This morning is wild and very, very windy. My husband drops me at a roundabout in Lydd. I am three miles from the sea and have a long inland walk ahead of me.
Before setting off this morning, I was beset with indecision. I stopped my last day of walking at Lydd and I have to start my walk today from the same place, Lydd. My mission, to walk as close to the coast as I can, would suggest I return to Dungeness and make another attempt to walk along the shingle bank to Camber. But, there is no guarantee the firing range will be open and, if I can’t make the walk along the shore, I will be forced to walk all the way back to Lydd just to get round the ‘danger area’.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t created so many rules! But, if I am claiming to walk around the coast, then cutting out sections because it is too difficult is simply not an option.
So, I walk through Lydd, past the army camp, heading for the B2075 for Camber and Rye. There is a cycle way that runs along this road and I hope the walking will be safe and easy. I walk across a wide area of common land and notice the grass is brown with dry, bare patches – as though it was the end of a long, hot summer – not late May.
The cycle way is new, smooth and runs along the road, but separated from the traffic by a screen of bushes and tall grasses.
Out in the open, I experience the true force of the wind. I am really, really glad I haven’t tried to walk along the shingle today. If I found it difficult and tiring yesterday, it would be doubly so today.
The cycle track passes under the line of pylons, carrying electricity from the Nuclear Power Station at Dungeness. The pylons fizz and crackle with their electrical charge. I stand, buffeted by the wind, enjoying the noise and the exhilarating sensation of being close to such immense, and lethal, power.
Suddenly there is a screech of brakes and a young lad on a cycle skids and swerves to avoid me. I am irritated. Young rascal. Then he says, very politely, ‘I’m sorry. It was my fault.’
As he cycles off, I consider my instant and unfair reaction. It wasn’t really his fault. He was cycling along the cycle path, probably head down struggling with the wind, and came across a middle-aged woman standing in the middle of the path, looking up at a pylon. It was, obviously, not his fault – it was mine.
The path winds along, with the road and military range beyond on one side. On the other side is a view across windswept lakes and farmland. In the distance I see quarry works (I believe these lakes are the result of gravel extraction) and, nearer the coast, a wind farm. There are birds on the lake, including wind-blown swans, heads tucked protectively under their wings.
I pass Lydd Caravan Park, where static caravans are parked around and beneath the hissing, sizzling pylons. A sign declares units for sale, under the heading ‘Do you want the quiet life?’. I am not convinced, listening to the crackle of electricity and the whistling of the wind, that this is the best-selling point to feature.
Further along, I come to a pile of old hay bales, piled into a stack. A group of sheep and their lambs are around the bales. At first I think they are eating. But the bales are old and are not there for nourishment. They are a wind break. The sheep see me approaching and begin to move away. As they leave the lee of the bales, the wind catches their fleeces and tugs their wool into wild shapes.
The cycle track changes, instantly, at the junction between Kent and Sussex; smooth tarmac gives way to rough gravel.
Round the corner and I meet a couple of cyclists, heading towards me. Their tyres bounce and skid on the gravel. How do they get to Dungeness? I explain they have to go to Lydd and turn right. The girl looks fed up and remarks it will be difficult cycling back against the wind. I tell them there is a pub in Dungeness. This seems to cheer them up. Later, it occurs to me that the last leg of their trip – from Lydd to Dungeness – will be against the full force of the gale. I wonder if they make it.
As I approach the sea, the wind gets worse. The road reaches the coast, at a place on the map called Jury’s Gap, where a few windswept houses huddle together. I climb up onto the sea wall. It is great to be back on the shore, but the force of the gale takes my breath away. I am truly glad, in retrospect, not to have attempted the walk along the shingle from Dungeness to here.
I look along the bank to the East and see, beyond the firing range, the hulk of the nuclear power station looming, dully, in the distance. The sea is grey, the waves high, the surf beats and lashes at the shingle.
Looking along the coast to the West, I see a cheering sight. There are kitesurfers out. Their bright kites bob along the shore. And here are windsurfers too, scudding furiously over the waves. People are standing on the bank, watching. This area is famous for kitesurfing and people come from miles around to participate or to watch.
