Published: January 1st 2009December 31st 2008
During September to October this year I worked and travelled in Malawi (see previous blog entries). I volunteered with the Malawi Volunteer Organisation near Monkey Bay, on their Malaria Prevention project. Before heading off for Africa I decided that I would like to raise money for the projects I would be working on by doing a sponsored walk through my home county of Kent, along the Stour Valley. At the end of my stint with MVO it was suggested that I could raise money to buy a bicycle ambulance, which are used to ferry seriously ill patients to hospital.
The Stour Valley Walk is a waymarked route from where the river rises at Lenham, between Maidstone and Ashford, out to the rivermouth near the medieval village of Sandwich. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stour_Valley_Walk
. I'm following the booklet that describes the route, produced by Kent County Council http://www.kentishstour.org.uk/SVW_bklet.htm
and I'm doing the walk in the reverse direction, starting at the coast and heading west. So far I have walked 3 legs.
Back in summer, before going to Africa, I walked the section along the coast, from Princes Golf Club out to the rivermouth and back. On returning in autumn I did the coast to
Sandwich stretch. Both these have to be there-and-back walks so together only got me about 4 miles closer to the source of the Stour. Both days were grey and damp and the landscape probably the least picturesque of the journey: the redundant power station at Richborough (used in film Son of Rambow) is always in sight, as is the Pfizer complex, and you pass the burned-out old clubhouse at Princes and Stonar industrial estate. It's a flat, marshy, quite desolate landscape that I found quite depressing when i first moved down this way, but which I've come to appreciate. It's the working countryside, an area of contrast and transition: industry and countryside, sea and land. The nearby Pegwell Bay nature reserve is the largest in Kent and is an important haven for birds, especially waders. Walking out towards the golf course i see an owl gliding along the line of a hedge. A yacht has taken refuge in the estuary and the captain gives me a wave. Ominous, overgrown concrete structures hint at the time when a large port here transported troops and equipment to the continent during both world wars.
Sandwich is a village of timber-framed houses and
ancient churches. It was once a Cinque Port but now stands 2 miles from the coast due to the silting of the Stour. There's much history associated with the town and, since making plans to move away from the area, it's a place i realise i've taken for granted a little. Most of the time i've spent in Sandwich has involved drinking - there are lots of good pubs and restaurants. I'll be back to make sure i enjoy it sober more often before i leave Kent.
The friday before Christmas I did the next leg of the journey: 8 miles from Sandwich to Upstreet. In contrast to the first two walks, it was a perfectly clear, cold, bright winter day. Under a fly-over and i see a flash of blue as a kingfisher flies low away from me over water. Past more sheep that graze in the fields next to Richborough Castle and Amphitheatre, the Roman stronghold that marks their landing point in AD43. On into acres and acres of commercial orchards which make you wonder why the local shops are full of South African apples. A pair of startled green woodpeckers fly up from a grid of
apple trees. Approaching the village of Westmarsh I see a Tornado take off from Manston Airport and accelerate away to the west. On to the ancient villages of East Stourmouth and West Stourmouth where the Stour once emptied into the Wantsum Channel. The channel, which separated Thanet from the mainland, silted-up over centuries to leave just a shallow valley. The Flemish refugees that came here in the late middle ages, bringing their crafts and architecture, must have felt at home in this flat landscape punctuated with ditches. At West Stourmouth I'm tempted to look round the redundant Saxon church, but make do with some external photos due to aching feet, fading light and the imposing look of the rectory that holds the keys. Across the Little Stour and the 'Great' (it's not really very big) Stour comes back into view for the first time since the flyover. Time for a crafty half in the Grove Ferry before climbing the hill to Upstreet to catch the bus.
There are more photos below