Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Saxon Shore Way Day 8 Sandling - Ham Street

Sandling Woods
OK this is where it gets confusing folks. As you will recall I finished the last section in December, but actually the next section was walked in the previous May! It was all part of my cunning plan to try and get the most of the seasons at each section along the way.

Shepway Cross
It was a very pleasant May day and due to the relatively small amount of time at my disposal I decided to tackle this stretch as the third of the ten parts of the walk, rather than the much longer section near the Medway towns. As it was the height of spring I selected this section as an inland part of the walk that would enable me to take advantage of the spring flowers.

Shepway Cross View
I was not disappointed as almost immediately the path passed into Chesterfield Woods, which were still carpeted in bluebells, almost a month after my last outing in North Kent where I had seen the first ones of the year. Once out of the woods the path then crossed to Pedlinge, a small hamlet on the Sandling road. The focus of the hamlet appeared to be a farm, which had a very attractive pond at its heart.

Lympne Castle
Unfortunately the next mile of the walk was very disappointing, crossing some fairly uninspiring fields that potentially were being left fallow for the year. Eventually I reached another road at Shepway Cross, a monument to the Cinque Ports. From here was a fantastic view right across Romney Marsh, today covered in yellow as the rapeseed fields were in full flush. Looking across to the nuclear power station at Dungeness almost twenty miles away it was hard to believe that this whole area before me was covered in seawater about one thousand years ago.

Curious Giraffe
A few more metres along the road and the path left the road and continued along the crest of the ridge and round past St Stephen’s Church and Lympne castle. This may have been a replacement for Stutfall Castle, a little further on. This structure had been carried down the hill by a number of landslides over the years, leaving just broken walls and rubble. A little further along the old cliffline was a very odd sight, when I was confronted by a group of wolves! Luckily these looked to be very lazy beasts and were safely contained behind a very large fence. This was one of the outer edges of Port Lympne Zoo and as I continued on my way I also got to see giraffes and ostritches. One feature of walking in midweek is that I rarely get to meet anyone on my way, but I did bump into a fellow walker at this point and found that she too was doing the Saxon Shore Way, a rarity I would think.

Royal Military Canal
The path dropped off the top of the old cliffline and down to the Royal Military Canal. This was presumably built to provide safe passage for boats without having to circumnavigate Dungeness and run the gauntlet of naval vessels during various skirmishes between England and France. All was quiet now, and much of the canal has been taken over by pond plants, precluding any further use until a great deal of clearance.

The path continued along the side of the canal for about a mile. The May blossom was now in full swing and everywhere looked really lush in the bright sunlight. By now the weather was warming up a bit too and when I left the canal side and returned to the top of the old cliffline I really felt very hot. I actually felt a little self conscious as I was watched all the way by the sheep in the fields, although to be fair they were probably more concerned with the welfare of their lambs than my appearance. At the top of the hill the old cliffline was very apparent and I sat for a while and tried to imagine the water crashing against the foot of this hill during stormy weather. It wasn’t easy as the sea is now at least six miles distant at the nearest point.

Spring Colours
The path turned away from the sea altogether and the next section of the walk was primarily a mixture of woodland and fields. All the trees were now sporting nice new foliage, which had sprouted in the last week or so. This was very striking against some dark skies with sunlight shining upon it. By now I could see that time was a little pressing so I got my skates on to try and make the earlier train from Ham Street. Very little diverted me from this cause, other than a rather stupid looking sheep that had got itself caught in a barbed wire fence. I went to help it, but I think all I succeed in doing was frightening it and so I decided to leave it be. Usually they break free from these little traps anyway.
Threatening Sky

Despite stepping up the pace and not worrying too much about photographs (there was little to photograph in the woods anyway!), it became clear by the time I got to Ham Street Woods that I wasn’t going to make it for my train. I did hear the horn of the train as it passed, so immediately dropped the pace as I knew I would have an hour’s wait for the next one. Ham Street Woods had a much different atmosphere from the last time I had been here in the autumn, when I completed the Greensand Way.

Aldington Church
Now it was a bright spring day, with birds singing and dry underfoot. Then was a cold late afternoon, getting dark and completely silent. It made for a pleasant last part of the walk and I had plenty of time for resting before getting the train back to Ashford, where I had parked the car.

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