Walk 76: Porlock to Minehead and the end of the SWCP – 3rd September 2020

Same drill as the day before: Matt dropped us at our glamorous start point, the public toilets at Porlock Weir, and drove on to Minehead in order to then walk back and meet us. The difference today was because of the significance of the walk we had chosen to mark the occasion by wearing a tutu (Barbara) and a dress of cherry skulls (me). Matt looked more traditional but with his hat somehow made me think of deepest darkest Peru.

We set out across grey, purple, flat, slate pebbles with the cloud low over Bossington Hill.

Barbara hung back as she’d just received a text from Jess that Queen Mabs had died (We stayed with Jess for many of our trips to Cornwall and Queen Mabs was her stately cat so this news was sad). Walked across flat fields away from the sea. There had been a breach (when I don’t know) and the dead trees of past hedgerows are clearly visible (and I assume the submarine forest marked on the map is different?)

The path then turns back towards the sea past a barn perfect for wild camping.

We passed a big group of double stick older aged walkers, climbed over a high stile/bridge, meandered away from the sea again and onto a high hedged pathway directly toward the hill and cloud.

Passed a woman with a massive pack on who was going as far as the day took her. I’m loving the increase in our age lady walkers quite probably wild camping (Barbara calls it the Salt Path effect). Into the idyllic hamlet of Bossington where in our dreams the two houses on opposite sides of the street leading to the beach could be ours.

Round the corner, past the tiny National Trust carpark, over the stream and into the woods.

Passed a few local dog walkers greeting each other and followed the flat path back towards sea. In the knowledge that the path must soon head sharply up we put on the final SWCP playlist and cracked on. The path divides up for coast path and round to Hurle Point (if I’d relooked at the map I would have seen that both were possible but in the cloudy mizz I chose the steep ascent). At the bottom were the last people we would see for many miles. The waysign there said Minehead 4.5m and then half way up told us Minehead was now 5m (I just think the sign erectors like playing with people’s minds). Bossington Hill is bloody big especially when ascending into thick cloud.

A 5 song hill as Barbara remarked at the top. I was useless as always at guessing the theme (which was 2020 with an obvious emphasis on Covid and lockdown) but as I was concentrating on breathing (the inhale exhale lyric from Breathe by the Prodigy seemed apt). All quite eerie but exciting. Another relevant song on the playlist for the weather was Dancing in the Dark by Moses Boyd. So the playlist had a double purpose both at times to mirror the day and also the crazy year the world has had. The ascent finally levels out and the path swings round towards Minehead. We stayed in the cloud for a couple of miles with some more fairly steep ups and downs but nothing compared to the initial big one.

Took the rugged path. Of course.

Eventually the cloud started to lift and we could see rather than just feel how much bigger and more dramatic the Combes were today. Saw the sea.

Barbara was feeling sick (she overdid it on Macncheese last night) so I knew I needed to get her to eat something. We stopped at the bottom of a Combe next to a stream for a sandwich and our resident explorer from outer Peru appeared at the top and basically jogged down to us. Of course Matt had once again walked further despite the extra drive! Once we were full, we continued on with a lovely undulating walk for a couple of miles. And I happily followed the yellow waterproof coverings of my faithful friends.

There were a plethora of Rowan trees perched on the cliffs replete with red berries (didn’t see a single white berry one which are apparently only found in this Exmoor area). Started seeing two islands in the distance in the Bristol Channel that even Matt couldn’t work out at the time but later we identified them as Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Traversing the last Combe of the path felt sad as this section of the walk has been so magnificently glorious.

Up to the top and still no sign of Minehead but knew it must be getting closer as there were a few more people and a carpark. Our first and last sighting of Exmoor ponies.

Saw the sign to Burgandy chapel but Matt looked at the contour lines and said it looked very steep and wasn’t on the official coastal path (when I looked later I saw that it was on my planned route as it went closer to the sea – n’er mind). Down down down into the woods, steadily at first and then more and more steeply with zigzag bends (so realised Matt had had a hard up at the start and many others who start at Minehead).

Came to the final steps and looked down to the shingle beach. It took us a while to persuade Barbara from the final step.

The path becomes a small road leading back to the Burgundy Chapel and with a dilapidated but beautifully moss-covered garage.

There’s a little way along the flat back in the woods

and then the path comes out onto the prom with grass and benches. The famous big tops of Butlins visible in the distance.

When the path joins the road we came to last signpost.

While I was taking the picture an elderly couple (one on a mobility scooter with a small dog on her lap) came through the gate and started bickering loudly as the dog and its lead got caught up in the gate. Strange little tableau. I desperately needed a wee but knew it was less than 0.5 mile to the end so continued. Minehead is quaint and unlike its reputation at this end of the town.

The structures out in the grey and milky sea caught my interest.

Then the end and the sculpture were there. I was unintentionally hasty and stepped over the line before Barbara, so we had to do it again. She then got all chatty to the tourists having a look at the sculpture whereas I felt choked up and stood back. Not even then did anyone comment on our clobber.

I know many many people have completed the SWCP and in many more extreme or faster circumstances, but it did feel like an achievement for a silly, couple of old friends and I felt really emotional. To overcome the tears we walked back to the pub with the great name, The Old Ship Aground, for a pint in front of the harbour.

Feeling more refreshed we walked back past the end marker and on to the clock tower opposite the steam train station.

When we will resume our walk further into Somerset is at the present time incredibly uncertain. The world battles with Covid-19 and the UK moves regularly in and out of lockdowns and varying tiers of restrictions. For now our local patch of Sussex will have to suffice.

Miles walked: 9.5

Since the beginning: 967.4

Posted in 2020, Devon | 6 Comments

Walk 75: Lynmouth to Porlock – 2nd September 2020

Up early and out by 7.45 with Matt. He dropped us at Rock House in Lynmouth and drove on to Porlock Weir. The idea being that he would park and walk back towards us over the top path so that he would end up doing a circular walk (and the reality being that he would end up walking further than us!)

We set out along the short promenade to Perilous Point and then veered up into the woods. It’s a steady, long climb first through the trees until they cross the A39. There’s a very brief few paces on the road and then the path slips onto the cliff and stays there becoming more exposed and rising. About halfway up we met a mother and daughter coming down carrying weighty rucksacks. They’d walked Minehead to a pub somewhere up top of the cliff we were on yesterday and were aiming to get all the way to Combe Martin today. Much more hardcore than us. Looking behind at this point there’s a good view of Lynton and the beach at Lynmouth.

The mast on Foreland Point loomed closer but the SWCP runs around it with another path leading straight up to the top. The cliffs create corners and bends that only reveal end points and other landmarks when you’re right on top of them and this walk was one of those. We took the official path rather than veer off for the lighthouse thinking we may see it at the other end but not a glimpse. Properly Combetastic soundlessness as the cliffs enveloped us into stillness. One of my truly favourite feelings.. The heather covered the ground and filled the air with its scent.

The eerie but beautiful stillness came to an end with a viewpoint, a gate and entry into Gurney’s Wood. From now on the Combes come thick and fast. Double Combes, single Combes but all easy to navigate as the path undulates back into the deep Combes rather than steeply up and down. The deciduous woods are incredibly pretty and faery like.

