Rest Day, 22nd November: Birchington
It was a rather relaxing day at my new base tucked up at Mike B’s house back in Birchington. A late brunch at a local cafe and an easy afternoon were sorely welcome. I’d got used to running around like a lunatic every Saturday. Dropping off, shopping, washing, blogging, photo processing, tidying Snickers and picking up someone new had all become a rather hectic routine. Saturdays had become more tiring than walking 25 miles. So to have some relaxation, good food, a comfy chair to sit in and conversation about something other than logistics and walking was indeed refreshing.
Stage 235, 23rd November: Kingsgate to Deal
The forecast for the day didn’t add great cheer to the start of my penultimate week. It began dry, but the sky was a heavy lead grey and I knew I was going to get very wet at some point. I managed to see Broadstairs whilst the rain held off. The North Foreland Estate was clearly the realm of millionaires. Predominantly German built cars with extravagant boasting his and hers personalised number plates were lined up in mansion driveways. The display of wealth was more than a little distasteful and I’d forgotten how brash and showy the Southeast had become. Humility seemed to be lost on many and that was a shame.
More Charles Dickens heritage passed by quickly as I rounded Bleak House, which was originally Fort House and only given its current name in the 20th century. Whether it was the house that Dickens referred to in his novel is disputed, but in any event it attracted visitors even on a cold, dank Sunday in November.
As I made my way towards Ramsgate the first rain flicked lightly on my hands and face. I imagined that a summer view across the chimney pots towards the marina and a now largely redundant harbour could be spectacular, but with the light as flat as a pancake it was difficult to capture the compact architecture of town.
By the time I ducked inland at Cliffs End and Pegwell Bay the rain had become persistent. I returned to the coast via Sandwich and strode straight across the fairways of Royal St George’s where only a few hardy bedraggled souls were still playing in the now heavy rain, rain that could only be described as something that sounds very much like persistent, but a little cruder. I tried to change my now sodden gloves to a dry pair from the depths of my rucksack. However, my hands were too wet and cold. My fingers on my right hand refused to straighten without help and I couldn’t get the gloves on. A small tantrum followed before I gave up and returned to the soaking pair and traipsed down the edge of the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club atop a shingle beach to thankfully meet up with Mike and his heated car seats in Deal. I think it was fair to say that I was soaked to the skin for a fifth time.
Stage 236, 24th November: Deal to Sandgate
Things were looking up. The sun was out. It was a beautifully crisp morning as Deal soon became Walmer and, as I rounded the corner at Kingsdown, the tall chalk walls of the White Cliffs of Dover magically made their entrance. Their appearance greatly pleased my eyes and gave them something to look at other than the flat featureless landscape they had become accustomed to. With the added bonus of a sun, even if it was a low sun, my spirit was quickly lifted at the prospect of being able to use my camera without having to search hard for subject matter. The downside was that the path marked beneath the cliffs was impassable and I had to backtrack to go over them and to get around to Dover itself.
I stopped for lunch on the cliff top above the ferry port at Dover and sat watching the bee hive of activity below me. Ferries were coming and going almost by the minute as they greedily regurgitated one load of trucks and cars and eagerly swallowed another before hurrying off to repeat the deed in Calais. I could even clearly hear the tannoy announcements and I sat there feeling a bit like Big Brother watching over every move.
I dropped into Dover town and climbed out again for a brief spell on the North Downs Way. A few steep switchbacks were still very gooey from yesterdays rain, but the mud was nothing compared to the marshes and ploughed fields of recent weeks. As I dropped steeply into Folkestone I found myself jogging down the hill trying to keep pace with my feet eager to descend and enjoy what I suspected would be a rather stunning spectacle. Folkestone was about to deliver a cracking sunset and I knew it. I hurried along to get to the promenade and to get a decent view. I got there just in time as the sun dropped quickly and disappeared at 3:58 pm exactly. But that was only the start of it as the sky above told me that the best colours would come over the next twenty minutes or so. Sure enough the now absent sun began to shine underneath the wispy clouds from somewhere just beneath my horizon and the sky lit up with oranges and reds with a rich back drop of royal blue. It was a fitting way to end a pretty fine day.
Stage 237, 25th November: Sandgate to Lydd
The drama of yesterday was unlikely to be matched today and that was something I had become very used to. I had been spoilt by Northwest Scotland and had now got used to walking, sometimes for days on end, without a spectacle of real note. So when they came, they were now more valuable than ever and with a flat sea-wall start down to Hythe I wasn’t expecting too much today.
What I did get was a very chilly northwesterly wind on my back and I gave myself a brief respite from it as I headed inland to avoid the crackling gun-fire over on Hythe Ranges. It was then back on to a now new and heavily engineered curving concrete sea-wall edging Dymchurch and St Mary’s Bay and all the way to Littlestone-on-Sea some five miles or so South. It was iPod time again and it stayed on as the sea-wall gave way to shingle banks and the bleak outposts edging Romney Marsh. The desolate Southeast tip of Dungeness was soon upon me with its ramshackle chalets, some permanently inhabited, almost randomly dotted about the vast swathes of gravel beach now extending deeper inland than I had ever seen before.
Dungeness Nuclear Power Station domineered all around it to such a degree that even the old lighthouse had been replaced so that it could now be seen by shipping. I then crunched across the huge and deep shingle of Denge Beach and Dungeness Nature Reserve, which seemed to be home to plenty of lichen, moss and pebbles but little else. Mike B’s ex-wife Ann picked me up near Lydd, waving out of the gloom. I admit to nodding off in the warmth of the car as we headed back to the civilisation of base.