Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Walk 21 -- Folkestone Harbour to Folkestone Warren

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 43 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 185 days.
Weather: Hot and sunny, but with quite a breeze which was very welcome!
Location: From Folkestone Harbour to Folkestone Warren.
Distance: 1½ miles.
Total distance: 134½ miles.
Terrain: Concrete esplanade and a bit of sandy beach, then grass, down steps and along a Second World War gun platform between the beach and the cliffs.
Tide: Out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.10 round a Martello Tower because the cliff had collapsed in the recent heavy rains.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camping stuff and drove from Bognor to Folkestone. We looked at two camp sites and didn’t like either of them, so we parked near the harbour and decided to start our walk before too much of the day was gone.
At the end, we were walking past ‘the Warren’ and thought we would have a look at the campsite there. We liked what we saw, so we stopped our walk for the day and Colin went back for the car. We pitched our tent overlooking the beach within the sound of the sea and we relished in salubrious views in all directions!

Ten months! We never thought it would be that long before we would be able to resume our walk round poor beleaguered Britain when we finished Walk 20 last August; in fact, we had planned to get to Herne Bay by Christmas. At this rate, we’ll be lucky to get there by next Christmas! This is what has been happening…
In September we had the fuel crisis. We pay more for our fuel in Britain than anywhere else in the world, and this protest seemed to come from the heart of the people. It certainly took the Government by surprise! They said that the high prices were nothing to do with tax, but everyone knew that that was a blatant lie. We had watched the French successfully demonstrate by blocking all their main roads with tractors, a protest that Colin and I got caught up in—but that’s another story! People said we were too complacent, and that if the French could do it so could we. They began picketing fuel depots, and tanker drivers turned round refusing to drive out to petrol stations. It was all very civilised and non-aggressive, despite what the Government said, and from small beginnings it snowballed within hours. Long queues formed at petrol stations, and within a week the whole country had ground to a halt! The Government were furious, calling the demonstrators irresponsible and making out that people were dying because emergency services couldn’t get to them and operations were being cancelled and old people were being left stranded, etc etc. It was all lies, people were severely inconvenienced but 95% of them supported the protests and were therefore prepared to put up with it. Hence we had to cancel plans to drive to Folkestone to continue our Walk. We had a tank almost full of Diesel, but decided to only use the car if we really needed to because we didn’t know how long all this was going on. After a week, everyone decided that enough was enough, and fuel was delivered once more. It took about another week for things to return to normal. Did the Government listen to the people? NOT A BIT OF IT!
It had been a pretty wet year so far, we had been very lucky the days we had chosen for our Walks. But then the rain came down with a vengeance, hour after hour, day after day, week after week! Fields flooded, roads flooded, houses flooded, shops flooded, even a brewery flooded much to Colin’s dismay! Whole towns disappeared under water—Southsea, Ryde, Lewes, a man came out of a shop in Uckfield High Street and was washed hundreds of yards down a river he never even knew was there! Chichester was so determined not to flood that the fire brigade diverted the River Lavant through hose pipes which stretched across the city under little wooden bridges wherever they crossed a road—it was an amazing piece of ‘Heath-Robinson’ engineering which cost over a million pounds! I had great difficulty getting to the various schools where I was working because of the floods, and had some quite interesting journeys! Most of our favourite footpaths were under several feet of water. In October we went to India (saw tigers in the wild!) and while we were away a tornado ripped through Bognor tearing the whole roofs off a dozen or so houses! (Fortunately not ours.) November was declared the wettest November ever, then the year 2000 was declared the wettest year since records began. We all began reading up the construction of Noah’s Ark, and decided to wait for the Spring before continuing with our Round-Britain-Walk.
But what horrors the Spring had in store for us! Early in February we had treated ourselves to a week in the Yorkshire Dales, a ‘special offer’ that was almost cheaper than staying at home. We enjoyed a few Winter walks in the ice and snow, and looked forward to the Spring. Two weeks later we rented a cottage down in Cornwall (also very cheap at that time of year) and enjoyed some coastal walking though the wind was bitterly cold. It was right at the end of that week–we just completed our holiday in time–that we heard about the first case of ‘foot & mouth’ disease on a farm in Northumberland.
Well, the world went mad!
