Monday, 26 January 2009

Saxon Shore Way Day 6 Sandwich - Dover

Sandwich Town Walls

Having negotiated the remains of the Wantsum Channel, the Saxon Shore Way once again returns to the coast proper. I once again took advantage of easy parking at Sandwich and walked first and took transport back later. From the station the path continues along the old town walls, giving some nice views through the town. After 10 minutes or so the path finally leaves the town and heads out towards the sea. Unusually the first section of path was tarmacked, presumably because of the pedestrian traffic associated with the Open Golf Championship, which visits these parts every few years.

Pegwell Bay
It was a very pleasant day, with a poor weather forecast so I had made a very early start and was out on the path by 8.30am. By the time I got to the golf course, there were a number of other early risers also out on the course so I was very careful to avoid them as I darted across the fairways and through the sand dunes. All the way across the course were notices directing me to the sea and discouraging me from lingering for longer than I had to. Eventually when I reached the sea, the most fantastic view opened up across Pegwell Bay and to Ramsgate and the Isle of Thanet, some 8 miles further north. Also in evidence was the redundant power station still sticking out like a sore thumb on the horizon. Two car ferries were crossing paths offshore heading to and from Ramsgate on one of their many forays to the continent.

Sandwich Estate
Upon reaching the sea, the path headed south along the beach for the next couple of miles into Deal. After half a mile I passed the Sandwich Estate, a group of very opulent looking houses that were strangely remote feeling. The beach was a haunt for sailors, with a sailing club adjacent to the estate but today all was quiet. Although only 9.15am, the sun was already getting hot on this early July morning and I slapped on the sun tan lotion at this point. It proved to be a jinx, for within twenty minutes clouds started bubbling up!

Sandown Castle
Before Deal, I passed another golf course this time crawling with golfers keen to get their round in before the expected thunderstorms later in the day. As I approached Deal I looked out for Sandown Castle, one of three built in the area by Henry VIII to protect this part of the coast from French invaders. Alas there was very little left of this particular castle, which had succumbed to a more natural enemy – erosion. Only the foundations could be made out, and even the information board had been badly damaged so it was very difficult to envisage what it once looked like.

Deal Time Ball
Deal was a very pleasant place, with a long promenade and attractive housing along the seafront. The pier was a 1930’s concrete design, reminiscent of the many small station alts built in the south east by the Southern Railway in that era. Unlike Victorian piers it was very functional and was not designed to divert attention away from the sea. At the seafront end of the pier was a small roundabout that was absolutely awash with flowers. Unfortunately when I arrived there had been a bit of a mishap, as a lorry had got stuck trying to negotiate the tight turn and shed some of its load on to the middle rather spoiling the effect.

Deal Pier
I took the opportunity to dive into Deal and pick up some refreshments before heading south once again. Shortly after leaving the town centre I passed the Timeball, an interesting building that included an unusual timepiece. This was originally built in 1796 as a shutter telegraph, but the black sphere was added sixty years later and is dropped on the hour every hour to help sailors keep time.

Deal Bandstand
A little further on I passed Deal Castle, the second along this part of the coast. Now set back a little from the shore it has been remarkably preserved and not suffered the same fate as the one a mile up the coast at Sandown. Having visited a number of years ago I didn’t linger for a visit but continued past the bandstand a little further along the promenade. This was built in 1992 as a memorial to the guardsmen who were killed in an IRA attack on the original bandstand in 1989. Around the base of the bandstand were the names of the victims, a lasting memorial to those killed in one of the many atrocities during the ‘troubles’.

Deal Castle
The path continues on to Walmer, where the third of the castles built by Henry VIII is situated. Funnily enough, although I have previously visited this castle and found it to be the most interesting of the three in the Deal area, it did not have the same 'street appeal' of Deal down the road. I suppose it's partly due to the fact that the path passes some distance away and that the walls were partly obscured by vegetation. Anyhow by now the clouds were definitely thickening and the promised rain for later looked like it might be here quite soon, so I didn't hang around and continued on to Kingsdown. This was a fairly unremarkable place except for the fact that just after the village centre and the cycle path had run out I actually did something I hadn't done since the Isle of Grain, climb a hill!

St Rose
The last part of the days walking was White Cliff country, perhaps the most famous chalk cliffs in the World. It's funny, because I enjoyed this section immensely, I think that as an iconic beauty spot it is a bit underwhelming compared with chalk cliffs elsewhere in Britain and France. Nonetheless it was good to get the heart racing a bit as I climbed the hill. The first stretch of chalk walking was fairly easy across to St Margarets, although I did stop quite a lot to admire views back and forward and even across to France. By now the French coast was quite clear and the English Channel resembled a conveyor belt for the various ferries that ply their trade between Britain and France. There were at least five or six vessels at various stages on their journey pretty much the whole way.

St Margarets Bay
The path descended into St Margarets before climbing up once again to the top of the cliffs. St Margarets was a rather snug little place, tucked into a valley between the cliffs and strangely forgotten considering that it is only three miles from Dover and seemingly only yards from one of the busiest shipping lanes in the World.

St Margarets Lighthouse
It was a long slog out of St Margarets and by now the pace I had kept up so far had worn me out a bit and so I decided to slow right down for the last section. I passed the windmill that for many years was an iconic landmark in these parts, although it was now sadly minus its sails. More impressive was the lighthouse a little further along, where the path made a couple of sudden right angle turns to once again join the clifftop proper. From here it was a fairly short walk down into the chaos of Dover, which was a bit of a shock to the system. The path skirted along the top of the Eastern Docks amd it was amazing to see all the goings on within the port, even though it was a fairly routine kind of a day. I made my way up to Dover Priory station through the fairly workmanlike town centre in order to catch my train back to Sandwich.

Dover Eastern Docks
This was a walk of two halves; the flat beachfront walk that wasn't hugely different terrain wise to what had gone before, to the magnificent clifftop walk atop the White Cliffs of Dover. In many ways, walking along this section of the Invasion Coast was perhaps the most interesting of all the sections since there was s many different reminders of how much this island has valued its freedom. After a day away from the coast on the previous section it felt good to be on what was real coast! Unlike some of the previous sections, there is little forward planning needed Deal is so conveniently situated for lunch!

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