Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
Morning brought a cloudy sky and a gentle sea lapping the beach in front of the cottage. But no rain. Waterproofs were donned anyway, including the dogs, and we drove to Dover. Parking at the spectacular National Trust White Cliffs car park we set off along the clifftop to walk back to Deal.
Our winter walk this year was not up north, but about as far south as we could get. Gathering at Rob’s holiday cottage in Deal on Friday night, saved him the long long drive to Cumbria or Derbyshire. This time our dogs joined us on the trip, Luna and Ruby. Unusually for Luna, she enjoyed Ruby’s company. All week, the forecast was stormy weather all day Saturday, so we were a bit apprehensive about our next days walk. A good fish and chip supper helped us settle in for a good rest after travelling much of the length of the English motorways.
As we left the clifftop car park the next morning, a stranger approached us to ask if she could join our walk. She had arrived too late to get out with her own group and wondered if she could tag along with us. It was good to get someone else along to appreciate Nas and Bill’s stories, the ones we had heard on every previous walk.
This was a historic walk, on a historic weekend, 100 years since the end of the first world war. Each place of interest had an interpretation board explaining the site or what lay beneath our feet. After passing the iconic South Foreland lighthouse another mile of cliff walking took us to St Margaret’s Bay. The coastal wind was keeping the rain away but the ground was still very damp after the night’s storm. Walking on wet, smooth chalk pathways need concentration, it’s probably the trickiest surface when damp, like keeping upright on an icy path after a hard freeze. After the tops of the white cliffs, the path gently fell away down to the bay and the leafy town of St Margarets-at-Cliffe. Pretty houses appeared to be mainly holiday homes and bolt holes from London. Famous people live here, joining a long list of celebrities who have stayed in this pretty place, perhaps notably Noel Coward and Ian Fleming, with Churchill dropping in occasionally.
Lunch was at the small town museum and cafe, full of memorabilia and displays mainly from the second world war. Town residents were evacuated during the war, replaced by anti-aircraft batteries and a number of heavy naval guns. Occupied France was not far away, so there was frequent shelling in both directions. The big guns above the town returned the heavy fire and kept German shipping from the English Channel. It was said that most windows in the town were broken by the famous ex-Navy BL 14 inch Mk VII naval guns named “Winnie” and “Pooh” on the cliffs above the town.
We were following the England Coast Path, a new long-distance path. This section from Dover is one of the first sections. It promises to be the longest managed and waymarked coastal path in the world, this was not a bad start to the route.
Climbing up the steps back onto the cliffs to the north of the bay was about the steepest it got all day. At the top, the viewpoint looked back to the white cliffs on the other side of the bay. Up in front was the War Memorial to the Dover Patrol from the First World War and all the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy who gave their lives in ships sailing in the waters of the Dover Straight. I did ponder on whether my father-in-law ever sailed this way. He was in the Royal Navy in the last war, a gunner on Merchants ships in the conveys, mainly through the Mediterranean. Eric did survive, but never spoke of his war times.
Navigation today was a doddle, with the English Channel as a massive handrail for the right-hand and a golf course to the left. Not to mention the couple of locals with us who had walked here all their lives. So it was good to just saunter along, enjoying time with friends and dogs.
Gently descending the cliffs again and we were in Kingsdown, with a Royal Marines training ground carved from the chalk cliffs below us. According to our local guides, this was where a section of the Mulberry port was built before being towed across the channel on D-Day. Children of Kingsdown used this as an unofficial play area some 40 years ago according to Rob, a child of the time!
More history; this trail is also part of the Saxon Shore Way, following the Roman road and defences that the Roman invaders built around the 3rd century to keep out the Saxon invaders threatening this Roman province. Some 800 years later, Edward the Confessor built a naval force here in 1050. These protected ports were fortified by Henry VIII who built castles to deter the French and Spanish after he broke free from the Catholic Church. Perhaps they will be re-built after 29nd March next year.
Another couple of kilometres walking took us to Walmer Castle, home to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, previously Wellington, Churchill and the Queen Mother. Nobody lives there now, its an English Heritage castle.
Late afternoon sunshine greeted us in the town and we headed to a local hostelry for a pint or hot chocolate, but it was so busy and no room for dogs. So we continued back to our lovely cottage.
That evening was a visit to the nightlife of Sandwich for a pint and Pizza.
Next day, Sunday, was 11/11/18. A good day to find somewhere suitable on our walk for a couple of minutes remembrance.