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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.


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