Sandwich is an absolute gem of a town. I left the car there and picked up the Saxon Shore Way again (having left it at Reculver on Friday.) The path goes along the old town walls of Sandwich which surround the town in a raised walkway, with the river Stour and its various tributaries running alongside. The first part of the wall walk is known as the Butts as it is supposed to be where the men of Sandwich practised archery after Church on Sundays. Allegedly, Henry V’s longbow men sharpened their skills here before departing for Agincourt, via Honfleur (with which town Sandwich is twinned – I am not sure if in an attempt to lighten the memory of the endless English-French wars or as the result of a total lack of historical sensitivity). More information about the Cinque Ports can be found at http://www.cinqueports.org/
I strolled along, enjoying the bright sunshine and the spring blossom, watching the courting ducks and being amazed at the wide variety of dogs being walked – incidentally, since when have coats become de rigueur for dogs?
After leaving Sandwich, the path goes directly back to the coast, over a golf links. The sea looked very grey and a harsh east wind sprang up as the sky clouded over. To my left, I could see Ramsgate, and to the south, Deal. The path goes straight along the shingle for several miles until Deal is reached. Not much to say about Deal – another shabby seaside town, whose history is inextricably linked with Nelson and the Napoleonic wars. Apparently the British fleet was anchored in Deal Downs, and Nelson stayed often in the Royal Hotel (accompanied by his great friends, the Hamiltons!). The remains of Sandown and Deal Castles punctuate either end of the promenade. The former now concreted into the retaining wall, the latter still looking pretty intact.
Walmer is a continuation of Deal, but once you are through it, the path climbs up onto the top of the cliffs, and the next 8 miles were an absolute delight. As I turned South-West, the East wind dropped and I could feel a much warmer South-West wind on my face. The sun came out and I peeled my neck warmer and gloves off for the first time since the walk began in January. Down below, I could see the ferries going in and out of Dover, and on the far horizon, the shores of Normandy.
The path drops down to the shore at St Margaret-at-Cliffe, where there was a massive cliff fall last week – you can see the chalk heap in the sea (picture.) This tiny port is the closest point to France, and is the place where the cross-channel swimmers start their crossing.
Back up onto the cliff top and a lovely stretch to Dover – hundreds of people around enjoying the first Spring sunshine.
I took the 17.03 back to Sandwich to fetch the car, and am now waiting in the (absolutely dire, 1970’s concrete monolith) hotel for Bridget.