4th January 2024

By Lee Winter - Guest Blogger

When it comes to owning a dog, there is no such thing as high or low season. Rain, shine, snow, cats and dogs (literally) you will, at some stage in the day, be stepping out that door.

We’re lucky in Medway to live somewhere with so many options, and it’s been amazing that while we’ve all been in the same boat, it’s been possible to find places to escape to…and almost call your own.

The following are a selection to try for yourselves, if you haven’t already, from woodland trails and places with history to estuary paddles and well-earned views

Nashenden Down

Parking up at the end of Nashenden Farm Lane, running parallel with the M2 near Borstal, you’d be forgiven for thinking the din of passing traffic would send your zen into a spin.

Kent Wildlife Trust has taken 55 hectares of rolling farmland and transformed the landscape into a place where nature can thrive, barley can grow, and sheep can graze with abandon.

The walk takes you through a tiny community of cottages, oast house and farm buildings, along the chalk ridge of the North Downs Way, and a lovely area of ancient woodland complete with Bronze Age burial mound hidden among the trees.

It’s a walk of contrasts, and great sniffs for Miller and McKenzie our pair of roll-in anything spaniels, with the circuit of this relatively new nature reserve taking about an hour.

An alternative is to head straight on from the parking layby and take the bridle path that ascends away from the hamlet, keeping your dog on its lead until you pass the pumping station, and again at the end where the track meets with bridges crossing the M2 and high speed train line.

This route also doubles as Cycle Route 17 linking Rochester with Blue Bell Hill and on to Maidstone. To continue your walk, turn right at Stoney Lane bridge and follow the road to the end and then uphill through woods to reach the Robin Hood pub, just over the Kent border.

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Both routes offer access to Monk Wood and Bridge Woods, part of the local geography for centuries, offering up a whole network of trails to escape and explore. These woods are popular with mountain bikers, but there’s plenty of space to share.

Grain Coastal Park

This might be the end of the road, but the drive to this remote corner of Medway is always worth it for what greets visitors who make the effort.

This is where the rivers Thames and Medway join forces, a strategic location since man first picked up a spear, and it’s that history combined with the big skies, birdlife and strips of sandy beaches that make this place so special.

When the tide is low the potential for ‘splooshing’ for some distance in the direction of Southend is not to be missed, certainly not by McKenzie, who often sets her sights on Essex before sprinting back to shore.

The path along the coast is about two miles long, starting from the beach car park, signposted from St James’ village just past the Co-Op, and ending at the mouth of the Medway with views across to the busy dockyard at Sheerness.

Step back from the seawall, and thanks to the hard work of local volunteers there are now lots of woodland trails to explore, including paths that cross the top of Grain Fort, which last saw active service during World War II.  It’s a great place for watching the world and ships pass by.

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RSPB Northward Hill lies on a ridge overlooking the Thames Marshes, the inspiration for Dickens’ Magwitch hideout and other smuggling tales.

While dogs need to be kept on the lead in the nature reserve itself and obviously around livestock, it’s a great starting point for walks around Cooling and High Halstow, including the white sands of tiny Egypt Bay.

Ranscombe Farm Reserve

I’ve been walking here for a decade, but it still throws up surprises with the amount of escape depending on how far you want to go or which path you decide to take.

One of our favourites, following the Cuxton Community Heritage Trail, takes about an hour or so to complete and is best served with a flask of tea and a favoured choc.  The destination is a wooden bench, carved with owls and badgers at Brockles Field, a restored chalkland meadow.

An information panel at this lovely viewpoint explains the history of the landscape before you, including Bush Valley, where a decoy airfield helped protect the Short’s aircraft works at Rochester from wartime enemy attack.

The working farm and reserve, managed by Plantlife, is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and links with a further three country parks. These include Cobham Park, home to a friendly herd of Highland Cows and the surreal Darnley Mausoleum.  

It really is lovely, especially for those who a passion for plants and flowers, from the rare Hairy Mallow and Meadow Clary to at least six types of orchid, including the Lady, and Man, orchid.

For lovers of local history like me though, the remains of the 1832 memorial to the toe of the fifth Lord Darnley hidden on a thickly wooded hill where Ranscombe meets Cobham Park, is reason enough.

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Park up at the White Hart pub in Cuxton, or nearby, and head up the hill towards Halling turning right up a steep lane to reach St Michael’s and All Angels Church.

Walk through the graveyard and open a gate to discover a little piece of Narnia, From here it’s possible to walk the length of the North Downs Way or a slightly less daunting circular that takes in a more manageable segment.

The copse of trees here leads left through a stile on to a field that offers lovely views up the Medway valley and across to Nashenden Down. A path across the field takes you into an extensive area of woodland with signposted routes that bring you close to the medieval hamlet of Upper Bush.

The circular that I often take includes a short portion of the North Downs Way, with a lovely hidden valley complete with Oasthouse and pond, and some steep steps that will do wonders for your fitness. This is another local gem, among many in Medway, that’s definitely worth exploring.