322. Gillingham to Queenborough

I made a very early departure from my hotel in Rochester and set off to drive over to the Isle of Sheppey, a place I had never been to before. Even at 06:15 in the morning I could see the days were beginning to draw-out, with the glow from the SE starting to lighten the night’s sky. I drove to and parked in the small town of Queenborough at the library; the car park was free and close to the railway station.

I caught the 06:39 direct train to Gillingham. After popping into Greggs for a coffee and bacon bap I set off through the suburban part of Gillingham heading towards the Saxon Shore Way (SSW). I now have mixed feelings about the Saxon Shore Way, in places it is great and well signposted, in other places it makes pointless excursions and the signage all but disappears. I joined the SSW and stayed on it for about 300m, but then decided to transfer to the nearby road, which had an excellent footpath. I continued along the B2004 until Lower Rainham where I met a dog walker and enquired about the footpath ahead. The news wasn’t good with only intermittent footpath sections and little verge along a busy road. I returned to the SSW.

I passed by Bloors Wharf, long since flattened and cleared of buildings, with only the occasional mooring post still visible. I followed the SSW out towards a sewage works and then back along Otterham Creek. I passed around a couple of factories and then a few orchards before emerging on a minor road which was far from quiet! In fact, it was damm dangerous as I had to hold myself in the bushes to let cars through and also have eyes in the back of my head! I was on this road for about 800m and successfully missed the SSW turning off the road. This meant I arrived in the village of Upchurc, slightly off route. Annoyed with the SSW, I plotted an alternative route to get me to Lower Halstow where I could re-join the SSW. This worked out quite well and was traffic -free.

Looking out across the Medway to Kingsnorth Power Station

Passing through hop field near Upchurch

St Mary the Virgin Church at Upchurch

The SSW out of Lower Halstow was through a number of horse-paddocks before re-joing the road. The SSW then began to rise towards a short ridge which gave good views across the Medway Estuary to the Isle of Grain. I soon lost any signage for the SSW and could see where people had climbed barbed wire fences and trampled through dense undergrowth in search of the path. The shoreline was only 200m away and I finally gave up with searching for a non-existent path and returned to the road. The road was quiet and quicker which resulted in me making quick progress towards Raspberry Lane. The SSW finally joined the road and crossed over outwards Chetney Marshes, although it only went part of the way. I made the decision to stay on the road, the road bridge across to the Isle of Sheppey was only about a mile away now.

I arrived at the Kingsferry Bridge which carries trains, as well as cars, pedestrians and other traffic were  not allowed to cross the main Sheppey Crossing. The bridge towered above me as I passed underneath it amongst the huge support pillars. I was heading for a marked footpath on the map that headed across fields towards Rushenden and then on to Queenborough. A finger post on the main road pointed the way, but that was the last I saw of any footpath signs. The sea bank had no right of way on it, yet was covered in deep mud from use by off-road motorcycles. I took my compass out setting a bearing towards The White House (on the map) which no longer existed. The large water-sodden field was occupied by grazing cattle which made the underfoot conditions worse. I could not find a way through or around as the railway line, with its ‘live’ rail track was on my right. I retreated after about 30 minutes back to the bridge, totally covered in mud.

I followed the B2231, which had a wide and excellent footpath towards Queenborough. The B road ran adjacent the busy A249 which used the main Sheppey Crossing. It required another section of non-footpath road walking to get to the outskirts of Queenborough and thence pick up a path.

Again not a good days walking and looking ahead access issues on the Isle of Sheppey which will probably mean a shortened visit to the island.

 

Looking across to the container terminal on The Isle of Grain

The Sheppey Crossing

Approaching the Sheppey Crossing

Below the Sheppey Crossing

Crossing the Kingsferry Bridge

 

The sea bank on the Isle of Sheppey

The intended footpath route, not looking good!

Distance today = 17 miles
Total distance = 5,894 miles

 

 

 

 

321. Allhallows to Gillingham

I had booked myself into the Royal Victoria and Bull hotel in the centre of Rochester. I don’t think the place had seen much renovation or decoration since Dicken’s first visited the town in the mid-19th century! Dickens actually did use the Bull (referred to as the Boar) in the Pickwick Papers. In fact there is a lot of Dickens literary connections with Rochester and the surrounding area. As well as living in Chatham for a number of years he died in nearby Higham at Gadshill.

