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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Walk 81 Dymchurch to Dungeness (Kent)

Walk   81 Dymchurch to Dungeness (Kent)

 (Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End

Map: L/R 189
Distance: about 10 miles or 15km
Difficulty:  Fairly easy – flat some beach walking
Terrain: footpaths, pavement, beach
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway has stations at both ends – check the seasonal timetables.

A military firing range at Hythe means that the coast is inaccessible for a few miles, consequently this walk starts at Dymchurch.

Dymchurch is now a popular seaside resort. In the past it was an area rife with smuggling; Russell Thorndike’s books about Doctor Syn are based on this activity and the town holds a celebration of the stories every couple of years.  In the sixteenth century the village had a magistrate known as the
Leveller of the Marsh Scotts. The ‘scot’ was a tax to fund maintenance of the sea wall paid by Dymchurch residents. Those outside the boundaries of the village did not have to pay and were said to have got away ‘scot free’. Thorn bushes were used to help build the sea wall as it was believed that the leaves were impervious to sea water. Those who failed to make a contribution were said to be in danger of having one of their ears cut off!

There are three Martello Towers in Dymchurch. One is now a home, one is empty and the other is a museum run by English Heritage with exhibits explaining the history of these buildings which were designed to defend against an invasion by Napoleon.

The walk continues along the wide promenade to St Mary’s Bay. This area, which once housed a major school journey centre, is now mainly housing. E Nesbitt, the author of the Railway Children lived here for a time and is buried in a local churchyard. A mile or so further along is Littlestone on Sea. A major landmark is the red water tower near the beach. Looking out to sea it is possible to spot the section of an old Mulberry Harbour. During the allied invasion of Europe in 1944 a complete floating harbour was built and towed to the landing beaches of Normandy. Some of it broke off and a section of it lies here.

Inland from Littlestone is New Romney. This was one of the original ‘cinque’ ports and was at the head of the River Rother until it changed course. The headquarters of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway is here and worth a visit if you are interested in the history of this small gauge railway.

Greatstone-on-Sea  is a fairly recent development with most of the housing built in the 1960s and 70s. An RNLI station is near to the pebbly beach. A local rector once warned that many witches were living on the nearby Romney Marshes.

From here the choice is to walk on the large pebbly foreshore or on the pavement. Lydd on Sea has a row of bungalows facing the foreshore; some residents have gardens on the beach which is on the opposite side of the road; ‘Private’ and ‘ Keep out’ notices are on roped off plots on the shingle. Near to this point is a path going to a sound mirror similar to the one described on the previous walk from Dover – this will involve a few miles detour. Unfortunately, it can only be seen at a distance unless permission is gained to enter the site.

The walk from Lydd on Sea to Dungeness is probably best done on the road. Dungeness is a wild, desolate place with a unique landscape favoured by those who choose to live here. Bungalows are dotted around on the shingle in no particular order – many appear to be no more than fishermen’s shacks. Nevertheless, they evidently have a high value for those wanting to get away from the ‘rat race’.  

 Dungeness Nuclear Power station is in fact two buildings; one is now closed but the other has had its licence extended until 2018. Nearby are two lighthouses; the newest one, built in 1961, replaced the older one built in 1901 as shipping could no longer see it when the power station was built.

Dungeness has one of the largest areas of shingle in the world. A path enables you to walk out on the headland and look along the coast. The surrounding area is a wildlife sanctuary with a wide range of protected wildlife. If you arrive at the right time you will be able to get a drink in the Britannia Pub which can be easily found near to the paths.

Snaps show: popwer stations, Dungeness; Britannia Pub, Dungeness; centre the water tower near Littlestone; Dymchurch beach; huts on the beach at Dungeness; the front at Littlestone; New Romney narrow gauge rail station.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Walk 80 Dover to Hythe (Kent)

Walk   80 Dover to Hythe (Kent)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End

Map: L/R 179
Distance: about 12 miles or 18km
Difficulty:  Moderate, a few steep climbs
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Trains to Dover, buses from Hythe to Folkestone

Start from near the docks in Dover- the ferries started sailing from here in 1953.  On the right are white cliffs towering above the buildings lower down. The town was in the front line for attacks in the Second World War and was extensively bombed.

