Brian J. Rance

Author of "Finding My Place" and "Walking my Patch". Two guide books for long distance walks in the south east of England.

The Walks

Walk 1

To Rye and beyond, and back again

[ Distance: 45 Miles / 72.42km ]

St Mary’s Bay – Littlestone – New Romney – Lydd – Camber- Rye – Winchelsea Beach – Cliff End – Fairlight – Hastings ------ Appledore – Snargate – Brenzett – Ivychurch – St Mary – in –the – Marsh – St Mary’s Bay

In October 1999 I started my first recorded walk from my parent’s bungalow in St Mary’s Bay. I remember starting early and being assailed by a bitingly cold wind off the sea as I walked along the shore to Littlestone. I cut down to the Avenue past the intimidating golf courses, and walked up to the delightful town of New Romney. From here I passed out across low fields, dissected by sewers, to Lydd. I was pleasantly surprised by the visual quality of this small town in and around the main square. I remember sitting in the square, taking a well-earned rest, bathed in fitful sunshine.

In Lydd I missed my intended route out across Walland Marsh, and was forced to slog along the A259 to Camber. I resolved to walk through Walland Marsh one day and achieved this ambition in walk 4 in my second book. I also missed out on the centre of Camber, down by the sand dunes, about which I may have been less than complimentary. I cut across the fairways of Rye Golf Club and walked on down the Rother estuary into Rye. It is hard to put into words what a wonderful place Rye is; set on its conical hill amidst the marshes, given that familiarity breeds complacency. It must be one of the most remarkable of places in the south-east easily rivalling Faversham or Sandwich in terms of its visual and historical interest.

After an agreeable stay in Rye, down by the strand, I struck out to Camber Castle, marooned in the marshes, on the way to Winchelsea Beach. Coming up to the coast I passed onto Cliff End, past Pett Level, which I described as a mini Romney Marsh flanked as it is by old sea cliffs inland. Then I climbed up and over Fairlight Head, composed of weak Wealden strata that was crumbling away at an alarming rate. Indeed as I mentioned the cuspate foreland of Dungeness is largely composed of pebbles washed out of Fairlight Head. After the surprisingly large settlement around Fairlight I passed into the Fire Hills with its wildly undulating path testing my stamina.

I arrived in Hastings via the East Cliff railway and descended to the atmospheric Old Town. I remembered searching for somewhere to stay, as I had not booked up in advance, and had to settle for the most appallingly squalid berth on the front. This experience was formative, as for future walks I always made sure of booking somewhere to stay in advance.

In the morning I caught the train back to Appledore station on Romney Marsh, and proceeded to trek back across the Marsh to my starting point at St Mary’s Bay. I remember being amazed at the wonderful weather, being warm and sunny, on this early October day. I walked on through the restful fields to Snargate, Brenzett, Ivychurch, and St Mary in the Marsh, indulging myself in my favourite place in the whole world.

This successful escapade crystallised in me a desire to do it again, to execute other journeys through Kent and East Sussex, exploring a countryside that I thought I was familiar with, but to which I certainly had an emotional connection.

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Walk 2

Kent Coast Walk

[ Distance: 55 Miles / 88.514km ]

St Mary’s Bay – Dymchurch – Hythe – Sandgate – Folkestone – Dover – Cliffe – St Margaret’s Bay – Walmer - Deal – Sandwich – Pegwell - Ramsgate - Broadstairs

In the spring of 2000 I decided to walk from my parents place in St Mary’s Bay to Broadstairs near Broadstairs where my brother and his family lived. It was the last week in May and the weather was predicted to be dire. I walked out along the sea front, past Dymchurch, all the way to the Dymchurch redoubt, where I was forced inland by the Hythe Ranges. There was a strong cold wind at my back all day and that on top of my cooling sweat made me shiver.

I passed on through Hythe, regaining the sea front as soon as possible, to Sandgate and Folkestone. I remember feeling pretty bad at Seabrooke, realising later that I had caught a chill which was to turn into a bad cold later in the journey. I had a pleasant evening in Folkestone up on the elegantly styled Lees.

