Thursday, August 23, 2001

Walk 28 -- Sandwich to Ramsgate

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 107 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 249 days.
Weather: Hot and sticky. It gradually got hazier as the day progressed and turned very dull by the time we reached Ramsgate. Later it brightened up, but got hotter if anything.
Location: Sandwich Quay to Ramsgate Marina.
Distance: 8 miles.
Total distance: 171 miles.
Terrain: Three dreadful miles alongside a very busy road through an industrial estate and past a power station. Then the blissful contrast of suddenly turning into a Nature Reserve leaving all that noise and pollution behind! Some grass walking, along low cliff tops, and finally tarmacked and concreted pavements in Ramsgate.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: No.8, the Stour at Sandwich.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.27 at the top of the cliffs above Pegwell Bay, but we almost missed it because it was rusting quietly in the undergrowth while the main path had long since taken a short cut bypassing it!
Pubs: ‘The Crispin’ in Sandwich where Colin enjoyed Everards ‘Tiger’ and I enjoyed a shandy because I was very thirsty on such a hot day!
'English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.14 along the bottom of the walled cliff past Ramsgate ferry terminal where they have closed the road and put up signs saying, ‘NO PEDESTRIAN ACCESS’. We had to climb the 70 or so steps we had just come down to walk along the top.
How we got there and back: We camped the night before in Sandwich. We walked through the town to the bridge. We ‘psyched’ ourselves up at the pub for the hot and boring first three miles, then we started the walk!
At the end, we happened upon a bus by the Marina in Ramsgate. We hopped on it quickly, and it took us back to Sandwich.

