Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Walk 18 -- Littlestone-on-Sea to Dymchurch

Ages: Colin was 58 years and 51 days. Rosemary was 55 years and 178 days.
Weather: Sunny and quite warm, but thankfully with a pleasant sea breeze.
Location: From Littlestone-on-Sea to Dymchurch.
Distance: 3½ miles.
Total distance: 116 miles (+ 5 miles we have left out).
Terrain: To start with on hard sand, then along a concrete sea wall which turned into a very new and slightly softer surface towards Dymchurch.
Tide: Out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Ocean Inn’ at Dymchurch where Colin drank ‘Kentish Gold’ and I had a shandy because I was very hot and thirsty!
‘English Heritage’ properties: No. 3 at Dymchurch, a Martello tower built to repel the invasion of the French during NapolĂ©onic times—but it was closed!
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camp at Stelling Minnis. We drove to New Romney where once again we parked our car round the back of the station. Then we walked the half mile to Littlestone-on-Sea.
At the end, we caught a train on the ‘Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch’ light railway back to New Romney station, then we drove home to Bognor.

By the time we got to the covered shelter at Littlestone it was lunchtime, so the first thing we did was to sit down like a couple of old fogies and eat the absolutely delicious pork pie we had just bought at a local butcher’s! That really did start the walk off well.
We sat looking out to sea at the remains of one of those ‘mulberry’ harbours that litter our southern coastline (there is a piece on the beach at Bognor just west of Nyewood Lane where we started this trek, and our children loved playing on it when they were young, calling it ‘the wreck’!) They are pieces of a portable harbour which was constructed in great secrecy during the winter of 1943/1944. Winston Churchill realised that the allied troops would never be able to invade the continent of Europe and defeat Hitler’s forces unless they could have the use of a harbour to land tanks, jeeps, artillery, back-up forces and supplies. All the harbours along the French coast were too well defended, so he gave the order to construct an artificial harbour with the words, “Do not argue the matter, the difficulties will argue themselves!” For eight months, huge hollow cassions were cast in concrete and then sunk, mostly in the Thames estuary, so that they were hidden from view. In the weeks leading up to D-Day in June 1944 they were refloated and towed under cover of darkness to various points on the south coast, mostly in Sussex. Then, just a few days after the momentous 6th June 1944, they were towed in long strings the hundred miles across the Channel to the seaside hamlet of Arromanches on the Normandie coast near Bayeux. Several old ships had been deliberately sunk to form the harbour boundaries, and the ‘mulberry’ blocks were pieced together to form a temporary harbour. The whole venture was a great success despite tremendous storms while it was being constructed, and despite the fact that about half the ‘mulberry’ blocks broke loose at some point on the 24 hour journey and never made it to Normandie. The English and French coasts are littered with the remains more than fifty years later, and many more must be at the bottom of the sea. And the name 'mulberry'? It is a codeword, meaningless to the enemy so that they had no idea what anyone was talking about--just like D-Day which is also a code word. (For that matter, when tanks were invented during the First World War, that was a codeword too!)
Having finished our lunch, we walked along the sand for a while because it was so nice, and noticed one of the houses over the shingle bank was a tower a number of stories high. We couldn’t be bothered to divert to look at it, so at the end of the day we drove there. It is a Victorian water tower situated in a road between two other houses, but it is absolutely derelict. Such a pity, because if someone had the money to do it up it could be converted into a very unusual house!
I was enjoying walking along the sand with the breeze blowing in my face but Colin kept on about not being able to see ‘the view’, so in the end we scrambled up on to the sea wall—I say ‘scrambled’ because the wooden steps had long since gone to meet their maker! His ‘view’ was the local golf course! However, we stayed up there and could see a huge plume of black smoke rising into the sky a long way ahead. Suddenly a fire engine went tearing along the road, but we never did find out anything more.
As we approached Dymchurch, we noticed that the posts for the groynes all seemed to be set in rows, like some ancient ‘standing sticks’ or something. The seagulls were making good use of them anyway. The seawall has only recently been upgraded here, and the surface we found ourselves walking on was very gentle on the feet, softer than concrete but by no means sticky. Quite a few people were about, lots of old fogies sitting on seats or staggering along the prom, and some families with children on the beach even though it is not school holidays yet. As we passed the fairground at Dymchurch I looked for a Ferris wheel, but there was none. I've a terrible feeling that they are too old-fashioned for this modern day and age, and I am despairing of ever getting a ride on one!
We left the sea wall just past the Martello tower at Dymchurch. This tower is an ‘English Heritage’ property, but we were amazed to find it was closed! There was a notice saying —‘due to a leaking roof’—but we wondered if the real reason was because it costs too much to have it manned every day. They said there were ‘special’ open days but didn’t give any dates. We have visited it before, so we weren’t too put out. We went to the pub instead!

That ended Walk No. 17, we shall pick up Walk No.18 at the Martello tower in Dymchurch –unless we devise a way of walking the 5 miles across the military range meantime. We walked to Dymchurch station and caught the diddy little steam train (it goes at quite a lick!) back to New Romney. After yet more tea, we drove home to Bognor.