The high-speed HS1 service to Dover from St. Pancras is a joy, giving a preview of the path I will walk to Hythe. The climb up to Shakespeare Cliff is familiar and strange, now that I am walking in the opposite direction from the final day on the North Downs Way a few years earlier. It would help if you had a head for heights along this section as the path follows the cliff edge closely, perhaps too close at times and made more fearful from the evidence of recent cliff falls. In the shape of a Spitfire wing, the Battle of Britain memorial building has been completed and looks magnificent.
Shortly afterwards, I descended into Folkestone and joined the NCN Route 2 cycle track, past new flats and seaside boltholes to reach Hythe in the dark. The hotel and ‘sunshine’ cafe perfectly meet requirements before I set out the next day along the military canal to Dymchurch Redoubt to join the coastal sea defence wall around the bay.
The power station is ominous and brooding; you can trace the huge transmission lines into the distance, a measure of the power generated. I turn inland before the firing range after a stern warning from a loud hailer equipped army guard. He must have been bored and likes shouting at stray hikers. Lydd has pleasant cafes and a hotel and pivot around the military range. An early morning road walk, observing wildfowl in the lakes, brings me back to the sea at Jury’s Gap for the familiar sea defence wall into Cambersands and inland to Rye. I keep pace with a seal feeding in the River Rother to the bridge to join the 1066 Country Walk and other paths alongside the military canal again to Cliff End. The chalk cliffs reassert themselves towards Hastings and a fantastic descent into the old port.
Either shingle or roadway leads to Pevensey and Eastbourne. I arrive too early but treat myself to a restaurant meal which I later regret. The B&B at the eastern end of Eastbourne is one of the finest so far, and a comfortable last night before I realised I have food poisoning. I make good progress over the Seven Sisters roller coaster downs to Cuckmere Haven, but my stomach makes funny noises and then protests violently behind a bush. Disposing of the offending meal makes me feel better.
A secret I had learnt on the Southern Upland Way, when a rotten freeze-dried meal had a similar effect, was to sip Lucozade for at least 24-hours, but it was to take a further 2-days before I felt right again. Somehow, I walked 60-miles without much in the way of food intake. Keeping fluids up and nibbling on crisps or plain bread rolls was enough to keep me going to Brighton and a Premier Inn. It was a pity as the coastal scenery was at its best. Sleaford Head and the approaches to Brighton (to meet the end of the annual vintage car rally from London) were enjoyable. Brighton, Hove, Shoreham and Worthing was endless promenade and roadway. Littlehampton had another superb B&B, before further path bashing to through Bognor.
It was only on reaching Pagham that I enjoyed the walk again. I slurped and squelched through the mudflats at the low-tide route watching the brent geese feed. The shingle spit at Church Norton was recently breached to allow the ebbing tide to flow out of the harbour without eroding the coastline further west, putting houses at risk. The Selsey fishermen were landing a handsome catch of Sea Bass, hauling their tender to safer elevation.
After studying the accommodation possibilities and realising Chichester would be too expensive, I planned to end the season the next day. Walking around the Medmerry Nature Reserve, which once joined with Pagham Harbour to isolate Selsey as ‘Seal’ Island, I reached familiar shorelines and a long beach walk to West Wittering. The low tide gave a direct route without the need to scale the groynes. I could nibble a Chelsea bun bought at East Wittering village, sufficient energy for the journey inland along the mudflat shores of Chichester Harbour. I kept dreaming of the time I lived and sailed in these waters and imagined the Roman fleet drifting on the flood tide to Fishbourne some 2,000-years ago. I had a few moments to explore the Catherdral, with a stunning art installation – a 9-metre accurate depiction of the moon, suspended below the spire.
I shall return to the ECP in the spring of 2022.
Read about my other adventures along the National Trails.
Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.