In the morning I made my way out of the harbour climbing up to East Cliff, skirting the back of The Warren to Capel – le – Ferne. I strolled right through the middle of the impressive Battle of Britain memorial site. Then I carried on along the chalk hills to Abbot’s Cliff and Shakespeare’s Cliff before descending into Dover. I remember up to this point the weather had been fine and sunny, but walking north with The Channel always on my right, I could see a looming mass of cloud over my shoulder getting closer all the time. I walked on through Dover beside the harbour and passed behind the docks before climbing again to gain the White Cliffs. Here the weather set in with a vengeance and by the time I reached Cliffe I was soaked through.

Next morning I made my way back to the coast at St Margaret’s Bay and walked down off the North Downs to Kingsdown, Walmer and Deal. After Deal I left the coast and passed through the Lydden Valley, skirting the back of the Sandwich Bay Estate, to the delightful historic town of Sandwich. I remember coming out of Deal I got soaking wet again and in the evening in Sandwich I felt so ill I couldn’t even go out on the town.

The next stage of my journey took me through the Pfizer complex north of Sandwich, where my brother had worked all his life, past the redundant Richborough power station, and on to Pegwell Bay. I climbed back up onto the chalk of Thanet and followed the coast to Pegwell, Ramsgate and Broadstairs. In Broadstairs the heavens opened up again, as if to confirm the unseasonal weather. I was now suffering with a very bad cold and in the morning I had to give up this walk, which should have taken me further round the Saxon Shore Way to Faversham, because I was too unwell. By the end of this walk I was beginning to understand the pitfalls of long distance walking and developing a methodical approach that would see me through many future walks.

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Walk 3

Southwards through the heart of Kent

[ Distance: 105 Miles / 168.98km ]

Greenwich – Charlton – Shooter’s Hill - Welling – Bexleyheath – Crayford – Dartford – Darenth – Sutton at Hone – Horton Kirby – Farningham - Eynsford – Shoreham – Otford – Dunton Green – Sevenoaks – Shipbourne – West Peckham – Mereworth – Wateringbury - Nettlested – Yalding – Hunton – Chainhurst – Marden – Cranbrook – Benenden – Rolvenden – Wittersham – Rye – East Guldeford – Lydd – Dungeness ---------St Mary’s Bay

In the summer of 2001 I embarked on my first long long-distance walk from London to the south coast, in imitation of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk. This was a time immediately after the serious foot and mouth outbreak of the previous winter and there was still evidence in some parts of this legacy in terms of closed footpaths.

I walked up to Blackheath, through Greenwich Park, and followed Watling Street all the way to Shooter’s Hill. Then I descended the hill to pass through Welling and onto Bexleyheath and Dartford. This area of south-east London was very much my old stamping ground, when I was growing up, and evoked a whole series of reminiscences.

From Dartford I followed the Darenth valley south to Otford, passing through the charming villages of Farningham, Eynsford and Shoreham. I remember this being a long tiring leg all the way to Sevenoaks. In the morning I left Sevenoaks via Knole Park and picked up the Greensand Way going east to Shipbourne. Dropping off the Greensand Ridge I passed on through West Peckham, Mereworth to Wateringbury.

Next leg took me due south through Nettlested and Yalding in the Medway valley. I have come to regard Yalding as the dead centre of Kent, and curiously the last village alphabetically. I walked on through the valleys of the Beult and Teise, two of the Medway’s major tributaries, to Marden. After Marden, at Hushheath Manor, I hit The Weald, eventually reaching Cranbrook, the so-called capital of The Weald.

Next day, turning eastwards, I trekked on to Benenden and Rolvenden, passing out by Rolvenden Layne to Wittersham on the Isle of Oxney. Then I passed off the Isle of Oxney, via The Stocks, across the County border, to pick up the river Rother. I slogged along the banks of the river all the way to Rye. Thereupon I explored the back lanes across Walland Marsh to Lydd and carried on to Dungeness. Here I caught the famous Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway that took me all the way to St Mary’s Bay, the end of this mighty perambulation across the heart of Kent.

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Walk 4

Gravesend to Dymchurch

[ Distance: 85 Miles / 136.79km ]

Gravesend – Lower Higham – Higham – Cliffe – Cooling – High Halstow – Allhallows ¬¬- Stoke – Hoo St Werburgh - Rochester – Detling – Ringlestone Hamlet – Charing – Boughton Lees – Wye – Hinxhill – Smeeth – Aldington – Dymchurch

In the summer of 2005, after a break of four years I resumed my walking adventures in Kent. In the meantime I had completed a number of other long distance walks in the Midlands and in East Anglia, which have not yet been published. This walk started in Gravesend, walking out along the banks of the Thames, crossing the Shorne marshes to Higham.