Twisted oaks dominate and each Combe has varying sizes of waterfall.

We came out of the woods momentarily and could see a new vista north-east of what is probably the Somerset coastline – maybe Weston-Super-Mare? Somewhere on the cliffs outside our woodland idyll was Desolation Point but on the path you see more Combes than cliffs.

A while later and we noticed the start of the estate walls and the path comes into the light on the cliffside outside the wall. Glimpses of our future path, interesting little nooks in the wall and hedge upon hedge of rhodedendrons.

This is Glenthorne Plantations. The path tuns away from the sea into the much bigger and wider ‘The Combe’ and the burning of rhodis and harsher signs of forest management are apparent. The path passes through the gateposts and then down to the idyllically located gatehouse.

At this point Matt texted to say he’d passed the halfway point of Sugerloaf Hill. Of course he had. So we thought as he’s won the competition that wasn’t a competition we might as well stop for a rest at a handily placed cross.

Not much later – up then down again – we met Matt. Barbara put Ben’s relentless playlist on to walk through what turned out to be apocalyptic scenes of forest clearance so the music and the vista merged well. Looked like they were clearing mostly larch so the estate may be trying to regrow native species? Always looks so devastating when it’s been done recently. The scenery did improve and we passed back into mature woods with a wide selection of oak, sweet chestnut, hazel, silver birch, holly, ash and a sprinkling of beech. The ash dieback that I’ve noticed so much of round home in Sussex hasn’t been too noticable here in Devon. Apparently this area was used for charcoal burning way back.

Had a quick lunch on a tree that had fallen across the path. Amusing to hear Barbara’s random comments about Ben’s playlist – ‘bastard’ ‘good taste’ etc etc with plenty of gesticulation.

Passed Culbone and St Beano’s church which is famed for being the smallest in England that still maintains some sort of congregation. There are only two houses on the site and apparently parishioners need to walk the 1.5m from the road as only landrovers can navigate the final part.

Stopped a little later for chocolate when I managed to magic a bench for the first time in many miles. Of course after that there were benches a plenty all the way down into Porlock.

The descent continues through the woods and is damp, dark and riddled with disused and dilapidated tunnels that were once used for the grand house (destroyed in 1974) to allow traders to approach without disturbing the residents. Bloody wealthy wankers.

Ada Lovelace and Henry Babbage lived there for a while. It’s also the furthest east Tarka the otter ragrowsters in his adventures. Near the bottom is the entrance to the toll road (still in use) which allows for a less vertiginous ascent out of/descent into Porlock Weir. 1/4 gradient and not much wider than a single car so no doubt nearly as hairy as the famed main road out of the village.

Ended outside the pub just as it started to rain and talked of the man from Porlock. Coleridge blamed him for disturbing his concentration when he was writing Khubla Khan and he has since become synonymous with writer’s block.

The story goes that he took some opium, fell asleep in which he had the vision of Khubla Khan and on awakening, grabbed a pen, and wrote the 54 lines available in print. Unfortunately, he was interrupted by a man from Porlock, calling upon him on a business matter. An while later he tried to recapture what he had been writing, but it had “passed away.” 

Walked up to the car which was parked opposite this unusual little church.

Miles walked: 11.2

Since the beginning: 957.9

Posted in 2020, Devon | Leave a comment

Mind(ing) the Gap (again) – Charmouth to Lyme Regis Cobb

Many of our trips to the West Country follow a particular route, one that enables us to stop at Felicity’s Farm Shop just before Lyme to stock up on The World’s Best Chocolate (Kernow Seasalt Milk Chocolate in case you are wondering) and looks out over Golden Cap (which I was led to believe when we walked it that it was the highest point on the SWCP, only to be told twice since that it is not – more on that in a later post). Which also means that every time we pass this way I am reminded of how I threw a strop at Charmouth many moons ago when I realised I would have to walk along the road to get to Lyme when the tide was too high to follow the beach, a walk I have done many times the other way. I did have blisters on blisters at the time (it was before I discovered the joy of slightly larger boots – a total game-changer). I am not a purist like Nancy, I knew that there would still be a gap in my continuous thread of footsteps around the coast as I missed a riverside walk back in March when I had Confirmation for the PhD, but somehow this one bothered me. Maybe it was because I had been a bit of an idiot and didn’t complete a walk I had started and struggled through, maybe it was because this is a frequently visited part of the country and somewhere I have a huge soft spot for. Needless to say, this was one gap I minded enough to try on several occasions to do, but the tide was never on my side.

Not this time. The plan was to pick Mylo up from Lyme where he was staying with his dad en route to Devon so it seemed a perfect opportunity. So long as we could get there early enough to catch the tide, it would all fall into place, and with Matt at the organising helm, that’s exactly what happened – I was footstepping by the shoreline by 9.30.

The bridge onto the beach suggested quiet

but by the time I got to the other end at Lyme, it was unsurprisingly busy – this stretch of shoreline attracts fossil hunters in their droves, from the pseudo-professional to young children with their hammers. I used to come to Lyme regularly with Justin and when Mylo was little so I am no stranger to the search for ammonites, but I confess it makes me sad in my older years to see how quickly the cliffs here are decimated – yes partly through it’s crazily soft rock, but also the multitudes of holidaymakers all in the quest for signs of the long ago past.

Those ammonites are just gorgeous though, especially when left in situ.

Litter in the time of COVID

I bloody hate seeing these scattered everywhere now. Still, it felt nothing short of miraculous that we were heading west (again – as a family we’d already been to Cornwall with our extended bubble – Jess) and to actually finish the SWCP. It was a stunning morning – all striated sky and light on water.

I was just walking along the promenade when a tall, lanky, bouncing ray of sunshine leapt on me for a hug. It is always so good to see my boy again.

We walked to the end of the Cobb (as I had met Nancy at the pub just opposite so it had to all ‘match’) as the clouds darkened and fat splats of rain started to fall. We had a lush breakfast and via a fabulous microbrewery and shelter from the occasional downpour,

it was back to the car and a mix of sun and big black monsoons until Coomb Martin, the Carters and our Bronze holiday park caravan for the week.

This weekend was supposed to be Shambala, so the day ended with a live stream of the ever-bonkers, ever-wonderful Son of Dave who was due to be headlining.

Distance – a measly 1.9 miles

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Walk 74: Hunter’s Inn, Heddon Valley to Lynmouth – 31st August 2020

All children/young adults present and correct: Louis, Ollie, Nelle, Tom, Mylo and Biba as well as Matt. 

Ben dropped us at the Hunter’s Inn at Heddon and we crossed the busy, bubbling river

to walk through the woods towards the sea on the opposite bank from yesterday. It wasn’t long until we took the path leading up and out of the trees and into the strong sunlight. Moving steadily uphill we could see the path on the cliff facing us and the strange way certain shadows appeared deep down in the valley and on the beach.