Keep walking as near to the sea front as possible. You will come to the old harbour which was built at the time of Henry VIII, however, the discovery of a bronze age boat showed that the port had been used for over 3500 years. This boat is the oldest one in the world and can be seen at Dover Museum.

The walk goes along the pleasant promenade and beach. Julius Caesar considered landing at Dover but was apparently deterred by the sight of the natives haranguing him from the cliff tops! Adjacent to the beach is a statue of Charles Rolls who was the first man to cross the channel and return in a single flight. Bleriot also landed here on the first one way channel flight in 1909. Further along the landward side of the seafront is a sculpture of ‘The Waiting Miner’. It was originally sited at Richborough Power Station near Ramsgate (buildings now demolished); it was relocated here in 1997 next to the former offices of the National Union of Mineworkers. Further along is a memorial to the 202,000 allied troops evacuated during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

The walk out of Dover involves some steep climbs. Looking downwards is the railway line to Folkestone and a large beach which appears to be only accessible by a railway footbridge – very few people were using it when I went on a hot sunny day. Further along is Shakespeare Cliff which features in King Lear - hence the name.

A couple of miles out of Dover is Samphire Hoe. A strange stone near the path records that Matthew Pepper was mayor of Dover in 1895 – I cannot find out why it is here or if this is where he is buried. Beneath the cliffs are buildings connected with the Channel Tunnel which runs underneath. This area was formed from the workings of the tunnel and a plaque lists the eleven people who lost their lives during its construction between 1986 and 1992. The place gets its name from rock samphire an edible plant which is mentioned in King Lear. The area is particularly popular with fishermen.

The walk continues past Abbots Cliff then cuts a little way inland to Capel Le Ferne. At this point you pass an old sound mirror. This was an early radar type device to hear enemy aircraft approaching and was used around the time of the First World War. At Capel Le Fern it is well worth taking a break to look around the Battle of Britain Memorial. This part of Kent was known as Hellfire Corner during the Second World War. The centre piece of the memorial is the sculpture of an airman overlooking the channel and there is a memorial listing all those who fought in the Battle of Britain.

Follow the road out of Capel Le Ferne then along the cycle route down the road towards Folkestone. The area round here was notorious for smuggling and is known locally as Little Switzerland because of its diverse flora and fauna. Look out for two Martello Towers built between 1805 and 1808 to help defend the country against Napoleon. The name comes from Cape Martello in Corsica where such a tower proved difficult for the English to capture in 1794.

The view into Folkestone past Copt Point is an attractive one and does not support Daniel Defoe who described the area as a ‘miserable fishing town’. The walk goes past a popular beach to the east of the town before reaching the harbour. Folkestone used to operate ferries but much of this area has been redeveloped and is popular with tourists.

On the west cliffs of Folkestone is an area called The Leas. A hydraulically operated lift carries passengers from the top and bottom of the cliff; it was built in 1885 and is one of the oldest of its type still working. A statue of Folkestone born William Harvey who discovered how the blood circulated is on the Leas. The area was popular with fashionable Edwardian society and features in H G Wells book Kipps (Half a sixpence). The impressive building facing out to sea is The Grand Hotel. Edward V11, Princess Margaret and Agatha Christie have all stayed here. Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express when she was a resident.

The walk passes alongside a significant coastal protection scheme. A mile or so from Folkestone is Sandgate which has a number of houses built close to the beach promenade. H G Wells lived near this spot in Beach Cottage and his novel ‘The Sea Lady’ was set here. Sandgate Castle was built in 1539 by Henry V111 who feared a French invasion, it is now in private ownership. During Napoleonic times part of it was converted into a Martello Tower.

