The Saxon Shore Path near Rochester
OVER AT LAST. A few days ago I came to the end of my self-imposed retirement task to walk from Trafalgar Square to Margate – without crossing a road. The last leg was from Rochester on the Medway to All Hallows on the north Kent coast, hugging the Saxon Shore Path where possible and passing through places as varied as Upnor, the beautiful castellated village and the brutalist Isle of Grain power station.
I did the walk in a pincer movement coming fom London to All Hallows in one direction and Margate to All Hallows from the other (not at the same time!) because I feared that walking around the Medway estuary might prove my undoing. I knew that if I was thwarted there I would not have had the willpower to continue to Margate. It has been a marvellous experience, seeing parts of England I would never have chanced to visit in ordinary circumstances.
I chose Trafalgar Square as the starting point because it is the centre of London from which official distances are measured. As soon as I worked out that it was possible to go underground from Trafalgar Square to Charing Cross station and then directly across Hungerford Bridge to the other side of the Thames I realised that there were no obvious limits to how far it was possible walk without crossing a road. It is a unique attraction of London that you can walk for miles along the south bank without encountering any roads.
My first experiment ended up over 20 miles later in the Lee Valley with me exhausted and – literally- walking around in a circle. After I had done Trafalgar Square to the Millennium Dome and then Trafalgar Square to Islington (both trips with companions to check me out) I decided to do one final walk to the bus shelter in Margate, chosen because that was where TS Eliot wrote much of The Waste Land and it seemed an iconic finishing post.
Among the highlights was coming out of a wood on the path from Teynham to Faversham to stumble across the Shipwright’s Arms at Hollow Shore miles from anywhere. Faversham itself – where brewers Shepherd and Neame have been since 1573 – seemed
to be composed entirely of lovely listed buildings. It was visited both by Charles 11 (seeing a friend) and James 11 (arrested fleeing the country). Unspoiled Whitstable with its beach-based fish restaurants was a total delight as were mile upon mile of seashore pathways with not another soul in sight. The only hazard was unexpectedly coming across a gang who had stolen some motor bikes and were leaving them abandoned or burning in the fields.
All Hallows, on the Hoo peninsular in a remote corner of Kent was a revelation. It has twice avoided being in the centre of enormous developments. Plans were at an advanced stage nearly a hundred years ago to turn it into the biggest seaside resort in Europe, bigger than Blackpool. More recently it would have been right in the middle of Boris Johnson’s plans for an estuary airport. To have escaped two such vast reconstructions is an achievement in itself. I think the inhabitants of All Hallows are happy to continue to live in relative obscurity, at least until the next grandiose plans come along.
I did all this because I love walking and having started to find routes that didn’t involve crossing a road I wondered how far I could get. In principle there is no reason why you couldn’t walk around the whole of England and Scotland and end up in Trafalgar Square. Be warned, it can be boring as when you have to walk around estates and industrial areas before rejoining the main route only a few hundred yards ahead just to preserve the integrity of not crossing a road. I didn’t consciously cross any roads except the northern entrance to the Medway Tunnel where pedestrians are strictly forbidden.
Walking is the ideal way to travel as, unlike cycling which gets far more publicity, you can look around you and stop and savour buildings and actually talk to people. And, of course, it is good exercise. Transport for London has a statutory duty to promote walking though I can’t recall Boris ever saying a word. If candidates for the Mayoralty of London embrace the idea of opening up walkways in central London, my vote almost certainly awaits them.
Trafalgar Square to Margate – without crossing a road
The Saxon Shore Path near Rochester