By Rachel Lankester, Mutton Club Editor
Walking is my therapy. If I need to clear my head, I go for a walk. It can be just round the block or a bit further – it depends how much therapy I need! There’s something about walking in nature that is just so restorative.
Recently, I decided to go for an overnight hike – solo. I’d been wanting to do it for ages but it just never really happened. Years ago, I did a five day overnight hike through the desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan. That was with a group but I joined them solo. We had lots of support so it wasn’t me by myself, but it was amazing. You can see pictures from that trip here.
If you want to jump straight to my top tips, scroll to the bottom. Here’s some info on where I went and what I got up to!
I decided to get myself a ticket to somewhere I knew there would be some good walking, book a couple of places to stay and no return ticket because I didn’t know where exactly I would end up. I wasn’t going anywhere particularly adventurous – it needed to be close to home in London. I decided to go to Kent on Saturday, organized it all online and left Sunday morning!
My first destination was Rochester which I’d driven through in the past – such a beautiful town. It took just 40 minutes from Kings Cross St Pancras International to Rochester on the high-speed train – amazing! Within five minutes of getting off the train, I was outside the castle.
My destination for the evening was the Priory at Aylesford. I was going to spend the night in a friary! I’d vaguely researched the route and hoped to follow a number of different trails. I arrived in Rochester at two in the afternoon and set off past the castle following a route south on the ridge above the Medway river. Eventually, I came to a signpost for the North Downs Way, decided to chance it and soon encountered some spectacular scenery.
I knew I had to come off the North Downs Way at some point to get to the Priory and it would likely take me towards an old pilgrims route. Google maps was useful for telling me roughly when to begin my descent but I think I left it a bit late because I ended up doubling back on myself to get to the Priory. But I did discover the Augustine Camino, that ancient pilgrims route which coincided at times with the North Downs Way.
I’d never heard of the Camino, but it has a whole website and it goes from Rochester all the way to Ramsgate on the coast. When I realized what it was, I started seeing little stickers on lamp posts and posts, telling me I was on the Camino, so I followed those and navigation became a bit easier for a while.
But I was getting later and later to meet my friend who was coming to the Priory to say hello. We’d never met before, having only talked online, so it was rather exciting to be meeting in real life. Fortunately, she was able to pick me up about 2 km from my final destination, as I seemed to be getting further away rather than closer!
We went to a local village restaurant, the Hengist, for dinner because the pub was no longer doing food, then I collapsed into my austere friar’s cell after my vigorous afternoon’s walk. It was very basic but perfectly adequate and so atmospheric! The Priory is absolutely spectacular and I would recommend a visit to anyone. It is so beautiful and serene.
The next morning, I had breakfast in the Pilgrims’ hall which is the most spectacular place you could possibly imagine having breakfast!
I went round the grounds before I left, checked out the relic in the chapel and visited the beautiful peace garden where the word for peace is inlaid in the floor tiles from every language in the world. Really lovely.
I could’ve happily stayed all day and I’m certain that I’ll return. At about 9.30, I set off to find the Augustine Camino again, following the website directions – it was a bit further away from the Priory than I expected! Once I found it, it was a lovely route and I was full of the joys of spring as my city tensions melted away!
I’d checked out my itinerary on a walking website, but decided their suggested day two destination wasn’t going to be far enough for me. I wanted to go further. On reflection, I think choosing Lenham for my final destination was a little over-optimistic. I ended up walking 29 km in one day! I’d have been better off stopping at Hollingbourne instead but I wasn’t to know that then!
Without the Camino website, finding that route and staying on it would’ve been impossible. I discovered there are people in Kent who don’t like having public rights of way going down the side of their house or through their vineyards!
Certain places were completely devoid of any way-markers. At one stage, I went into the bushes to have a wee and found some markers left in the bushes. Tut tut. But with my instructions from the excellent Camino website, I was able to find my way to the Black Horse Pub in Thurnham where I had the most delicious lunch. I recommend the Black Horse Burger!
I then tried to carry on along the Camino route, but I went the wrong way and ended up at the North Downs Way again. The Camino wouldn’t get me all the way to Lenham anyway, but the North Downs Way would. So I followed that instead!
This section of the walk was at times really hard work. Especially with a backpack. I was going up and down steeply three times before it started to level out a bit. I met a very nice man with three lovely dogs who kept me company for a while and told me I’d already done the hardest bit of the route, so that was reassuring!
