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.
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.
Links and books
- The Deal and Walmer Chamber of Trade: The Timeball and Telegraph Trail leaflet
- Walking in Kent by Kev Reynolds
- Kent Pub Walks by David & Hilary Staines
- Kent Dog Friendly Pub Walks 2019 by David & Hilary Staines
- Kent’s Strangest Tales: Extraordinary but true stories from a very curious county by Martin Latham
- Greenwich by Barbara Ludlow
- Greenwich: Centre of the World by David Ramzan
Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000 000)
- Explorer 161 (London South)
- Explorer 162 (Greenwich and Gravesend)
- Explorer 163 (Gravesend and Rochester)
- Explorer 149 (Sittingbourne and Favesham)
- Explorer 150 (Canterbury and isle of Thanet)
- Explorer 138 (Dover, Folkestone and Hythe)