A Gentle Stroll Around the Coast of Britain
The piece below was written by me, Jane, for a writing competition entitled “The Journey of My Life” in 2010. We have walked many more miles since then but this sums up how it all started and, I hope, will convey the feeling and method behind our walking. Many people walk the coast and every journey is different with each participant making their own rules. Some walk very fast with a view to getting all the way round as quickly as possible. Some just set off with little planning and try to stick as close to the water’s edge as possible. We plan meticulously, partly because we travel to and from the ends of the walks by public transport and partly because that is the sort of people we are. We use well trodden paths wherever we can and rather like long distance footpaths. We travel slowly and savour every new experience and place that we encounter, read up the history, take photographs, meet the locals and always want to know more. We know we won’t get all the way back to Swanage and so the hurry is taken out of the endeavour. At the moment I consider that I will be lucky to make it to Suffolk, but I said that about Essex and here we are. This website is an indulgence but I have learned a lot in making it and hope it will provide enjoyment for a few people along the way.
The Journey of My Life
Did you ever have a dream? A vision, a wish, an idea for a very special journey. A journey to be undertaken one day; somewhere in the future? I did. My dream sustained me through nappies, school-runs and teenage angst. No-body knew about my dream but one day I realised time was running out. The moment had come to stop planning and go.
Over Sunday lunch, I tentatively revealed to the family my intention to walk around the coast of Britain, beginning that very summer. Not all at once, just grabbing a day whenever I could, slowly enjoying whatever appeared ahead of me. Their reaction startled me.
“Cool!” “Brill.” “Go for it Mum” “Okay”, my husband, somewhat cautiously.
“Can I come too” This from my eldest daughter, then 17. Could she come too! What a wonderful, unexpected suggestion. Of course she could come! So we set off, Jen and I, on what has become the most wonderful adventure, the journey that has been and still is, the journey of my life.
That first walk, many years ago now, is fresh in the memory. We began at Portsmouth on an August day of 30º heat and no breeze. We walked east from the harbour along easy concrete paths, ate lunch in the shade of the war memorial, wandered past amusements, boating lakes and a nudist beach. At the end of the prom and the end of the day we came home with the satisfaction of a job well done but with the knowledge that we had decisions to make about this great epic. We decided that we would ignore offshore islands. We would cross river estuaries and harbours at the crossing point nearest the sea. We would name the adventure, “A Gentle Stroll Around the Coast of Britain” and most of all, we would have fun.
And such fun we have had. Sometimes it has been hard to snatch a day by the sea. School, work, university, jobs far away and the surgeon’s knife slowed us down. But now, with retirement for me and with a settled job for Jen, we are forging ahead.
During the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, every footpath in the south of England was closed. The only place to offer any seaside walking was the seven mile prom at Bournemouth. So we walked it, seemingly in the company of every dog owner in Dorset! From Bournemouth, we walked east again to join up with previous trips and now we can truthfully say that we have walked every inch of the coast of Britain from Swanage to Herne Bay! Hurrah! Quite impressive on the CV, should I ever need one again!
We have walked on promenades of all colours, from dusky pink at Stokes Bay to rain-washed grey at Bognor; on grass, shingle, sand and tarmac, over high cliffs with houses too close to the edge at Peacehaven and Birling. We have discovered delightful villages; Selsey, Elmer, Warsash. We have passed though once famous seaside resorts, tired but hanging on; Bexhill, Littlehampton, Worthing, others still busy and vibrant; Brighton, Bournemouth Eastbourne, through quaint towns, justifiably famous; Lymington, Rye, Broadstairs. We have explored castles at Hastings, Camber and Hurst and fallen in love with Romney Marsh, Bosham and the Witterings.
We have walked through blazing sun, cruel winds, swirling snow and climbed Beachy Head in a thunderstorm. We have suffered sunburn, windburn and grazed knees, taken thousands of photos, travelled on buses old and new and know the rail map of the south of England inside out.
We have crossed estuaries on bridges, close to the sea and miles inland. We even paddled across one shallow river –we didn’t see the sign which said, “Don’t cross here,” honest. But our favourite means of crossing has to be ferries. We have developed a real love of these boats, plying their trade across varying stretches of water and saving us miles of walking. From the bustling green boats at Gosport to the little ferry linking Hythe with Southampton, reached by an ancient train along the pier, we love them all. Our favourite is the Itchy Bosom ferry, which links Bosham and West Itchenor in Sussex and also acts as a water taxi for the boat owners.
Of course, what makes this and any journey special is the people. We are always happy to stop and chat and have found so many contented people living near the coast. Everyone seems happier within sight of the sea. I know I am
We celebrate each new county and each new map and landmark along the way. We are now well along the north coast of Kent and plan to walk all the way to the centre of London before doubling back to cross the river at Gravesend. Another ferry with Essex on the other side and more adventures waiting round the corner.