent Downs AONB and introducing tourists to some of the less frequented parts of the Kent Downs.
Therese Hammond and Gary Outram were selected to become North Downs Way Ambassadors as the stations along much of the Kent Downs Line and the northern end of the Medway Valley Line provide excellent access to the trail. Ambassadors share their love of the North Downs Way, interesting facts and local knowledge about the trail.
The Ambassador training was in depth, covering map reading, way finding, risk assessment, managing a walking group and the practical elements of leading a walk in the countryside. It also sought to expand the Ambassadors’ knowledge of the North Downs Way, its rich natural history, and varied wildlife and rare plants. It provides space to connect with nature, tranquil spots for contemplation, and offers many beautiful views. The trail also has many associations with pilgrimage and the surrounding villages offer B&Bs, pubs, cafes, speciality stores, farmers markets, historic churches and much more for visitors to enjoy.
For our 2022/23 Action Plan we will be hosting led walks in the Kent Downs AONB and beyond, encouraging use of the railway to bring tourists sustainably to the Kent Downs, showcasing the trail and the hospitality available in the communities we serve.
Walks must be booked in advance through our partners at the Heart of Kent Walking Festival, we would very much like you to join us.
On Saturday 26th March, Kent CRP organised a 10 Km walk between Charing Station and Lenham Station. The walk was organised in partnership with Visit Maidstone as a launch event for the Heart of Kent Walking Festival. We were joined by 37 walkers on a beautiful sunny day, some who were members of the public and others from local organisations such as, Visit Maidstone, Kent Downs AONB, Medway Countryside Partnership and Explore Kent.
On Thursday 4th August, Cuxton was the destination. Everyone arrived by train at Halling Station and following a safety briefing we began the 4 mile ramble to Cuxton Station. The route took us past the Water Sports Lake at Halling and up the hill into the woods before joining the North Downs Way. The beautiful scenery leads you past Cuxton Church and the beautiful war memorial garden before heading to Cuxton station. The weather was lovely sunshine and inevitably a brief visit to the White Hart pub was the order of the day for refreshments before catching the train home.
On Wednesday 17th August a group of fourteen assembled at Charing station to walk up into the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More were booked, the forecast of heavy showers may have been off putting to some. Therese presented a brief introduction of our work with station adopters at Charing before our group of walkers set off.
In Charing we stopped to admire many of the historic buildings that grace the village including the Archbishop’s Palace, host to many pilgrims and travellers across the ages. Our route continued up the slope of the Kent Downs to join the North Downs Way National Trail. Therese spoke about how modern agricultural methods work to support wildlife and the environment , helping to tackle climate change.
Whilst most of our walk had been on public rights of way we soon found ourselves on a narrow country lane. Vehicles were few and drivers were courteous, allowing us plenty of time to retreat to safe spaces on the verge before trying to pass. We stopped briefly for photos with Brother Percival at the Pilgrims Rest Bench, where an information board provides local history including a tale that “Hearsay has it that young Pilgrims would marry and honeymoon in the old tower of the church, not being released until the bill was paid in full.”
The skies were getting darker and there were some ominous rumbles of thunder in the distance. We arrived at the station with some time in hand before the next trains were due and took the opportunity to visit Percival’s Rest in Harrietsham village for some refreshing post-walk drinks. We made it back to the station in the lightest of showers, once under the platform shelters the heavens opened and the downpour began.
On Saturday 15th October, a group of fourteen gathered at Wateringbury station to walk to Yalding, taking the long way round. Gary gave a brief introduction of our work and a history of the line and the station before we set off.
We stopped to admire views of the Medway Valley and to hear tales of Hop Picking, leading figures in the movement to abolish slavery and snippets of local history from Ben Crozier, a North Downs Way ambassador accompanying us on the trip.
Our route passed Hoppers Huts before descending to Yalding where Gary and Ben spoke about the haunted churchyard, and a battle of the English Civil War. The skies were greying, as we reached Tea Pot Island for refreshment, where we remained sheltered until the showers had passed. A day much enjoyed by all, showcasing the beautiful countryside accessible from one of the Rail Trails from our Medway Valley Line stations.