Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Walk 24 -- Dover, via St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, to Walmer

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 77 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 219 days.
Weather: Too b***** hot!
Location: Dover Marina to Walmer Castle.
Distance: 8½ miles.
Total distance: 150½ miles.
Terrain: Concrete esplanade at first, mostly grassy paths over chalk downs, a little road-walking and tarmacked paths at the end.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos. 19 & 20 just outside Dover, nos. 21 & 22 near St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, and no. 23 near Kingsdown.
Pubs: ‘The Mogul’ in Dover where we enjoyed Iceberg, Blue Jay and Rheidol Reserve.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No. 12 near St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe where our way was barred by an impossible fence and a rusty notice informed us that the path in front of the houses was ‘permanently closed’. We had to turn inland and a bit back on ourselves to find the road running behind a row of sumptuous houses.
How we got there and back: We camped the night before in Walmer. In the morning we walked to Walmer station and caught a train to Dover. We visited ‘The Mogul’ pub to get the ‘real ale’ bit in (first things first!) then walked down to the marina where we had finished our walk last time.
At the end, we walked back to the campsite from Walmer Castle.

We had originally planned to do these next three walks last week, but suddenly (and I do mean suddenly – like overnight) the weather had a relapse into the wind, rain and storms such as we suffered for weeks on end last Autumn. One day we were walking in the New Forest and it was too hot unless we were in the shade, the next day I got soaked–even through my wet weather gear–just walking into town and almost blown over as I walked up the shopping street in Bognor! So we postponed it all to this week, especially as we were camping, and now it is really too hot again to walk comfortably. However, we came, and here is the walk–
After refreshing ourselves at ‘The Mogul’ in Dover, we walked down to the marina and started the walk ‘proper’ by the Dunkirk memorial. There were a couple of stone jetties leading into the water, and a group of teenagers were gathered at the second one.
As we approached, there were shouts and splashes–the girls were sitting in an admiring group along the harbour wall while the boys were leaping from great heights into the water with much shouting and swearing, the way teenagers do these days! Then one lad got even more daring and climbed along a higher wall to leap off. Of course, the others had to follow, but we noticed that no one did the higher jump more than once! We managed to take several pictures of them mid-air.
The path seemed to continue on underneath the road where it does a whirligig to gain height, but it came to an end round the bend and we had to come back.
We knew we couldn’t get into Eastern Docks–the world’s busiest port–so we crossed the road and followed the footpath signs. There we got a bit confused. The footpath seemed to lead into the docks themselves, though on the map it went along just outside them. So we turned round and took a higher path which was signposted. This led up steps and under the road as it rushed northwards through a gap in the cliffs.
Up a few more steps and we were on a level with the cars whizzing past our ears, or so it seemed. It was a very hot climb to the top of all the steps, and we wondered at the wisdom of walking on such a sizzling day. Thankfully there was a pleasant breeze coming in from the sea, and that was our saving grace. We were now walking on grass between bushes and through a few trees. Buried deep in the undergrowth were the remains of all sorts of buildings, this has always been such a vulnerable bit of coast that has had to be defended throughout history. We were photographing beetles and butterflies and getting very hot indeed. There was no way we could sit in the sun to eat our lunch, so eventually we sat under a bush on the path where we couldn’t see the sea.
Just looking, we could have thought ourselves deep in the countryside seeing only grass and buzzing insects, but the sounds gave everything away. We could still hear the road, and there was the constant noise of ship’s engines coming from the harbour below us. Every so often a loud woman’s voice would make a long announcement over the p.a. system which was so distorted by its own echo off the cliffs, it sounded as if she was talking from the bottom of a well!We moved on, and came out in the National Trust car park where loads of scantily clad obese people were frying in the sun and generally shortening their lives by (a) eating too much, (b) smoking too much, (c) exposing acres of skin to the hot baking sun, and (d) only exercising by yacking into their mobile phones. Apart from that, the majority of them looked absolutely repulsive in the clothes that were hanging off them revealing all their rolls of fat, bra straps, beer-bellies and enormous behinds! (After a few hot days like today, we begin to rank ourselves amongst ‘the beautiful people’!!) Here we discovered a lower path, and looking over the edge we found that there was an even lower one which we couldn’t get down to. Was that the path we were supposed to be on all the time, the one we thought led into the docks? Too late now, we were not going back!
The next couple of miles of cliff path were quite crowded with walkers, and we were pleased to note that a large number of them were teenagers. It is good to see young people out in the countryside instead of cooped up indoors huddled over computers. They were quite funny, one lad asked me if I was American! (I thought my embarrassing ‘flowerpot man’ hat would have labelled me as quintessentially English!) Further on there was a dip where we were at last able to get on to the lower path which had come up to meet us, and to get away from the crowds who continued along the top. It was also noticeably quieter because we were shielded from the noise of the docks by the hill behind us and from the aggravating whine of a radar scanner on top of the hill we had just scrambled down. According to the map, this lower path was an old railway line. There were some ponies grazing there, and one suddenly decided to have a dust bath in a dried up puddle. It looked so funny, squirming around on its back.
