143. Rye to Dungeness

March 2006

This was a wonderful walk starting from the beautiful town of Rye I follow the river south to the sea once more, walk along the beautiful sandy beach at Camber Sands, head into a military firing range for a trudge along the shingle to end up at one of the weirdest places on the coast, Dungeness. This is almost a desert as it is a mass of shingle, with some other unusual features too. It also sees me cross into another country, Kent.

I started by driving down to Rye. This time I took the M25, M26, M20 and then the A2070 and A259 to Rye. It took about 90 minutes. I parked in a pay and display car park near the station. Last time I had reached Rye as it was getting dark so I didn’t bother to explore. But this time I wanted to see the town. The town is encircled by the busy A259 but once inside that  you can head up the hill along the cobbled streets to the centre. This is a world away from the traffic far below.

Rye

Rye is an ancient Cinque port who was required to maintain a fleet of ships ready for the crown in return for exemption from tax. But that was a long time ago and now the town is more than 2 miles from the sea (though the river Brede channel is kept open meaning it is still technically a port).

Rye

From the car park I could already see an attractive windmill through the trees, which was just the other side of the railway line. I passed Rye Heritage Centre and Tourist information and first headed up the hill to explore the old town. It was very beautiful with cobbled streets and a mixture of brick, stone and white clapper-board fronted buildings. It was more or less free of traffic and I could well imagine that the centre of the town had changed very little in the last few hundred years.

Rye

Rye

Rye

Rye

I took plenty of photos (you can see a selection above) and was also impressed by the size of the church. Though not marked on the map I was also pleased to come across this small castle, too.

Rye Castle

The height of the castle meant I had a good view over the river Brere and my onwards  route to the coast, though there did seem to be plumes of smoking coming from something on the other side of the river.

Rye

Sadly about this time I began to have troubles with my camera. I’d bought my first digital camera a few years previously, an Olympus C220. Whilst it was basic a digital camera it was a revolution to me. When previously a photo would cost about 20p (for film and processing) with digital it would be a tiny fraction of a penny once you’d bought the camera. Not only that but you could see the result instantly on the screen on the back of the camera so had chance to take it again if it hadn’t worked. Rather than find out weeks later when you got the film processed! It was also lighter too, and no need to remember to pack a film! However this first camera had no manual controls, was only 2 mega-pixel and had slightly iffy (in my view) white balance (and sometimes focus). As technology moved quickly I soon upgraded to a Canon Powershot A80 which is what I was using today and had been for a few years. This had double the resolution, much better focusing and colour accuracy and plenty of manual controls. I thought it was excellent. But on this walk I started to have trouble with the shutter. Sometimes it was fine but other times it would either get stuck open, giving a near 100% white image or stuck closed giving a 100% black photo. It got gradually worse until a few weeks later it jammed entirely closed and the cost of repair made it not worthwhile. It was a shame because I liked that camera but it was now near the end of it’s life. Ironically, I still have the Olympus C220 (though it rarely gets used) and it still works fine, other than the battery compartment has to be stuck closed with sellotape!

Anyway on with the walk. Having enjoyed my exploration of Rye it was time to get going. I headed down from the castle and ended up by the river but had to follow the roads round to get to the bridge over the river, which is the reason I had ended up in Rye in the first place. There was some building work by the river but I soon found the way and crossed the bridge. Once over I followed the path along the raised bank alongside the river.

The River Brede in Rye

This protects the land behind to some extent from flooding from the river. You can see why too because it’s incredibly flat.

Marshes near Rye

This was once the sea, but silting up and building up of the shingle has meant the sea is now a couple of miles away from Rye. Soon the land to my left was becoming marshy too, so I had water on both sides. The marshy area soon became a lake, marked as Northpoint Beach on the map for some reason, but it doesn’t look much like a beach.

Though I could now look back to the picturesque streets of Rye perched on the hill in this otherwise very flat area.

