We get a ride to the start of the walk – an ex-gypsy taxi driver full of tales. Scrabbling out and up on to the cliffs overlooking Barry, we later walk gingerly past static caravans perched on the edge of the cliffs at Porthkerry. Little did we know that the following day our footsteps would crumble leaving caravans see-sawing before breakfast – a narrow escape. The walk continues on desolate stretches of grey beach around Rhoose, followed by shingle to Llantwit and a fried egg sandwich.
Squinting in the sun I walk past the colourful beach huts at Hove, a few souls swimming in the creamy surf. The walk then continues along the sea wall, the landscape becoming more and more industrial – thank goodness the sun is shining. Later I stop for directions and an old gentleman tells me the path “elbows to the right” into the ugly wharfs and wastelands of pre Shoreham.
Wide promenade of Seaford giving way to industrial wastelands around Newhaven. Pleasure boats where once the ships brought in massive blocks of ice from the inland Baltic lakes. Recurring images of cormorants, real and otherwise. Then Peacehaven where the vertiginous steps cut into the crumbling cliffs and lead down to the bright smack of the sea against its concrete defences.
Distance: 12 miles
Hopped over to Winchelsea since I had already walked Hastings to Winchelsea in another life. Spent quite a lot of time, along with several other people, trying to find Spike Milligan’s grave in the local church. Seeing, not for the first time no doubt, knots of people with puzzled faces wandering about, the vicar came out to save us with the disappointing news that Spike’s wife had taken the headstone away to be re-furbished. I do hope she doesn’t get rid of the famous inscription “I told them I was ill”. I then get lost for a while, but to compensate I whip through Rye to the roar of motorbikes, on to the fluted wet sands of Camber and the languid flight of far off kites.
Distance: 6 miles
Stretches of the south coast of England are almost interchangeable. I am very grateful for low tide as I trudge along the coast, hemmed in by relentless ribbons of hotels and gaudy amusement arcades. Coming back in the train my ears are assaulted by a group of drunk bellowing football fans in a small crowded carriage. Other passengers cower in their seats – strained fearful smiles. My spirits lift when I crawl into The Big Sleep hotel in Eastbourne, run by vintage geezers in tattoo, who offer me very cold beer.
The brightly coloured beach huts – the jewels of Wells beach – walking against the wind through the never-ending dunes – beautiful moth hitches a ride on my thigh.
3. Seaford to Eastbourne | 23.8.11
Smell of sweaty socks in the youth hostel – two lone deckchairs abandoned to the tide. Seven Sisters standing proud in the sun – the quiet sadness of Beachy Head. The surprise of decent French food in the backstreets of Eastbourne.
2. Sheringham to Cromer to Mundesley 05.08.11
On a bench on the way to Cromer, “Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand in stone – kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own”. Today I walk along deserted beaches, past ruined groynes, to the sound of screeching seagulls. Crumbling cliffs offer no escape, so as I have no way of knowing whether there is soon a path up onto the cliff I follow a set of footprints – that person must have got down onto the beach somewhere! Soon I see a family approaching, walking slowly, Mum in flip flops – they give me directions for a path up to the village with its photo exhibitions and chip shops. On the bus back, Stowmarket gels on the raz take over the carriage trilling and shrieking, disturbers of the peace – am I getting old?
Empty Norwich streets – brightly lit Hopperwindow frames little boy definitely not stepping on the cracks. A Norfolk “pan o chocolert”.
Bunting in Sheringham, a stiff wind behind me to the seals of Blakeney. Deserted path though the boggy flatlands – surprise meeting with a flock of llamas and the tea shops and rows of children crabbing in Wells.
Distance: 17 miles