Walking the Lyminge-Folkestone loop of the Royal Saxon Way

Here is a another post to give you a flavour of what it is like to walk the Royal Saxon Way. Feeling brave, two weeks ago my wife Diana and I decided to tackle the whole of the 16 mile loop, starting at home in Lyminge and walking down to Folkestone and back.

It was a misty start shortly after 8am when we set out. There are two main walking routes up to Paddlesworth from Lyminge. One is the route on the route card we have posted here which follows the byway out of Lyminge by the New Doctor’s Surgery close to the site of the first Anglo-Saxon graves found in the village in 1885.  This route follows a more or less straight line with only slight bends all the way to the Pilgrim’ Way by Round Hill above Folkestone.  It must surely be an ancient route.  However, a fair amount of this route is on the road and as it was misty, we decided to keep to the fields and take the other route out of Lyminge via North Lyminge.  This path ascends to Great Shuttlesfield Farm, then bears right along an old drove way to meet the Acrise road.  Follow the road left here towards Acrise, then turn right on to the footpath at Acrise Court and this will bring you to Paddlesworth where you are greeted by… 

The Cat and Custard Pot, Paddlesworth

The Cat is an old Battle of Britain pub serving the local airfield of Hawkinge, now largely built over. There is much memorabilia inside, and also an old pub sign that shows how what was once the Red Lion became the Cat and Custard Pot through the efforts of a rather inexpert sign painter.

Opposite the Cat is the church of St Oswald.

St Oswald, Paddlesworth

The church is old. The present structure is possibly 11th Century, but the dedication suggests a far earlier origin. St Oswald was King of Northumbria 634-42. He was a Christian who promoted Christianity in the very first phase of the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England. He died in battle fighting the pagan King Penda of Mercia, and very soon miracles were attributed to him and he came to be venerated as a saint. As a Northumbrian, he was extremely popular in northern England. However, Paddlesworth is the only such ancient dedication in southern England. The strong links with Lyminge since before the Norman Conquest suggest one possible explanation for the dedication, and the church may have been founded around the same time as the monastery was founded by Queen Æthelburh in Lyminge. Æthelburh’s daughter Eanflaed married Oswald’s brother Oswiu who succeeded Oswald as King of Northumbria. It is entirely possible that beneath this ancient church lies even earlier Anglo-Saxon remains of a church founded by Eanflaed to celebrate her marriage before she left Lyminge for the North in around 642.

The tiny church is usually open and is worth a stop. However, we know it well and worship there as part of the Lyminge benefice, so we pressed on, along the road to the right of the Cat and Custard Pot and then at the first bend carried on across the field along the footpath. This part of the route is very straight forward and goes from footpath back to road, joining Gibraltar Lane which is marked as an ancient trackway on the Ordnance Survey map. From this lane you get a good view of Castle Hill, which dominates the skyline from Folkestone. This was one of the mediaeval fortifications of the town. The general layout suggests that it was probably originally built as an Iron Age hillfort, but there has been too little archaeological excavation to be clear about the full history of the site. However, we can be fairly certain that despite its other name of Caesar’s Camp, it does not have any connection with Julius Caesar.

Castle Hill from Gibraltar Lane

Gibraltar Lane brings you to Crete Road West. Follow this for a short distance, then take the footpath short-cut to get to the crossing point on the main Folkestone-Hawkinge road. Across this road the route ascends steeply along Crete Road East. Even on the fairly murky day we were there, the view from the top is striking, looking out from the edge of the Downs with the sweep of the hills to either side.

Sugarloaf Hill and Round Hill, with Castle Hill beyond

You can walk along the North Downs Way which runs parallel to the road but at least allows you to walk on grass. We followed this path up to the junction with the road that leads down to the bottom of Dover Hill. We had been walking for two and a half hours by this stage, so had a break overlooking Folkestone with views over the whole town.

