The Final Stage, Part 1 - Canterbury to Dover
For many people, like the couple we met just as we were approaching Dover, this would be the final 19 miles along the North Downs Way, there are two options to reach Dover and the end of the walk, the first - a shorter route continues from Wye to Dover via Folkestone the second to continue to Canterbury and then onto Dover. We chose to take the Canterbury route to Dover and then continue back via Folkestone to Wye.
Our North Downs Way walk would not therefore finish today at Dover. Like us the couple from Essex were not walking the way in stages day after day but dipping into the route as part of day walks. It had taken them 3 years to complete the whole route.
By comparison another couple that we met along today's stage, a man and his young son had just set off from Canterbury and would take two days to reach Dover from where they were going to walk home - all the way to Rome! The father was quick to point out that they wouldn't be doing this epic walk non stop but would be doing it bit by bit during their holidays. We wondered how old the young boy would be when they finally reach Rome and hope that they complete their journey safely. It was certainly inspirational talking to them and my own thoughts turned to the possibility of starting to walk back back to Lewisham from Nice one year after the Cannes Film Festival.
It would certainly be different to taking the plane!
Sadly this was the only really inspirational part of today's walk which failed to capture the sense of achievement normally associated with reaching the end of a long distance path.
The weather didn't help, we recently went to see the film 'The Weatherman' in which Nicolas Cage plays a weatherman who suffers the indignation of having passers by throw junk food at him - a result of him being paid lots of money for giving weather information that people do not want to know or gets it completely wrong. The man at the BBC had better take notice! Today we were promised cloudy but dry weather, correct for the first 3 miles but the next 10 were distinctly damp.
We had decided that if it rained we would carry on as if we were on a daily schedule to complete a long distance path and had to reach a destination irrespective of the weather and we expect to get wet at some point during our Coast to Coast walk so this was good practice.
However, weather wasn't the only factor that contributed to what we felt at the end was a slightly disappointing day. On leaving Canterbury there are a few miles of road and lanes to negotiate which although traffic free are still tiring on the feet and even when the roads run out and you finally get onto some footpaths the way is dead flat. It reminded me a lot like walking in my birthplace home in Lincolnshire, flat fields and farmland!
For much of the day all we could see was the drips of rain falling from our hoods and the brown muddy line of the path through field after field stretching ahead into the distance but even if the weather had been better there still wasn't much in the way of nice views, at least it was flat so we could just plod along and the miles soon passed.
Just outside Dover we came across a waymarker, 3 miles to go, the end was near but not as close as the marker would have you believe, perhaps it was the long detour to get around the A2 or the additional trek to get to the railway station but it certainly seemed to be longer.
The sun finally showed itself as we entered Dover.
By coincidence it was Good Friday and we had already encountered the man and his son walking between Canterbury and Rome two major centres of
Christianity and now we were to meet our own good Samaritans - the couple who had just completed the whole way in 3 years passed on some very useful information - as you enter Dover a signpost has obviously been moved around and points you down a road and away from the actual path, thanks to them we saved even more road walking.
Hopefully the alternative route into Dover from Wye will provide a more fitting climax to our North Downs Way adventure.