View back to Rye

Sheep were now grazing on this part of the marsh. Looking over the river I could see a lot of heavy industry, where I walked last time and what looked like a ship wreck (or at least an abandoned boat) in the river.

Rye harbour

I soon came across an isolated house at the Inshore Rescue Boat (lifeboat) station. The footpath I had been following left the banks of the river here to turn left to the road. On my left between me and the road now was a golf course. But there was a well used track continuing ahead so it looked like I could follow that to the coast rather than have to follow the road.

The former Rye and Camber tramway

In fact it soon became clear that it was once a railway line with the tracks still embedded in the concrete and part of the golf course! From the map it looked as if it headed to Camber Sands. In fact it turned out (from later research) to be part of the Rye and Camber Tramway which connected Rye to the coast with 3 stations, Rye, Golf Links and Camber Sands. I was probably near the site of the old Golf Links station. The line closed in 1939. In fact I suspect this may be the old station building at Golf Links.

Golf Links station on the old Rye and Camber tramway

The track soon turned off to the left but I continued on another track which continued straight ahead along the banks of the river. Unfortunately after a while this track came to a fence across it with no access signs. However I did what everyone else seemed to have done (by the well worn path) and go around the side along the edge of the golf course and then return to the track as it reached the sea. I didn’t want to go back at this stage!

The River Brede near Rye Harbour

Soon I was rewarded with my efforts to reach this beautiful beach. It was a windy day and the sea was quite rough. I could see it splashing over the partly submerged wall along this side of the river. Not somewhere I would want to navigate a boat.

Camber Sands and Rye harbour

Camber Sands is a beautiful beach, which I hereby nominate as the best beach in East Sussex! It stretches for around 2 miles and is backed by dunes. It has been used by TV companies over the years sometimes even doubling as the Sahara!

Camber Sands

Today though the sand was blowing about so I headed to the shore line where the was firmer sand and less of it blowing about.

Dunes at Camber Sands

It was a glorious walk. As I neared the village of Camber Sands I headed into it in search of lunch, which I found in the form of the Kit Kat cafe (though this wasn’t all that was on the menu). The village itself is small but is surrounded by caravan and chalet parks. It was quiet in March but I expect things were much busier in the summer. The place had a rather retro feel with this old painted wall.

Camber Sands

I also found an amusement arcade with what I think was an original Asteroids machine.

East from here the beach began to become shingle rather than sand and as it was near high tide it became harder to walk on as most of the sand was soft and the shingle hard going.

Camber Sands

By the time the houses had ended the road was alongside and there was nothing but shingle to walk on. I’d soon be seeing a lot more shingle!

Camber Sands

Beyond the houses on my left was a very messy caravan park. Not that they ever look pretty but this one had caravans all over the place with no effort gone into positioning them. I assumed they had been left like this temporarily but then wondered if it was because they were for sale and trying to attract buyers.

Camber Sands holiday park

Anyway the caravan park soon ended and I was back alongside marshes. I was now walking alongside Broomhill Sands, but on this day it was all shingle. The road is a little back here and the back of the beach is used as a car park. I returned from the edge of the road to resume my route along the shore but it was hard work now.

A short distance after the car park I came to the small village of Jury’s Gap, and odd name I though. Beyond this there is an obstruction to the coastal walker, so I had prepared for this walk. Ahead, for almost 5 miles is the Lydd firing ranges. As a result, the road turns inland to go around the inland side of the ranges.

However the military website (currently here) offers the following helpful advice:-

Lydd Ranges are used for live firing with a danger area extending out to sea. Red flags are flown in periods of live firing during which access is prohibited along the foreshore and Galloway’s Road. When there is no live firing access is possible along a permissive path that runs along the coast.

Looking at the map I had spotted there is actually a right of way extending along the coast from the Kent border (about 1 mile ahead) all the way through the ranges, so I’m not sure it’s true that most of the route is “permissive” but it was good to see it confirmed that there is a route the whole way along the coast. So before setting off for this walk I had to find when firing was taking place.

