Apples and Saxons 1. The Pennine Way shakedowns part one.

The Pennine Way Shakedowns 1. Apples and Saxons.

The time approaches midday as Dale and I follow the road that is going to allow us to catch up with the Saxon Shore Way.  The sun is burning down, its hot.  Today is the thirteenth of April and we haven’t had sun like this all year. We are both aware of how lucky we are to be walking on a perfect spring day for our first steps into the wilds of Kent. We are already on Plan B, but it now really feels like the walk has got underway. There’s an inner feeling of excitement when heading out on any kind of adventure and now finally it is kicking in.

Dale hasn’t been hiking like this before and carries a perpetual enthusiasm about him that is infectious. Like many of us he hides his worries behind it, but it makes him great company for a trip into the unknown.  I remember the first time I met him, I had been courting his mum for a month or so and we were off to a barbeque into the heart of the Kent countryside, in ‘Old Wives Lees’. He had come down from Buckinghamshire to see his mum and ended up ferrying us halfway across Kent; and then came back to collect us a few hours later. 

I was amazed at that act of kindness even then, as a functioning alcoholic, I couldn’t imagine doing the out run, never mind the return trip. A lot has changed since then.

I had a plan A for today, a little bit of road walking before we got off road and headed around some of the North Kent marshes around Upstreet and Lower Halstow. We would catch up with the Saxon Shore way at Lower Halstow and follow it until we had covered ten miles for the day, then look for somewhere to camp. That changed within a half an hour of setting off.  We had met at UpChurch, sorted out our packs and headed off.

As I mentioned Dale hadn’t done a trip like this before so had begged and borrowed the kit he had with him. I had supplied him with a list a few weeks before and we went though all our kit before heading off. For fifty yards LOL, neither of us had bought milk. We picked up a pint in the local co op and hit the road proper.  

Roads are a necessary evil when walking, the wilds of Kent are not totally wild and whilst roads are easy walking when you have a kit on your back, they are just not what it’s about. We had a about half an hour to do before we arrived at a caravan park that had a footpath at the end of the road through it. Whilst travelling through the park we had our first view of the creek.

The tide was out so the gnarled old tarred sleepers were totally exposed to the elements as they held back the turfed picnic area of the caravan park. A sea of mud spread to the far bank with on low twisty channel of water almost still as the tide was almost fully ebbed. The far bank a mirror image, except for the industrial buildings blotting the landscape. It wasn’t until you swung your head right that you could see the landscape turn green and blue. The vegetation low trees and marshes, with a blue sky full of thin wispy clouds reaching high above us. It was great to be in a t shirt and shorts for the first time this year.

It was at this point that we got approached by a couple from the caravan park who asked, ‘what were about and if they could help us?’

A little surprised we introduced our selves and showed them our map and what we were looking to do. End result, the footpath we were looking for no longer existed, and come to that nor did most of the route I had planned. You can’t help wondering if the path had been long buried because the park owners didn’t want walkers walking through their park.

Whether this was the case or not was irrelevant, we had to adjust our plans.  It is very tempting to try to stick to plan A, find another way onto the path that was plan A, however the helpful couple had a great deal of local knowledge and many sections were now shut or just not there anymore.  It is human nature to dislike change and not accept it. But that was effectively what had to happen here. We couldn’t see any way to continue with plan A and much as it was hard, we only had two days and they needed to be used covering distance and not traipsing around semi lost. We decided to head back to Upstreet and hook up with the Saxon Shore Way there.

Interestingly even paths that are there can be hard to find. We had  missed on one the way out, it was hidden behind a shed, the farmer had moved it, only a few yards, but enough for us not to find it. We found this out by finding the other end of it when we retraced our steps. After quite a steep rise, covered in nettles, the path opened out into our first apple orchard before descending once again to the road. We emerged from behind the shed and continued retracing our steps along the road.

We then managed to miss the first connection for the Saxon Shore Way.

Map reading isn’t looking good at this point. We looked very carefully but couldn’t find it. At least we weren’t lost.  As ever you adjust, we headed back into Upstreet. Dale realised his best cup was still in his car and we collected that on the way passed. Two miles in and we are back where we started.

We checked where we could catch up with the Saxon Shore Way and once again, undaunted we headed off.

It was walking down this road, feeling like the walk had actually started proper, that we found the sign and Path for the Saxon Shore Way.

Pennine Way shake down walk had started properly.

Apples next time. 

If you are able to or interested in getting involved with fund raising or sponsorship for the Pennine Way Challenge please get in touch.

Simon Pollard   Urban Countryman May 2024.

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