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Friday, 26 November 2010

Walk 13 - Allhallows on Sea to Cliffe on Isle of Grain/Hoo Peninsula

Walk 13 - Allhallows on Sea to Cliffe on Isle of Grain/Hoo Peninsula (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 10 miles
Difficulty: easy - mostly flat
Terrain: great care needed can be very muddy, marshy and can get flooded.
Access: Road parking at Allhallows on Sea and Cliffe
Public transport – A 191 bus runs from Chatham to Allhallows on Sea, a 133 runs from Chatham to Cliffe. (Mon-Sat)

CAUTION. Check the tides before starting this walk. Do not attempt if the tide is coming in  or due in over the next few hours. I nearly got stranded and got wet up to my waist. Could have been disastrous

This is a rather strange, eerie and lonely walk. It is easy to understand why Dickens used these marshlands as the atmospheric settings for some of his novels. I met just one person on this walk, a council employee who was surveying all the stiles and tracks. He had been doing it for a few days and said I was the first walker he had seen! Some of the derelict farm buildings and shepherd’s dwellings were 'creepy' and he was glad to get away from these areas.

Leaving Allhallows, walk to the west on the footpath. It is mainly along this stretch that the parts of the path have broken up and you need to walk on the beach. A pill box and other World War 2 defences can be seen on the beach. Across the river, Southend and the oil refineries near Canvey Island can be spotted. The flat featureless St Mary’s Marshes are adjacent to this part of the walk and stretch inland towards High Halstow.

Approaching St Mary’s Bay a sign on a post announces that ‘Curlews, convicts and contraband’ are in the direction of the arrow. The curlews refer to the rich bird life found here, the convicts are the prisoners who were once held in the ‘hulks’ anchored in the estuary and contraband the goods smuggled in from boats across these lonely marshes.

Further along is Egypt Bay where prison ships were once moored in the Napoleonic wars. Several ‘fleets’ or marshland creeks or ditches can be seen along this section of the walk. This area is renowned for being very cold in the winter – I can confirm this!

The sun can catch the water and make interesting photographs sometimes highlighting the debris that can be found washed up on to the shore; a keep left sign and artistic looking seaweed hanging off groynes and fences were two of the more unusual sights.

About a mile or so south of Lower Hope Point there is a short pier. I suggest you walk up the track just north of here and follow the footpath into Cliffe. This avoids duplicating part of the next walk.

St Helen’s Church at Cliffe is a large building with some grand memorials reflecting the strategic importance of the settlement (along the Thames) in 1558. Known as The Cathedral of the Marshes. An enthusiastic vicar insisted I went in and looked around - it is certainly attractive and unusual.

The (failed) building of a canal at Cliffe and the coming of the railway (now closed) boosted the village in Victorian times together with a cement works which closed in 1970. In 2002 the area was identified as a possible site for another London airport. There was much protest from wildlife groups and villagers and the idea was dropped in 2003. Recently the idea has reared its head again.

Snaps show: pier near Cliffe marshes;The British Pilot Pub at All Hallows on Sea; sign and views on walk between Cliffe and All Hallows.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Walk 12 - Grain, Allhallows on Sea and Yantlet Creek on Isle of Grain/Hoo Peninsula

Walk 12 -  Grain, Allhallows on Sea and Yantlet Creek on Isle of Grain/Hoo Peninsula (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 8 miles
Difficulty: easy - flat
Terrain: reasonable but can be muddy on the tracks
Access: Car park at Grain - road parking at Allhallows on Sea
Public transport – Not the best. A 191 bus runs a few times a day from Chatham to Grain during the week, it goes via Allhallows which is about a mile from Allhallows on Sea (Check with Traveline for latest times)

This walk is made up of two short walks, both require backtracking. Take the path south from Grain, quite a pleasant walk to start with. Eventually you reach Grain Power Station a large oil fired blot on the landscape. (update - now demolished). Further down is a jetty where the path ends. Looking over the water Grain Tower can be spotted, this was part of a fort built to defend the River Thames in the mid 1800s. The fort has been demolished but the tower, rumoured to have secret tunnels connecting to the land, was used in both World Wars. A huge net was attached to it to prevent German U boats getting up the Thames.