The website above does have a telephone number to call to find out the firing times, so I called it during my lunch break at work. The man who answered was not exactly oozing charm and friendliness as when I asked if it was open this coming weekend I was met with a stony “why do you want to know?”. I explained I wanted to walk along the shore to which the response was “What all the way?” I confirmed, to which the response was “Why?”. I explained that I had walked been walking the coast and wanted to continue to Dungeness. He seemed puzzled but said “yes it is open this weekend, but it’s miles along the shingle and you can’t leave the shore once you start so I don’t recommend it, it’ll take hours”. Well at least he had told me what I wanted to know, albeit grudgingly

So I soon came across this notice.

Lydd Ranges firing information

It was all a bit ambiguous since it told me firing would take place between “8am and Closed” on this day (18th March). I assumed this meant that the range was not in use and that I was permitted to walk along the shore, though the small print at the bottom warned against using the foreshore but did not mention whether this was at all times or just when the range was in use. So I decided it was safe to continue into the range.

What followed was a tough and fairly featureless walk, reminiscent of Chesil beach. There was now no sand and in places some fairly high groynes so I trudged along the shingle nearest the shore, as it seemed firmest there.

The beach in Lydd Ranges

In places some of the groynes were rotting away and collapsing. To my left the shingle had formed quite a bank so I couldn’t really see more than a few metres.

The beach in Lydd Ranges

After a while though I started to find a bit of sand again as the tide had begun to recede, which made it easier walking.

The beach in Lydd Ranges

This part of the coast is one of the few places in the UK that is almost a desert. The shingle spreads inland for a good 2 miles. This means rain water simply soaks through the gaps in the pebbles and so virtually nothing grows, it is an odd place.

Part way through I came across this rather scary looking lookout (I assume) behind barbed wire and with obvious security cameras.

The beach in Lydd Ranges

Clearly if I was not meant to be here I’d have been spotted already anyway! Climbing to the top of the shingle bank I could look inland over the miles of shingle with only some pylons visible in the distance. There was just the odd scrubby bit of grass. It certainly did look like a desert, and it was only March!

The beach west of Dungeness

At some point too I had crossed from East Sussex into Kent. Another county completed! In fact looking at the map I had nearly completed the entire south coast and on a future walk would soon be turning north, to follow the east coast. I had enjoyed East Sussex so was hoping Kent would prove to be as good.

This was not the most interesting of stretches of coast, but the beach was still preferable to the road. I trudged on and soon came to the first feature of Dungeness. Dungeness is a truly odd place, in amongst all that shingle are a few low rises houses and shacks, fishing boats (many abandoned), a few wooden shacks in various states of repair, as well as a few air-stream caravans! But the first and perhaps most unusual feature is a nuclear power station!

Dungeness Nuclear power station

That explains the power lines ahead and I could see it and the various buildings that support it just ahead. It struck me as an odd place for a nuclear power station. I know they are normally built in remote places and near the coast due to the requirements for water for cooling. But a massive shingle bank doesn’t strike me as the most stable surface on which to build what is no doubt a very heavy building and once which you really don’t want to get disturbed!

At least though I had left the Lydd ranges and was now back on a public right of way outside of the range.

Out to sea I could see an area where lots of sea birds had gathered and some bubbling water and realised this was likely where the hot water came out of the power station. Perhaps this brings fish to the surface, giving easy pickings for the gulls?

The sea at Dungeness

I continued past the very ugly looking power station (I think it has since been decommissioned). On my map was marked a visitor centre but I believe that had already been closed for terrorism fears (though I wonder how many visitors it got anyway, probably most school trips).

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station

Beyond the power station was another coastal icon, a lovely lighthouse. Unusually, it was painted all black as it turns out this is the Old Lighthouse. When the power station was built, it made it hard to view the old lighthouse from all angles, so a new, taller one was built and so this one is now the old one. I believe it can be visited in the summer, but it was closed today. A shame, since I like lighthouses.

