Robust Rambles

Dover to Dorking Robust Ramble

Dover to Dorking Robust Ramble

This walk was inspired after experiencing the Sussex Border Path. These southern counties of England have a wonderful network of footpaths through countryside of great variety. The Sussex Border path has a most useful format being in day sections with an optional return. For those not able to complete the walk as one, long-distant path, it may be done in sections on several occasions. This also allows the walker to use their own transport and stay in one place for several nights. Robust Rambles are designed in the same way.

The Dover to Dorking Robust Ramble roughly follows an unusual straight line feature on the maps of Kent and Surrey made by the railway line from Dover, through Ashford to Redhill, Reigate, Dorking and on to Guildford. Mention is made where walks run adjacent to stations.

Much building work is going on around Ashford and may cut across the route. Sections of path may be subsumed into residential roads and alleys. The right of way usually remains but without signs and waymarks. These are situations where it is vital to maintain a sense of direction and destination by constant reference to the OS map.

Robust Rambles are long distance walks which start in East Kent, currently Dover, Dymchurch and Greatstone-on-Sea and cross the county to, respectively, Dorking, Didcot and Gillingham(Dorset). These trails are set out as a series of day circular walks. However all the ‘out’ sections make one continuous trail and all the ‘return’ sections a completely different route in the opposite direction. Each section starts and ends in a village and, in most cases, at a country pub.

These walks are free to download for personal use. The copyright for the text remains with the author who should be contacted regarding any proposals for wider publication.

The title Robust Rambles was chosen to highlight the demands that country walking makes. Although the south of England is regarded as a benign landscape, setting off away from roads for a day should be undertaken with some thought and care. Although most paths are signposted where they leave public roads, thereafter, waymarking is patchy. Many paths are not evident on the ground and crossfield and field edge paths are constantly ploughed out. In woods, golf courses and caravan parks there may be little waymarking plus obstructions and diversions, even a conflicting system of internal access paths. Paths and stiles are subject to vegetation growth and on occasion may be impassable without some cutting back; it is prudent to carry secateurs. Many paths follow river valleys and can be very wet and boggy much of the year. In most of the region there is arable farming; ploughed fields yield large amounts of mud as well as crops of rape, potatoes, broadbeans and peas which considerably slow the pace of walking. Path furniture offers many challenges. There are thousands of stiles in this region and many are old and in poor condition. Fieldgates on public footpaths should not be locked but occasionally they are and need climbing. There are also many footbridges often made of old railway sleepers. The wood of stiles and bridges becomes very slippery when wet and a potential cause of accidents. Test wood before stepping onto it, don’t rush and don’t jump off stiles. Electric fences appear everywhere and temporary wirefencing even barbed wire is not uncommon. Animals need approaching with discretion. Keep clear of herds of cows especially with calves; aggressive dogs are common and usually caged in gardens, but be prepared for those that aren’t. Many of these hazards are eased if the walker has walking poles or sticks, two being strongly recommended. Road walking is kept to a minimum but is necessary to link paths. All roads are dangerous and country traffic travels at great speed. Always walk in single file, close to the edge and use grass verges where possible. It is sensible to carry a high-viz waistcoat, they take little space and have a real effect on drivers. Railway crossings are other locations where no risks should be taken. Trains pass at increasingly high speeds and sometimes there are reversible lines, so constantly check in both directions. Use sight and hearing; never cross if there is any indication of an approaching train.

Even with instructions and sketchmaps there are times when the user will be lost. Always carry the appropriate OS Explorer map. Occasionally paths are completely blocked and the map is necessary to give a picture of the surrounding countryside and suggest ways of improvising an alternative route. A compass will rarely be needed but as they are small and light it is sensible to have one for those rare moments.

It is sensible always to carry water and some emergency rations if walking all day. Most walkers now take mobile phones and the advice always is to let someone know where you are walking especially if travelling alone. Always wear footwear designed for walking and, for most of the year, waterproof. Properly fitting wellington boots can be the best answer in winter when the ground may be waterlogged and extremely muddy to a depth that overwhelms ordinary boots. Simple first aid kit is advisable and always take the appropriate clothes for rain or intense sun. If setting off in winter remember the days are short; carry a small torch.

The instructions are kept as tight as possible so as not to distract attention from the route and its surroundings and their relationship to the maps. Significant buildings, especially interesting churches, are mentioned which are worth visiting when very close to the walk. The attempt has been made to make the instructions independent of place names and waymarks as these can so easily disappear. However at many junctions and turning points there will be signs which reinforce the printed descriptions. Instructions to ignore side paths are given, to give confidence about continuing on the intended route.

Sketch maps are provided to give an impression of the shape of the route and some features on the way. They are not to scale and should always be used in conjunction with the relevant OS Explorer map. It suggested that the sketch map should be used to pencil in the route on the OS map before undertaking the walk.

The walks go from village to village and generally pub to pub. However these are subject to closure and should be checked on the internet before setting out. Because most people have access to the internet and the use of smart phones, no specific details are given of accommodation or transport. Many walkers will find the easiest way of undertaking this ramble is by camping or caravanning close to the route. There are many campsites along the way and all now have internet access. The UK Campsites site is very good and easy to use. Members of the Caravan Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club will have endless possibilities. Most pubs no longer offer accommodation.

All these things are described so that the rambles are not undertaken lightly. Every walk of any length will encounter some of the possible hazards so also think carefully if taking children, dogs or anyone with restricted mobility. However walking is a challenge, and an adventure and a chance to explore and use skills and ingenuity in daily surroundings which may offer little of these things. The physical and mental satisfaction at the end of a day’s walking is difficult to equal. Enjoy !