Joggers pass me. A couple are out walking a dog. Otherwise all is peaceful, despite the nearby Industrial Estate.
Everything is closed. Today is Easter Sunday.
In the distance I have a great view of the Richborough Power Station, now defunct but, I have heard there is a move to consider designating it a listed building.
Here is the obligatory warning sign.
Beyond the buildings with their scaffolding is a rough road and a car park. On this beautiful Easter morning, the car park is filling up and people are arriving for a walk along the beach. The beach is shingle, large stones, leading down to muddy sands. People are out collecting bait. The light is wonderful (although hazy) and shimmers off bright sands, muddy flats and blue sea.
I look right across Sandwich Bay – to the route I walked yesterday; the cliffs of Pegwell and Ramsgate beyond.
The tide is low and I walk on the muddy shore, below the shingle, heading southwards. Few people make it down to this part of the beach. I enjoy the open expanse of sky, water and muddy sand. I am filled with energy and a sense of freedom.
I reach an area where the shingle extends to the water’s edge, making progress very difficult. I head up the beach, joining a road and noticing there are houses here.
This is marked on my map as ‘Sandwich Bay Estate’. Before I set off, I anticipated this Estate might be a caravan park or holiday complex. But no. Here are huge houses with impressive facades. Some of the houses are being renovated. But the layout is odd. There is an ‘institutional’ feel to the place. There are no private gardens. The surrounding lawns are neatly mown but the place seems strangely impersonal, people have not made their mark on these properties. How odd.
Beyond the boat is a security man, chatting with the young people. Obviously this is a private Estate of some sort.
The road comes to an end and, from here to Deal, the path is a wide gravel track, raised slightly above the surrounding land. To the left is dunes, shingle and sea. To my right is mile after mile of golf course.
Now, the path is getting busier – lots of cyclists, some grimacing joggers and a few walkers.
And I am about to meet a man who knows how to rant. (I like a good rant from time to time, usually on the subject of obscured public rights of way, but this guy is the best ranter I have met so far.) If you look at the photo below, you can see him approaching. That’s him – on the bicycle.
I stop to take a photograph of the golf warning signs. I am intrigued, amused and somewhat irritated by the pointlessness of these signs. “Danger, flying golf balls.” So what? What do I do? Get ready to duck? Surely the signs are aimed at the wrong party; they should read “Danger, people walking. Don’t hit them.”
Anyway, as I stand taking the photo and contemplating who the sign is designed to protect (‘Don’t sue me for causing your brain injury. You were warned. Didn’t you see the sign?’), the man on the bike comes to a halt, beside me.
“Do you have any wire cutters?”
“No. Sorry. Have you got a problem with your bike?”
“I meant for the sign.”
Then he starts. The golfers are nasty people. They deliberately target him every time he comes this way, and that is nearly every day.
“Have you been hit by a golf ball,” I ask, wondering what the chances are of hitting somebody deliberately and how good a golfer you would have to be to hit a man on a bicycle. I am not a golfer myself, so the sport is a mystery to me.
He neatly ducks that question and continues, “They are all toffs, all stuck up snobs.” They make his life hell. They hate all walkers and cyclists – and they hate him in particular – and in return he hates all golfers. They have taken over this section of the coast. There used to be sand dunes here and water ponds and wild life. He talks of nesting birds, slow worms and other creatures – all fled. Golfers are trying to take over the path and are encroaching further on the shore (and he may be right about this, there are some well maintained green patches on the coastal side of the path). They spray the grass with chemicals and kill all the wild life.
To distract him from the golfers, I ask about the estate I have just walked through.
He tells me this belongs to Lady Astor. (I haven’t tried very hard to verify this, there is remarkably little information about Sandwich Bay Estate on the Internet. I did find something out about Lady Astor though – she is Samantha Cameron’s mother.) And he follows this up with a heartfelt, and very enjoyable, rant about toffs, the class system, the haves and have-nots.
“There is one rule for them and another for the likes of us.” I am glad, at this moment, to be included among the ‘likes of us’.
Now, along the edge of the path, are small red pieces of paper, held down by stones, flapping madly in the breeze. Each piece of paper has a number on it. It takes me a moment to work out that these are likely to be markers for fishermen.
At the end of the path I reach the outskirts of Deal. My map indicates a ruined castle and I look around, failing to spot the ruin, until I realise I am standing on it. A pleasant little garden has been created.
After a number of failed attempts, I manage to take a self-portrait.
The sun is very hot. I feel a little sunburnt. Lunch beckons.