It was the first case of ‘foot & mouth’ in this country since 1967. Then they slaughtered all the affected animals, and in that way managed to contain and eradicate the illness within about six weeks. Farming has changed enormously in the past thirty years, animals are now transported all over the country as they change hands time and time again in their short lives. Animals travel hundreds of miles to be slaughtered because most small slaughter-houses have been closed down due to ‘health & safety’ regulations they cannot afford. The disease spread like wildfire—Essex, Cumbria, Devon, Dumfries, Yorkshire, Somerset—and it is still going on even as I write this four months later!
Now, a few facts about ‘foot & mouth’ disease. It only affects cloven-hoofed animals, humans cannot catch it or any form of illness from a diseased animal. The virus is extremely contagious and can be passed on through contact, walking on the same ground, on clothes and shoes/boots, in water and even short distances on the wind. It is a very uncomfortable condition for the animal that catches it, but it is not dangerous. Very few animals die of it, and if nurtured for about a week they will make a complete recovery. So what is all the panic about? PROFIT! That’s what! Animals which catch ‘foot & mouth’ waste away, and when they recover they take months of feeding up to get back to their huge, in many cases obese, weight. Then the meat cannot be sold because the animal has had the disease. That is the argument against vaccination, so no animal in this country has any resistance whatsoever to this particular virus.
Slaughter of every animal on a farm where the disease was suspected, and every animal on the neighbouring farms was ordered by the Government. Slaughter first and ask questions afterwards was the order of the day. (It turned out that one third of ‘cases’ were not ‘foot & mouth’ at all, but it was too late when all the animals were dead!) Farmers were devastated, their whole life’s work shot before their eyes. Some barricaded their healthy animals within their farms and pleaded with tears in their eyes. Many were suicidal. One eccentric woman who kept an exotic breed of goats as pets herded her eight healthy animals into her front room, but they broke down the door and shot them! Carcasses were piled up in farm gateways for days awaiting destruction, and probably the virus was blowing in the wind or spread by crows. They had to bring in the Army to make huge pyres to burn the dead animals. The countryside was filled with smoke, probably spreading the virus and increasing the risk of cancer in all those living nearby. The fires burned for weeks. Other animals were taken for burial, sometimes to ‘clean’ areas of the country which were unaffected by the virus. It was absolute madness!
Meanwhile, a complete ban was put on the movement of animals, even from one field to another on the same farm. Very soon the animals ran out of grass and were standing miserably in mud. Farmers ran out of supplementary food which they couldn’t afford anyway, so animals suffered and died in appalling circumstances. How did all this affect us? Every single footpath and cycleway in the country was closed! There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that ramblers spread the ‘foot & mouth’ virus, but red notices sprang up all over the countryside threatening a £5000 fine if we so much as put a foot over that stile! The countryside was closed, the only place we could go for a walk was through a town or along a beach.
Of course, the countryside these days does not just belong to farmers. Tourism is a far bigger industry, and nobody came! (Rumours spread across America that we were all dying of starvation, and walking around with disfiguring blisters on our mouths and feet!!) More jobs were lost and more businesses went bust in the tourist industry than there ever were on the farms. Hypocrisy was rife from the Government downwards. They postponed the General Election for a month after enormous pressure, but the disease was still widespread during their campaigning throughout May and not one candidate mentioned ‘foot & mouth’ ever. It was dropped from the News and completely swept under the carpet, yet every day still there are four or five new cases in the Yorkshire Dales or Somerset. It was left to local County Councils to each decide their footpath policy, the Government completely passed the buck.
There were no cases at all in West Sussex, nor in any of the neighbouring counties. Under pressure, they announced that on May 1st they were going to reopen 500 footpaths. I printed the list of these footpaths off the internet—it was the biggest fraud out! Nearly every single path was in a town, linking one street on an estate with another! One was the path linking Kenilworth Road with Hawthorn Road which I walk down on average three times a week to post a letter or hike to the beach! They even listed (and I quote) “from the boat pound behind the beach huts to the Waverley public house”! Well, isn’t that an extension of the esplanade, at least four miles from a field where livestock might graze? Their hypocrisy beggared belief, especially as there were a couple of countryside footpaths listed which just happened to cross golf courses! From feeling frustrated, and also rather depressed, at not being able to get out on the Downs, I began to feel very angry. From what I have read in wildlife and countryside magazines, I am by no means alone. By now we had missed the Spring, missed the snowdrops, the celandines, the wild daffodils and now we would be missing the bluebells. These ‘openings’ didn’t bring the tourists back, of course, so the next announcement was that from May 18th “three-quarters of the County’s footpaths will be open”, only those which pass through fields where livestock is actually grazing would remain closed.