The kids ran to the crags at the end of the valley where the path met the sea and started climbing like mountain goats. After a quick break for their antics

and to stare at the clearly delineated coastline of south Wales we continued on a mid-level easy path running gently on the side of impressive cliffs.

It isn’t long before the open path turns into another wooded combe and at its deepest point is a fairly substantial and picturesque waterfall.

The path then meanders slowly up to the road leading to Martinhoe and the more gently curved Woody Bay. At this point all the kids either lay down or climbed a tree

and so we stopped again and ate hula hoops. When we got up again Nelle announced she wasn’t capable of walking down hills (she has to run) and Louis became a ninja for the most of the remainder of the walk, swirling a large stick around and jumping all over the place. Earlier when we had emerged out of the Heddon valley and looked back at Lundy, Tom had asked if it was America. We’d all had a giggle and then blow me what appeared in Woody Bay but a signpost. And Lundy is basically in the right direction for the USA!

The local residences definitely had bedroom deathbed potential (a morbid habit me and Barbara have as we pass desirable houses).

The path drops back to the coast away from the road past Crock Pits. We watched an appealing wooded hillock past Crock Point get closer and closer not sure if it was an island at first and then seeing that it wasn’t hoping we’d have to climb it to investigate the mysterious tower at the top. Alas it wasn’t to be as it appears to be private land attached to Lee Abbey. Apparently, it is a Christian retreat and whatever the faith it is certainly an extremely well-appointed centre with a beautiful private beach, Lee Bay, not to be confused with Lee that we started in only a couple of days ago. Men were jumping in and out of their land rover changing bins and servicing the cutsey holiday cottages. Stayed on the road taking us up the long steady hill past the salmon mousse eyesore.

It has clearly been expanded and parts added over the years with odd 1960s style connecting sections. Behind the main building is an outdoor pursuits centre and three crosses placed on the adjoining hillside – father, son and holy ghost. 

Beyond the Lee Valley estate is the Valley of the Rocks which I had such fond memories of from years back. I had been taken here by friends after returning from travelling for 18 months and vividly remember being so knocked out by the scenery; making me realise that there are places in the UK just as beautiful as anywhere in the world.

I’d been tempting the young folk with stories of the wild goats but sadly the only person to see one on this visit was Ben as he walked from Lynton to meet us. Despite the lack of hoofed animals, the children were in awe and immediately ran off to climb a precariously balanced pile of rocks named Mother Meldrum’s cave in honour of the witch character in Lorna Doone. Matt followed a little more sedately. Me and Barbara took the ladylike and middle-aged option of sitting on a low rock and eating our lunch whilst trying not to look too closely at the vertigo inducing dangerous climbing the younger contingent were up to.

After they descended and food was distributed, Ben appeared. Lunch finished they ran off whooping to scale the White Lady and after a while joined us at the coast path. The path is narrow and busy with tourists and I had to concentrate on looking ahead so as not to worry about the long drops to the sea. Just stunning.

Coming into Lynton, poems start to appear at regular intervals along the path I believe written by local folk.

When we arrived at the funicular, we were hoping to use it to get down (feeling it could be counted a little like a ferry as it is a novel enough form of transport). Ollie was firmly against such a mode of transport which in one sense seemed odd as he’d only minutes before been bunding up and down huge rockfaces, but as he explained that meant he was in control rather than a piece of rickety looking machinery.

We decided to walk down and whoever fancied it would take it back up as the van was parked in Lynton rather than the lower section Lynmouth. The older boys and Ben forked off to pick up their skateboards and the rest of us made our way slowly down the steep, zigzag path past a plethora of garden gnomes and other garden statues: quite a large number decapitated and one having a close resemblance to a supine Matt.

Had a pint by the harbour watching the boys skateboard up and down.

Crossed the road to eat our pasties/cheesy chips on the harbour wall while Louis shimmied down the harbour wall ladder.

Such a lovely afternoon we had another pint across the road at Rock House batting off late summer wasps while the kids paddled in the Lyn.

Miles walked: 7.3

Since the beginning: 946.7

Posted in 2020, Devon | Leave a comment

Walk 73: Sandaway Holiday Park, Combe Martin to the Hunter’s Inn, Heddon Valley – 30th August 2020

‘Hanging on the Hangman’

It would be a lesson well-learnt to know that a night of celebratory drinking is not one best suited to some really tough coastal walking the next day. Really truly not. We knew what lay ahead as we could see it from the caravan park – a giant hill that literally went up then down, resembling a massive Toblerone piece. So why oh why did we do this to ourselves? Bloody idiots.

I had mistakenly thought that the worst was in sight, i.e. that the giant Toblerone was Great Hangman, but no, that was Little Hangman!

I nearly cried. In fact I think I did. Not cool. Not fun. It was such hard work that there was no time for pictures (in fact I have none of this particular walk – so Nancy added the few that she managed to take) or even looking beyond the pounding head and feelings of being violently ill. We at least had enough humour to laugh at our pathetic selves when we realised we had barely done any real distance at all, and just had to accept that a mix of feeling shocking, starting too late (I hate missing the best part of the morning when walking) and seriously strenuous walking meant a shorter walk, and let Matt (as our resident superstar driver for the week) know.

I had been led to believe that we had already conquered the highest point on the SWCP. Twice. The first was Golden Cap in Dorset, which ended up with me with horrific blisters and a foul temper. The second was the aptly named High Cliff in Cornwall, which saw Nancy clinging to the side of a rocky clifftop. Neither were our finest hours. But no, that delight was today and the aptly named Great Hangman. We seemed destined to face off the highest points with less than peak performance, and today was more like trough performance. We laugh now, but we were shamed at the time.

Wild Pear Beach lay at the bottom of Hangman and marked another place on the Tarka Trail to map against our walking read:

At dawn, he was swimming under the sea feet of the Great Hangman; and he followed the trail until sunrise was shimmering down the level sea and filling with aerial gold the clouds over the Welsh hills.

At dusk the shore-rats on Wild Pear Beach, searching the weed-strewn tide line, paused and squealed together when their sharp noses took the musky scent of water weasels. (Williamson, 1927: 141)

The strenuous nature of walk eased significantly once we hit the undulating top, and our mood (and general wellbeing) correspondingly improved.

The top of great Hangman itself was marked by a pile of rocks and surrounded by walkers doing selfies, so we kept out (social) distance and moved on. The light by this point was absolutely stunning and the combined purple heather and what was left of the yellow wild gorse almost seemed to sparkle; at a distance a misleading muddy brown, but up close, a shimmering palette of gold and burgundy.

The other side of Great Hangman was Sherrycombe where, before the descent, a band of crazed sheep dashed out in front of us, looking like they had disappeared off the edge, then a very steep downward hill, one that reminded my knees of just how much I struggle when it goes past a certain cline. We haven’t had ‘real hills’ for a while given the focus last year on heading east (flat as a pancake) and the March walk had been relatively flat. I found Nancy at the bottom of a lovely wooded glade chatting to a wild camper who had sensibly decided to have a rest at the bottom before heading up, though I suspect he was far fitter than either of us! 7 steps at the bottom and then yes, what goes down must indeed rise, and up and away we went, though nothing compared to the Hangman earlier.