The northern end of Deal consists of a road, lined by houses on one side with a concrete sea wall on the other, bordering the shingle beach, and acting as a promenade. Families are arriving. This is not a bucket and spade resort, but the narrow promenade is filling up with people and families, in typical British fashion, are erecting chairs, tables and windbreaks on the shingle below.
Further along, I walk past the pier and stop at a hotel for a snack in the bar. The restaurant is full – I hear the waiter turning people without reservations away – but the bar is empty. I have an excellent meal of fish and chips. Next to me a couple and a toddler arrive and order champagne. I am amazed by the serene good-behaviour of the little toddler, who sits contentedly in her push chair while her parents toast the glorious Easter weather.
The next section of the walk, southwards from Deal, is very pleasant indeed. There is a wide walkway, running along beside the beach and this has become crowded – with cyclists, walkers, joggers, dogs and mobility scooters.
I am entertained by some strange sights, including these pieces of – well, what exactly – ‘art work’ on the shingle. I don’t stop to see if they are for sale.
There is no visible harbour area in Deal, but I reach a section of the beach that acts as a working harbour. Small boats are drawn up, with sheds, fishing gear, lobster pots and beach huts – all tangled up together. I take lots of photos of boats and huts. I could linger here all day and have to force myself to walk on.
I pass another castle, in better condition than the ruined one – castellated wall and big gates. Unknown to me, my husband and mother-in-law are visiting the same castle at around the same time. But I don’t stop. I have walking to do.
There is vegetation taking hold on the shingle, small clumps of greenery and some wonderful trees that droop their branches around their trunks, forming little leafy tents. A group of families walk by and the children run, shrieking with delight, into the heart of one of these tree tents and begin climbing the twisted branches, while their parents attempt to call them away.
The path joins a narrow, unkept roadway. Houses line the landward side – real houses, not just holiday homes. On the shingle beach, sheds and huts appear, with a collection of small boats. There is an old-world, un-renovated feel to this area – Kingsdown on my map. I love it.
The road widens into a car park area. Cars are parked haphazardly with no apparent restrictions. Families are sitting outside on benches. There is a small pub, the Zetland Arms, where I stop for a drink. It is very hot. I can’t believe it is Easter Sunday.
Continuing along the beach, along a road with parked cars, I walk around lovely bay (Oldstairs Bay) until I reach a point where the way ahead is marked by a gate and MOD warning signs. This used to be a rifle range and the signs warn against picking up debris. I notice the sign has been peppered by pellets of some sort – maybe an air rifle?
I ask a man if I can get around the coast to St Margaret’s at Cliffe. He tells me this is only possible at very low tide. So, I climb a flight of steep steps and continue the path along the top of the cliffs.
This is, possibly, the loveliest part of my walk today.
I climb upwards, along a path running through green spaces at the top of the cliffs. Below me is blue sea, stretching to a hazy blue horizon. Behind me is a fantastic view of Oldstairs Bay. Ahead the path loops along the top of white cliffs, towards St Margaret’s and Dover beyond.
On the crest of the rise, ahead of me, I see a white building and a tower. As I draw nearer, I realise the building is an old coastguard station and the tower is a monument.
This is The Dover War Memorial, originally raised in honour of the men who lost their lives as members of the Dover Patrol during the 1st World War. An additional inscription commemorates the many service men and merchant seamen who lost their lives in the Dover waters during the 2nd World War.
(I am always moved by memorials to seamen. The only member of my immediate family who died in WW2 was my Uncle Peter, aged only 16 at the time, who joined the merchant navy and whose ship was sunk by a German U-boat. He died in the Atlantic, somewhere off the coast of North Africa, we think.)
It is beautiful. The late afternoon sun is lighting up the greenery on the top of the cliff, while the chalky walls of the cliff opposite take on a soft grey hue in the fading light.
I find a steep flight of steps, turning and twisting down through the greenery on the sloping face of the cliff, taking me down to the bay itself.
Half way down, I pass a couple climbing up. The man is laughing and showing off, running up the steps – two at a time. His girlfriend trails behind, puffing and panting.
“Nearly there,” I say.
“Thank goodness,” she gasps, as I pass.
“Not really,” I call back.
At the bottom I emerge, suddenly, into a car park, beyond which is the beach and sea. And, somewhat to my surprise, I find my husband is already there and waiting for me.
Vital stats: miles walked = 12
Highlights: hearing an excellent rant and walking on the cliffs.
Lowlights: none – this was a great day.
If you are interested, you can see some great photos taken inside Richborough Power Station on the Derelict Places web site.