As we approached the windmill above St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, all the other hikers seemed to just melt away. Even the lone woman hiker we had passed and repassed and spoken to several times all the way from Dover was making her way back with the words, “I didn’t quite make the windmill!” The windmill and all the buildings associated with it are private, so the path diverts a little inland around them.
We then began our descent towards St Margaret’s where it was much quieter with only the natural sounds of the birds and the sea–a different world from the frenetic activity of Dover Harbour, though if we looked backwards we could still see the ferries plying in and out from behind the cliffs. At the end of a piece of National Trust land we were confronted with a rusty notice informing us that the path in front of the houses was PERMANENTLY CLOSED! The fence was impenetrable with weeds growing twenty foot high behind it, so that seemed pretty final. We can only assume that the cliffs had eroded taking the coast path and half their gardens with it, and that they didn’t want people walking past their front windows. As we remarked way back at Fairlight, we can’t understand people buying property at the top of a cliff, but they do.
We turned inland and a little back on ourselves, then followed the track which turned into a road down to the beach at St Margaret’s. Halfway down the road Colin noticed an old-fashioned ‘milestone’ set in the verge claiming PUBLIC FOOTPATH, and there was a narrow gap in the fence. He set off through it to explore, but couldn’t get very far because of the brambles. We concluded it was the other end of our ‘permanently closed’ footpath. I was so hot and bothered by then that I made a bee-line for the pub where I was prepared to pay extortionate pub prices for a glass of lemonade with ice and lemon, but Colin refused to have anything because the beer was ‘keg’! I squeezed my lemon juice into my water bottle and enjoyed lemon-flavoured water for the rest of the walk–got to get my money’s worth!
We left the pub and walked back along the short bit of the prom to the bottom of the cliffs we had just walked over (we could just make out where the true path had been) to look at a cave. This turned out to be man-made and blocked off, probably more old defence works of which this area abounds.
We watched a group of Cubs paddling in the edge of the sea with loud shrieks because they had to walk over shingle–yes, those were great days with the Scouts and Cubs but we don’t think we have the energy for it anymore! We were under two false impressions at this stage of the walk, (1) that we were two-thirds of the way to Walmer, and (2) that the rest of the day’s walk was flat along the bottom of the remaining cliffs. WRONG! We didn’t find out we were only halfway to Walmer (and that didn’t count the mile between the coast and our campsite) until we got back and looked at the map properly, so that was a blessing.
We continued north along the prom past the car park, but then it all came to an end and there was no way forward. With our hearts in our boots, we walked south along the back of the car park–where there was a wooden building in the shape of an upturned boat but no explanation as to its function–until we located a set of steps with a modern public footpath sign pointing upwards! It felt like climbing Everest, we were that hot and bothered. However, we made it, walked through some trees in blessed shade, then out on the downs again where the going was still upwards albeit more gently. We delighted in the plethora of wild flowers up there, one mass of deep pink seemed to be a type of pea. On and on until we reached the top where suddenly we were treated with glorious views to the north of Deal, with the pier very prominent, and the Isle of Thanet in the background. At last! we felt we were getting somewhere and our spirits soared–it was also getting towards evening and was fractionally cooler. We also found the reason for so many youngsters, especially boys, in the area–on the adjacent hillside was an enormous Scout camp comprising of at least half a dozen separate groups. It made us feel good–if Scouting can still appeal to youngsters in present-day society, then there is hope for the future. I come across so much apathy, cynicism and loutishness in my job as a supply teacher, with the really nice kids cowed and not daring to excel or be different for fear of ridicule, that I do despair on occasions.
We descended the downs ending in a steep flight of steps to Kingsdown. There was another group of lads fooling on the beach, one of them calling his leader a ‘beached whale’ amid hoots of laughter–well he was right because the chap was far too portly for such skimpy swimwear! We were now confident that the rest of our walk today was FLAT! but we were not in the mood for shingle-walking. So it was the road just back from the beach for a quarter of a mile before we turned down to the combined footpath/cycle track which starts there and runs for nearly four miles to the other side of Deal. Once again we asked each other why they can’t do this in Bognor where the esplanade is about twice as wide? It was so nice to see whole families out riding their bikes safely, from grannies down to the toddlers with stabilisers. We even met a commuter cycling home from the station in his city suit, instead of polluting the atmosphere with his car fumes and getting fat into the bargain.
At Walmer Castle we turned inland along a public footpath and walked directly back to our campsite.

That ended Walk No.24, we shall pick up Walk No.25 next time on the seashore by Walmer Castle at the spot where we left it today.

No comments: