Arriving late in Whitstable I scuttle around for provisions and a hat – it is going to be a very hot day and I will be walking into the sun. Walking quickly through the bustling harbour with its tempting sea food stalls I follow the seafront promenade feeling a bit self-conscious in my leather boots among the flip-flops, sundresses and swimsuits heading down the sand spit to paddle and fish.
Up on the horizon a flock of kites dance merrily in the sky but my enchantment is suddenly broken by a faint boom which stills the air. Is it a gun? A bomb? And from where? The Olympic site in London?
I am to hear the same sound twice more as I pound the concrete of the sea wall all the way to Herne Bay with its neat garish flower beds, colourful beach huts and obese holidaymakers, spilling over the side of their deckchairs.
After resisting the inviting sight of the glassy sea water for hours I finally give in to temptation and find a quiet spot to swim. Floating in the cold, soft waves I stretch my aching toes and sunburnt thighs in the salty water.
From there the path leads upwards onto a broad grassy lane on top of the cliffs, the perfume of the wild flowers rising up to greet me, the corn fields of Kent on my right and the bright blue sea on my left.
In the distance I see the two towers of Reculver perched on the cliff edge. Once a Roman fort, then a monastery and before it succumbed to the sea, a parish church. For me they mean a cup of tea.
Refreshed I continue east on yet another sea wall that will burn my feet, ejecting me at Minnis Bay and Birchington. Reluctantly I squeeze into the packed noisy train from Margate back to London.
Distance: 11 miles
Littlestone to Camber Sands 23.07.12
The road past Derek Jarman’s poetic house at Dungeness leads us to the lighthouse, the grey fortifications of the power station, the old coastguard cottages and the endless shingle trudge across the nature reserve to Lydd.
No tea house to fortify us for the 5 miles of tarmac path to Camber, past fishing lakes and wind farms. Feet throbbing we make it to Camber Sands and make a quick exit away from the relentless holiday makers. Looking back at the nuclear power plant I wonder if it would have been less painful to walk along the shingle bank. I will never know.
21. Harwich to Kirby Le Soken 19.07.12
Two sweet sixteen year old girls lead me to the library where I photocopy an OS map of the area – I don’t want to get lost in the meanderings of the estuary today. Poor run down Dovercourt still sports a presentable promenade marked by a familar figure. I set off in the warm sunshine, the mighty cranes of Parkeston Quay behind me, the sea wall turning into a narrow concrete path running parallel to the beach past the acres of sterile caravan parks.
Gradually the path loses its profile, miles of long grass and brambles sap my energy. Small hamlets perched on the edge of the silted landscape, boats abandoned and left to rot, beautiful wild flowers play around the edges of my eyes, butterflies flutter from under my feet. Finally, the path leads off, away from the marshlands and exhausted I throw myself onto the grass opposite the enchanting “Pilots Cottage” where I rest, watching the ducks fuss contentedly in the pond.
20. Aldeburgh to Butly | 18.07.12
Finally out of Aldeburgh and a forest walk to Snape, complete with ceramic sculptures. Then along the road in the rain to welcoming tea and scones at the Maltings. Crossing boardwalks through marshlands and miltary camps of pig sheds, I come across what has to be a mispelt joke. From Butley to Woodbridge I am the only passenger on the bus.
18. Southwold to Lowestoft | 08.07.12
Leaving the Jubilee bunting of genteel Southwold we head northwards ignoring the dark purple clouds massing behind us. Caught up in the sight of the stark dead trees on the beach we miss the first drops of rain, which quickly become a heavy downpour. No shelter in sight I carry my rucksack close to my body in an attempt to protect my camera and iphone, feeling like a refugee carrying a child away from danger. I back up under a dead tree, bent double under a low branch, like a cow sheltering from the storm.
Taking tide advice from a lone fisherman we leave the coast for
overgrown trails through muddy fields and dripping woods – now so wet it didn’t matter. A brief hole-up for a cup of tea and a couple of deviations later we hit the coast again and squelch our way into Lowestoft under Triton’s watchful gaze.
16. Deal to Sandwich | 08.06.12
After the headwinds of my last walk, forecasts of 50 mph winds lend weight to a decision to walk anti-clockwise. Walking out of old-fashioned Deal feeling smug, the strong wind behind me blows me like a rag doll alongside the billiard table turf of the royal golf course. Sandwich Bay, pristine and deserted offers up a tantalising footpath through a nature reserve, which swallows me up and leads me to the whipping muddy waters of an impassable estuary. Three miles back against the wind, feet aching, I trudge into “historic” Sandwich, my Noah’s Ark – Pegwell Bay will have to wait.