Steeped in history, a walk along the Royal Military Canal at Hythe, in Kent, is a route that I do quite often.
However, it’s not just the history that’s of interest. I love the variety the walk offers, with lots of other walkers to say hello to at the start, peace and solitude when I reach the woodland further on and beautiful swans, magnificent trees and stunning countryside along the way.
The canal was built between 1804 and 1809 as a defence against invasion in the Napoleonic Wars with France. It runs for 28 miles, or 45 km, from Seabrook, near Folkestone, to Cliff End, near Hastings. I set off from central Hythe, parking in Twiss Road and walked to Palmarsh and back, which takes just less than two hours.
The first part of the walk is often busy with people, with it being very picturesque at this point. The canal is lined with trees on both sides, with lots of weeping willows, draped across the water. Here you will see the majestic swans.
In this first section of the walk you’ll also see quite a few information boards, telling you about the history of the canal. There are statues too, of soldiers and of the canal builders, the navvies, of which 700 were employed at the height of construction in 1805.
Cross the road and continue to follow the canal, with the footpath clearly marked by regular signs.
You’ll soon arrive at the former Dukes Head pub, which is now derelict. Here, you need to cross Dymchurch Road, to Holman’s Field and continue to follow the canal and the signs. You might be lucky enough to see cormorants, often seen standing close to the water, with their wings held out to dry. You’ll also see fishermen along this stretch – and a mighty oak tree on the green.
There’s one more road to cross, as you see the Folkestone, Hythe and Romney light railway station right in front of you. Continue to follow the canal signs and head towards Green Lane, which will take you onto a path on the right hand side of the canal. The path on the left is narrow, muddy and slightly busier, with people fishing.
In normal times you’ll see and hear the steam trains at this point, with the track running parallel to the canal. The trains have been temporarily suspended, during the coronavirus pandemic.
As you continue to walk towards West Hythe and Palmarsh you will see the lovely Lympne Escarpment on your right, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are public footpaths across the site, if you want to leave the canal path and explore.
Also, check out the algae in the water around here, it often makes fab photos!
Along this stretch you’ll find a few walkers still, but not so many. Watch out for cyclists who use the track too, but you’ll find it a lot quieter here.
As you go further into the woodland listen out for the birds. Listening to bird song always makes me smile, it sounds so pure and happy.
After 45 minutes to an hour, you will reach the Palmarsh Footbridge, where you will find a working model of an acoustic mirror. Try it out if you’re walking with a friend. Speak into it quietly while your friend is on the other side of the bridge. From a distance of 25 yards, or 23 metres away, you will easily be able to hear them. The information board here will tell you that during the First World War the threat of airborne attack became reality for the first time. Scientists worked on an early warning system using sound and experimental acoustic mirrors were built in Kent. The sound system was later replaced with radar.
At this point, continue further along the canal path towards Botolph’s Bridge, if you wish. You won’t see many people on this stretch and it’s lovely and peaceful, great for some quiet contemplation.
Or start your journey back, depending on how energetic you’re feeling – and of course the good old British weather!