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Friday, 3 December 2010

Walk 14 – Cliffe to Gravesend

Walk 14 – Cliffe to Gravesend (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 6 miles
Difficulty: easy - mostly flat, hilly around Cliffe
Terrain: reasonable but can be very muddy in places
Access: Road parking at Cliffe – car parks or road parking at Gravesend
Public transport – A 133 runs from Chatham to Cliffe. (Mon-Sat). Rail station and several buses from Gravesend to various destinations – the 417 operates 3 times a day between Gravesend and Cliffe and return (Mon-Sat)

A pleasant walk with a bit of interesting history at the end. 

Take the path out of Cliffe and follow the Saxon Shore Way crossing a narrow piece of land between Cliffe Pools. This is a large RSPB reserve with 235 species of birds. Unlike the last walk you are very unlikely to be on your own at this point!

Walk away from the pools and continue until you reach Cliffe Fort at the entrance to Cliffe Creek. This was built in the 19th century to defend London against invasion along the Thames. It is now owned by a local aggregate works (stone, gravel etc. used for building) and is derelict and inaccessible. The fort is also known as a site for the Breman torpedo the first effective weapon of this type and was used to defend at the fort for 15 years at the end of the nineteenth century. (Update the path here has been closed recently due to erosion - may now be open but needs checking).

Near here is a lop sided memorial stone. This marks the limit of the Thames Watermen who used to ply their trade taking goods from ships to quayside using flat bottomed barges called ‘lights’. The trade has largely died out because of the introduction of container ships.  

From the lightship at Higham Saltings you can look back to the fort although this is dwarfed by the aggregate works. The walk towards Gravesend presents a few possible hazards. Part of it can be very marshy and this makes for slow going. Do not stray from the path near the danger area marked on the map as the path is in fairly close proximity to a firing range. In addition, the walk passes through a number of industrial areas including quarries and jetties. I missed the path out to Gravesend and had to climb up a vertical ladder on the tall riverside wall with the (slightly) amused encouragement of some workmen. Across the river Tilbury power station is prominent.

One of the first landmarks approaching Gravesend (the name coming from Greve – a small wood not a burial grave) is the Royal Terrace Pier. This was built in 1844 and was often used by day trippers mainly in the nineteenth century. It was given its royal status in 1863 after Princess Alexandra arrived here to marry the then Prince of Wales.

Further along is the Port of London Authority building. The Port of London stretches 150 km. from the tidal limit of the Thames at Teddington to the North Sea. Pilot ships operate out of Gravesend guiding ships along the river.

The Clarendon Royal Hotel faces the river and was in a sorry, dilapidated state when I saw it despite being a listed building. It was built in 1665 for the Duke of York (later James 11) – Clarendon was his father in law. It became a hotel in the 1840s and was popular with aristocrats. UPDATE: 2013 - have just seen a Channel 4 programme called Four in a bed. The hotel has been completely refurbished and updated and is open for business.

Opposite this building is the Tudor Blockhouse. This is the only remaining part of one of the artillery forts built by Henry V111 to defend the Thames.

Further along at Bawley Bay is St Andrew’s Mission House. This was built by the daughter of Beaufort (the man who classified wind speeds) in 1840. It was originally set up to raise the spiritual and moral condition of the waterside community including the families living in coal hulks moored off the town. Gordon of Khartoum used it as a reading room to teach poor children.

As you walk along the riverside you will come to the Town Pier, the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world. Thousands of tourists once used the pier to alight from London and explore the once famous Gravesend pleasure gardens.

If you have time, take a walk into town and find St George’s Church. This is where you will find the statue of Pocahontas. In 1617 she was rowed ashore and buried here. Her story is well documented and people from all over the world visit here – many claiming to be her descendants! Charles Dickens is strongly associated with the area. Musicians may like to know that Rimsky-Korsakov the composer was posted here in 1862 when in the Russian navy and wrote part of his first symphony.

This is the final part of the coastal walk before crossing to the north side of the Thames.

Snaps show: St Helen's Church, Cliffe; Cliffe Pools; the pier at Gravesend; The Clarendon Royal Hotel, Gravesend.

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