From Higham I had the opportunity to explore the Hoo peninsula starting at Cliffe. I passed through Cooling and skirted High Halstow by Northward Hill, the highest point on the peninsula. I got as far as Allhallows – on – sea before turning back to Allhallows, Stoke and Hoo St Werburgh. I never actually got to the Isle of Grain proper with its oil refineries and village of Grain. I remember running out of steam on this trip and catching a taxi from Hoo St Werburgh to Rochester, again missing out on the interesting place of Upnor on the Medway estuary. I resolved then and there to return to both Grain and Upnor one day in the future.

From Rochester I picked up the North Downs Way across Blue Bell hill to Detling. After Detling the North Downs Way and the Pilgrim’s Way are the same route to Broad Street and Hollingbourne. Thereafter I climbed up the scarp slope of the North Downs to Ringlestone hamlet. Returning to the North Downs Way above Harrietsham I proceeded eastwards above Lenham to the charming village of Charing. From this quintessential Kentish village I carried on to Boughton Lees and Wye on the river Stour.

From Wye I passed southwards through Hinxhill, Hatch Park and Smeeth, climbing up on the greensand ridge at Aldington. From here I descended down onto Romney Marsh, crossing to Dymchurch on the coast. Before walking the short distance along the front to St Mary’s Bay.

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Walk 5

Woolwich to Brookland

[ Distance: 100 Miles / 160.93km ]

Woolwich – Falconwood – Blackfen – Old Bexley – Swanley – Farningham – Knatt’s Valley – Wrotham – Upper Halling – Cuxton – Rochester – Chatham – Lower Rainham – Upchurch – Lower Halstow – Queenborough – Sittingbourne – Wormshill – Harrietsham – Lenham – Little Chart – Woodchurch – Apledore – Brookland

From my birthplace of Woolwich in 1949, in the summer of 2006, I walked through my stamping ground when I was growing up. First I headed due south out over Woolwich common towards Eltham and walked through the primeval woods flanking Shooter’s Hill. I then passed down through Oxleas Wood to Falconwood and walked along the A2, past our old house on Rochester Way, and on to Blackfen and Old Bexley.

Next day I hiked on through Joyden’s wood to Swanley village and Farningham, and then down through Knatt’s Valley and over the North Downs to my berth in Wrotham. Thereafter I picked up the Pilgrim’s way running along the top of the chalk scarp towards Rochester via Upper Halling and Cuxton. From Rochester I trudged out along the Medway estuary, along the Saxon Shore Way, towards Lower Rainham. I passed through the remote villages of Upchurch and Lower Halstow on the way to Raspberry Hill, catching a train across the Isle of Sheppey to Queenborough. Although Queenborough was an interesting place, I felt guilty next morning in catching the train back to Sittingbourne, since I felt I should have spent at least a day exploring Sheppey.

From Sittingbourne I struck up and over the North Downs via Wormshill to Lenham in the Vale of Kent. After breaking my journey in the splendid village of Lenham I picked up the Great Stour Valley all the way to Little Chart. From here I trekked due south, through an empty quarter, by-passing Bethersden, on my way to Woodchurch. Thereupon I sauntered down to Appledore and dropped down onto the Marsh to end this journey because of inclement weather at Brookland.

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Walk 6

Kidbrooke to St Mary’s Bay

[ Distance: 95 Miles / 152.89km ]

Kidbrooke – Eltham – Blackfen – Sidcup – Chislehurst – Orpington – Farnborough – Downe – Cudham – Brasted – Toy’s hill – Ide Hill – Sevenoaks Weald – Hildenborough – Tonbridge – Tudeley – Pembury – Lamberhurst – Kilndown – Bedgebury Forest – Hawkhurst – Bodium - - - Wittersham – Brookland – Old Romney – St Mary in the Marsh – St Mary’s Bay

From Kidbrooke station I strolled down Eltham Green Road, past my paternal grandparent’s house, where I spent the first five years of my life. Walking down memory lane I crossed over the large ‘Yorkshire Grey’ roundabout on the way to Kingsdown, the location of my maternal grandparent’s house. I walked up to Eltham via King John’s Palace, and on to Avery Hill and Blackfen, walking down by the small river Shuttle. I carried on through Lamorbey Park and up the hill to Sidcup, finishing this perambulation through south east London at the delightful settlement of Chislehurst.

