Robust Rambles

Folkestone to Farnham Robust Ramble

Folkestone to Farnham Robust Ramble

Kent has over 4000 miles of public rights of way; a rich feast of walking opportunities. The main robust rambles are long distance walks which start in East Kent, currently Dover, Folkestone and Dymchurch, and Greatstone- on-sea, and cross marvellous countryside to, respectively, Dorking, Farnham, Didcot and Gillingham (Dorset) in adjoining southern counties.

Accommodation and transport are difficult to find in the rural areas traversed by this trail so this ramble is set out as a series of day circular walks which are each complete in themselves and may be taken individually. Thus, the complete long-distance ramble may be done in circular sections using the walker’s own transport to each day’s start. The author used a campervan which made the whole process easier as there are many small campsites across the region on the line of the walk.

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. Unfortunately, these are prone to closure so, if possible, check websites before setting out. There is continuous house building in this area so be prepared for occasional diversions.

These walks are free to download for personal use. The copyright 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 but a conflicting system of internal access paths. Paths are subject to vegetation growth and it is sensible to carry secateurs. Many paths follow river valleys and can be very wet and boggy most 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 major 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; noisy dogs are common but usually in gardens; 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.

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 medieval churches, are mentioned and where they are open, visits are suggested. The instructions have been made independent of place names and waymarks as these may so easily disappear. However, at many junctions and turning points there will be signs which reinforce the printed descriptions. Advice to ignore side paths is given to reinforce confidence in continuing on the intended route.

Even with instructions and sketchmaps there are times when the user will be lost. Always carry the appropriate OS Explorer map and a compass. It is recommended that the sketchmap is used to prepare for the walk by marking the route on the OS map before setting out. Online route mapping can streamline this process but always carry a paper map – batteries run down.

Occasionally paths are completely blocked and the OS map is essential to give a picture of the surrounding countryside and suggest ways of improvising an alternative route. A smart phone with mapping makes life easier, but don’t rely only on one means of navigation.

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.

Distances and timings given in the instructions are only a rough guide. I would always add an hour at least for stops, visits and possible crops and vegetation problems.

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, an adventure and a chance to explore and use skills and ingenuity in daily surroundings which may offer little of these things. Opportunities for peace and quiet away from vehicles are increasingly difficult to find in the modern world. The physical and mental satisfaction at the end of a day’s walking is difficult to equal. Enjoy !