KENT: Two young men in a canoe swept by with an easy ripple of oars and I envied them their energetic freedom as I struggled through head-high nettles along the tow-path from Nettlestead. I envied them even more when I met them a few miles downstream as they brought their sturdy little craft to the bank and unloaded tent, tins and stove just as the evening was settling down to a cool calm. Theirs was the way to savour the pleasures of that stretch of the Medway which William Cobbett considered one of the finest in the country.
The river itself is one the greatest attractions with two fine medieval bridges, their proud stone cut-waters confronting the currents and linking the meadows still heavily stocked with sheep. Later years have added the fascinating cogs and wheels and turbulence of lock gates. But the riverside, too, affords revelations of this cherry-ripe landscape, five miles of orchard, hop field and woodland punctuated by seven spires and towers of churches, Cobbett’s symbols of rural abundance. Often missed from the road, the squat strength of Nettlestead alongside its manor house, Teston‘s eighteenth century spire by the impressive facade of Barham Court are seen to best advantage from the riverside. The very attraction of the water has brought new elements to the landscape, visitors who want to fish in it, sail on it, or just gaze at it. Old meadows spawn new car-parks and a clutter of caravans crouch behind pocket-handkerchief gardens and rustic fencing in sight of cabin-cruisers nuzzling the timbered banks.