The Icknield Way Path

The Icknield Way Path carried one of my favourite sections of the Hertfordshire Border Walk, as I could hardly avoid expressing on the first ‘Herts Embraced’ walk (on Day 3).  The path carries a heritage with it that connects you to the walkers of ancient ages, for it follows a road that was ancient even before the Romans came, and which in Anglo-Saxon days was noted as one of the Great Roads of Britain.

Much of the ancient Icknield Way is now tarmacked road, but other parts are remarkably left as footpath and bridleway, as they would have been in ancient days.  It runs roughly along the chalk ridge of the Chilterns, above the scarp, and the Icknield Way Path follows the ancient road, or close by it, from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and thence in an east-north-easterly direction across into Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, for much of its length forming the borders of counties.  (It was in the latter capacity of course that it recommended itself to the Hertfordshire Border Walk.)

That is not quite the end either – Ivinghoe Beacon is the beginning of the Ridgeway long-distance route, and the north-easternmost end at Knettleshall Heath is the start of the Peddar’s Way.

To describe the walk is beyond a single, brief post. I have walk long, lovely stretches, but not the whole thing.  The rest of it is bookmarked for later explorations.  I’ll take a picnic: those chalk grasslands looking out far over the lower land below the escarpment are as if created for picnics.

Links

Route map

Maps and books

The route is long, stretching across several maps.  It might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map can be very helpful.

In the Ordnance Survey Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Books

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The Timeball and Telegraph Trail

The Timeball and Telegraph Trail is a remarkably bold route across the whole of Kent, from Greenwich in Kent’s north-westernmost corner to the sea at Deal.

The Timeball and Telegraph Trail is a remarkably bold route across the whole of Kent, from historic Greenwich in Kent’s north-westernmost corner, to the easternmost sea at Deal. When hastily plotting a route across Kent for last weekend’s post I used a couple of known long-distance routes and tied them together with a long, straight walk along a main road, the old Roman road from Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury) to Londinium. That is not ideal though.  Then I came across the Timeball and Telegraph Trail, which does the job with a pretty route (mainly). I will replot the London to Brussels route with it in due course.

The slightly eccentric name actually describes the origin of the route elegantly. There stands on Deal seafront a tower with a timeball – a ball which was dropped at the moment of 1 pm each day, Greenwich Time, visible from the ships anchored offshore, to synchronise their timekeeping. It is an exact counterpart of the timeball on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and in the days before radio or the electric telegraph the moment of 1 o’clock was transmitted from Greenwich to Deal by a series of semaphore telegraph stations, signalling from hill to hill with remarkable rapidity. In those heady days, Deal was a busy port and many ships anchored the Downs, the sheltered water off the little town. (A map does this roadstead an injustice showing it as open sea – ships may moor in deep water sheltered between the Kent coast to the west and the north, and the Goodwin Sands to the east.) Deal is a quieter place now, relying on its old charm.

Cottage in Womenswold, Kent

The route then runs the same route from Greenwich to Deal, not straight like the telegraph signals but looping over those hills. It is 97 miles long. On the way, the trail takes in some lovely parts of Kent – a county known for loveliness at least once you have cleared the suburbs and can avoid the motorways crashing through it, and this trail seeks to find that right route. In doing so, it begins close to the north-westernmost point of Kent, in Greenwich: from here it is a challenge not to end up waking along roads as the county is crossed by major routes linking the main nodes of the journey, but the Timeball and Telegraph Trail skilfully picks its way though, in parks and intrusions of green space into the metropolis, through to Dartford, then on farm ways to Kent’s second city, Rochester, where it crosses the Medway, then main, sparsely bridged river cleaving the county in twain.

From Rochester the obvious route 9as I found) would be straight along the Roman road it, but the trail instead shadows it along the low-lying littoral of the Thames Estuary, to Faversham, before heading south-east.  Here I follows downland paths, looping east, crossing straight beneath the main roads and railway coming from Europe to Womenswold and then east to the sea at Deal.

I cannot hail the Timeball and Telegraph Trail as a true ‘county way’ for Kent as it is all in the northern half of the county and thus omits some of the best bits of the Garden of England, but is the closest I have come to so far.

Route map

Links and books

Maps

Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000 000)

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.