Next day I carried on due south, across various commons to Orpington and Farnborough, following the London Loop, before disgorging out into the proper countryside. From Farnborough I climbed up the dip slope of the North Downs to Downe and Cudham before plunging down the scarp slope to Brasted. The next challenge was the Greensand Ridge which I scaled at Toy’s Hill, and then turning east along the Greensand Way, I pressed on to Ide Hill. Then I dropped down to Sevenoaks Weald, through quiet countryside to busy Hildenborough and Tonbridge.

I came out of Tonbridge eastwards towards Tudeley and then turned south through heavily wooded countryside to Pembury. From Pembury I made my way to Lamberhurst avoiding the perilous A21. Walking in The Weald now I trekked eastwards to Kilndown, walking through Bedgebury Forest to Hawkhurst, and then on through pleasant lanes and footpaths, crossing the county boundary, to Bodium. At Bodium station I hopped on the steam train of the Kent and East Sussex light railway to Wittersham Road station, where I alighted to clamber up onto the Isle of Oxney at Wittersham.

The final leg of this journey took me from Wittersham, off the Isle of Oxney, down onto Romney Marsh via Fairfield and Brookland. I carried on through green lanes to Old Romney and St Mary in the Marsh and St Mary’s Bay.

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Walk 7

Around East Kent

[ Distance: 115 Miles / 185.07km ]

St Mary’s Bay – Dymchurch - Burmarsh - Lympne – Stanford – Postling – Lyminge – Elham – Barham – Kingston – Bishopsbourne – Bridge – Patrixbourne – Bekesbourne – Littlebourne – Wickhambreaux – Stodmarsh – Grove ferry – Boyden Gate – Marshside – Reculver – Herne Bay – Whitstable – Seasalter – Faversham – Ospringe – Painter’s Forstal – Eastling – Charing – Little Chart – Hothfield – Great Chart – Kingsnorth – Bilsington – Newchurch – St Mary in the Marsh – St Mary’s Bay

This, the final walk in my first book, ‘Finding my place’ took a circular route around Canterbury, taking in the North Kent coast, before returning, as usual, to St Mary’s Bay, in the summer of 2006. I started out from St Mary’s Bay, along the sea wall to Dymchurch, passing through this seaside village, and out across Romney Marsh to Burmarsh. Carrying on northwards through The Dowells I crossed over the Royal Military canal scaling the old sea cliffs to Lympne.

Then from Lympne I hiked on to Westenhanger and Stanford a village dissected by the traffic corridor containing the M20 and the HS1 railway line to the Channel Tunnel. I proceeded across fields to Postling, a charming village nestling under the North Downs, then climbed up onto the Downs to Lyminge and Elham in the valley of the Nailbourne. I followed this elusive stream all the way to Bridge and beyond, passing through the delightful villages of Barham, Kingston and Bishopsbourne.

From Bridge along the lower valley of the Nailbourne, changing its name to the Little Stour, I passed on through Patrixbourne and Bekesbourne to Littlebourne. Thereafter I travelled on to Wickhambreaux and Stodmarsh, passing through the national Nature Reserve to Grove Ferry, crossing the mighty river Stour. Next stop was Marshside before hitting the coast at Reculver and turning west to Herne Bay. Continuing along the Thames estuary I pressed on to Whitstable and Seasalter, along the Saxon Shore Way, skirting the Waveney Marshes. I cut across Nagden Marshes to Faversham Creek, and strolled into the splendid, historic, beautifully conserved town of Faversham.

From Faversham I turned south passing through Ospringe, Painter’s Forstal and Eastling climbing up the long dip slope of the North Downs. Soon I plunged down the Scarp slope to Charing, and on to Little Chart, Hothfield and Great Chart, on the very outskirts of the burgeoning metropolis of Ashford. I skirted the southern edge of Ashford to Kingsnorth, and over the Greensand ridge to Bilsington, before dropping down on to Romney Marsh. I traversed the marsh by quiet fields to Newchurch and St Mary in the Marsh, and back to St Mary’s Bay, completing this round tour of East Kent.

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[ Total combined distance: 600 Miles / 965.61km ]