Before we tell about our first week in the UK, let us explain how we got the crazy idea to cross the channel in order to hike in a country known for bad weather, bland food, and high prices. In case anybody forgot, our quest was to hike along the E9 – the European long distance trail, following the coast of Northern and Western Europe. The E9 offers the possibility to hike along the Southern coast of England instead of the Northern coast of France. As the longest part of our hike would be in France anyway, we decided to include another country in our route and walk about 700 km in the UK.
We boarded the ferry to Dover on day 220 and after one and a half hours of relatively calm voyage, we saw the white cliffs of Dover. We had another hour or so to appreciate the view, because the ferry had to wait for a free terminal, before we could finally set foot on British soil. Our first activity was visiting a huge outdoor store, where we left a small fortune (let’s call it investment) for winter-proof hiking boots, ultra-light rain trousers, and … a thermo. That should help us through the cold, wet winter of the UK.
Our second activity was having lunch in a pub. It was Sunday, and the dish of the day was Sunday roast, accompanied by a pint of ale. Pictures of this wonderful British tradition will follow in later posts, when we perfected our hunt for this weekly treat.
Our first hiking day in the UK gave us a good taste of what was expecting us: Steep ascents, muddy paths, intermittent rain; but also spectacular sights, good waymarking (even mentioning the E9), and sunshine. During the entire stay in the UK, we didn’t experience cold wintry weather; it was an unusually mild December and even the rainfall at the Southern coast was below average. We finished the hike after 17 km, in the nice town of Folkestone. After all, we were wearing new boots which needed some breaking in.
On the following two days, we were not so easy on ourselves anymore, and walked around 30 km each day, until Moiken’s feet surrendered. The landscape was fantastically beautiful, with long-stretched green meadows, natural forests, and small rivers in between. We started with dense fog and light rain, but soon the cloud cover opened and the sun bathed everything in golden light.
Instead of the usual sheep and cattle, we passed by wild animals on the way, inhabitants of a local safari park. We also had a very unusual lodging: A shepherds hut, complete with a cast-iron wood stove and lanterns, was rented out by a farmer’s family as a romantic retreat. As a special service, they were providing rubber boots, so we could reach the bathroom on the other end of the field. We cooked a delicious dinner of farm eggs and bread on the stove and enjoyed home-made jam and fresh milk for breakfast the next morning.
What we didn’t manage on those days, was to arrive before dusk at our destination, so we had to make use of our headlamps quite a lot. The shortest days of the year were approaching, with the sunset at around 4 PM, giving us little time to hike in daylight. When we arrived in Rye (in the dark, of course!), two things made us decide spending a rest day there: The town was just too charming to be skipped, and Moiken’s heels were in such a bad shape after walking three days in brand new leather boots, that she needed to give them a break.
The B&B in which we stayed, a 400 years old refurbished warehouse, offered an impressive choice of craft ales and wonderful food. Slowly, our prejudice against the British cuisine was beginning to crumble. After a full English breakfast, which would be considered a complete lunch in other parts of the world, we set out to explore the town. Rye, a former maritime port (hard to believe, when you see its current location on the map) and smugglers nest, proved to be a fantastic place to stroll around for a lazy day.
On day 225, Moiken’s feet had already recovered and walking 27 km to the historic town of Battle, where the Normans defeated the English in 1066, was almost painless.
The following day, we continued on the 1066 Country Walk, passing small forests (one of them had a Christmas tree decorated with goodies for the dogs!), hiking through fields, over countless fences, on narrow roads, and next to the manorial castle of Herstmonceux.
When we were just about to arrive at our destination, we saw an elderly lady, who had just slipped and was sitting on the sidewalk, her groceries rolling on the street. We helped her up and checked if she was all right, which fortunately was the case. To say thank you, she treated us to a five-o’clock-tea at her place, just around the corner. We were a bit shy entering a single lady’s home, especially when we noticed the surveillance cameras at the entrance. In the end, though, we had a wonderful time, sitting in Ms. Ivy’s living room, enjoying hot tea with delicious cakes, and chatting about life.