Return to the starting point and carry on to the northern part of the path passing the beach at Grain. There is a commercial sand pit at the end backing on to a military range where red flags fly to warn of activity. Erosion has taken its toll on this part of the coast. All the area around here is marshland and in bygone times malaria (then known as marsh fever) was rife. Grain (Greon) means gravel. Return to starting point at Grain. Drive to Allhallows on Sea or, hopefully get a bus or possibly a taxi to The British Pilot pub.

The aforementioned pub was renamed (as far as I can tell) after a British pilot who baled out here after fighting with a German plane over the Thames. The settlement takes its name from the nearby village of Allhallows which is centred on a 12th century church. In the 1930s there was an attempt to make this place the premier resort in Europe – publicity of the time suggested that it would far surpass Blackpool. The idea was promoted by Southern Rail who built a branch line here. Unfortunately, World War 2 put paid to these plans and the railway was closed in 1961. Nevertheless, as can be seen, there is now a large holiday and caravan park.

Take the path to the east and head towards Yantlet Creek. This creek was once a fortified trade route operating from Roman times. You will come across two memorials. One is in the marsh and should be approached with caution especially as it marks the spot where an artist and naturalist drowned in 1975. It was laid by the Dickens County Protection Society. The walks around the Hoo Peninsula reflect the landscape known to Dickens and feature in many of his stories.  The second memorial commemorates the flood defences built here between 1975 and 1985 – underlining the fact that there is more to London’s flood defence than the Thames Barrier. 

Return to Allhallows on Sea.

Snaps show: container ship seen across the marshes; Yantlet Creek; Grain power station; shorelines near Grain; Allhallows on Sea.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Walk 11 - Frindsbury to Hoo St Werburgh on the Hoo peninsula

Walk 11 -  Frindsbury to Hoo St Werburgh on the Hoo peninsula (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 6 miles
Difficulty: fairly easy – mostly flat a few hills going inland
Terrain: easy, pavement and mud/grass track
Access: Car parks at both ends
Public transport – Strood Rail Station at the Frindsbury end, bus 191 will return you to Strood from Hoo St Werburgh

Follow the footpath/cycle path to the north east through Frindsbury. Arriving at a reasonably pleasant paved area you get a good view back across Limehouse Reach to the places visited on the previous walk. The path goes inland soon after this as access to the commercial area on the bank is not possible.

Follow the path back onto the riverside until you get to Upnor Castle. This is well worth a visit. The Elizabethan castle was of great strategic importance. Latterly it was used as an armoury and explosive store. The floors are wooden so that sparks would not ignite the explosives and there is a fascinating spiral staircase. Further information can be gleaned from an audio commentary provided at the entrance.

Follow the path along until you get to a children’s boating/sailing centre. If the tide is out then the next section can be walked along the coast, if not there is an alternative route inland. Carry on past the marina at Hoo St Werburgh. Kingsnorth Power Station dominates the landscape beyond here. It is an oil/coal fired power station that was due to be closed in 2016. (Update - it has) The owners decided to build a replacement and this caused a great deal of protest, including a climate camp, from environmental groups. News came through recently that the plans have now been shelved.

Further down the path is a small airport with a few hangars. When I walked past there was a keep left sign at the edge of the grass – how did it get there and why? Further on is a view across the marshes towards the cranes, refineries and jetties near Elphistone Point. Container ships moving in and out of Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey are a regular sight.

Return along the bank and cut back inland to Hoo St Werburgh. Hoo indicates a coastal peninsula and this village is one of several in the area to have it as part of its name. St Werburgh was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia born around 640; she was a nun who lived in Hanbury, Staffs. Her body was moved several years after she died and was miraculously found to be intact. This was thought to be a sign of divine favour and her tomb became a place of pilgrimage. The church here has a unique coats of arms belonging to King James 1 and Queen Elizabeth 1 – they can be seen inside.