As I get closer to Camber, the number of kitesurfers increases. Cars are arriving and young men are unpacking equipment. Women and children huddle on the beach. The wind is ferocious.
The speed of the riders – and the height they achieve as they launch themselves off the waves – is amazing. They need skill and physical strength. I watch as a kiter tries to beach himself. He launches himself towards the unforgiving shingle, leaping off his board as he approaches shallow water, and struggling to control his kite to which his body is harnessed. As he wrestles with the lines, trying to pull the kite in, his board is caught in the undertow of the waves and begins to be dragged out to sea. He runs after it and steps onto the board – trying to pin it down – while his body is wrenched to and fro by the force of the kite above him. Eventually, with the board tucked under his arm, and with a great deal of splashing among the huge waves, he manages to force the kite down onto the beach.
There see no women kiteboarding today.
Leaving the kiteboarders behind, I approach Camber. Here the tide is going out, exposing an expanse of wide sands. There are some rather nice houses lining the beach. I head for a cafe and have lunch – overcooked fish and the ubiquitous chips.
When I emerge, the sea is far away and the exposed sand is being whipped inland by the winds. My plan was to walk along the sands until I met the mouth of the River Rother, and then to walk along the dunes, heading inland along the river and into Rye. After several eye-fulls of sand, I change my mind. Even with glasses on, I can’t walk into the wind.
I pass a golf club, with golfers straining against the wind, before finding a footpath that runs across fields, through sheep, towards the town of Rye.
On the way, I see this pretty bird with a pink breast. It looks a bit like a robin, but has a longer tail and black head. I photograph it and, later, with the aid of the RSPB bird identifier, I find out is a stonechat.
Rye looks lovely in the afternoon sunshine, breaking through the clouds. As I approach, a fun fair is in full swing. I walk through a park and traffic-jammed roads, heading for the bridge that will take me over the river.
I find a little flower shop that doubles as a cafe. I order coffee and have a cake. When I walk in, people stare at me. I wonder if they are looking at my boots, my jaunty little rucksack, or admiring my general air of health and wellbeing. After a very good lemon curd bun (although I did order banana cake), I visit the loo and find out, by looking in the mirror, that my hair is sticking up on end and covered in sand. I look like a wild woman. Or a scarecrow.
The car park in the centre of Rye is full of motor bikes. I don’t know how they cope with the wind, but it is less obvious here, in the shelter of the town. The river is pretty and the old part of Rye has cobbled streets and historic buildings. There are a large number of tourists milling about, I hear French, German and Dutch being spoken.
I walk along the road to Rye Harbour, through an industrial estate. One of the many interesting things I see, is an ostrich farm. The ostriches look at me, through the mesh of tall fences. Their eyes are enormous. But their brains must be tiny.
Further along, I smell a wonderful scent – curry spices. I am passing a spice grinding facility. Bring your spices and have them ground here!
There is a huge industrial complex belonging to Solvent Resource Management Limited. I hear the sound of machinery operating, despite the fact this is a bank holiday Sunday. Later I learn this reprocesses waste, particularly organic solvents, and has close links to Ketton Cement – an industry based only a few miles away from where I live.
As I approach Rye Harbour, I note the church and the lane down which I will resume my walk tomorrow. But I carry on to the car park at the end of the road. Here is a ruined Martello Tower, surrounded by a high bank but recessed inside it – giving the impression of a castle keep surrounded by a dry moat and high bank. This is odd and I have not come across another Martello Tower with this external structure before. I wonder if the high bank is to protect against flooding.
Sitting on the bank, by the tower, waiting for my husband, I look at the boats moored in the harbour on the river. The river is very narrow and the ships are pleasure crafts, not working boats. Across the water, seemingly very close, I notice the golf course. Yes, it is the one I passed earlier. I have walked a long way to arrive back at the mouth of this river.
Despite the wind, the dark clouds, the whipping sand – today has been a great day of walking and I have made progress. Tomorrow I am heading for Hastings.
Vital stats: miles walked = 12, new blisters = 0
To get a feel for the excitement of kitesurfing, take a look at this video: