The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 22 March 2010

Day 1 - St Margaret's to beyond Etchinghill

22 March
Distance: 16 miles
Ascent: 3500ft per Anquet; 6000ft per Mick's watch(!)
No. of killer dogs: 0 (dozens of friendly ones met)

What an enjoyable day!

It didn't start dreadfully early (we're unlawfully camped tonight so didn't want to arrive until sundown), and it was 10.15 by the time we had faffed with photos and the like on the seafront at St Margaret's at Cliffe and made our way up the road.

What a pleasant surprise St Margaret's turned out to be too. It was chosen as our start point quite simply because it fitted the bill as being the 'bottom right' of the country, and I didn't really put any thought into what the place would be like. Quite lovely was the answer, with the white cliffs either side of the bay being set off nicely by the fine bright day.

It wasn't the most auspicious start to the walk when we went along the wrong path within the first 5 minutes, but it was only a dozen paces before we realised our error and backtracked.

I'd like to claim that we paid more attention from then on, but so sidetracked did I get by the harbour in Dover, that I failed to notice that we weren't supposed to walk its entire length. A bit of re-routing for a mile (including an interesting walk through a housing estate) saw us back on track.

Dover had turned out to be a very pleasant surprise to me too. Last time I was there must have been nearly 25 years ago and as I only went there as a child to catch a ferry I had it in my mind that it was a place you'd only ever go to in order to travel to France. Add to that the fact that all of the media coverage of the area that sticks in my mind from the last decade was negatively focussing on immigrant issues, and it was enough to make me think that the place had nothing to recommend it. How wrong I was!

Back on course and heading up another lumpy bit of cliff (festooned with remains of WW2 structures), the day started to cloud over and the wind picked up, enough to make us stagger at times (fortunately it was an onshore wind so it was pushing us to safety rather than over the edge).

By the time we stopped for lunch at the Cliff Top Cafe (2pm) there was rain to be seen heading our way from Dungeoness - but miraculously (and even though we could see rain ahead of us for much of the afternoon) it skirted us.

The afternoon saw us leave the cliffs, head around the north side of Folkestone and then inland, but it was still a pleasing walk. The bits of route I had thought were on lanes were on the downs, or in fields adjacent to the tarmac, so we got through the day with remarkably little paved surface, considering.

It was gone 5.30 by the time we reached Etchinghill, where we thought we were going to have to make a not-insignificant diversion into the village to beg some water. Happily about twenty paces off-route, in the direction of the village, we found ourselves outside a garage (of the mechanics rather than of the petrol selling variety) where they were more than happy to point us in the direction of their kitchen and tell us to help ourselves.

With grateful thanks we hauled our packs (now with 7 litres of water between us, to cover the camp as well as tomorrow's drinking water (not sure how I got to carry the extra litre!)) onto our backs and headed back onto the North Downs Way.

A short while later, with the first hint of dusk, we found ourselves a reasonably discrete (discreet? I can never remember which is which and didn't bring a dictionary with me) place to pitch.

Here's hoping that tomorrow will be just as good as today. If it goes to plan it should be a touch shorter, with far fewer lumpy bits (in fact the next time we should see a day with as much ascent should be in the Lakes, I do believe).
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