Each week our Stories Editor highlights a unique review left by a volunteer that speaks to the spirit of Slow Ways
Editors note: We are often checking routes and the progress made in different areas and come across great reviews, which come in all shapes and sizes, by our volunteers — some are short and to the point, others are humorous, historical or personal. Together they provide a full picture of a route for the next walker.
This week my attention was caught by a review of Gravesend — Rochester (Graroc one) by Daisy C. I was particularly struck by the balance this reviewer maintained between sharing key coordinates and instructions with almost lyrical observations of natural wildlife and pastoral scenes “heaving with nature”. The reviewer doesn’t shy away from the frustrations or the difficulties of the route (a familiar feeling for any experienced Slow Ways reviewer) but ultimately perseveres and surprises themselves. I’d hoped to walk this route myself and feel all the more equipped to do so now. Thank you Daisy C for such a thorough and informative review!
Gravesend — Rochester
I’m tempted to give this route 5 stars as I loved walking along the Thames and Medway Canal so much, and the other rural sections were pretty great too. But I can’t justify it as the route was too wet to actually walk at one point, although that was probably seasonal. I did not enjoy the Rochester end either, some route choices were strange and quite frustrating.
Starting at Gravesend
I avoided the Thames Path section as I thought it was closed until August. Using Albion Terrace and Raphael Rd was the quiet alternative I found as Milton Rd had loud HGV traffic. But the Kent Council footpath map suggests it has reopened now. Oh well.
i had a full surround-sound experience
The Thames and Medway Canal section really was wonderful. The canal is naturalised with deep waterside vegetation, unmown and scrubby edges plus another long ditch (more reeds) on the other side of the path. The path and surface was very good – perhaps as it’s Sustrans NCN route 1. Views across the marshes on either side are beautiful. Absolutely heaving with wildlife too, white clouds of cow parsley and hawthorn blossom.
It was very peaceful but I had a full surround-sound experience: noisy warblers and whitethroats, interruptions from cuckoos and pheasants, and occasional outbursts from an incredibly loud marsh frog chorus. Across the marshes I could see nesting lapwings and waterfowl, a hunting marsh harrier and later semi-wild ponies with very young foals.
The onwards route towards Church St was also lovely, blue forget-me-nots lining the wooded parts and then down onto the grazing marsh. But… it got soggier and soggier until, at TQ 7121 7404 after the level crossing, there was no way to skirt around. I had to turn back. Canal Road was wide though; heavy vehicles but light traffic. There were even more crazy frogs plus calling peacocks.
I went back up to Church Street then, to see the wet path from the other end. Couldn’t get close, too wet from near ‘the bridge’ at TQ 7132 7417 (an underwater plank). A friendly local said “we get walkers streaming through here in the summer” and that the water is just high after a wet winter and spring.
Beyond Church Street is arable and more horses, skylarks were singing and as the ground began to rise there were good views behind me. From here onwards, some paths were fairly overgrown, more cow parsley and other annual vegetation but some nettles. At two field boundaries the path goes through an arch in a hedgerow, hard to spot until close. The route line at Lower Rochester Rd is a little wrong too which doesn’t help, it should be staggered like the public footpaths.
The steep valley after Hermitage Rd was also lovely although the traffic noise once you get close to the A289 was very striking after the sense of peace up until then.
From the A289 to Brompton Farm Rd was pleasant, especially the light and shadows on the narrow path between trees. I’m not sure what the earlier reviewer meant about a shorter way here. We all have different points of view!
Within Strood and Rochester I enjoyed the footpath beside the allotments, but couldn’t understand the rest of the route. Lots of noisy busy roads, a view of the distant motorway bridge not towards Rochester Castle and the Cathedral (try Cliffe St?). Going past Strood Station and a corner shop didn’t make it worthwhile.
North vs South
At Rochester Bridge do cross over the road to the south side. The views along the Medway are lovely but the north side was awful. You could change your route even earlier and approach the bridge using SolRoc 1, the waterside section, with its reflected lights, which was wonderful at dusk.
After the bridge you could stay south and swap the main road for Rochester High St then the La Providence footpath: very historic and beautiful with many restaurants, pretty shops, etc.
the waterside section, with its reflected lights,
was wonderful at dusk
If the Thames Path is still blocked and you use the official Milton Rd diversion this route has about 5km (3 miles) of road walking on primary or secondary (and cement plant access) roads. You could detour mid-route to Higham Station, or the shop in Higham village, or the Stone Horse pub on Dillywood Lane, each is only about 1km off-route. From the pub there’s also a shorter way into Strood on a road but with a proper pavement.
I’m so pleased that testing Slow Ways finally got me out to see these marshes, and I’d thought walking the canal would be a bit monotonous. It was a great time of year to go. And maybe my grumpiness in Strood and Rochester was coloured by my wet and chilly feet. I’d probably have turned back sooner if I wasn’t guinea-pigging it. I would like to go back, with the excuse of testing out a better Slow Way route, but I’d probably try the soggy bit again, both ends were worth it.