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