Saxon Shore Way

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A page from the 1980 guide

One side of a leaflet from the 1986 guide

One side of a leaflet from the 1986 guide recently update.  The guide is available as a mixture of original and updated material at a price of 3.30 plus 2 P&P (or post free if bought at the same time as the 10.50 superbundle from our books page)

 

 

Saxon Shore Way

The 153-mile (246 km) Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend to Hastings offers the walker an unrivalled diversity of scenery from the wide expanses of marshland of the Thames and Medway estuaries to the majestic White Cliffs of Dover.  Spectacular panoramic views follow the route along the escarpment of the old sea cliffs from Folkestone to Rye and from the sandstone cliffs of the High Weald at Hastings.

The historian is treated to the "Saxon Shore" forts built by the Romans at Reculver, Richborough, Dover and Lympne, to the landing place of St. Augustine and of Caesar and to defences of more modem times against Napoleon and Hitler.

The shoreline provides a treat for the naturalist and is a delight for birdwatchers.  Sections of the route pass through internationally recognised areas of importance for birds – look out for divers and grebes, peregrines at Dover Castle and Bewick Swans wintering on Romney Marsh.

The Saxon Shore Way is a great walk for all interests and all abilities, from family groups to the seasoned rambler.

A History of the Walk

Back in the 1970s there was much talk in footpath circles about the concept of a footpath circling the coast of Great Britain.  It didn't then come to pass, but it spurred a group of enthusiastic volunteers to see what they could do to create a route around the coast of Kent.  It quickly became apparent that the modern coastal route would not provide an ideal or varied walk.  So they cast back some 1500 years and decided upon a route that would follow the Roman shoreline in the third century AD.  The Romans were plagued by Saxon pirates and fortified the shoreline against them.  From that the walk took its name.

Initial work was done by Andrew Gray assisted by Sheila Cameron, working under the auspices of the Kent Rights of Way Council, an organisation which represented many Walking and Rights of Way groups in the County.  When she left, the main coordinators became Andrew Gray and Elsie Straight, who, with the assistance of many volunteers and the limited resources of Kent County Council, created a 140 mile path around the coast.

On 22 June 1980, His Grace, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury unveiled a sign stone at the Grove Ferry Picnic Site near Sandwich and then led a fine body of walkers along a stretch of the route, to formally open the route.

Guides to the Walk

The first guide was a set of cards published in 1980 by the Kent Rights of Way Council  (no longer in existence) with the help of the KCC and the Countryside Commission.  These were lovingly prepared by Andrew Gray who wrote the text and drew the fine linear maps which ran from the top to bottom of each page.  These sold very well and within three years there was talk of the need for a revamped publication.

Mick Whittingham stepped into the breach and agreed to rewrite the guide, so that it formed a series of short circular walks.  The first sections, along Kent's north coast, were published in 1986, but development on Kent's south coast held up work on the final sections.

By 1989 Kent Ramblers had assumed responsibility for the guide and Peter Miller oversaw the production and final distribution of the last sections as far as Ham Street (the walk then finished at Rye).  That guide also sold very well.  We are in the process of updating these as the basis for new guide and can supply copies of the work in progress (see left hand column) to anyone interested and willing to accept its limitations.

Next, in 1993, came a book by playwright Alan Sillitoe with photographs by Fay Godwin.  This entertaining commentary on the many points of interest on or near the Saxon Shore Way made no attempt to offer directions to the walker and there are suggestions that the author did not always follow the correct route.  The book did contain as an appendix the linear maps from the first guide mentioned above.  The black and white photographs were largely disappointing.

In 1996 came a splendid Recreational Path Guide produced jointly by the Aurum Press and the Ordnance Survey in association with the Kent County Council and covering a route extended to Hastings.  Written by Bea Cowan, author of many fine guides to long distance walks in Kent, that guide too is no longer available except at extortionate prices from on-line second-hand booksellers.

Finally in 2006 Kent County Council produced a book of eight circular walks, each incorporating part of the Saxon Shore Way.  Although a very fine book in its way, it covered only a small fraction of the route and did not include route directions.

At the present time there is no guide to the Saxon Shore Way in print.  As mentioned earlier, we in Kent Ramblers are working on a new guide but it is a long way from completion.  Meanwhile, the section from Sandwich to Capel-le-Ferne follows almost the same route as the England Coast Path which is described (but in the opposite direction) in our Guide to the Kent Coast Path: Part 1.