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


Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000 000)

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.

Walking from (or to) Brussels: announcing victory (or surrender)

Wellington’s dispatch from Waterloo was carried from Brussels to London. It would be a long walk (and if you walk to Brussels it may announce not victory but surrender.) Still, the challenge is finding the best route.

When the cannon had ceased to bellow on the evening of 18 June 1815, Wellington rode to his headquarters at Waterloo, just south of Brussels, and in the small hours of the morning wrote his dispatch, which Major Percy carried at once to Ostend, and thence to London.  The party landed at Broadstairs, on the Isle of Thanet north of Ramsgate, but anyone walking the route will find there is no ferry these days, so Dover will have to do.  If walking from London to Brussels, you may be carrying not news of victory but news of surrender – but I will let the politicians worry about that.

Percy used horses and coaches. On foot it will take longer than the three days Percy took:  the walk to Dover is about a hundred miles, which is a five day walk if you are not caning it.  (I know the LDWA have a challenge to walk 100 miles in 48 hours; well. you can try it.)

The best route should keep off the roads.  It is mainly through Kent, the Garden of England, which should promise pleasing scenery albeit even though the county is sliced up by major roads and railways. The direct route is by road, on old Roman routes, as the way from Dubris to Londinium is an ancient route. There must be other ways.  There is in fact the Timeball and Telegraph Trail, which runs most of the way we want to go, all the way from Greenwich to close to Dover and avoiding the long road walk, so while I have left my original route on the map, I have (since I first posted this) replotted the London to Dover section using the Timeball and Telegraph.

I have carefully mapped it as a proper route, though not one I have walked nor intend to.  To start though I have linked existing walks – the Thames Path from Westminster to Silvertown, the foot tunnel to Woolwich and the riverside to the Darenth, thence cross-country to Rochester.  Any walk across Kent has the issue of where you cross the Medway, and Rochester is as good a place as any, and a pretty city. There the long Roman Road to Canterbury is the direct route – that does the job, but it can be avoided.

From Canterbury the North Downs Way Canterbury Loop gives a pleasing journey down to Dover.

Across the Channel you land at Ostend, in Flanders, and there you may be delighted to find the Belgian footpaths are pretty good.  The main routes are called Grand Randonnée, or Grote Routepaden; but that is for next time.  A hundred miles to the edge of the land is enough for one post – the Further Wild follows, but I have a map of it all the same.

Route map


Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000 000)