The moment I stepped toward the Kingsferry bridge to leave Sheppey, it began to rain. Was the island sad to see me go? This attribution of emotions to weather is called a pathetic fallacy, which I learned from a friend while walking, or more precisely, while huddling under a dripping tree. I definitely looked and felt very pathetic and dampened by the first rain I had encountered since I began walking over a week previously. It was the start of a challenging and lonesome day.
Losing the footpath was a perpetual problem, but thanks to a kind stranger sitting snugly in his car with a cuppa from the mobile tea van located under the bridge, I eventually found the footpath. I had very little hope of getting far, and looked back at Sheppey, unencumbered by rain clouds, which made me feel even more wistful about leaving such a lovely place.
The opposite banks of rivers are wonderful things. I looked over to Rushenden, where I had been only days before in the sunshine, and picked out the features of the land, including the hill I walked up with Laurie. By this time, I was thoroughly soaked through, and resigned to it. To my left, looking into the mainland, I had the delight of watching a heron glide across the marshes, unperturbed by the rain. Ups and downs, and forward.
The Saxon Shore Way on this stretch of coast is variable. Overgrown and nearly impassable in some places, and easy and grassy in others, and always with the Sheppey Crossing in view, making it feel as though not much ground has been covered. The footpath moving inland was made obvious by markings left by whoever managed it, and for this I was grateful. If only these helpful white arrows could have continued all day!
I didn’t meet anyone along the way, and I was surprised about how much this mattered to me. The acquaintances I’d made walking over distance and time had thus far enlivened the journey. I missed this. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, fed up, and anxious about the evening’s accommodation, which was not yet in place, I rang Mr F in a mournful state. Hearing his voice made me cry. I railed about everything, starting with my still wet feet, to walking on a dangerous road because the footpath was impassable, to having to possibly sleep in the bloody tent, to being too hot because the sun had come out while I was still in my waterproofs. By the time he had listened patiently and talked my spirits back into me, I was trying to figure out how to take a photo of the late afternoon light on the hillside orchard while walking and talking at the same time. I neglected to mention my picture taking distraction to him, and instead made the most of his sympathetic voice in my ear. A burden shared and lightened!
Feeling better about things apparently had no impact on my internal compass, and I think it was turning from this road that led me to being very, very lost. The thing about a map is that you can look and look where think you are and not look where you actually are for a really long and foolishly hopeful time.
It was grim. The lonesome footpaths were variable – in some spots incredibly well managed and in some completely unrecognisable. It also turns out that even a very well marked footpath can still be the wrong direction, as I discovered somewhere outside Lower Halstow. All photography came to an abrupt halt at a red arrow leading into orchards due to my preoccupation with being lost. The walk went on for some time in an unplanned detour including a circuit all the way round a field until I found the footpath entrance, on the nearest corner. I’m sure the sheep were amused. More pathetic fallacy…
Eventually, I found myself at the top of a hilly field, home to two inquisitive horses. I was not overly chatty with them, due to excessive snivelling, and scuttled to the corner of the field that looked most like an escape. On reaching the road, I was relieved to hear church bells – an evening practise session – a wonderful sound. The sound of people, settled, in an actual-not-just-map-based-place! Unfortunately, I’d landed in the wrong village, one without a welcoming pub and chatty landlord. One without a charming Village green and a friendly B&B. The last slap in the face on a rubbishy day.
I knew I would have to ring for a rescue from my next host when I found myself standing outside an overly-flagged-too-big-TEEVEE-sports-only-blacked-out-windows pub on a charmless High Street.
I waited, deflated, at the station, after a slightly choked phone call. “I’m sorry to ring so late…”
When Wendy arrived, she greeted me with a smile of real sympathy, and when I got into her car, she handed me a banana, saying “I thought you might need this.”
She was right – that kindest of gestures was exactly what I needed.
Just over the Kingsferry Bridge - the rain begins
The Saxon Shore Way entrance under the Kingsferry Bridge
Kingsferry Bridge - clear skies over the Isle of Sheppey
Looking toward Rushenden
The Saxon Shore Way's various levels of growth
Mrs Tiggywinkle scurries across the path
The Saxon Shore Way alongside Bedlams Bottom
Saxon Shore Way leading up Tiptree Hill
A clear footpath!
Into another overgrown footpath across a field
I would if I could find it!
The clearly marked footpath - which was unfortunately the wrong one!
Through the orchards
Morning after a welcome sleep at my rescuers