It was a hard up from Sherrycombe followed by a long mid cliff path along Holdstone Down until Heddon Valley came into view, abundant in oaks. We followed the long path down through the green with sunlight cutting through the leaves. Our timing was perfect as Matt drove up behind me just as we got to the pub, so it was pint in the sun (well, kill or cure and we’d already done ‘kill’) and home for a very early night!

Miles walked: 7.5

Since the beginning: 939.4

Posted in 2020, Devon | Leave a comment

Walk 72: Lee to Sandaway Carvan Park, Combe Martin – 29th August 2020

Breakfast, lunch made and out. Ben and Matt dropped us off at the cove in Lee, all rocky and shingly, by about 9.30 (a significantly later start than the 7ams at Kent to try and escape that phenomenal heat). No blistering heat, but the forecast good, a light wind despite the occasional glowering moment of sky. It certainly felt like a different world to the last time we were at this spot; COVID was here by then but not in the all-consuming way it is now (and as I write this too many months later in the midst of what is essentially lockdown 3, the freedom of being away and being with friends and open spaces that aren’t local feels giddying – I miss these things, especially Nancy, so very much).

There was a long roadside ascent out of Lee, following another couple who looked like they were committed to a day of walking (there may have been a lot more people in Kent but very few walkers it seemed).

Once we got to the top (Flat Point) we could see our old friend Lundy once again, this time accompanied by Wales which remained and will continue to remain our horizon until, most likely, we get there.

It was quite busy with walkers making the most of a gorgeous day, the coast and the beginnings of a Bank Holiday weekend. The zigzagging paths led us past Breakneck Point (thankfully no testing of the name) and Brandy Cove, but it was relatively gentle undulation until Ilfracombe.

Ilfracombe is an odd place, at once the faded grandeur of a bygone era and a slightly rough side. In Walking Away (the book read last time we walked), Simon Armitage says this about Ilfracombe:

Ilfracombe gets a bad press in these parts. The name appears to be a byword among locals for the downbeat or the downright rough, and its three syllables are often enunciated with invisible speech marks. All population centres of whatever size need a place to belittle and disparage, either through historical grievances, local rivalries, ill-informed prejudices or out of some primitive human tendency to define our own status in terms of a neighbour’s shortcomings. In this region Ilfracombe has landed that role, or at least had it thrust upon it. That it’s a particularly faded and failed Victorian seaside resort seems to be the polite version, though this might be a smokescreen masking an uglier attitude to the number of benefit claimants said to be renting the town’s otherwise unoccupied holiday accommodation – not what more genteel folk thought they were buying into when the retired to the North Devon coast. (Armitage, 2015: 58)

I confess to not seeing what it is that the genteel snobs dismiss. Yes, it’s faded (but failed, really?) but it is charming nonetheless. We passed the tunnels that led to the Victorian sea pools (closed due to C19) where Mylo had been attached by Crabzilla the year before (and is lying in wait for him again should he come to Whitstable with us at the other end!)

Quinton Winter: Crabzilla :: The Horsebridge

and entered the gardens from the tops – it took me a while to realise what the strange funnel tops were further down – the theatre – but I cannot remember what these were…

We stopped for a whisky mocha which readied us for s short sharp steep hill (which we realised soon after we could have avoided, hey ho) and walked round to Verity.

Verity statue | Statue, Sculpture art, Art

Verity is a huge statue visible from some distance, a steel and bronze strident pregnant woman, sword in hand, created by the sometimes controversial Damian Hirst in 2014. On one side, she is fully formed, resplendent in her nakedness. On the other, her skin has been flayed to show her muscles and form beneath, including her unborn child. She is an unexpected sight for the end of a little harbour and a parade of ice cream and pasty shops and the gaggle of people gazing up at her seemed unsure of what to make of her and her combined image of the grand and the grotesque. Unsurprisingly I love her; she reminds me of an exaggerated version of the rather shocking Body Worlds exhibition I saw many moons ago which plasticised real bodies for display, though these were shocking due to their questionable use of actual corpses whereas Verity’s shock value lies in the sheer size of her. She is on loan for a 20 year period, presumably to add some artistic gravitas to the place and to bring the tourists in, something that judging by both our visits has worked a treat.

We lunched by the fort over the other side with lovely views back to Ilfracombe.

We walked down through the dark, quiet woods towards Hele Bay, past a significantly classier caravan park than the one we were suing, and it was road until we came off at the white coastguard cottages. Playlist time – I know Nancy doesn’t particularly like walking to music, but I had created a ‘Lost Shambala’ playlist to create a kind of pretentious sonic psychogeography that linked the place we were traversing now to the one we were sadly missing – Shambala, like everything else this year, was cancelled and I for one definitely missed the freedom and joy that the festival always offers. I was pleased to be walking this weekend as I would likely be sulking at home otherwise. Walking is always a pleasure, now it feels like a privilege too, and something we so fundamentally need.

Widemouth Bay offered caves and more up and down, and we passed many Burrows: Sexton’s Burrows, Burrows Nose to name a couple. Briery Cave at Broadsands is mentioned in Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson, our chosen walking read for the week (and despite its slim length, a surprisingly long read). At Berrybor we found ourselves in the company of a lone female walker who seemed to take a bit of a shine to us, making us feel unsure if we should carry on together or if it was just one of those chance meetings that come and go on the path. At this point we were taking a wee break at what had been voted ‘The Happiest View in the UK’ (Nancy doesn’t look quite convinced in the picture…)– I was just stunned by the beautiful cove that lay below, one surrounded by high rocks draped in trees and foliage, looking for all the world like a Thai island.

We returned there a couple of times during our stay and it was one of the loveliest swimming spots I have ever had the good fortune to swim in, both at high and low tide. Oh to live by the sea…

A mile or so back to base with tomorrow’s walk in full view (it is SO beautiful here…).

No-one was around, so I took my chances for a quick dip in the tiny cove by the holiday park, but was feeling a bit too tired to brave too many of the increasingly large waves that came a-crashing down. The boys, once they appeared, were, how to say, very merry from a day of enjoying not having to drive and pick us up and had certainly made the most of it. The kids had been all over and found me a sheep skull which sat in multiple bags under the caravan until we left (and is currently dug into the garden to allow for worms to finish cleaning it up for me!). Everyone in high spirits, we even had a chance for a little dance to the Lost Shambala playlist outside and, well, far too much rum.

Miles walked – 9.9

Since the beginning: 931.9

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Walk L: Birchington-on-Sea to Whitstable – 2nd August 2020

Lovely as Tim and the coach house had been, I was glad to leave Birchington and it’s ‘genteel’ take on the seaside experience. We were off and down the narrow passage to the prom just after 8am. Another ridiculously lovely day. I don’t think I’ve often dreaded sunshine and heat quite so much!

leaving birchington

Back on the prom and our obsession with the viscous, odorous seaweed grew.

