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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Walk 9 Lower Halstow to Gillingham

Walk 9  Lower Halstow to Gillingham (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 10 miles
Difficulty: easy – mostly flat - can be windy
Terrain: easy but can be muddy, earth/grassed paths, some road.
Access: Car - park in road at Lower Halstow village or Gillingham
Public transport – train to Gillingham, then bus from Gillingham Municipal Buildings (326/327) to Lower Halstow.

Walk through Lower Halstow village until you come to the church which is near the wharf. You meet the Saxon Shore Way here. Keeping to the westward walk towards Gillingham.

St Margaret of Antioch Church at Lower Halstow (one of 250 churches in the UK named after this saint – Antioch is in present day Turkey) is worth a look.The church is of Saxon origin; built in the 7th century, it is one of the oldest in the UK. Halstow means ‘holy place’. 

The nearby wharf, now dotted with a few small boats, was the basis of the area’s involvement with fishing and brick making. Further back in time the Romans harvested oysters here. Examples of Roman bricks and pottery have been found and some have been recycled for use in the church, including some of the roof tiles.

There now follows a rather lonely and bleak walk beside the marshes to the area called Ham Green. Mysterious pieces of rotting wood in various shapes appear in the water. As the path starts to go inland you come to a remote boatyard. The walk across land to Upchurch and then to Otterham Creek is unavoidable.

The quay at Otterham Creek was once important in local brick making. The walk takes you on to peninsula near Motney Hill. This part of the coast has several abandoned and rotting boats of various sizes. Along the walk to Bloors Wharf you get a good view of the ugly Kingsnorth Power Station on the opposite bank. (update - now partly demolished and decommissioned).

Further along is the start of the Riverside Country Park, a pleasant area to the north of Twydall near Gillingham. It is 125 acres of marsh, meadow, pond and grassland. You will soon come to a path (which is not part of the Saxon Shore Way) that leads to the end of Horrid Hill. Follow this to the end. A viewing area here identifies points in the distance and birds that can be spotted. The spit was once part of a cement factory. The name of Horrid Hill is said to have originated from the time prison ships were moored here in the Napoleonic Wars and the dreadful conditions suffered by the inmates.

Walk back to the Saxon Shore Way and continue west. The beach at Gillingham is an unlikely and pleasant surprise. Gillingham is one of the Medway Towns and is recorded in the Domesday Book. In 1667 the town was invaded by a Dutch fleet which had sailed up the river. It was a short lived occupation but one which caused great embarrassment to the Royal Navy. It became known as the Raid of Medway. Notable people from the town include Gary Rhodes (Chef)  and David Frost (TV presenter).

Finish the walk by heading inland to the town and station or car. 

Snaps show: across the river at Horrid Hill; the creek at Lower Halstow; Gillingham Beach; old boat opposite Hoo Salt Marshes.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Walk 8 Circular walk around Chetney Marshes

Walk 8  Circular walk around Chetney Marshes (Kent)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 6 miles
Difficulty: easy – flat - can be windy
Terrain: easy but can be muddy, earth/grassed paths, some road.
Access: Parking in Iwade ( on 90 Easting)
Public transport: The walk could be started a bit further along at Swale Station

I parked in Iwade. Its is worth stopping for a while to admire the medieval All Saints Church in Iwade  Walk north out of Iwade then follow the footpath north eastwards to rejoin the road which is also a cycle path. On reaching the Swale follow the path north-west along the waterside.

This can be a very lonely walk. Looking back towards the bridges crossing to the Isle of Sheppey gives a firm reminder that the noise and bustle of modern life is never far away.The other way, the Isle of Grain can be seen with power station dominant.  (Update - much of this landmark was demolished in 2015). On the west bank at the far end of the Swale is Deadmans Island. Sailors who died from deadly diseases while in quarantine were buried here.

The path crosses inland and arrives near Chetney Hill. An isolation hospital (lazaret) for potential plague carriers from abroad was started here in the 18th century but not finished. The soft mud put paid to it although around £200,000 had been spent! Foreign vessels were also held in nearby Stangate Creek under quarantine restrictions.

