History, shifting landscapes and blissful walking combine to make this adventure thoroughly enjoyable every step of the way. At 28 miles (45 km), the Royal Military Canal is the perfect guide for a long weekend adventure and, with a few extra highlights, this route stretches to 31.5 miles (50.7 km).
In 1804, when it looked likely that Napoleon would attempt an invasion, the British deliberated on how to prevent the vast Romney Marsh from being the point of landfall. Utterly flat and one of the closest parts of England to France, the area was considered to be an ideal place for the French emperor to invade and had been the landing point of many other invaders throughout the previous centuries. After dismissing the idea of flooding the marshes, a canal was decided on in order to cut off the marsh along its inland edge.
The canal never saw an invasion, although it was used in efforts to curtail smuggling. Today, its towpath provides a wonderful route to stroll along. Completing the entire path leads you through the region’s historic background, with old churches, wartime pillboxes and crumbling castles all revealing themselves.
The path begins in Cliff End, on the coast between Rye and Hastings and finishes at Seabrook, between Hythe and Folkestone. On your hike, you pass through medieval Rye, 13th-century Ypres Tower, Saxon churches, 20th-century war defences and even a 3rd-century Roman Fort. For much of the route, the canal follows the base of a natural cliff, providing you with very different scenery on both your left and right.
Small villages pepper the western side of the canal, usually little more than a few minutes’ walk from the water. This allows you to leave the path whenever you like, to seek out friendly pubs and overnight stays. You rarely find a hill on this hike; the vast majority is pancake-flat. Depending on your fitness and available time, you could hike the trail over three or more days, or take advantage of the flat terrain and power through in two.
Accommodation is easy to find at the start and finish, but more scarce in the middle of the walk. As a result, I’ve mentioned options in the Tour descriptions and you should be mindful to book in advance. You can hike the route through the year but I recommend walking from late spring to early autumn, to make the most of the long hours and warmer temperatures.
To reach the start, catch the train to Hastings and take the number 101 bus to Cliff End. From the end, the easiest option is to walk the 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to Folkestone West station and catch the train. If you drive to Hastings, you can take the train back there, changing at Ashford. The journey takes around an hour.
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Last updated: April 18, 2023
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
Flat and packed with fascinating historical sites, the first stage of the Royal Military Canal Path leads you inland from the sea at Cliff End. You pass the medieval towns of Winchelsea and Rye, and then head off along the rural edge of Romney Marsh. Nature reserves, museums and crumbling fortifications…
by Kit P
The second stage continues its exploration of the canal’s winding course along the edge of Romney Marsh. The settlements of Appledore and Hamstreet offer intriguing detours and the latter is a great pub stop if you want a hot lunch. The stage is so flat you could practically jump higher than any elevation…
by Kit P
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The final stage takes you back toward the sea, this time at Hythe. Notable historic highlights include St Rumwold’s church and Lemanis Roman Fort. The canal ends just back from the beach, and I’ve ended the route on the shoreline, where you can imagine the expectation of Napoleon’s forces just over the…
by Kit P
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