May 18th dawned a beautiful sunny day. We got up early, turned down all offers of a day’s supply teaching, and drove to Harting Hill with the intention of walking along the South Downs Way to Hooksway for lunch. Several other cars with excited walkers drew into the car park at the same time. We all put on our boots, marched across to the first stile, and there was a new red notice telling us to keep out because of the foot & mouth restrictions!!! It was unbelievable! We never saw the other walkers again after they all drove away, so ‘The Royal Oak’ lost all their custom and probably lots of others as well. We drove to Hooksway and tried to walk from there—a couple of tracks leading from the pub were open and we were able to walk about a mile and a half in a small triangle. On that beautiful day our favourite watering hole, which should have been packed, had half a dozen customers for lunch.
Such was the disgust by walkers, country landlords etc that the Government finally intervened. They told the County Councils that if there had been no cases of ‘foot & mouth’ within the county, then they had no right to close any public right of way any longer, and they all must be opened immediately! At last! So West Sussex County Council, still full of arrogance at the way they had “successfully kept foot & mouth out of the County” announced that all public rights of way would be open as from June 8th. We were in Jersey on that date (and had been sprayed and scrubbed with disinfectant on arrival as if we were lepers, and our car searched for dairy products as if it was contraband!), but after we returned we tried to go walking on June 19th and had no problem whatsoever. How wonderful to hike once more along our beloved South Downs and drink in those wonderful views!
Kent had just one case of ‘foot & mouth’ at the very beginning of the crisis—it was in the Isle of Sheppey and probably blew over from Essex where the first diseased sheep had been taken to an abattoir (from Northumberland, would you believe!) There had been no further cases in the South-East, so we reckoned we were pretty safe by June 20th to continue our walk from Folkestone.
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Now for our walk! We did not make a very early start, and by 3pm we still had not found a suitable campsite nor started our hike for the day! We began at the eastern wall of Folkestone Harbour, in exactly the same spot where we had finished last August. The tide was out and the sand looked firm, so we went down on the beach for the first hundred yards or so. We clambered over a few stones (being very careful about the green slime, bearing in mind what happened on Brighton Marina 2½ years ago!), through a tunnel under the esplanade and up some steps on to it from the landward side. The esplanade was only short and finished at a wall, so it was a stiff climb up some steps to walk along the grass above.
We could see that the cliff was all crumbly and that there had been lots of falls, some very recent by the look of it. We have been constantly hearing on the news about cliffs collapsing, occasionally with loss of life, due to the heavy rains of last Autumn and Winter. Sure enough, our way was soon barred by red tape and a ‘KEEP OUT – DANGER’ notice. The continuing path looked very overgrown so it must have happened some months ago. We diverted to the other side of a Martello Tower and soon picked up the path again.Further on, our map informed us that there was a site of a Roman Villa (they certainly knew how to pick the most scenic spots!) but nothing is left there now. We walked across a pleasant grassy glade between the bushes, then down some steps to the beach again. A walker coming the other way told us that, now the tide was out, we could get through to Samphire Hoe. However, the hour was already late and there was no way we could walk that far today. Along the bottom of the cliff was a concrete road, not an esplanade at all but merely functional and rather time-worn. We reckoned it was something to do with Second World War defences, however we made good use of it to walk on.
We could see camper-vans further along part way up the cliff, and intended to investigate that campsite when we reached it. The chalk cliffs here have suffered falls for many hundreds of years leaving an overgrown undulating landscape which is now quite safe. It is called ‘the Warren’, hardly surprising since we could number rabbits in their hundreds! The Caravan & Camping Club have landscaped part of it and turned it into a beautiful campsite. When we reached the track leading up to it, we called a halt to our walking and went to investigate.

That ended Walk No.21, we shall pick up Walk No.22 next time at the end of the track leading down from ‘the Warren’ campsite. We walked up the track, had a look round the campsite and liked what we saw. So Colin went back for the car which was parked near the Martello Tower we had passed less than a mile back, and we pitched our huge new tent overlooking the sea.