If you have a car it would be worth taking a trip to nearby Cooling where the unused church of St James has several small children’s graves clustered together. These provided the inspiration for the start of Great Expectations – as did the nearby marshes – setting for the horrific end of Magwitch.

Snaps show: circular staircase at Upnor Castle; the airfield near Stoke Ooze with the keep left sign; Lower Upnor looking towards the marina at Hoo St Werburgh; child graves at St James Cooling.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Walk 10 Chatham to Rochester via St Mary’s Island

Walk 10  Chatham to Rochester via St Mary’s Island (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 7 miles
Difficulty: easy – mostly flat.
Terrain: easy but quite a bit of tiring pavement walking
Access: Car parks in Rochester and Chatham
Public transport - plentiful trains and buses to both places

This walk involves some retracing of steps. There is a lot to visit and see in the area and this would require a 2/3 day stay to fully visit the various attractions.

Leaving Chatham railway station follow the cycle path marked on the map northwards leading out of the town. You will pass the historic dockyard with its many links with British and local history; it has been here for 400 years and used extensively for boat building including Nelson’s flagship The Victory. If you decide to visit, it will need the best part of a day to do it justice. Do not miss the rope making!  There are also many connections with Dickens in the area, including in Chatham; Charles arrived when he was 5 after his father got employment here. Perhaps unfairly, the town has become associated with the origin of the word ‘chav’ although it is far from certain that this is correct. Some believe it was connected with Chatham girls and a certain style of hair and clothes, others thought it originated as an abbreviation of ‘Chatham average’. It is quite possible that there are more historic origins elsewhere.

Continue onto the more minor road that crosses to St Mary’s Island – marked as a cycle path on the map. You will pass a tall mast with a bell at the top. This was taken from a ship in 1859; from 1898 the bell was used to summon workers to the old dockyard. The structure was moved here in 2001. Near here is Dickens World, a light hearted look at Dickens characters and settings (Update - now closed).

Walk on to St Mary’s Island where you will find access to a path on the west side that goes around most of the island. Nineteenth century convicts created the island from marshland. Many had been kept as prisoners on the hulks in the Medway. Conditions were tough and this led to a revolt by 1000 convicts in 1861. When complete the area was used as an extension to the dockyard. A view of Upnor Castle (more of this on a future walk) on the opposite bank, and many moored boats, provide a pleasant outlook.

Continue around the island towards the east past many newly constructed houses of various colours. An historic river crossing point marked with a sculpture is near this development. This marks a crossing which has existed from Roman times until the early twentieth century. Follow the road and paths until you reach the bridge on the eastern end of the island, cross back onto the mainland and follow the road into Rochester.

There is much to see and do in Rochester. It was called Durobrivae by the Romans, meaning the stronghold by the bridge. Many parts of the area feature in Dickens stories e.g. the town is known as Cloisterham in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The town museum/Dickens Centre is well worth a visit. A walk guide from the museum helps you to explore the town and spot places such as the original inspiration for Miss Haversham’s house in Great Expectations. The cathedral has an altar in the crypt dedicated to Ithanor the first English bishop. The castle with its Norman keep provides panoramic views across the area including the Medway. The audio guide is very informative.

Take a walk towards the river and bridge ( actually made up of 2 bridges). The old bridge carrying westbound traffic was originally a Victorian swing bridge but was not successful and was rebuilt in 1914. The other part carrying traffic eastwards was once a rail bridge. It is worth walking over it and looking both ways along the river. The rail bridge is impressive.

Follow the road route back to Rochester Station or car parks.

Snaps show: Rochester Cathedral taken from Rochester Castle;  Rochester Bridge; view over the Medway towards Strood; one of the ships at Chatham Dock Yard.