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It took us three days but, yes, we’ve just walked a marathon.  We’re back on the trail after an absence of around two years caused initially by a total knee replacement, followed by an excess of food and wine unaccompanied by any serious exercise, followed by sloth, followed by some burgeoning health issues, followed by stern lectures from friends (thank you, Neville) and family (my wife, Carol, and especially my daughter, Helen), followed by serious dieting and exercise, followed by… a successful 3-day walk along the 28-mile Royal Military Canal earlier this week: a marathon plus a bit. The canal stretches from Pett Level, just east of Hastings, to Seabrook, just west of Folkestone and, as walks go, is very easy walking.  Canals don’t go up and down hills!

Royal Military Canal Trail: Pett Level to Seabrook

It felt good to be back on the trail, overnighting in B&Bs or pubs; we had no serious mishaps; we didn’t get lost (tough to do when walking alongside a canal); and the weather was kind—not too cold, no in-your-face wind and rain, just cloudy but dry.  These days, we try to keep the daily mileage down to around 10, with 12 as max, which equates to around 4 hours walking plus lunchbreak and any other stops we make to rest or view.

At the start of the trail at Pett level

The way ahead

The canal was dug by hand by navigators (“navvies”) between 1804 and 1809 to serve as a deterrent to Napoleon Bonaparte should he ever decide to invade southern England via the low-lying Romney Marsh.  Pillboxes were added during WW2 in case Hitler thought the same but, in the event, the canal has never been used to deter would-be invaders.  At 19 metres wide at the surface and 3 metres deep, maybe Napoleon and Hitler thought it would be too difficult to transport their troops from one side to the other.

The canal is remarkably unexploited.  There are no canal-side pubs.  There are no barges, house boats, or other river craft except for a few dilapidated boats clustered alongside a small untidy caravan park near Appledore.  We passed very few people—some dog walkers, a lone man fishing (for pike, I discovered), two other walkers going in the opposite direction who grunted to acknowledge my cheery greeting, one very buxom horse rider, one twitcher, and that was about it.  But, with one short exception (between Ruckinge and Bilsington), the path was easy walking; no substantial mud, no long grass, only one herd of cows (we’re wary of cows), and a few unconcerned sheep with enough droppings to merit a careful watch on where we placed our boots.

Oast’s Inn, Playden

Roundel room, Oast’s Inn

We spent the first night in a converted oast house (Oast’s Inn at Playden, just outside Rye).  Oast houses are used to dry hops and are characterised by internal drying kilns with conical roofs to let the smoke escape.  Our room was in one of the upper “roundel” sections of the building and, wonders of wonders, contained two easy chairs, an end-of-day bonus for weary walkers.

The second night was in a traditional pub—The White Horse at Bilsington.  Both places served excellent meals, much appreciated after a day’s plodding.

Relaxing after a hard day’s walk

We also took time out on the second morning to explore the attractive and, in parts, very old Cinque Port town of Rye.  If you were looking for a place to explore for a few days, Rye would be a recommendation.  It contains a Cinque Port gate, a castle (Ypres, now a museum), an old church with an unusual water reservoir in its grounds, a windmill (now a guest house), a Martello tower (small coastal defence forts), picturesque cobbled streets and old buildings, an attractive harbour,  and boutiquey shops to please those seeking the unusual.  What’s not to like about Rye?

Cinque Port Gate, Rye

Cobbled Mermaid Street, Rye

Ypres Tower, Rye

Cannons at Ypres Tower, Rye

Unusual water tower in churchyard, Rye

Both of us now wear fitness activity trackers.  Over the three days, my Yamay registered a total of 76,824 steps, equivalent to 31 miles/50 km after adjustment for my average pace.  B&B input/output distances always add to the official trail mileage.  Carol’s Fitbit step count was in close agreement with my Yamay figure which just goes to show: after 53 years of marriage, we are still in step!

End of the canal, Seabrook (Carol seated on the far side)

soothing Aching knees, Seabrook

Looking back along the canal, Seabrook

Here are a few extra photographs of places we walked by or objects that caught my eye as we walked:

Ruins of 16th Century Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII, near Rye

WW2 PillBox with mattress inside; somebody’s home?

Fully laden isolated apple tree by the canal

Ruins of Stutfall Castle, Roman Fort (foreground) with the medieval Lympne Castle on the horizon

Swan inspection, Seabrook

Next up: the 55-mile West Sussex Literary Trail from Horsham (West Sussex) to Chichester (also West Sussex).  We’ll make this a 5-day walk; probably next March/April when the weather has turned winter’s corner and the days are longer.  I had better start brushing up on the origins of the devout Quaker, William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), and the literary works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet), John Galsworthy (author of The Forsyte Saga and other works), Hilaire Belloc (author, poet, and political activist) and someone called Bob Copper who wrote about the ferryman on the River Arun at Bury.  They all feature somewhere along the trail.

Hey ho!