Walking England's Coast Part 2: From New Romney to Brighton
Cliffs, stinging nettles, and nature as art
(Part 1 is here: From Dover to New Romney)
I don’t walk to escape people but rather to be around more of them. So when I planned my trek from Dover to Portsmouth I had images of boardwalks crowded with arcades, high streets chock full of fish and chip shops, and town centers of ancient churches and quaint inns above pubs, with the occasional field of sheep thrown in as a periodic perk — short postcard-like ads interrupting a human drama.
That’s not how it’s been at all, certainly not for the last five days. Since I left New Romney it’s been almost all nature, much of it magnificent, some of it brutal, which given I agree with the Woody Allen line, "I’m at two with nature,” has been a test for me.
It is a test I seemingly failed for the first three days, when nature was thick with stinging nettles, thin on shade, and set under the cloudless heat wave engulfing England.
I came back to England because it has a walking culture, with a law that says anyone can pass through private lands, which in the US would get you shot. It also has a network of public footpaths that connects almost any two points in the country, which can be navigated with Ordnance Survey maps and webpages such as Slow Ways.
It is a great system, but while footpaths do exist, they’re not always the easiest to use. Some, like the majority between New Romney and Rye, are footpaths in name only.
During one four-mile stretch, after hacking my way through two miles of bush that left my skin burning and vibrating1, I was entirely on my own, crossing fields of cut rapeseed stalks, searching for the next footbridge to the next field, hoping I was heading in the right direction.
The stalks were about a foot high, remarkably sharp, and the recently tilled ground baked into odd shapes, making for chaotic footholds.
Some paths I couldn’t find, or the fields were so thick I couldn’t walk through them, so I was forced to walk along the single road, which if it did have a sidewalk, was so thin, so overgrown, that being slapped in the back of the head by a semi mirror was a real risk.