Later on, I was sitting waiting to go over a style to a field with a sign saying beware of the bull and another man with a dog turned up. I asked him if there was really a bull in the field and he said yes, so I asked, can I tag along behind you! So that’s what I did! We didn’t see the bull!
Eventually, we went down off the downs and I then followed a very muddy bridle path – the official Pilgrims Way from Hollingbourne to Lenham, my final destination.
I was pretty exhausted by this stage and the bridle path was very muddy. At times I literally had to wade through water to get along it. So I was very very pleased that my boots are waterproof!
At the end of both days, my Google Maps seemed to start playing up. Either that or I was just too tired to get it to work properly! As I headed towards the Priory on the first day, the distance seemed to get further rather than shorter!
As I approached Lenham on the second, I put the hotel where I was staying into Google Maps to be sure I was on the shortest route. But I then went off on a long detour and as I was heading back towards town, I saw the road I’d been on, the Pilgrims Way, coming out right by the entrance to the village. So that was a bit depressing!
I walked over 29 km! Bit bonkers really. I was so happy to find my room had a bath. They also had hot chocolate and some shortbread biscuits. I had a lovely wallow in the bath and then collapsed into bed.
The following day, I’d planned to walk to Ashford International before heading home, but I decided my legs had had enough and I took the local train from Lenham to Ashford instead, then the high-speed train from Ashtead back to St Pancras. All in all, it took just over an hour to get back to Saint Pancras which I thought was pretty incredible.
This was the most wonderful mini adventure! When preparing this post I found this site hikesleep.com which has lots of places to stay along walking routes. A great resource for my future trips! I’ll definitely do a longer one next time – it was so much fun!
Top tips for an overnight day hike (2/3 days or more)!
- Make sure your rucksack is super light and comfortable before you set out. I wasn’t actually aclimatised to my rucksack and it took a bit of getting used to because it had a ventilation system and seemed to be rubbing my shoulder blades. But I soon got used to it and all was fine. Make sure it has good waist straps. I can carry weight on my hips but not on my shoulders anymore. Use all the straps available – they’re there for a reason! 35 litres was big enough for me and could’ve lasted a week I reckon. Here’s a similar rucksack.
2. Take snacks. I had a couple of protein bars and some fruit and nut homemade selection, useful for when there were no shops around and I needed some extra sugar to keep me going.
3. Take enough water. I took one small bottle of water with me each day and that was actually enough because the weather wasn’t hot, and I was able to fill it up at the pub at lunchtime on the second day. But if it had been warmer, I would’ve needed to carry more with me. I had this backup collapsible water container in case I needed more – useful also for festivals!
4. Take a waterproof jacket and trousers, and layers for warmth. I was lucky that it didn’t rain, the whole time I was away, but it could’ve so easily been different. You’ll get warm while you’re walking but possibly cold when you stop. You may be cold at night. So make sure you have both waterproof and warm layers to accommodate changeable temperatures depending on where you are and the season. If you’re walking in the UK, you’ll likely always need waterproof clothing! Being wet and cold is miserable when you’re hiking
5. Invest in good kit – it will make you more confident. My rucksack and clothing were great. Good walking trousers make life easier – here’s an example of a good walking trouser. Mine were North Face and I have jungle ones for when it’s hotter from Craghoppers. Specialist walking trousers are quick to dry if they do get wet, making them easier to clean at night too. I swear by Vivo Barefoot shoes. 29km and my legs ached terribly but my feet were fine – the next day too. And these boots are waterproof. Expensive (I wish they weren’t so) but worth it and they last forever! You can usually get 20% off your first direct purchase with Vivo which is well worth it. Here’s a link to my walking boots, pictured below.
6. Put your clothing in a plastic bag inside your rucksack. My rucksack came with a cover but to be doubly careful, I put everything inside a black bin liner inside the rucksack. Being wet and cold is really miserable when you’re hiking.
7. Plan your route but be flexible about finding a better one. The combination of way markers, a website outlining the route and Google Maps proved to be incredibly effective – most of the time!
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I asked for help and directions a few times and ended up having really nice chats with locals.
This turned into a magnificent mini adventure for me. As I wrote on the day, I could feel nature rejuvenating me with every step I took. It was so lovely to pace gently by myself and have no one else’s needs to consider. I like my own company and spending time with myself was very cool. I started off this article saying I needed to clear my head and it really help me do that. Are you inspired to go for an overnight hike? Go for it!
Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond which was recommended in the New York Times.
Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Editorial Staff