Barbara compared it to The Heap a comic monster pre Swamp thing and I think she has a point.

the heap

Much of the walk today was like the end of the walk yesterday: large wide promenade. wide prom

Thankfully, the seaweed did start to fade away and with it the smell. In Minnis Bay, there was yet another tidal pool (not sure why I didn’t take more photos of them but I think my photo taking was largely based on when it wasn’t too overwhelmingly hot to be bothered). Saying that, I did start the day with a long-sleeved top, but it didn’t last more than 30 minutes.

Needed the loo and had to join a long queue of ladies who were all geared up in running clobber. Asked the lady in front what the occasion was and she told me that it was a 6 mile charity run to Reculver and back that had been postponed since March because of lockdown. Hearing that the run was due to start at 9.30 (it was about 9) and knowing that we were on the same path we strode out as quickly as possible not wanting to be overwhelmed by sweaty runners. The stewards were already in position setting out the signs and markers but we could see St Mary’s ruin in the distance which is part of Reculver. We made good progress (it is incredibly easy walking). When we were almost there, we looked back and saw the frontrunner catching up with us. They were on a lower path but unfortunately for us the paths converged and within a couple of minutes a steady stream of heavy breathing sweaty males were passing us. Knowing that there were many women taking part it was slightly disappointing that we only saw one woman before we reached their turning point and stepped beyond and away from the race. Now we had a clear view of the ruined church.

st marys church

The path goes over a grassy rise directly past the Roman ruins and we took the opportunity to sit and have a snack.

Off again and past the Reculver campsite with funny little domed glamping huts a bit like a glamorous Nordic pig house. Then the path rises up onto undulating low cliffs until it descends at Bishopstone Glen where I somehow managed to not notice the path down onto the prom and took us on an unnecessary few minutes up Reculver Drive into endless suburbia.

Mistake rectified we marched on into the heat of the midday sun and into Herne Bay under The Downs. Could see an isolated floating structure a way out in the sea and couldn’t work out if it was the original end of the pier.

 

Needed some lunch and there weren’t many enticing options on the front but we were getting weary so opted for the Macari’s tearooms just after the clocktower.

Standing at the counter with a mask on and my rucksack I couldn’t quite cope with the stultifying heat and had to leave Babs and make a rapid exit to sit somewhere. Of course as it’s a restaurant we didn’t need to wear a mask and I reentered and sat opposite the stage waiting for my panini. The stringy, greasy, tangy cheese and onion was just what I needed. Outside a sign informed us that this was the spot where Amy Johnson and her plane had disappeared during WW2, never to be found. Reinvigorated (not by her tragedy, but by the food) we continued along the prom where the bikers massed

herne bay bikers

and past the pier where we could see that the structure out to sea was definitely in line with the pier. But if it had been connected that sure had been an enormously long pier.

herne bay pier and other end

In the distance the Isle of Sheppey was getting clearer and a different wind farm out to sea (I have forgotten to mention them before but they have often been a prominent feature of the last four days – one of them having a massive central super turbine – or that’s what it looked like from afar).

Out of the centre of Herne Bay and the prom slopes down away from the road and behind colourful beach huts. The one below caught my eye.

cheeky beach hut

The beach huts continue but beach front houses join them. We were looking up at one such house and wondering if it might be a good location for our death bed (strange game we play) and Barbara didn’t see the speed bump and stumbled and it set off her calf spasms which had been much better all morning.

house of doom

Looking out for a good resting place, we reached Hampton Pier (which is more like a jetty)

hampton pier

and just beyond found a shady shelter and took time to admire the view and appreciate that the end of our walk was in sight.

Next comes Swalecliffe beach and the beach huts rise up on stilts three layers deep but offer barely any shade for weary hot walkers. Had felt out of place a few times in the last four days but somehow even more so today. Everyone else was enjoying the heat: sunbathing, in the water, taking it easy and there were we – in big galumphing walking boots and rucksacked up. No wonder we got funny looks. Contemplated stopping for a swim and the seaweed free high tide water did look inviting but for a number of reasons decided not to. Couldn’t help but chuckle at the chubby dog about to slip off the wall. It was even more precarious than it looks in the photo.

dog slipping off hampton beach

Crossed Swalecliffe Brook and overtook a large family group dawdling. The beach got steadily busier. The occasional annoying jet skier but in general an amiable family feel.

Tankerton Bay passed me by in a heat haze and by the time we reached the beginnings of Whitstable I wasn’t feeling the energy to appreciate it. Dull walk to the station. Liked the sentiment expressed on the unusual little church we passed: “Licensed in pursuance of act of parliament for music and dancing. Singing or entertainment of like kind”. Not that I could have raised much of a jig if they’d opened their doors and invited me in at that moment.

church in Whitstable

Ended up missing the train back to Ramsgate (where we then had to change for Dover) by a mere minute. There is absolutely nothing around Whitstable station and we were hoping to pass the time with a deserved pint. When we changed at Ramsgate (another station far from the town with nothing but suburbia surrounding it) we marched determinedly to the nearest pub which was not the most salubrious of our ending points but did the job and and managed to get back with plenty of time for the next train.

selfie at the station

No more heatwave walking for a good while I hope.

Miles walked: 14.6

Since the beginning: 922 miles

Posted in 2020, Kent | 2 Comments

Walk K: Ramsgate to Birchington-on-sea – 1st August 2020

Pinch punch first of the month. Barbara got me immediately I woke. Realised we were still pulsating from the heat of yesterday despite having kept the fan on all night. Not only the first but also Lammas. The start of the overly-ripe and potentially wasted harvest. A feeling that resonated in my overheated body and was made tangible in Barbara’s seeping blister. As we left, I felt drawn to the magical toyshop a couple of buildings down from where we’d stayed.

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Slightly apprehensive about another sweltering day of draining walking we got going fairly early, but needed to stop for extra blister supplies and to eat our breakfast pastry outside the palatial Wetherspoons. Old boy racers fully leathered up stopping by for a Full English. We chose the cliff option rather than the promenade and was rewarded by ascending Pugin’s steps.

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Reputedly one of Ramsgate’s most famous residents, Pugin was an influential 19th century interior architect, famous for designing the inside of the Houses of Parliament. Once atop the cliffs we had a birds-eye view of Ramsgate.

The water all along this stretch looked aquamarine and Mediterranean. A community policeman strolled past us and was greeted with friendly salutations from the travellers and their kids parked up on the road – all very idyllic. Grand crescents, Ramsgate tunnels and acres of construction work down below. Started to notice the regularity of bunches of flowers left on benches or attached to fences. I assume in memorial, but in more abundance than anywhere else I’ve noticed. Not only in Ramsgate but once seen we noticed them everywhere.

Coming into Dumpton (unfortunate name), noticed that many of the large suburban houses sported turrets which reminded me of the children’s book The Three Robbers by Toni Ungerer (I highly recommend this moral tale if you have kids of your own).

Chatted about the pros and cons of living on cliffs – so close yet annoyingly far from the actual beach – especially if you, like Barbara love swimming in the sea.

Approaching Broadstairs and the crowds appeared. Classic English seaside scenes.