Just before the path heads inland you will see the several rotting hulks in Bedlams Bottom. Across the water are the strangely named Barksore marshes.   

Snaps show: All Saints Church, Iwade; looking north from the Swale in the direction of Deadman's Island; rotting hulks; looking west from Chetney Marshes;


Friday, 15 October 2010

Walk 7 Elmley Marshes to Dutchman’s Island and back (Isle of Sheppey)

Walk 7  Elmley Marshes to Dutchman’s Island and back (Isle of Sheppey)

Map: L/R 178
Distance:  About 7 miles return.
Difficulty: easy – flat - can be windy along The Swale
Terrain: easy but can be muddy, earth/grassed paths
Access: Car can be parked in dedicated car park on Elmley Marshes.
Public transport: Difficult. Maybe a route from Swale Station otherwise taxi from Queenborough Station. 

This is a pleasant enough walk although you will see the water only occasionally, you are not allowed to stand or go over most of the sea wall – this is a RSPB reserve and they fear that the wildlife could be frightened. Lots of sheep congregate on the path and stare at you like bouncers at a night club then run away like chickens when you approach. This is the largest area of coastal grazing in south east England.

There are ‘hides’ along the path including one near Spitend Point. I was the subject of some angry mutterings when I decided to photograph the view from in there. The flash went off and caused large flocks of birds to rush into the sky!

The coast north of Sittingbourne can be seen on most days. To the east is Dutchman’s Island, a reference, perhaps, to the short occupation by the Dutch navy in 1667. People of Sheppey were sometimes called Swampies but many consider this an insult now!

Pictures: views across Emley Marshes and sheep 'bravely' parading on the sea wall.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Walk 6 Warden to the Ferry Inn, Isle of Sheppey

Walk 6   Warden to The Ferry Inn/Harty Ferry (Isle of Sheppey)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: 13 miles approx there and back - half this if you leave a car at each end 
Difficulty: quite easy
Terrain: quite easy, mostly earth/grassed paths
Access: Car only. Car parks at Warden and The Ferry Inn.
Public transport: Train to Sheerness and bus to Leysdown on Sea (a bit further round from Warden).

Walk in an easterly direction from Warden towards Leysdown on Sea. The coast around Warden Point is inaccessible due to erosion. Prisons dominate the centre of the island.

It is a reasonably pleasant walk to Leysdown on Sea, particularly if you like mobile homes! Leysdown has been popular with Londoners and is popular because of its amusement arcades. I went here on a January day when it was deserted apart from a solitary bingo caller’s voice echoing around the street. The Sheppey Light Railway stopped here in 1903 and there were grand plans to expand the resort and build hotels. These never materialised and the railway was closed in 1950. Leysdown is the site of the first aircraft factory in the UK built by Short Bros in 1909. After a year it was moved inland to Eastchurch. The beach is mainly shingle.

A rather bleak walk (during the winter anyway) continues to Shellness. There was a somewhat remote cafĂ© further along when I went there. A group of ramshackle buildings surrounded by various objects suggest beachcombing is someone’s hobby. You will arrive at a point where you have permission to remove you clothes on what must be one of the less likely nudist beaches on the UK coast.

Shellness has a housing estate with high security and, what appears to be, exclusive access to some parts of the coast. A Roman beacon and watchtower were positioned here to warn of invasions. The area was used for similar reasons in WW2 and there are a few concrete constructions around which may be from this time. Past Shellness and walking south west there is a large RSPB nature reserve. There are good views across the Swale and back to Whistable.

After a while the path cuts inland and you arrive at the fascinating church of St Thomas the Apostle which overlooks the Swale. It is described as Kent’s remotest church. There are very few houses nearby now but the graveyard shows that this was not always the case. Several Christians make pilgrimages here to attend a mass held on the first Sunday of every month. The church was built in 1089 and added to later. It has no electricity – just oil lamps and candles. Most of the more recent burials in the 1800s appear to be the victims of drowning. Next to the church is a derelict building which was once Harty School attended by 20+ children in 1923.

