The Fifth Quarter/Inov8 test

Romney Marsh is an area of reclaimed land on the south eastern-most point of the UK, a land of successive invasions, Cinque ports, pirates, shingle and shifting sands.  These days refugees from London have moved in, and its overwhelmingly white, lower middle class - suburban sprawl threatens.  But its still a pretty odd place, to steal a phase from my friend Tim, a 'thin place', somewhere quite literally on the edge of things, and I have absolute faith that the locals will resist any further infestation, both for good and ill.

'The world, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh', or so says Rev. Richard Harris Barham in The Ingoldby Legends.

My parents are semi-retired there, and we have resolved to get the hell out of dodge whenever we can for the darker months, and they were on holiday and so we went and cat-sat for 2 days, do some exploring and try out my new trail runners.

We drove to Appledore, a chocolate box village which used to be at the edge of the sea, but now is inland.  On the way we stopped at a 'craft centre'.  It was derelict, except for one of those noisy model racing car circuits.  Surreal, empty-ville, and not for the last time that weekend.  Appledore is a funny place - on the surface everything is just so, but there are some odd scenes, derelict buildings, and peculiar structures.  Its obviously not hugely interesting if you are 14 and the bright lights of Ashford feel just a provisional license too far away.

We are walking on the Saxon Shore Way to Hamstreet, and then back on the Royal Military Canal, a round trip of about 10miles or so.  You can't get much flatter than this, the highest point was 25m above sea level!

This little hill just outside Appledore was a great lunch stop (we started very late, its only a bimble!) and one of those places you just know has been a lookout, a place of worship and sacrifice, a signaling post, altogether very significant for the locals over many centuries - places like this just feel 'loaded'.

After that, the Saxon Shore way ambles though arable land, a vineyard, the cultivators always respectfully leaving the path clear and visible.  The sun is up and our ''its only a jeans walk'' is getting warm enough to turn up the turn ups some more.

We get to the Church at Kenardington.  The many churches on the Marsh have a justifiable reputation - they are usually very old, with strangely austere interiors, and were used often for smuggling until the late 19th century.  This one is very bare, and apart from the child and god bothering literature inside I felt quite at home.  Pick on someone you're own size, you lot.

More fields on the way to Hamstreet, through fast ripening Maize to a cheeky half at the pub, as a wedding spills out onto the pavement at Warehorne.

At Hamstreet, we curve round, take a bad path along a sewer (this is a drainage channel, not a sewer in the modern sense of the word) and do a bit of bushwhacking along the waterside for a few hundred yards.  We cross the A2070 and meet the Royal Military Canal.   This is the third largest defensive structure in the UK after Hadrian's Wall and the Offa's Dyke Path and runs in a 28 mile line from Hythe to Cliffend.  We'd only ever done a little bit of it before so it was really nice to pick up the pace and yomp along this easy path, dotted with military pill boxes, for the last 4 miles or so.  Its quiet - we see a runner, a dog walking its family, a fisherman but that's all.  Time slows to a yawn.

So, how were the shoes holding up?  I finally found somewhere in the Smoke to try Inov8's on:  EB's in convent garden.  After much tooing and froing I opted for the Roclite 315's, as they were a bit higher in the heel than the Terrocs (which slipped in the shop), and my feet are oddly mismatched - the right one is a good half size bigger than the left.  These shoes are instantly very very comfy, and I can see why people rave about them.  They were squeezing my right foot a little at the widest part, but plenty of room in the toes and the left heel wasn't slipping too much - by the second day they had settled down and stretched out a little in the the right places.  So the fit works.

What is a relevation is the extra feedback you get walking in these - you can feel the ground under your feet, which means you can respond to whats happening technically but also, just physically.  Once I realised what was going on I found all that extra information quite amazing, initially even a little overpowering.  But it really added to my enjoyment of the walk, its another facet to walking I'd been missing out on.  10 miles in boots and my feet would be tired, but both days I kept these on for a good couple of hours afterwards, no problem.  Yes, this was a fine weather, low impact test.  A little strain on the ankles in the evening, but that's the low heel - I am using muscles not often exercised, and will need to build up my stamina with tougher walks over time.  All in all, a hugely positive first dip o' the toe into the world of the trail shoe.
The next day, we went a couple of miles down the coast road to Dungeness.  This is the end: home of a nuclear power station, an eerie, palpable sense of history, of a narrow gauge railway track that also runs from Hythe.  We've been here many times before:  I can recommend the light on boxing day, though not the temperature.  It really is the bleeding edge of human reality.

The brilliant auteur and film maker Derek Jarman famously had his 'Prospect Cottage' there, and the cottage and his incredible garden of sea debris and shingle plants is still there.  Its totemic, go see it.

Next to this building, is another favourite of mine...a much more ramshackle affair, another artist's garden, full of flotsam and jetsam that the sea has thrown up, incredibly sad and weirdly joyful at the same time.

The plan was to walk around the headland, which we've never done before, to Lydd firing ranges, to see what was up.  Past the nuclear bunker is odd, very odd and very long - its enormous and there are 2 silos, stations A and B.  The government have the best sound systems, obviously, though I'd question their choice of music in an emergency.

Round the corner, it gets very barren.  Although this is a nature reserve, it feels like the military have priority.  Its them against the sea, no place for us civvies, this.  We are walking into a ferocious wind.

A little further on, we meet a range Look Out building.  Its the dead zone.  Beyond the fences and the barbed wire there is nothing for 3 miles or so until the buckets and spades of Camber - just tank traps, shell cases, concrete gun placements and a monstrous swell.  Spooky.

We walk around the ranges and along, picking a good kilo of nuclear blackberries for our crumble later.  Through the bird sanctuary, the oldest in the UK apparently, we spot a kestrel, some grey heron, and then across exhausting shingle for a mile or 2, back to the Pilot pub for fantastic fish and chips and a pint for the road.

The marsh is the fifth quarter of the world, a land unto itself, a place of day trippers on steam trains and bird watching builders, ex skin-heads and artists, of ghosts and misfits, and the sea.