Today will be long and tiring. I don’t know this yet, so I set off in good spirits.
I walk along the Hythe promenade until it ends. There is a boat yard ahead. Well, not exactly a yard, more a section of beach with boats on it. Signs warn me of dangers. I can’t see a footpath, so I walk through the boats, jumping over ropes, and reach the beginning of Palmarsh Ranges. Ahead I can see a couple of Martello towers.
The way is blocked by more warning signs. This is an active, military firing range. I have checked on the Internet and there is no shooting planned today. I am relieved, all the same, to see no red flags or warning lights.
I would like to walk on the beach, but the tide is high and I am forced to walk on difficult shingle. Further along, the shingle is covered by waves and I end up climbing over groynes and over rocks. It is going to take me a very long time to get to Dymchurch at this rate. And I was hoping to get to Dungeness today.
I begin to reappraise my plans for lunch, when I see a man walking on the bank above me. I scramble up the shingle and realise there is a track running along the beach. After this, I make good progress. Apart from the one solitary walker (who passes me, heading for Hythe) I see nobody else until I reach Dymchurch Redoubt.
The firing ranges fascinate me. They are clearly positioned so that you fire from inland with the bullets whizzing out to sea. I like seeing the huge numbers ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ and so on, silhouetted against the sky. Surreal.
Later on, I pass signs telling me not to take photographs. I obey. Of course.
In the distance, I see buildings reminding me of a set on a Western film; the fronts are painted to look like terraced houses in an ordinary street, the backs are just unpainted plywood. There is a SUV (I have no idea if it is real or not) in the ‘street’ and some obstructions that mimic road blocks. I also see the grey roofs of a small housing estate. But the estate is surrounded by very high walls and there are huge lights around the perimeter. I can’t work out if it is some kind of prison block, or another practice area for military training.
There is a third Martello tower on this section of coast, but the foundations have been undermined and the tower has toppled over.
I have made good progress and wonder if I will make it to Dungeness today. For a few minutes, I rest beside a mast – probably a radio antennae – consulting my map and having a drink with a snack.
Continuing along the sea wall, making my way around a rocky outcrop, I come across a warning sign.
“Caution non-ionising radiation” and, more ominously, “Do not loiter within 2 metres of any antenna.” I look back at the mast where I have just spent 10 minutes of ‘loitering’. A bit late to tell me now! Why not have the warning sign actually on the antenna?
Later, I look up non-ionising radiation. It is not as terrifying as it sounds. I may have risked being cooked by microwave rays, but that doesn’t seem as bad as being exposed to nuclear radioactivity.
I walk round the fenced off Dymchurch Redoubt . Mistakenly, I believe this is an old WW2 defence structure. Later, I learn this was built as part of the much older Martello Tower defence system – and was completed in 1812.
Having made my way round the seaward side of the Redoubt, along the slippery concrete skirt of the sea wall, I come to a wide slope leading upwards. Signs tell me I can only use the slipway in an emergency. Since there is no other way forward, apart from swimming, I ignore the signs and go up the slipway, climbing over a low barrier at the top.
I pass – and am passed by – a few dog walkers. Otherwise, not much happens. For mile after mile.
After a while, I walk on the landward edge. At least here there is something to look at. If I walk close to the wall, I can see over it. There are occasional steps up from the road beneath, and I notice the steps either start above the wall, or have flood gates in front of them. This promenade is part of newly competed sea defences. Further along, I discover some parts are still under construction.
The land seems very flat and low. Is it my imagination, or is it even lower than the sea? I look over a large caravan park. Beyond are flat marshes (Romney Marshes) and beyond that I see the ground rising up to form a ridge. At the base of the ridge, invisible from here, runs the Royal Military Canal, leading from Hythe to Rye. Along the ridge itself, runs The Saxon Shore Way.
For a moment, I wish I had stayed on the high ground and followed The Saxon Shore Way. The view up there must be more interesting than down here.
The walkway is punctuated by benches, on which I see nobody sitting. But I do notice signs fluttering. Taking a moment to look at one, I realise these are ‘lost dog’ signs. I wonder how long they have been here?