Today was going to be quite easy travel wise. I had left my car parked at the hotel and decided to catch a bus back out to Allhallows. I caught the 07:43 #191 bus from close to my hotel. The bus was almost full, mainly with schoolchildren. Unfortunately, I sat a few seats away from one particularly obnoxious little brat. He spent the entire journey, swearing, cursing and I don’t’ mean the occasional expletive. I don’t know if this is how he talked or behaved at home, who knows, but I was reluctant to intervene, as an adult I feared being accused of almost anything. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for the little sh*t to get off the bus and feeling sorry for the teachers having to deal with this behaviour.

I got off the bus in Allhallows, the journey time had been just over an hour and the cloudless sunny sky had me believing it was going to be warm. Instead I set off walking into a strong headwind, which was very cold. I had decided to avoid the south-east part of the Hoo Peninsula, as it contained just industrial areas container ports, oil storage depots and power stations. Also most the roads did not have footpaths or even verges to walk on, plus I would have to contend with lots of heavy goods traffic. I therefore plotted a route using public footpaths across fields and minor lanes. It was hard work walking into the headwind, as I made my way to Upper Stoke and then across more fields towards the Kingsnorth Power station. There is a single track railway out to the Isle of Grain, where all the industry is located and just before the power station I had to cross the railway line. As I closed the crossing gate behind me a goods train suddenly appeared, the driver sounded his horn (or rather whistle which is what they must do). Fortunately, I had seen the train and just waved to the driver. That’s the first time I have ever been delayed by a passing train on one of these crossings. Close by to the power station was another huge Amazon distribution centre.

Heading out from Allhallows with Southend visible across the Thames

The heavy industry to the SE on the Isle of Grain

Crossing the railway track near Kingsnorth Power Station

Heading down the Medway Estuary

I walked past Kingsnorth Power Station and headed for the Medway estuary joining the sea bank and shortly afterwards by the Saxon Shore Way. The grass sea bank soon disappeared and I had to make my way along a narrow pathway hemmed in by industry and boatyards. The footpath had excellent signage and I was able to pass through without any problems. Soon after the boatyards I had to walk along the stony beach, which would have been impossible at high tide. I soon came across a set of walls and brickwork that at first looked like a limekiln. In fact these were the ruins of Cockham Wood Fort, built in 1669 to guard the approach to Rochester, it was abandoned back in 1818. I eventually emerged with very muddy feet at the village of Lower Upnor. As I climbed the steep steps to get around the Ordnance Yard, the days walking had begun to fatigue me somewhat. It may have been the headwind. After passing through the charming village of Upper Upnor I arrived at a major roundabout which directed traffic towards the Medway Tunnel. I passed through Strood along the recently built Riverside Way. I could now see the Rochester Bridge over the River Medway. I could now see an old submarine moored out in the river. This was an ex-Soviet submarine named Foxtrot B39 built in 1967 and now in private hands awaiting restoration.

I crossed over the Rochester Bridge, which itself was under a re-build and popped into the hotel I was staying at. Here I dropped off my bag and replenished my water supply. I paid a flying visit to Rochester Castle and Cathedral, continuing along the quaint High street. Rochester is certainly a place I would like to return to and explore at greater length. I headed into Chatham, walking along the Dock Road and past the historic Naval Dockyards. I walked through the grounds of the Medway University and onto the Asda store there where I bought some food. My next destination was to walk to Gillingham railway station, where I would join up again with the Saxon Shore Way and end today’s walk by getting a train back to Rochester.

Not a particularly satisfying walk, but progress is always welcomed.

On the Saxon Shore Way through Hoo Marina

Heading along the shoreline of the Medway

The ruins of Cockham Wood Fort

Looking back to Port Werburgh and the heavy shower that just missed me!

Approaching Lower Upnor

The figurehead from HMS Arethusa, the fourth ship of her name

The village of Upper Upnor

An Soviet “Foxtrot” type B-39 submarine awaiting restoration in the Medway

Crossing Rochester Bridge

Rochester High Street

Rare green painted Victorian post box outside the Guildhall Museum in Rochester

The Guildhall in Rochester, just opposite my hotel bedroom window

Rochester Castle

Rochester Cathedral

An interesting way to cover up unsightly railway arches in Chatham

The renovation of Fort Amherst underway

Heading along The Medway in Chatham

Entrance to the historic Dockyards in Chatham

Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,876 miles

 

320. Gravesend to Allhallows

March started to throw up all kinds of obstacles to me getting out and doing some serious walking. Although the weather had abated somewhat, at least in the South East, I had a number of important family and domestics matters to sort out; chief of which was the total renovation of our kitchen and laundry room. There was also the more ominous threat of the Covid-19 virus. Although numbers of cases are extremely low in the areas that I intend to walk in, the whole pandemic is a bit of a worry. I decided I needed to get a minimum of three walking days in as I continue my walk along the banks of the River Thames through Kent. I’m unsure if I will be able to get to Scotland in March, if I can’t then it could see me making another three day trip back down to Kent.

