“From Maidstone to this place (Merryworth) is about seven miles and these are the finest seven miles I have ever seen in England or anywhere else. The Medway is to your left with its meadows about a mile wide… From Maidstone to Merryworth I should think that there were hop gardens on one half of the way both sides of the road. Then looking across the Medway you see orchards and hop gardens two miles deep, on the side of a gently rising ground.”
This is from the classic nineteenth century travelogue Rural Rides, written in the 1820s by MP, farmer and journalist William Cobbet. Although the hop fields Cobbett wrote about have gone, those mile wide Medway meadows are still there, now given over to pasture, orchards, gardens and parkland.
Cobbett’s route took him along what is now the A26. Although I often think of Cobbett as we drive along the A26, this busy, modern road makes it difficult to get back to his nineteenth century idyll. There is now, however, another option. I would suggest taking the recently opened foot and cycle path, which starting from Aylesford continues through Maidstone riverside, and then runs below the A26 to Barming. I might not be Cobbett, but I’m going to say that this is the finest seven miles (or so) of bike path I have ever seen in England or anywhere else. The riding is easy and flowing, the Medway Valley scenery beautiful and varied. Cobbett would have loved this rural ride.