Then another thought strikes me. All these signs (and I pass 10 or more of them) are hand written. Immediately, I picture an elderly person (clearly not a computer owner), laboriously writing out these signs and then pinning them, one by one, to the benches. How sad and desperate they must have been. I wonder if the dog has been found.
Further along, I pass more Martello towers. One tower has been converted into a private house. Apart from the lack of windows, I imagine this is a fine place to live. Later, I see a tower that actually has a large gun on top, as it was originally designed to have. I don’t know if this an original, or not.
The promenade here is gleaming new, so bright it almost hurts my eyes.
The defences are impressive. There are groynes in the sea – the tips of the wooden structures just visible below the waves. The stepped base of the wall leads up to a lower walkway with a high, curved wall (designed to reflect back the waves and minimise undermining of the structure) and a higher walkway above this, with a further wall beyond. This is part of our ongoing battle to contain the sea and preserve the shore.
I remember the twisted remains of sea defences in Norfolk – particularly poor, sad Happisburg. I wonder how long these will last.
I notice a trailer parked on a slipway, with donkeys patiently waiting alongside the vehicle. The tide is still high, too high for the trailer to get down to the beach. They have to wait for the tide to go out. Later, I suppose, there will be donkey rides along the sand.
A woman on a motorised disabled scooter is moaning to one of the women in charge of the donkeys. She, too, is waiting for the tide to go out, so she can take her scooter down the slipway and onto the sand.
Ahead of me, across a bay, I see the outlines of the structures of the nuclear power station. So tantalising close. But just too far away to get there today.
I am walking through a place called St Mary’s Bay. I hoped to stop here for lunch, but there are no pubs (or anything else much) on the sea front. I don’t want to walk through village streets, searching for a pub, so I decided to carry on to Littlestone-on-Sea.
The sea wall grows narrow. Nobody is walking here. A mother and son pass me on their bicycles. They turn round and come back. I walk. And walk.
I see signs for a hotel and am hopeful for lunch. The wall runs alongside a private road – a track really. After a long while, I pass a grand house. It has a sign advertising functions, such as weddings, and cream teas. This must be the ‘hotel’. How disappointing. No lunch yet!
Further on, and I pass large houses in various stages of decay or renovation. There is run-down feel to this area.
Then I spot the tower. It looks like an old Victorian water tower. (Later I read a post on the Kent History Forum site, indicating the tower was an expensive mistake, as the water was too salty for use. In any case, plans to develop the area into a thriving seaside resort were never fulfilled.) The tower is being used as a residential house. How wonderful!
Further on, I am growing very tired. The beach is shingled. There is a motley collection of beach huts and small boats. The sea wall becomes a rough bank and my feet hurt on the uneven ground. I see no sign of a pub. My heart sinks. It is after 2 pm and I don’t want to walk any further.
Then my husband texts me. He is on his bike and has found a pub ahead. It is a little run down, practically empty, but sells food all day. And I can get to it from the sea wall.
After a good lunch, and a couple of glasses of cider, Littlestone-on-Sea looks much more attractive. And I have my energy back. I decide to walk on to Lydd-on-Sea, where my husband will pick me up from the car park.
The tide is going out. I walk along the shore, close to the waves. A steep shingle bank rises to my right.
Throughout this section of the walk, I hear the sound of the trains running on the small railway track and see the occasional puff of black smoke above the shingle. At one point, in Greatstone-on-Sea, I make my way back off the beach, up to the road and watch for the train to cross over a nearby level crossing. There is a great noise of steam and approaching machinery. When the train finally whizzes over the crossing, it turns out to be a tiny little train, a toy train really. I am amused. In my mind, I was expecting a big steam monster of a train.
I walk along a sand bank, cutting across the bay, making good time.
Down here, below the shingle bank, it is hard to tell where I am. I check my iPhone app and take GPS readings. When I am parallel to Lydd-on-Sea, I fight my way up the shingle bank and find the car park.
This is the edge of the Dungeness nature reserve – Europe’s largest area of shingle beach – a rare and fragile habitat, home to many unusual plants and insects. The next section of my walk will take me into the heart of this unique landscape. I can hardly wait.
To see some great photos of Dymchurch Redoubt, visit the Underground Kent Website.
Vital stats: Miles travelled = 11