Broadstairs has a distinctly Dickensian theme as apparently the man himself resided there whilst writing David Copperfield in the beautifully situated, oxymoronic Bleak House at the far side of the bay. Seabrook (2013: 53) describes it as having ‘traditionally represented the Isle (of Thanet) at its most genteel.”

Saturated with Dickens’s references we left Broadstairs behind and suddenly wondered where the 39 Steps were to be found. I remembered that David Seabrook had almost flung himself down them according to his infamous slim tome of Kentish pyschogeography, All the Devils are Here. I didn’t recall the details and the continued heat and miles to cover left me with little motivation for investigation.

Despite keeping my eyes peeled there were no overt signs to guide you to a John Buchan landmark. We had read the non-stop thriller of a chase in preparation and I would argue (forcefully) that it hasn’t aged well. Imagine naming a character Marmaduke Jopley these days. Whatever the merits, or not, of the book, the location of its finale in a leafy villa supposedly atop Broadstairs (called Bradgate in the novel) was not obvious to spot, but my guess that it was connected to one of the many salubrious residences ensconced in one of the many private roads on the way out of town was correct – if anything by Seabrook can really be considered truth. Frustratingly, on a reread for this post (pages 60-63), I realised how incredibly close we had been but the ‘English coast path’ directs you slightly back from the Cliff Promenade probably due to the Private nature of the North Foreland estate that Seabrook rails against in his chaotic account of finding the Steps (that apparently number 115 nowadays and never as few as 39).

A poor replacement for steps but our most interesting sighting in the area was on the wall of one of the grandiose houses and catching a peek of the North Foreland Lighthouse tucked behind a more suburban residence.

Directly after the expensive suburban stretch, a brassica crop and a public carpark juxtaposed with the wealthy residences.

above joss bay

The car park is above Joss Bay which is followed swiftly by the impressive Kingsgate Bay and its natural arch.

We stopped for a welcome beverage above the bay at The Captain Digby and discovered the path led behind the pub back onto the cliff and the Neptune’s Tower folly.

 

 

The path continues at a gentle stroll along the low cliffs above Botany Bay.

botany bay

and then tapers down round Foreness Point and onto the promenade of Palm Bay. Here the atmosphere is much more frenetic with the sound of many jet skis flying around like noisy sea wasps. We took a rest in the shade of the cliff and wondered why we’d chosen this particular spot with the commotion and the thick, unpleasant crust of seaweed.

Amidst the seaweed was a much more enticing sea pool that caught Barbara’s fancy as you could walk all the way out round the edges and somehow it managed to filter out the weed. Maybe the regular seaweed invasions are why there are so many sea pools between here and Whitstable? Anyway, we resisted the urge to leap in as we had an appointment and wasn’t sure how long it would take to get there.

The rendezvous was at The Shell Grotto which we had both been excited about seeing. The route took us up off the promenade and into the back end of Margate town. We were hoping for somewhere tasty to present itself for lunch but there was not much choice in this side of town where gentrification hasn’t made inroads. Saying that, we then came across a hipster flower shop that stood out from its surroundings and surprisingly they sold delicious flapjacks and cans of fizzy drinks, so we took advantage of the bench outside and observed the people coming and going. It was easy to spot the flower shop customers.

Momentarily refreshed, we continued the couple of hundred metres to the Shell Grotto and was allowed early access. Keeping a mask on for the whole experience was stifling but the damp, cool air of the grotto was a welcome relief after the never-ending heat of the outdoors.

Although little is known about the origins of the grotto and even its discovery in 1835 is shrouded in mystery, the shells themselves are telling. They are all locally-sourced shells which is different from all the other comparable grottos sporting exotic shells to show off their owner’s wealth and culture.

Once it was unearthed, it became a magnet for the weird and the wonderful and regular seances were held in the larger chamber.

Our desire for strange occult abodes temporally satiated we returned to the beach and had a quick swim. We had been looking forward to sand and it was gentle on the feet but the downsides are the sand flies and the way it catches on your skin resisting the towel’s efforts to wipe it off.

On to yet more culture, in the Turner Contemporary. This must be a first – two cultural asides in one walk? Anyway, another great venue and presently replete with an exhibition of Black heritage and Margate’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Because of Covid restrictions there were no lockers operating so we had to walk around with our heavy bags and I’ve got to say, the act of walking alleviates the weight whereas standing still and contemplating art makes it all the heavier. On the way up to the exhibition space in a huge elevator with three young hipsters, we had a massive jolt and they all gave a little shriek.

Back out onto the promenade and the real hub of Margate’s seafront presented itself. The seething mass of humanity seemed to be everywhere with not a thought for social distancing and the elevator suddenly seemed quite appealing. Hungry we slipped off into the small streets of Old Town and found a very tasty, simple pizza joint run by an extremely friendly young waiter. Not sure I’ve ever had walnuts on a pizza before but I’d highly recommend it. Noticed that many passersby kept stopping and having their photo taken just down from where we were sat and on closer inspection saw that it was the street name that drew the posers.

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Back to the throng. Walked past the police cars, ambulances, cans and other detritus of a busy beachfront and out the other side past the iconic Dreamland frontage.

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In recent years, the theme park has had a major overhaul and sold itself as a gig venue as well as an amusement park. We came here with our other halves, friends and my oldest son a few years back to see Gorrillaz. Not my finest hour but a memorable weekend. I’ll leave it there.

The final throes of Margate seafront include gigantic Victorian bus shelters. I don’t know for sure but one of them may be the place where T.S. Eliot apocryphally penned the lines in The Wasteland:

 “On Margate Sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing./The broken fingernails of dirty hands./My people humble people who expect/Nothing.”

A tad harsh maybe, but then again I was glad to get away from the crowds and past the ominous graffiti referencing yet another literary giant.

westbrook royal cres

Soon we were into the gentle evening of beach huts and BBQs. The busy hubbub died away into quiet on the ridiculously wide promenade. Dwarven white cliffs on the left and evil smelling seaweed on the right. Gulls bickering probably driven to distraction by the stench. Smellovison needed to properly appreciate the pungent odour of the rolls of green and brown weed.

Couldn’t tell from the map or from sight how far the prom continued for. Checked at Westgate with the rubbish van men if it went all the way to Birchington. One of them wasn’t sure and checked with his mate who assured us it did, so we continued. Moments after passing a boisterous throng of underage drinkers, we realised that the prom ended and that is probably why they chose that spot to hang out. Always embarrassing to have to retrace your steps past locals who didn’t point out your mistake in the first place. Luckily, they were too absorbed in snogging and drinking to notice. A dog walker then appeared and we double-checked and he said if we felt adventurous we could negotiate a hundred metre stretch across the rock pools to where the prom began again at Birchington. After nearly 15 miles and with a heavy bag, we didn’t feel tempted. This all seemed very apt in the context of Eliot’s quote and the anthology of Kentish coastal writing that we’d been reading. The path ending here connects nothing with the something of Margate.

We retraced our steps and then joined the road onto the low cliff to bridge the gap. Having rejoined the prom at Eppie Bay we looked back and saw no sign of the unconnected prom.

connecting sth to nth

Whilst writing this post I checked on Google Maps and the gap is more like 300 metres, so am very glad we didn’t bother scrabbling over the rocks.