I planned to finish my walk here at Dungness, but it is a remote spot with no bus service. Fortunately there is another transport option available here, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, which has a station just behind the lighthouse. This is a narrow-guage steam railway that runs for a little over 13 miles north from Dungeness (which oddly is not included in the railways name). Unlike most such railways this one is not the route of a former industrial railway or closed passenger line. Instead it was built in the mid 1920s by a couple of millionaire racing drivers. It opened from Hythe, near Folkestone, to New Romney. However the owners had already applied for an extension to Dungeness which was granted and the extension opened in 1928. The tracks themselves are just 15 inches wide which meant the railway had the title of the “smallest public railway in the world” until 1978. So the line was never really built for a commercial purpose, more as a bit of fun for it’s millionaire owners (one of whom was killed in a racing crash before building had even begun). It was used by the army during World War II and there was even a special train for transporting school children that ran until 2015, so it has had some commercial uses too.

The line is lovingly maintained with beautiful miniature steam locomotives and carriages. It runs almost every weekend (other than in January) and week days during the summer and most school holidays (the timetable is on the website). However this was the reason that I did not get much time to stop in Dungness to explore. The last train of the day was at 4pm and given the time it had taken me to walk along the shingle I had only a few minutes to buy a ticket and catch it. Thankfully the railway does sell single fares and whilst more expensive than a bus (which isn’t an option here) it was certainly cheaper than a taxi and more fun, too!

You have to duck down just to get inside the carriages and once sat down my head was not far below the roof. Still it was a good ride and I was surprised how fast the trains go. I think they are limited legally to 25mph but that feels fast when you are so close to the ground! I took the railway as far as the town of New Romney.

New Romney Station

New Romney Station

I can now add “miniature steam train” to the unusual forms of transport I’ve used on my coast walks (alongside hovercraft, helicopter and numerous ferries). From here I took a bus the rest of the way back to Rye though it took another hour on the bus to get  back to Rye.

New Romney

This had been a really good walk. A beautiful town to start, a wonderful beach at Camber and the remote shingle beach through the Lydd Ranges. Dungeness was an odd yet strangely fascinating place and I loved the little train ride I took from there to New Romney. This is also a good year-round walk because it is mostly on beaches so there is no mud. The only issue is to ensure you check both that the Lydd ranges are open, the railway is running and you can get there in time for the last train!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Take the train below between Dungeness and New Romney then the bus listed below that between New Romney and Rye.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway : Dungeness – Romney Sands – New Romney – St Mary’s Bay – Dymchurch – Hythe. Trains run every weekend except for January and daily from April to late October. The minimal service is 3 trains per day between Dungeness and New Romney. This rises to a train as often as every 45 minutes or so during peak summer. Trains take a little over 30 minutes to travel between Dungness and New Romney. Single tickets are available (I think around £6 or £7 from Dungeness to New Romney).

From New Romney, Stagecoach routes 101, 102 and 103 (The Wave) : Dover – Capel – Folkestone – Sandgate – Seabrook – Hythe – Dymchurch – St Mary’s Bay – New Romney – Lydd – Camber Sands – Rye – Winchelsea – Icklesham – Guestling – Ore – Hastings. Buses run twice an hour Monday – Saturday between New Romney and Rye (you may need to change buses in Lydd, check with the driver) and hourly on Sunday.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 143. Rye to Dungeness

  1. An interesting walk. Dungeness is an incredible landscape. When I did this section there was a red flag flying on the firing range, so I diverted round by the roads and cycle track, and so managed to avoid a long trudge along the shingle. I did, however, try to follow a public footpath that did cross the shingle. It was filthy. I got covered in mucky dust up to my knees, and very, very hard work. Loved the little train and glad you got to ride on it.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I took a lot more photos of Dungeness on my next walk, I was a bit pushed for time to catch the last train on this walk! But I got to ride on the train again for my next walk too. The shingle was hard going but I think I still preferred that option that the road, it looked quite a busy road and from your post it sounds like the path back to the shore was pretty dire too.

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