Folkestone from the Pilgrims’ Way

After refreshment, we carried on along the Pilgrims’ Way, which brings you to the road at the top of Dover Hill, leading to Capel. Cross over carefully and follow the path to the right of the Valiant Sailor. Just before you reach the cliff, there is a right turn that takes the path down the cliff to Folkestone, ending up on the broad sweep of the East Cliff by Martello Tower Number One, the first in the line of strongpoints built between Folkestone and Winchlesea during the Napoleonic Wars as a defence against French invasion. Fortunately, because of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the towers were never put to the test.

From the turning at the top of the cliff, the Pilgrims’ Way carries on up to the cliff edge. Before you descend to the East Cliff, it is worth making a slight detour and walking along to the cliff edge. The modern path makes a sharp left turn and carries on along the cliff edge, but it is worth reflecting on what happened to the path in the past. This is such an obviously straight path hugging the edge of the North Downs and heading very purposefully to the cliff edge that one can’t help but feel that it did once keep going. In the book Folkestone: A town unearthed, Keith Parfitt speculates that perhaps this path is very, very old, dating back to a time when there was no English Channel and the path did indeed keep going across the land bridge to France. If it did, it is therefore not improbable that the route back to Lyminge is also an ancient track, for there is evidence of people working flint by the springhead of the Nailbourne at Lyminge between around 11,000 and 8,000 BC, and this is the way they could have come.

East Wear Bay, Folkestone

From the Martello Tower, walk across the East Cliff, past the East Cliff Pavilion where you can descend to the promenade along the beach, which brings you to the harbour.

Folkestone Harbour

From the Harbour, you can walk under the old railway viaduct and then bear right to follow the Old High Street up towards the area of old Folkestone known as the Bayle. This lies on the clifftop overlooking the harbour. About halfway up the Old High Street, there are some old stone steps on the left that will bring you to the Bayle. This area is away from the bustle of the shops and is usually peaceful and quiet. Follow the road around until you reach the churchyard.

St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone

This church sadly is normally locked, though there are regular opportunities to see inside, which you can check by consulting FAQ on the church website

The church is post-Conquest, but is the successor to a church that was apparently founded by St Eanswythe, the daughter of King Eadbald of Kent and niece to Queen Æthelburh.  The original church has long since been lost to coastal erosion, but it is possible that amazingly, St Eanswythe’s relics have been preserved.  A casket was found in 1885 embedded in a wall of the church, apparently hidden since the Reformation.  The bones contained have been identified as those of a young woman, though whether they are really those of St Eanswythe remains to be seen.  At the present time, there are plans for a scientific investigation which could provide an early date for the bones, though it is doubtful that there will ever be conclusive proof of their identity.  Still, it is a nice story.

As you follow the path out of the churchyard, notice the early mediaeval grave markers mortared into the boundary wall.

Early mediaeval grave markers at St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkestone

Turn right out of the churchyard and then take the steps that descend the cliff to the level of the sea shore. Follow the beach along and pick up the path that will take you along the promenade overlooking the sea. Walk along past Sandgate Castle. There is an exit through the sea wall into a carpark and then access on to the main road through Sandgate. Cross over the road by the war memorial. Off to the right is St Paul’s, Sandgate, the newest church on the whole Royal Saxon Way route, dating to 1849.

St Paul’s, Sandgate

The grounds of the Saga HQ building are open, and you can follow the line of the Enbrook Stream. As you proceed up the Enbrook Valley, you need to cross over the stream and exit from the Saga grounds on to Military Road and follow this up the hill past the park on your right. In the woods to your left is evidence of defences from past wars, a Second World War pillbox just visible through the trees at this time of year and on beyond this another Martello Tower (Number 6).

At the top of the hill is a modern structure which is almost all roof. It was the Catholic chapel for the Shorncliffe Camp garrison. Now it is the Ghurka Visitor Centre.

