It had rained not long before we set off. The road was slick. The pavement, the buildings, the bark of trees too. Everything was slick, as though new painted. Except for us. We were braced for wet, dressed for it, but mostly untouched by it. Our rain coats were dry, shineless, dull. Endless cloud turned the sky flat, sucked the depth from distance.
Bound for the Road of Remembrance, we passed the back of the True Britton by the harbour’s edge. Sedum spilled from its clogged gutters above us. Ahead, a man unloaded metal kegs from a lorry, rolled them up to the pub’s side door ready for the cellar. Later, they’d be drained into bellies, turned into laughter, cheer, a swung fist. The alchemy of digestion.
On we walked, past the chip shop, past the kebab shop. An old drinks cooler sat kerbside, its glass front smashed. And beyond that rose steeply the Road of Remembrance. Once called Slope Road, it was renamed for the several million soldiers who marched down it on their way to the harbour, bound for the Western Front in WWI. Today it is planted with rosemary – the herb of remembrance – up one side. The other side’s railings flower with hundreds of knitted red poppies, added to yearly, that endure the seasons.
At the top of the hill, under the memorial arch, we found ourselves behind a couple of young mothers. The wet weather had not deterred them. They each pushed a pram, and had a small boy of three or so in tow. He was bright with the freedom of space on the broad Leas. Here and there he tottered, then hid in fits of giggles. His joy reached into me infectiously. I couldn’t help but smile, and found the joy he gave to me lingered as we walked. With my attention free of conversation, it seemed content to rest upon that joy and felt it long after he was gone.
Wind blew strong at the clifftop. Just free of the treeline, a crow played on it – black wings spread, it worked to hover in one spot and ride out the buffeting gusts. Further along, bare winter branches held a pair of magpies. One for sorrow. Two for joy. They meant what I still felt inside.
We dropped down the zig zag cliff path towards the sea. Some way off, down on the front, we spotted the busy yellow of dump trucks and JCBs. For years now there’d been talk of a seafront development on the former site of the rotunda. Empty for so long, it had become part of the landscape: a wide patch of tarmac, desolate, yet somehow beautiful in the way it opened up the sea.
Heaped sand and mud now filled it, dredged from the outer harbour. For two years I’d lived opposite that site in Marine Crescent – the large Edwardian seafront building. Daily I’d looked out from my window onto its open space, and grown deeply attached. Stood there, as pneumatic arms heaved grit, sadness took me. Gone now would be that openness, gone the clear line of the horizon, the big sky, replaced with yet more buildings.
I felt the need to walk harder. The force of emotion inwardly sought balance with a force of motion outwardly. It seemed that as one burned itself out so might the other, and restore some kind of calm. But we walked together, at a steady pace, and that need remained suppressed. The joy I carried with me earlier was supplanted by this, and stayed with me just as long.
We ended our walk by the outer harbour. It was low tide; diggers dredged its bed. One poem we’d read aloud earlier went:
The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement.
I wondered what kind of statement our walk had made, as it slowed down past the seafront developments and stopped to watch the dredging. It was a surprise to us all to witness these large scale changes, promised for so long, finally here. Later, with the day’s revelations still on my mind, I brought this up in conversation. “All things change, that’s progress” I was told.
If you would like to join us for a silent morning walk, please do come along. It’s entirely free, and we’d love to see you there. The next one is on Friday 7th April. We meet outside the foyer of Folkestone Quarterhouse at 8.30am. Walks last for one hour and end back where they begin. Dogs and children are welcome. You can find out more at https://www.quarterhouse.co.uk/whats-on/in-praise-of-walking