An adventure on the coast path in Kent

Walking the Kent coast for her 70th birthday inspired Helen Wild to begin a journey of annual walking challenges with friends. 

I turned 70 in July 2018 and wanted to do something special to celebrate. I plucked up the courage to ask a fellow walker, Jane, if she would like to walk the Kent coast with me over the year and she jumped at the chance. 

I think there’s something about living on an island that means we’re drawn to the coast, to walking around our edges. And that’s what makes the England Coast Path so special. We’ll be able to do that in every county when it’s complete. 

A public transport challenge

We started out in January at Jury’s Gap in Camber Sands and ended our journey at Gravesend later that year. We did it in a total of 19 walks and covered 170 miles altogether. Part of the challenge was also to use public transport to get to and from all our walks and we succeeded in walking almost the entire Kent coast, all except The Isle of Sheppey, which proved difficult by public transport. We only had to resort to taxis a couple of times! Where the England Coast Path isn’t yet complete, we planned our walk as near to the coast as possible. 

View along grassy white chalk cliff tops
The White Cliffs near Dover

Having continuity was really enjoyable. Each time we went back by public transport to the spot where we ended the previous walk, making it feel like one continuous walk. It was particularly special that our walk was in the place where we live. We really enjoy Kent, linking up all the places we know and making new discoveries too.   

You go through such a wide range of environments as you walk around the coast of Kent; from the built-up areas around Whitstable to the Isle of Grain, which felt like a complete shock - so remote and quite cut off from public transport. 

On each leg of our walk, I picked up a pebble and dated it as a keepsake. Once we’d completed the coast an artist friend painted a picture of all the pebbles for me, which is a wonderful souvenir to remind me of all the different stages of the walk. 

Two women standing by a river shore, in front of a large bridge
Helen (left) and Jane towards the end of their walk, near Gravesend and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge

A return route and appetite for more

The following year, we didn’t want to stop, so we did the walk in the other direction, this time starting at Gravesend. Another friend, Alison,  joined us too, after hearing all about the first challenge. She’s loved every step of the way. 

A path along a narrow grassy strip beside the sea
Oare Marshes, near Faversham

Since then, we’ve planned a new walk every year. We walked the Stour Valley last year and this year we’re walking the Elham Valley, which is absolutely beautiful. 

We’ve loved all the adventures on the way; the people you meet and chat to, either local people or those also walking. We worked out the mysteries of public transport and once misread the tide timetable, resulting in an extra-long walk after getting cut off by high tide! 

As a reminder, I documented the walk in a concertina sketchbook, cutting up the OS map and twisting and turning so it runs as a linear walk across the pages, sticking in photos and other details of each section. It’s a good reminder to look back on. 

It’s Jane’s 70th birthday next year and I’m a bit worried about what she may have planned!

Celebrate creation of the English Coast Path

Join our Coast Path Countdown as we work to connect all sections of the England Coast Path to create routes right around Great Britain.