Further along and dropping back down to the coast is The Ferry House Inn. The ferry was the most important line of communication to the mainland. The landlord of the inn still holds the rights to the ferry. The road to the ferry can still be seen with views across to Nagden marshes near Faversham. Talk of reviving the ferry has remained just that. The area is considered a ‘magical’ spot by some with the ever changing light.

There looks to be a shorter walk across the marshes for the return journey. I always get rather nervous about chancing these marsh walks especially during a rainy winter. I followed my tracks back to the car at Warden.

Snaps show: St Thomas the Apostle Church at Harty; Ferry House Inn; derelict building possibly part of old school; view to Shellness.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Walk 5 - Queenborough to Minster (Isle of Sheppey)

Walk 5 Queenborough to Minster (Isle of Sheppey)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: 6 miles approx
Difficulty: quite easy
Terrain: quite easy, mostly earth/grassed paths and pavement
Parking: OK at both ends
Public Transport: Train to Queenborough via Sittingbourne, bus back from Minster to Sheerness station.

There is a path that comes out of Sittingbourne and follows Milton Creek and works its way round until you reach Swale Station. Part of this path was closed when I was in the area due to the building of the new bridge to Sheppey. This narrow part of the River Swale, is probably not worth the effort, especially as there is no shore access on the island until you get near Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey so this walk starts there. The Isle of Sheppey means the Isle of Sheep.

From Queenborough station walk to the Town Quay and then to Queenborough Park. The town has strong naval and royal connections. Edward 111 had Queenborough Castle built here in 1360 for his wife Phillipa – hence the town’s name. The front here is quite pleasant with The Old House at Home pub (nice and friendly for a pub lunch and/or a drink). Outside there are seats with views across to the Isle of Grain.

Queenborough was given the right to export wool by Edward 111. Nelson took his naval exams at nearby Sheerness and was a communicant at Queenborough church - he lodged in the town’s high street. Daniel Defoe thought little of the area describing it as a ‘miserable dirty fishing town’. In World War 2 a mine-sweeping fleet was based here to protect the Thames.

All around the Sheppey, North Kent and Essex coast you are likely to hear occasional loud bangs. These may be from the military ranges on the Essex bank but it could also be the army carrying out regular controlled explosions on World War 2 bombs or mines still in the estuary.

Opposite Queenborough is Deadman’s Island; Napoleonic prisoners who were kept in ‘hulks’ on the Medway are buried here. The path goes inland to the north of Queenborough to by pass a very large dock. The walk to Sheerness, which is by road, goes past the new docks – a major facility for the import of cars and fresh produce. The old main dockyard was closed in 1960. Naval ships were repaired there for 300 years and were partly designed by Samuel Pepys. The ‘Blue Town’ area housed the dock workers. Sheerness was also the site of the Royal Arsenal until 1960. Sheerness was so called because of the bright water of the Medway.

Pop into the town to look at the iconic clock tower. Walking eastwards out of Sheerness you will see a high sea wall, built after major floods in 1952 and 1987. Many small boats assembled here before departing for Dunkirk. 

The beach between here and Minster was deserted when I walked it apart from two suited figures from the Mormon Church who tried to persuade me to watch one of their videos. What were they doing there? Notices on the sea wall warn against eating shellfish from the beach without thorough boiling in fresh water. I wondered what was being put into the sea.

There are many caravan sites, of varying quality, on the walk to Minster. At Minster Lea beach the sea was frozen in 1789 with a sheet of ice spreading across to Essex. At the furthest eastern point of Minster there is a view of Warden Point.

Minster derives its name from the monastery built in the town in 670. You can visit the Abbey Gatehouse Museum and the remaining tower. The old parish church contains Roman tiles and Norman features. Minster in Sheppey (to distinguish it from Minster near Ramsgate) is mentioned in The Old Curiosity Shop.

Snaps show: Queenborough Park; looking towards the Medway at Queenborough; interesting garden on the lonely walk near Warden point; Minster beach.