From our campsite, we walked along the rest of the old town walls in Sandwich, the eastern way to the quay. One of the walls is called ‘Rope Walk’ because it is the place where rope-makers used to twist their twine. They needed a lot of space to do this because, like all spun cords, the twine must be held taut whilst the twisting takes place. Then it has to be doubled up without touching itself until it has been correctly placed—that way it will naturally twist together in a strong rope. We came on to the quay through Fisher Gate, one of the original medieval gates to this fortified town.
We called in at the pub near the Barbican to ‘psyche’ ourselves up for the day’s walk. Not only was it a very hot day—though blessed cloud left it not quite as hot as yesterday—but we knew that the first three miles would be through an industrialised area and dreadfully dull! At last we made a start, and shortly after midday we crossed the bridge into Great Stonar.
In medieval times, Great Stonar was a thriving port, a rival to Sandwich; but it was built on the mud of the silted up Wantsum Channel that separated the Isle of Thanet from mainland Britain. (A thousand years before, the Romans built their main fort—now called Richborough Castle—on the mainland side of what was then the Wantsum Channel.) One night, the whole town was washed away in a terrible storm and all trace of it has since disappeared. Sandwich, built on firmer ground, continued to flourish—but the Wantsum Channel carried on silting up. Now Sandwich is no longer a port, and there is an industrial estate on the site of Great Stonar. We kept passing people in hot office-type clothing walking into Sandwich for their lunch—we are glad we no longer have to work every day!
Next we passed a lake with notices telling us it was DANGEROUS and to KEEP OUT. It belongs to the new power station which was the next complex we passed. All the while we were on a pavement next to a busy road, but at least it was flat. After a roundabout we could walk along a new cycleway, but the A256 was so busy we were almost walking faster than the traffic jam! According to the map, the river was right by our side, but we could see no sign of it behind the fence and brambles.
We passed another ‘Works’ where everyone looked very efficient and busy—and also very hot—and then we came to the Stonar Cut. The River Stour meanders so much across the silted up Wantsum Channel that it almost meets up with itself. Here at the narrowest neck, which can’t be more than fifty yards across, a ditch has been cut to provide a shortcut for the river. It is kept closed most of the time by a tide gate, but when open it provides flood relief for the people of Sandwich. A derelict barge lay scuttled in the mud in the Cut—when we came back this way on the bus at the end of the day, this barge was under water as the tide was in.
Next, on our right, was the derelict Richborough Port. A secret port was constructed there during the First World War, and used again during the Second. Since then it hasn’t been used for anything, and we couldn’t see any remnant of it behind the fence and twenty-foot high weeds!
We walked past a garage and a ‘Little Chef’ restaurant, and ignored both. Then, across the road, we passed three cooling towers and the tall chimney of a disused power station—which were for sale! Who would want to buy three redundant cooling towers? Would you then be responsible for their maintenance? Will they let you knock them down or will they be classed as ‘listed buildings’ as soon as you try? I’d love to see the estate agent’s advert!
A notice by the road welcomed us to the Isle of Thanet. We had really put on a pace since crossing the bridge, and had covered the three deadly miles in an hour! It was with relief that we turned into a narrow gate and entered the Pegwell Bay Country Park. We only had to put a few trees between us and the road, and we were in a different world! Peace and quiet—the sound of traffic was usurped by the call of birds and the lapping of water on the shore. We felt we had come through Purgatory and could now relax and enjoy the rest of the day’s hike. We sat on a bench overlooking the mouth of the Stour to eat our lunch, directly opposite Shell Ness Point where we were yesterday.
Further on there was a car park with toilets which we wanted to use. Sitting outside was an old bloke with his bicycle who started chatting to us. He was a SUSTRANS volunteer (that’s the cycleway charity, but I can’t remember what the letters stand for!) and he was patrolling his ‘patch’ to make sure it was clear of rubbish/parked cars/potholes etc. It was interesting talking to him, but like a lot of lonely people he had the gift of the ‘gab’ and we thought we would never get away from him to continue our walk!
We had to walk a bit more along the side of the road because, nearer the river, it had become very marshy; and then a grassy green sward opened out with a fully painted up Viking ship displayed in the middle! It is believed that the Saxons first landed in Pegwell Bay in AD449, so this ship was built in 1949 and sailed by volunteers from Denmark to celebrate the one-thousand-five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the ‘English’ people, a hotch-potch of Angles, Saxons, Danes and Vikings—see, even the English are illegal immigrants! (And probably as unpopular in their day as the illegal immigrants are now!) The ship is built entirely of wood, and to the size and specifications of a true Viking ship, as far as they know from bits of genuine ones that have been dredged out of the mud in various places around northern Europe. It has been continually repainted and is certainly impressive. We bought an ice cream to celebrate the origin of our great and noble race!!
After this we were walking eastwards again, we had been walking northwards ever since Dover. We were on the top of low cliffs, first sand and then chalk. We looked back into the hazy distance, and those cooling towers seemed an awful long way away. We were quite surprised by the distance we had walked, and we still felt fresh.
We walked along edge of a few fields and came to the beginning of Ramsgate. At first there was a huge and impressive hotel. Then we had to join a road and walk away from the coast because several smaller establishments had prime sites overlooking the shore. Eventually we were able to take a path back to the clifftop on top of a high wall. We were in public gardens, and sat on the first seat we came to in order to eat the second half of our lunch. Some young boys, with two of their Dads, were playing football happily on a green there. The youngest lad got into a ‘strop’ because they wouldn’t let him win all the time and it was “my ball”! He came and sulked on a low wall near us, and we were quite amused by his antics—he didn’t like the way they all ignored him and carried on enjoying their game!
We realised that there was a lower path nearer the sea, but we had missed the way down because it was via a sunken path looping round behind a bush. Not wishing to retrace our steps, we carried on along the top until we came to a stone staircase. Down we went, about seventy steps or so, and found a new road which came out of a new tunnel under the cliff. (We drove through it three weeks later, after Walk No.30, just out of curiosity and discovered it is half a mile long and had only been open a few months.) Water was lapping the wall beside the road because the tide was in, but further on there was a triangle of beach being used by several families who had parked their cars nearby. It was really lovely golden sand, pity the weather was so dull for them.
We came to the roundabout where the road led into the port of Ramsgate, and discovered that the road continuing along the bottom of the cliff-wall was closed even to pedestrians. There seemed to be no reason for this, except that there were a few stones and broken bottles which had been chucked from the top and no one had bothered to clear them up. A lift up to the top looked as if it hadn’t been used for years, in fact there was an air of dereliction about the whole place. We had no choice but to climb seventy or so steps again back to the gardens at the top! But there we were ‘saved’ by a cafĂ© which sold mugs of tea for 50p! My, it went down well!
While we were drinking, we sat and looked out over the port. Ramsgate Port used to run the cheapest ferries to France, but we reckoned that the convenience of the Channel Tunnel had been its death knell. Lanes marked ‘cars’ and ‘coaches’ and ‘check-in’ were blocked by lumps of concrete, and the only vehicles we could see were commercial. We watched a ferry come in, and every vehicle which trundled off was a lorry. Obviously the port has gone over entirely to freight, and they have built the new tunnel under the cliffs so that these huge vehicles don’t have to negotiate the narrow streets of the town.
When we reached the marina, we had to go down seventy or so steps again! We could walk along the harbour walls, but all the facilities and floating walkways were padlocked shut. There is a lighthouse at the end of the western harbour wall, and as we neared it a little girl came up and asked, “Would you like to see my fish?” We looked in her bucket and admired her crabs and blennies. Her father was fishing nearby, and said he had caught them to amuse her while he got on with his fishing.
We then went to look at the lifeboat house, and thought we could get across to the eastern wall between the outer harbour and the marina. But no! The temporary bridge was up because the tide was in. So back we went again, and we had to walk along under the high cliff-wall where lots of fishing type businesses were inside archways under it. It was there that I spied a building labelled HOME FOR SMACK BOYS FOUNDED 1881! We assume they meant orphans from fishing smacks, but we did idly wonder whether it was a place to send our grandson, young Jamie, when he doesn’t behave!!We didn’t know whether to catch a bus or a train back to Sandwich, and were both feeling a little tired by then. We saw a bus stop ahead, with a bus parked at it. We couldn’t see where it was going because several lamp-posts were in the way, so I said to Colin, “Look, there’s a bus! Run along and ask the driver what number bus we catch to Sandwich and where we catch it!” As he passed the lamp-posts, he realised it said ‘Sandwich’ on the front, so we hopped on there and then and off we went!

That ended Walk no.28 rather suddenly, we shall pick up Walk no.29 next time at the bus stop on Ramsgate Harbour. The bus took us back to the centre of Sandwich from where it was only a short walk back to our campsite.