Screenshot 2020-08-25 at 21.29.55

Less than a kilometre more along the new prom that we had been assured would take us all the way to Whitstable, we found a gap in the cliffs up to Spencer Road and our suburban end point for the night.

Tim and his partner were having dinner when we arrived. It was the first time we’d had our temperature taken in the interests of staying safe and we did joke that it may not be accurate due to the throbbing heat we’d been walking through. We passed the test and then he gave us an insight into the intriguing ‘coach house’ he lives in.

Penelope Keith explains more about the massive bungalows that the coach houses served in the last few minutes of her Sussex/Kent episode of the documentary series Hidden Villages from 49 to 53 minutes.

Later that evening as we were reading our Kentish fiction in bed we had a visitation from Midnight the cat who posed perfectly with the literature.

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Miles walked 15.5

Since the beginning: 907.4

Buchan, J. (1915) The 39 Steps. Edinburgh: Blackwood & Sons.

Budden, G. & Carless, K. [eds] (2013) Connecting Nothing with Something. London: Influx Press.

Eliot, T.S. (1922) The Wasteland. London: Hogarth Press.

Seabrook, D. (2002) All the Devils are Here. London: Granta.

Posted in 2020, Kent | Leave a comment

Walk J: Deal to Ramsgate – 31st July 2020

We were breakfasted and out on the Deal seafront before 8am avoiding the Dutch golfing trio and hoping to get a little breeze and cool before the heatwave temperatures took hold. The pier that had looked wooden and rustic the previous evening now looked brutalist. The sculpture out front is appealing and fluid in comparison. Don’t think the fish was enjoying itself.

deal sculpture

The promenade and beach was populated but I got the impression that everyone was local: either on the way to an exercise class with yoga mat in hand, chatting to acquaintances or having an early morning dip. Very peaceful. At the far end of the prom where the houses end are apparently the remains of Sandown Castle but all that we could see were the flower beds being tended by eager gardeners.

Immediately out of Deal and the Cinque Ports golf course appears and is replaced later on by St George’s both amidst low dunes with fairly high sea defences as protection. It may not be a popular statement to make for those that are fond of the sport but I find golf courses such an unfathomable waste of space and hope that in the future many more may be rewilded as is starting to happen in Brighton.

A couple of dog walker ladies stopped us and asked our destination. When we replied Ramsgate they looked a little shocked and said “You do know there’s a bus?’

Sandwich Bay estate is placed in the middle of the two golf clubs and is a private estate of handsome villas that were mainly built pre- World War 1 with a view to creating a new town but due to more war and other factors never became bigger than a few roads. There still remains a toll to enter.

Barbara noticed a small chick darting and cheeping amongst the pebbles, nothing more than a ball of fluff. I hope it found its mother.

Reached the turning onto the Saxon Shore Way where we could cut off the extra miles and stopped for a swim. It was 9am and already over 30 C. Barely anyone around. Of course as soon as we said that a couple came over the rise of pebbles on their bikes and sat fairly close. It was high tide and great swimming. I was lazing in the water when Barbara started shouting my name at the same time that a helicopter flew over. I thought there must be some emergency and got straight out the water only to discover she just wanted to warn me I was drifting. Felt like a Mediterranean country not our dreary, rain sodden land. A glorious feeling on the one hand but scary on the other when you contemplate the global warming that is contributing to all these heatwave days. As the heat was so intense I didn’t make a stupid decision and keep walking up the beach but stuck to the plan and we headed off across the golf course away from the vista of Ramsgate and white cliffs and inland.

Over the other side was a particularly posh driving range with odd little thatched buildings..

sandwich driving range

Meandered along Lime lined shady paths and over the River Stour.

Came into Sandwich along the river and stopped on a bench for Barbara to apply tiger balm. Unfortunately, her calf spasms had migrated to the other calf and she now had a nasty blister on the top of one of her big toes. She didn’t look impressed but refused to entertain the notion of stopping. I did a quick reccy for lunch possibilities and we found a perfectly situated venue just by the bridge we needed to take out towards Ramsgate. A military vessel was moored by the bridge and the other way were boats offering seal tours. Funnily enough, my sister was due to arrive in Deal today (having never been to the town before) and then intending to come on a seal trip from right here tomorrow so we were never going to quite meet as we’d always be a few miles ahead of her.

military vessel sandwich

After a very pleasant and relaxing, shady lunch we set off on the part of the walk that I knew from the map wasn’t going to be a whole lot of fun. This section coincided with the heat ramping up even more. It started fairly tamely with a shady A road on one side and an industrial estate (Stonar Park which incorporates a Discovery Centre, a branch of Pfizer and a biomass plant) on the other.

The excitement became unbearable as we hit the A256 dual carriageway. So exciting I didn’t find time to take any pictures. Or in reality I was melting and pulsating so badly that I just put my head down and marched on towards the turn off into Pegwell Nature Reserve. When we got to the place where the turning should have been, beside ‘A Skip for You’, all we got was a path diversion sign.

the diversion

It wasn’t a great moment. Barbara looked like she might hit me or something else or just give up altogether so I insisted she took some ibuprofen and after some cursing we continued.

Eventually, around Ebbsfleet there is a path and we entered into much more picturesque surroundings of high meadow grasses and small trees but very little shade. We came across a small wizened tree that afforded a little respite and had a rest to let the heat pulsations ebb away while Barbara tended to her blisters. At this point I felt very thankful that we’d cut out a few miles.

Feeling slightly more human, we set off again and spent a quiet couple of miles crossing Pegwell Bay with huge sunbaked mustard coloured fennel and swooping swallows. Came across a bird hide and had a couple of minutes inside away from the heat listening to the susurration of the rushes. Nary a bird in sight.

Then it was out onto suburban roads and more relentless heat. Although I had seen that this area was called Viking Bay, I wasn’t expecting a full blown Viking ship.

viking ship

The Hugin is a 1949 replica commemorating the 1500th anniversary of two legendary Viking brothers who came aground at nearby Ebbsfleet where we left the cursed road only an hour before. It’s hard to think of that junction as a historic invasion point. Ramsgate looked tantalisingly close so we didn’t stop and joined the cliff path just beyond the ship. Occasional spots of shade but as the path was quite narrow never a good place to stop. I wasn’t’ immune to injury as my shoulders were struggling in the heat with a 4-day rucksack on. I’d started using a lunghi to pad my shoulders and it kept making me chuckle as I caught sight of my shadow.

shadow shoulder wings

Asparagus fields. Horses behind electric fences. Ramshackle coastguards cottages. And the Sovereign Hotel at the end of the path.

nearly in ramsgate

Had a pint of lime and soda on the terrace which seemed even hotter than the inside of the pub and rolled ice cubes over our necks and temples.