Take a left turn past the new housing built on the site of Shorncliffe Camp into North Road and follow the road along, past the old Garrison Church, now the Tower Theatre, to the corner with Pond Hill Road. The massive amount of building around the camp has caused the footpath leading to St Martin’s church to be closed. When it will reopen is unclear. Therefore the quickest alternative route is to take footpath HF43 from this corner and follow it down to Horn Street. Then turn right up Horn Street. This involves a descent followed by an ascent. If you want to keep on the level, you can also walk along Pond Hill Road to the end, then turn sharp left into Cheriton Court Road which will bring you to the church. On our walk, we faced a further problem because of the major works repairing the sewers in Horn Street. The entrance to the churchyard of St Martin’s opposite the end of Cheriton Court Road was blocked, so we had to proceed to the right further up the hill to the entrance by the Lychgate. We stopped here for a break as we had been walking for almost 2 hours since St Mary and St Eanswythe.

St Martin’s, Cheriton

St Martin’s is an ancient church with Anglo-Saxon masonry still evident. It is one of three pre-Conquest Grade 1 listed churches on this route. (The others are Lyminge and Paddlesworth.) There are only five such buildings in the whole of Folkestone and Hythe District. Sadly it too is locked, the result it seems of being in an urban area.

Pass through the churchyard and head directly on, taking the footpath between the houses opposite. This is the end of the built-up area. Keep on and follow the path down hill through the trees on to St Martin’s Plain.

St Martin’s Plain

It was turning into a sunny afternoon at this stage. We walked on, following the path up to Dibgate Camp. During the First World War, this whole area was full of soldiery in huts and tents, waiting for departure to the Western Front. Now, it is quite deserted. A road leads past the camp down into the Sea Brook Valley.

Sea Brook Valley

Follow the road on, and then take the path passing under the railway bridge that still carries the mainline to Folkestone and winds round to cross the M20 via a footbridge. On the other side, you descend to the A20. Turn left and cross over under the viaducts that carry the high speed railway line and the roads to the Channel Tunnel terminal. The contrast with the Sea Brook Valley is quite startling.

Viaducts near Newington

The turning into Newington is just beyond the viaducts on the right. You can either follow the main road into the village, or take the footpath to the right that brings you around in a curve to the church.

St Nicholas, Newington

Sadly, this is another locked church. From the war memorial, follow the main road to the right. Just beyond the houses, there is a footpath that shadows the road to bring you to the railway museum at Peene. By the old railway bridge, take the ramp that brings you up to the top of the railway embankment, where there is a parking area. You are now on the line of the old Elham Valley Railway. This provides easy walking for a long stretch, until you reach a gate across the track bed and the line of the railway is blocked.

The Elham Valley Railway

At this point, there is a footpath to the left that goes through the woods beside the line, crosses one of the sources of the Sea Brook and then enters a field. There is a slow trudge from here up to the main road that heads into Etchinghill. You need to be careful on this road because of fast traffic. There is a stretch without any footpath.

There is a path off to the left that will take you up to Tolsford Hill. The view is worth the climb, but at this point we were at the end of a long walk and just fancied getting home. Even the lure of the Gatekeeper was not enough to make us stop this day, but on other occasions, this has been a super pub to end a walk. It is recommended. But on this day we headed past the pub and then across the golf course to Broadstreet. Cross the road and pick up the last section of footpath that leads across the field into Lyminge, bringing you down Rectory Lane. In the 19th Century, this was the site of the Rectorial Glebe Farm, the farm that supported the Rector of Lyminge. Turn left out of Rectory Lane, past the entrance to the Old Rectory, and then left up the lane that brings you to St Mary and St Ethelburga, Lyminge. The light was fading as we finished our walk. We had been walking for around 7 hours and 20 minutes, which we felt was a good day’s walk.

St Mary and St Ethelburga, Lyminge (on a sunnier day than the day we did our walk)

Obviously 16 miles is a long walk and not everyone will want to walk as far. But if you are up for this and have a day to spare, it is well worth the effort. The range of countryside covered is remarkable as hopefully the photos show, from North Downs to coast, through the old town of Folkestone then along the sea front and then up through Sandgate and Horn Street into countryside again, finishing with the line of the old railway to bring you back onto the North Downs at Lyminge. A good day out!

Rob Baldwin

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