Considering how much I love my Folkestone walks, it’s hard to believe I used to hate walking.
Before I started running back in 2006 after I stopped smoking, as far as I was concerned, any destination that involved travelling further than a mile to get to involved a bus or a tube or a taxi. Even then, that destination would be a pub or some other essential destination and most definitely not a muddy field or some other pointless abomination.
Walking was transport, nothing else.
I still lived in London then and it’s not even like there’s nowhere nice to walk in London. London has a reputation of being a grey, concrete, polluted metropolis and, admittedly, some parts are greyer than others.
Just around the corner from where I lived in Walthamstow though, I had Lee Valley Park, comprising 26 miles of canal, river and towpath – more commonly known as the marshes (Walthamstow, Leyton, Tottenham or Hackney, depending on which part you lived).
I ran around the marshes every Saturday without fail and never got bored with them. But did I ever go for a leisurely stroll around them just for fun?
Why the flipping flop would I do that? As I said earlier, as far as I was concerned, walking was a form of transport, nothing else.
From the city to the sticks
In 2009 I emigrated to Headcorn in the Kent countryside and started a book group so I had people to go to the pub with. A few months later, my boyfriend and I moved to a village just outside Ashford in Kent and I joined a meetup group in the hope of once again finding people to go to the pub with.
This group was called Kent Socialites and, pre-pandemic, walks were organised for each Wednesday morning that ended with a pub lunch. I decided I could put up with a bit of a walk if it meant I got to go to the pub, so I looked out for one I could get to as, country walks being what they are, they happened in the countryside, not near railway stations and, being a Londoner, I couldn’t drive.
A walk in Pluckley (famous for being Britain’s most haunted village) appeared on the calendar. Hurrah, I thought. Pluckley’s about nine miles away, which is local in Kent terms, compared to London terms, where nine miles is a day trip.
I could cycle to Pluckley (I’d started cycling when I moved to Kent because I needed transport), so I RSVPd ‘yes’ and then realised, with it being November, there was a strong chance I’d be cycling back home along dark, country lanes with no pavement or lighting.
I made my apologies and un-RSVPd.
Then a woman named Sue came to my rescue and messaged me to say she also lived in Ashford and would pick me up. Hurrah! Thanks, Sue! (Sue is now a good friend of mine and is currently recovering from COVID. If you read this, Sue, thanks for that lift six years ago and I hope you’re feeling better now.)
That Pluckley walk was cold and muddy and the pub served me a mushroom burger which was memorable purely for being so shit. It didn’t put me off walking though because I started going to the Wednesday walks most Wednesdays if Sue was going and could give me a lift.
The Greensand Way
Then a strange thing happened. I started to go out walking on my own. No one else, no pub at the end of it – just me from my doorstep. Admittedly, my doorstep was on the route of the Greensand Way – a 108 mile path from Haslemere in Surrey to Ham Street in Kent, which made it a bit more pleasurable than if my doorstep was on the route of, say, the M20.
Although I love a challenge and I’d love to have done the whole 108 mile route, because it’s a linear route, I only ever walked a few miles up the path, then a few miles back down again. I did get on my bike once and go a bit further up the path but most of the time, I just went from my house and back again.
I always went the same way too (towards Surrey, not towards Ham Street), because going the other way involved going through a farm. It wasn’t a welcoming farm with a nice big clear sign that said ‘Greensand Way walkers this way’ – it didn’t have any footpath signage at all and, being the townie I am, I didn’t have the courage to walk through a farm, public footpath or otherwise, for fear of being shot at by an irate farmer.
From the countryside to the seaside
In 2017, I moved to Folkestone and, although I didn’t have the Greensand Way to walk up and down, I had miles and miles of seafront and, not only that, but I had fields, cliffs and hills too. (And in case you’re wondering if I continued the theme of creating or joining groups so I had people to go to the pub with, yes I did – I created my writing group, The Write Space.)
East Folkestone walks
Despite me living in the ‘poor’ part of town (i.e. east), all this is within a mile of my house.
It’s like being on holiday every day.
A virtual Land’s End to John O’Groats
In July 2020, I entered the End to End Virtual LEJOG Challenge, which consists of walking or running 874 miles within a year.
One of the participants in my wave (there are currently 9 LEJOG events running, I’m in LEJOG 3) finished in 30 days.
Other people, like myself, prefer to get value for money and also have other things to do with their time like eat and sleep, and will be taking the whole year to finish.
To finish within a year, as a rough guide, I needed to cover a bit over 16 miles a week. Because it was summer when I signed up and because I knew I’d probably slack over the winter (and when I say ‘probably’, I mean ‘definitely’), I covered between 20 and 30 miles a week in the first few weeks. This gave me some leeway in the future on days that would be under 20 degrees Celsius (I’m really not interested in any weather under this temperature) – days I knew I would slack off and stay indoors instead.
Those days are here and, as expected, I am now officially behind in my miles. But only just and all is not lost yet.
Winter at the seaside is bleak. It’s still beautiful and it still feels like being on holiday every day but the weather is bleak. It may not always be raining but it is always windy – except when it isn’t, which is never. I’m currently sitting at the table where I can see my garden and it currently looks like this because of the wind.
I have no desire to walk in the rain or the wind, but on the days when the weather’s not too shabby, I try to force myself out the door even if it’s just for a short walk.
Folkestone walks and urban meanderings
My fall-back route for when I really can’t be arsed to do anything, but know I should, takes me on a two-mile lap up a hill, then down a hill with a view of the sea and past my favourite Martello tower.
Although this walk is scenic, sometimes I get a bit bored with it, so a few times recently when I’ve fancied a change from the sea, hills or cliffs, I’ve unleashed my inner townie and gone on an urban Folkestone walk.
As you saw from the photos above, within a mile of my house in one direction I have the sea, and in the other I have hills. The hills were an added bonus when I moved here as I had no idea they were there. Well, obviously I knew there were hills around because I can see them from my road but I had no idea I lived so close to them and how much exploring there was available.
One day, bored with my hill/sea/Martello tower lap and not wanting to go for a long walk, I decided to go on an urban meander and see where my feet took me. (There is an actual term for this – psychogeography – and you can read more about it here. That lover-of-long-words Will Self wrote a whole book about it, too.)
I walked up and down streets, through footpaths and alleyways, up and down steps. I walked past schools and churches, parks and verges, just following my feet.
There are many good things about my urban Folkestone walks, not least these railings with cats on them.
The main benefit my urban meanders have are that they are far less busy than the seafront. You’ve probably noticed we’re in a global pandemic and people are being told to stay in as much as possible.
Despite that, we *are* allowed out of our houses for exercise and, of course, everyone likes to be beside the seaside and so, when it’s a nice day or even not so nice, the seafront is packed.
My urban meanderings aren’t packed and I can walk the streets without slaloming around people in an attempt to keep to the government-recommended two metres away from them.
What’s a nice wall like you doing in a place like this?
Walking around the streets isn’t boring. I spend the time walking listening to podcasts and there are always interesting things to see, such as those railings pictured above in my local park and this particularly nice wall in a not particularly nice part of the town.
I’ve been posting pics of my Folkestone walks on Facebook and a friend messaged me to say I see more interesting things on my walks than she does on hers and would I mind if she came along on a walk with me one day?
Mind? I’d be delighted.