I left Shropshire very early, determined to beat the early morning traffic along the M1, M25 and the Dartford crossing, which would be my first crossing as part of my coastal walking challenge. Of course there is also a charge to use this crossing and so I set up an account on the Gov.UK website to prepay the toll. My first crossing was free as the charge is only made from 6 am to 10pm. I was heading for a small village called Allhallows on the Hoo Peninsular, close to the Isle of Grain (although not actually an island) which forms the eastern part of the Peninsula.

I now needed to catch the 06:37 #191 bus to Strood and then a train to Gravesend. The bus was full of schoolchildren, even at this early hour. I had to stay alert as I needed to get off at the right stop in order to make my way to Strood railway station. I had used Google Streetview for reconnoitring the streets and committing them to memory. The station at Strood was very busy with the early morning commuters, a lady near to me sneezed and I instinctively moved away…I know I must be getting paranoid!

By 07:45 I was walking through Gravesend in an easterly direction trying to pick up the Saxon Shore Trail which I would be on for a while before it turned inland. This, it would appear, is what most coastal paths do! I had chosen a three day weather window with clear skies, little chance of rain and only a light breeze. On the drive down I did see that it had been raining overnight and I had brought my walking boots along, just in case it got too muddy. I soon picked up the Saxon Shore Trail at the promenade play area adjacent to the Thames. The next 1.5 miles was through the back streets and alleyways of the industrial area of Gravesend, stepping over fly-tipped rubbish covering the footpath. I soon managed to get onto the sea bank, unfortunately, youths had been using it for practicing their off-road motor bikes skills and together with the grazing ponies, and the sea bank was a bit of a muddy mess in places.

My first place of interest was Shornmead Fort, sitting opposite across the Thames to Coalhouse Fort. However, unlike Coalhouse, this fort was in ruins and covered in graffiti. I passed onto Higham Marshes and through Shorne Marsh Nature Reserve. I was heading past a number of very large old gravel pits that were ideal for returning the land back to nature. I was a bit concerned with the appearance of a large gravel quarry or gravel sand repository in the near distance. In fact the Napoleonic fort I was looking for, Cliffe Fort, was hidden right amongst this quarry and aggregate dumping ground. Fortunately, the footpath I was on was able to pass around both the fort and quarry. Here the Saxon Shore trail disappeared inland for some reason, but I continued on along the sea bank along a public footpath.
The sun had risen now and it was a glorious day to be out walking. I could follow closely the features on the opposite banks of the Thames that I passed through some 3 or 4 walks ago.

The Clock Tower in Gravesend

Heading eastwards along the Thames Estuary

Heading along the back streets of the industrial area in Gravesend

Onto the Sea Wall

The ruins of Shornmead Fort

Gun window at Shornmead Fort

Looking out over Higham Marshes

After Cliffe Fort the next section of the sea bank continued all the way to Allhallows; with little bail-out option other than continuing or returning the way that I had come. Other than the sheep I met on the sea bank I met no other walkers. On my right and the landward side I could see a huge collection of disparate MOD type buildings which were part of a large ammunition during the First World War. I did come across an intentional breach of the Sea Wall to create Salt Fleet Flats Reserve, which was not shown on my 1:25k OS map. The eye became drawn to the large buildings and high rises of Leigh-on-Sea and Southend across the river together with the beckoning sea as the Thames Estuary now had widened considerably.

The last 1.5 miles had a bit of sting in the tail, as the footpath along the river deteriorated rapidly through erosion and was now prone to flooding at high tide and my progress along the shore became blocked by the rising tide. Fortunately I did not have too far to back track to find another route to get me onto to Allhallows. To do this involved climbing onto the ‘ridge’ and high ground that runs along the Hoo Peninsular, which, although only some 35m high provided an excellent view down to the Thames and south-eastwards to the River Medway.

A very good days walk and it was so nice to get away from the issues and pressures that seem to surround us all at this time.

Cliffe Fort

Passing through the aggregate repository at Cliffe Fort

Part of the huge World War 1 ammunition store on Cliffe Marshes

Boundary marker at Lower Hope Point

Heading eastwards along the Sea Wall

A recent breaching of the sea wall to create Salt Fleet Flats Reserve

On the Sea Wall and my first real sandy beach of this leg

Impassable at High Tide and I suspect even at Low Tide!

Looking back down to the Thames and the route I had come

Looking across the Thames to Southend-on-Sea

Distance today = 21 miles
Total distance = 5,860 miles