The walk continues into Hythe along a long promenade. Hythe was one of the Cinque Ports (a group of medieval ports in Kent and Sussex which were allowed trading privileges in exchange for supplying the bulk of the British navy). In 1293 the French landed here and the townspeople slew all 200 soldiers. Further inland is the small attractive town of Hythe. The terminus of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch 15” gauge  railway and The Royal Military Canal (which was built as a defence during the Napoleonic Wars) are two of the interesting features.
Snaps show: Sound mirror near Capel Le Ferne; statue of Charles Rolls at Dover; part of the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel le Ferne; Dover Beach; Grand Hotel, Folkestone; Sandgate Castle; Martello Tower Folkestone; Leas hydraulic lift, Folkestone.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Walk 79 Sandwich to Dover (Kent)

Walk 79          Sandwich to Dover (Kent)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End

Map: L/R 179
Distance: 14 miles or 22km.
Difficulty:  Moderate, some climbs
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Trains to Sandwich and Dover to surrounding towns.

Sandwich, with its riverside, timber framed buildings, old archway and connections with Thomas Paine is well worth a stroll around. It was one of the original cinque ports but the harbour silted up in the 18th century and its importance diminished. It was attacked by the French in 1457 and ever since this time the mayors have worn black robes in memory of the many residents killed during the raid. I tried a sandwich in a pub here which claims to have the original ‘open’ format. The story goes that the Earl of Sandwich could not leave the table during a long gambling session so he put beef with his bread - hence the sandwich.

Follow the path out from the car park and alongside some fields before starting on the route across St George’s golf course. To avoid flying golf balls and the anger of serious golfers keep strictly to the marked path. The British Open is held here every nine years and for James Bond fans may be interested to know that it is here that he played golf against his enemy in the film Goldfinger.

After the trek across the golf course you emerge at Sandwich Bay. It is usually very quiet along here partly because vehicles have to pay a toll to pass through the exclusive Sandwich Bay Estate. Many of these impressive houses can be seen on the walk towards Deal. As you enter Deal watch out for the (few) remains of Sandown Castle. This was built as a coastal fortification by Henry V111. Further along are some interesting old buildings looking out to sea – these include a 1623 Tudor Cottage. The Royal Hotel has a plaque announcing that Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton ‘visited’ here in 1801.

Ramsgate can be seen from Deal Pier on a clear day. It is 1000 feet long and is used mainly for fishing although a bar/café at the far end is good reason to walk its length.

Continue the walk past the fishing boats and further attractive buildings. The distinctive Time Ball on top of its dedictaed museum is worth a closer look and visit (if open). This tower once enabled ships setting off on a voyage to check their chronometers with GMT. The black ball was dropped at 1 p.m. by electrical current sent from Greenwich.

Further along is Deal Castle built by Henry V111 to protect his fleet when anchored nearby. It is built in the shape of the Tudor Rose and is open to the public.

On the way out of Deal and into Walmer look out for a bandstand on the grass between the promenade and the road. This has plaques for the eleven bandsmen tragically killed by an IRA bomb in 1989. Alongside the coastal path is a plaque celebrating the first Roman landing in Britain – it features an engraving of Julius Caesar.

Further along, Walmer Castle can be seen set further back from the path. This castle was a favourite of the late Queen Mother who was The Lord Warden. Previous holders of this post include the Duke of Wellington (who died here) and Winston Churchill. Well worth a visit.

The walk continues past the unspoilt village of Kingsdown and The Zetland Arms which faces the sea – a great place to stop for a break. The path from here goes up on to the cliffs. One significant landmark  before getting to St Margaret’s at Cliffe is the memorial to the Dawn Patrol which guarded the English Channel from 1914-1919.

St Margaret at Cliffe with its stunning sea front is a popular place to start cross channel swims – the French coast is at its closest here (22 miles). Noel Coward once lived in the village and later rented the house out to Ian Fleming. The author was an ornithologist and named James Bond after a writer of books on birds.

The cliff walk gives great views out to the channel which is the busiest sea lane in the world. Most of this area is owned by the National Trust and includes South Foreland Lighthouse (open to visitors) – the first lighthouse to use electricity.

The path gives good views of Dover Castle – a must to visit with its Norman connections, medieval tunnels (spooky) and wartime tunnels. The path drops down into Dover with a good view of Dover Docks.

The walk finishes when the road near the docks is reached.   
Snaps show: the remains of Sandown Castle; the time ball tower in deal; entrance to Deal pier; St Margaret at Cliffe.