Friday, 6 April 2012

West Hythe (Westenhanger) to Folkestone on foot - 31 March 2012 - 11 Miles

See the pictures

This walk covers much the same ground that I travelled during 2009 on the bike.  Having walked most of the south coast well into Cornwall it seemed a pity that the few miles to Dover should have been completed using mechanical means.  Also, since I am in danger of completing the whole coastline of England before the onset of senility, I have resolved to walk as much as possible from now on.

An early start, as usual, and the 0600 Virgin Voyager from Birmingham International brought me into London Euston by 0716, where I transferred quickly to the Northern Line, bound for London Bridge Station.  At Bank Station, an announcement informed me that the train would not stop at my intended destination due to a fire alert.  I therefore made a rapid exit from the train and made my way through the City on foot and over London bridge.  As I walked, I was able to take in views of Tower Bridge and the almost complete "Shard".

Arriving at London Bridge Station, I was relieved to find the place was not in ashes and I was in plenty of time to catch the 0808 which arrived at Westenhanger at 0938, having divided at Ashford.  The station is next door to Folkestone Race Course - a seemingly inappropriate name since I still had about 10 miles to walk to the town of that name. The weather was cooler and cloudier than of late, but there was only a slight breeze and no prospect of rain.  Having passed the green expanse of the racecourse, I walked through Westenhanger which is simply a collection of dull, sometimes scruffy houses strung out along the lane.

I then passed through a similar but smarter hamlet of Newingreen before entering Lympne (1015 -1.3 miles) which is larger, but in terms of buildings is a mixture of the ultra-modern, the olde English traditional and virtually all styles in between.  Past Shepway Cross, a war memorial erected in 1923 on a site where the Court of the Cinque Ports met, down a hill and I had reached West Hythe (1030 - 2.1 miles) and the Royal Military Canal.

The Royal Military Canal was built between 1804 and 1809 as a defence against the threatened invasion by Napoleon.  This threat evaporated when the French Fleet was  destroyed at Trafalgar, but governments being what they are, the work was completed at a cost of £234,000 (about £8 million) in today's money.  It is 28 miles long and runs between west of Hastings to just east of Folkestone.  It is the third longest defence work in the UK after Hadrian's Wall and Offa's Dyke.

The canal today is in surprisingly good repair and makes an attractive place to walk and sanctuary for wildlife.  At Romney Marsh, it is also very valuable for drainage and irrigation.  Recreation, however, is the currently main raison d'etre for this waterway.  During my walk, I met numerous people of all aged hiking, walking their dogs, jogging or cycling along the road / track that ran alongside the canal.  Despite the close presence of housing developments as I approached Hythe, the canal maintained a feeling of rural calm throughout its length.

All of a sudden I was in Hythe (1135 - 4.8 miles).  At the bridge, I parted company with the canal and crossed the water, having decided to follow the seafront for the remainder of my walk.  This option was not available earlier as the way was barred by the Hythe Firing Ranges from whence several loud reports  had punctuated my journey.

Hythe is a mixture of the old and new, the smart and the downright scruffy and the interesting and the depressingly boring.  Viewed from the central parkland area, Hythe Church is a beautiful, solid, old stone pile, but the view is cluttered with very ordinary houses from the pre and post war period.  walking further towards the seafront past a depressing row of terraced houses, I came across a house that could easily have been plucked from the New (or even Black) Forest.

A few paces onto the seafront and there were two Martello Towers virtually on the beach surrounded by fishing boats and associated tackle.  Around the corner was yet another Martello Tower.  This one, however had been converted into a smart, somewhat futuristic residence.

A little further on, was a Victorian terrace of originally identical houses with canopied balconies on the first floor.  This is a prime example of how individual owners of such properties can "improve" their properties without any thought for the visual integrity of whole terrace.  Nearby was the Imperial Hotel, immaculate as ever, looking very smart in Battleship grey paint.  I preferred the cream paint job that I saw in 2009!

By now, I was feeling somewhat peckish.  My usual habit is to bring sandwiches with me, but I thought that there would be no difficulty in finding something on this walk through a well populated area.  I came across a rather squalid promenade-side cafe selling outrageously expensive sandwiches, so pressed on in the hope for better fare.  In a short period of time I found a van selling crepes.  I chatted to the young man from Slovakia who was the proprietor of the establishment while my Roquefort crepe was being prepared.  I parted with £2 and was on my way eating my hot and extremely strong tasting snack - perhaps I would have been better of with the sandwich!

As I walked, there were nice views towards Seabrook and the Downs beyond.  It was also here that the Royal Military Canal came to an abrupt end as the cliffs were rising at Sandgate (1235 - 7.5 miles).  Near Storncliffe Camp is a monument to Sir John Moore, a great innovator in military training who had a distinguished career and died in 1809 at the Battle of Corunna.

The town of Sandgate, rather like Hythe, was sometimes classy and at others, unkempt.  The main point of interest here are the remains of Sandgate Castle, built by Henry VIII, which resembled a prototype Martello Tower.  Queen Elizabeth I rested there according to the sign, but how they managed get some rest in what appears to be a small and unprepossessing building is beyond me!  Victoria and Albert were more sensible and passed through as day trippers.

Onward along the low promenade past garishly painted chalets and seabirds feeding at low tide amongst the rocks at Mill Point, then round the point and onwards to Folkestone Harbour (1340 - 9.6 miles), the end point of the walk.  The harbour contained a few fishing boats and the installations for the cross-channel rail traffic appeared complete albeit in poor repair.

The town of Folkestone near the harbour contains many attractive narrow streets, relatively unspoiled by modern development.  Despite good forecast, a few drops of rain started falling, so I made my way to the local Wetherspoon pub for some refreshment.  This visit became a treat in more than one way upon discovering that the establishment was situated in a rather fine Baptist chapel sumptuously fitted out in high quality wood and complete complete with gallery and organ pipes.

Thus, suitably sustained, I had plenty of time to explore some of the upper town which retains most of its Victorian charm and solidity.  A group of children were putting on a great "Sound of Music" show and a walk along the grassy Leas at the top of the cliff yielded some excellent views and was somewhat bracing in the evening breeze.

Then, briskly to Folkestone Station and the fast train into St Pancras.  There was time to explore the new booking hall at Kings Cross and for a wander around North London before catching the 1943 from Euston, arriving at Birmingham International at 2100, then home for supper.  All in all, an excellent day out!

Next trips
In Cumbria - Hycemoor to Green Road via Millom - Saturday 28 April

Again in Cumbria - Green Road to Barrow in Furness - Sarurday 26 May

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you picked out some good stuff on your route! I haven't managed to walk this stretch of coast - I by-passed it on the Saxon Shore Way. Looks like I should give it a go