Up a residential hill and then down a footpath beside a large and rundown Georgian Crescent towards the grand promenade.

georgian crescent ramsgate

Entering Ramsgate from this direction, you get to see all the faded glory and an interesting sculpture.

sculpture ramsgate

According to tourist signs it was a popular hang out for royals and I’m sure it must have been magnificent in its day. Thought it would be wise to get down on the beach road near the sea pool.

sea pool ramsgate

Soon realised that I had taken us past the ferry port and the industrial area – it’s like I couldn’t get enough. Lots of boy racers on motorbikes and others standing around next to their cars with the engines still running. Didn’t have the energy to cross the road and suggest they turn their engines off but walked towards the notice telling us that Thanet is a European economic development area. That all seemed fairly ironic and amusing considering I first knew about Thanet as a district when Nigel Farrage of UKIP fame tried to win the South Thanet seat and failed.

thanet sign ramsgate

Minutes later and I realised that our B&B was back up the cliff using the steep Jacob’s Ladder steps. We paused at the bottom for the last push and noticed we were sitting next to the Sailor’s Church.

sailors church

The Queen Charlotte where we were staying is still closed since the lifting of lockdown. Nigel the landlord says it’s such a small space there’s no way he could create social distancing. So many small businesses are in a similar position. The room was quirky but also stiflingly hot so he kindly popped out and got us a fan which made a huge difference.

Ate out at Little Ships and treated ourselves for the first time since Weymouth/Portland to a whole crab each. It was divine and very little conversation occurred as we cracked and crunched and devoured every last morsel whilst looking out at the busy Friday night seaside scene.

Miles walked 13.8

Miles of coastal path missed out: about 4.5

Since the beginning: 891.9

Posted in 2020, Kent | Leave a comment

Walk I: Dover to Deal – 30th July 2020

A stint of walking had been scheduled for Easter 2020 but since our last amble in March practically the entire world has been in lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been the weirdest global phenomenon in recent history and for many people, myself included, it has been unexpectedly lovely to spend this extended period of time with family and in the garden. However, I’m fully aware that this has not been the case for huge swathes of populations so any small niggles such as not being able to continue with this coastal walk are occasionally frustrating but insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Everything was postponed but not cancelled and life has evolved into a different rhythm from previously. Saying that, once it was announced that hotels, restaurants and pubs would be allowed to reopen on July 4th, I couldn’t help planning a walk and Barbara seemed to be as ready as me (if not more) for a bit of outward facing activity.

The forecast was hot for the whole four days which is neither of our preferred walking conditions. We both recalled the walk around Thorney Island and the migraine that had induced. Also, the initial excitement about getting out and about had been replaced by a Covid-19 lockdown anxiety and whether we should be doing this and the consequences it could have for people we might subsequently see. Fortunately, by the time we set off our spirits had revived and we came prepared with masks and hand sanitiser.

Parking in Dover wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d hoped. The car park I’d remembered from the end of last time in front of Pencester Gardens was only good for 4 hours not 4 days so Barbara rented a parking spot on someone’s driveway – a win win situation but it doesn’t come cheap. Finally, started the walk back down into town past mounds of rubbish and into the heat of mid morning. Followed a cooling weedy stream back to Pencester Gardens and onto the eastern side of the town. Hesitated as the signs said White Cliffs up the road but the map showed an odd route right to the port. Chose the road and ended up climbing steep shady steps to the entrance to Dover Castle.

dover castle

A helpful gate keeper informed us that we couldn’t get around the front of the castle on the cliffs as the castle owned 46 acres, so we’d either have to retrace our steps (something I dislike doing) or go around the back. More picturesque he said. Not sure if I’d agree with his opinion as much of it was on the road and definitely added a couple of miles onto an already hot walk but that’ll teach me for not trusting the map. Main road, side road with no footpath and then eventually a wooded footpath down beside the A2 but fortunately out of sight and in the shade. Popped out on the white cliffs just above the port and suddenly everything was a brilliant chalk white, cobalt blue and aquamarine.

The port remained prominent both in our backward view and in our ears and body as the noise of the ferries vibrated through us for a mile or more. As we neared the National Trust car park and cafe, numerous day trippers appeared: posing dangerously for selfies with the port behind them and manoeuvring buggies inappropriate for the path. We probably looked the most inappropriate for the heat with our significantly sized rucksacks and clumpy walking boots.

Had a short rest watching the enormous ferries gliding away. France was clearly visible on the horizon with more detail than I remember ever seeing before. Myriad paths stretched out over the dazzling white chalk so we managed to maintain a ‘safe social distance’ from most other walkers. By the time we passed South Foreland Lighthouse we’d lost most of the other people.

foreland lighthouse

An amazing rippled house stood out even more distinctly on such a sunny day.

funky house

Feeling hot and hungry we found a weathered and wind whipped tree to eat in the shade under and discussed idyllic death bed houses as often crops up on a coastal walk – big windows with a cracking view is ideal. Pretty and delicate late summer flowers abounded: scabious, yarrow, harebells and toadflax.

On the way down to St Margaret’s at Cliffe (very well to do) we needed to cross a small road quite quickly and somehow or other this caused Barbara’s calf to go into spasm incredibly painfully. She managed to slowly limp down to the beach front and we sat and she applied some tiger balm.

margaret a cliffe

Looked like a nice spot. Once the pain had eased a little she stoically soldiered on up the hill out of the bay – thankfully in the shade. I need to emphasise how uncomplaining Barbara was on this day and the following three as this is not usually one of her character traits!

Once we were back up on the cliffs the heat became so intense it was that old feeling of being enveloped in a pulsating duvet. Reminiscent of the walk in Cornwall ending at the Gurnard’s Head. This next stretch of clifftop doesn’t go on for long before Kingsdown comes into view.

down to walmer

I think it is just before you get to the beach there is an eccentric house front that caught my eye.

Kingsdown beach is busy and cramped next to the road but the crowds soon fade into a stretch of beach front houses that look very appealing with nothing but pebbles and beach flora.

beach front walmer

Our shoulders were sore and our backs were sweaty so we took a break and contemplated a swim in the quiet serenity.

fi

Decided to wait until we got to the B&B to avoid too much faff so carried on to Walmer and its castle.

walmer castle

The final section on the promenade became busier and felt overwhelmingly tiring and hot. Felt relief to see Deal castle as it meant that the B&B was only 2 streets away.

deal castle

Once we’d peeled off layers of sweaty clothing we went straight back out for a cooling and glorious swim. Whilst drying off couldn’t help but notice a glamorous, young paddle boarder try and get her father onto the board with her. The resultant farce was quite amusing to watch and they finally gave up. Back at the B&B,

b&b deal

our no nonsense landlady asked where we were going tomorrow and when we said Ramsgate she pointed to the OS map on the wall and said ‘it’s tempting to take the short cut across the golf course but I suppose if you are a coastal walking purist you can’t allow yourself to do that’ and Barbara said ‘that’s Nancy’. Later when I looked at the map and saw what a saving the short cut would make on an already long walk and checked the temperature which was still forecast to be 32 C, I made an executive decision: we’d take the short cut and if the cheat started to eat away at me, I’d return on a much cooler day and make it up.

Later when out for dinner we got up close to the pier and I posed with a local couple.

Miles walked:  12.1 

Since the beginning: 878.1

Posted in 2020, Kent | 2 Comments