329. Birchington-on-Sea to Sandwich

At my B&B I gave some thought to how I would tackle today’s walk. The forecast was to be quite a hot day, however, the first public transport of the morning to Sandwich was 6:46. So I decided I would simply drive to yesterday’s finishing point in Birchington-on-Sea and start walking from there. Normally, I always like to get the public transport out of the way first, as the delays of the morning start to stack up as you move through the day. Much better to walk to your own transport i.e. car. This meant I could start my walk whenever I liked, given the constraints around daylight. I knew the sun rose around 5:15, but I also knew that it was light just after 04:00. So I decided to start my walk then, just needed to get about 7 hours sleep. Unfortunately, a newly arrived couple returned to the B&B at 22:00 and started talking and playing music in the adjacent kitchen and living room. I heard her relating her complete life-story through the paper thin bedroom door. At 23:00 I had had enough and went out and told her to keep the noise down. She said sorry and didn’t realise anyone else was in, I drew her attention to the numbers on the bedroom doors and this was a B&B. It did not take long for her to start up again and she continued almost none stop until just after midnight. I got up at 04:00 and remembered to give the front door an extra strong slam as I departed the B&B.

I parked up in Birchington and set off along the coast. The sun had almost 50 minutes before it rose, but the glow from the east meant it was quite light. I must admit I like walking very early in the morning, it’s generally cooler, quieter, still and very little traffic around. I dropped down onto the sea wall that ran below the chalk cliffs which had just made a dramatic appearance. After a mile the sea wall stopped and I had to transfer back up onto the cliff top. At 05:26 I got an unobstructed view of the sun rising across the North Sea, it was something had I had not seen for many years.
It was very easy walking as I headed through residential streets and cliff top paths towards Margate. After passing through Westgate-on-Sea I arrived in Margate. The council workers were busy preparing the town for another set of visitors, sweeping the streets, cleaning-up the litter and combing the beach. It was not long before I had passed through all the typical seaside attractions and moved into more residential areas. I passed by the road where my noisy B&B had been the previous night. The dry short-cropped grass was really easy and comfortable to walk along.

Pre-dawn light looking towards Margate
One of the many access points off/onto the sea wall and path
Looking towards ships anchored off the Kent Coast
The sun finally makes an appearance over the North Sea
The beach and Margate seafront
The ‘Spoons’ in Margate – The Mechanical Elephant
The old Parade Cinema in Margate
One of the access cuttings down to the beach

Gradually, I began to slowly turn south which meant I was leaving the east coast behind and making my way onto the south coast of England. I passed by the rather ugly looking Neptune’s tower and the nearby Kingsgate Castle built for Lord Holland back in 1760 out of black flint nodules. Suddenly the landscape and architecture began to change, with private residential estates with security barriers and grand houses. I continued around North Foreland which was basically the ‘heel’ of England. I passed North Foreland lighthouse, of great importance in warning off shipping from the treacherous Goodwin Sands.

I followed the road into Broadstairs. By this time the sun was well up and the day was just beggining for many now out and about. The cliffs were quite dramatic here and fortunately I could continue along the top of them. I did see a couple of references to Charles Dickens who used to frequent Broadstairs regularly and wrote some of his famous books here.

As I emerged onto the grassy cliff top path at Dumpton Point I saw my second fantastic sight of the morning. Way to the south I could easily see a large land mass, “no, it could not be could it?” I asked a passing chap if that was France in the distance? He said yes, it was the Pas-de-Calais area. I was thrilled and amazed, as I thought the French coast was only visible from Dover/Folkestone, but being on the cliff top on such a fine clear morning I could look across the 32 miles towards France. This meant I had seen 6 countries on my coastal walk, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France.

I arrived in Ramsgate and had great views southwards across Sandwich Bay towards Deal and the Straits of Dover. I did not see much of Ramsgate, other than the large harbour and Port, which still runs ferries across to Ostend. I soon left Ramsgate behind as followed the Viking Trail and England Coast Path into Pegwell Bay. At Cliffsend I came upon the Hugin, a Viking replica ship that arrived from Denmark in 1949 to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the landing of Saxon chiefs Hengist and Horsa, although the boat actually landed at Viking Bay in Broadstairs.

I entered Pegwell Bay Country Park and soon passed a refreshment cabin where I was able to buy a lovely cold soft drink. Part of my chosen route was blocked off due to some construction work, so I followed the alternative England Coast Path route along the busy A256. I turned off the main road after a mile and walked through the large Bio Mass Power station at North Stonar. I crossed over Sandwich haven and into the small historic market town. I headed towards the rail station for the journey back to Birchington….I finished the walk at 10:30. I wish I could do all my walks this early in the morning.

Neptune’s Tower
Kingsgate Castle – now apartments
Kingsgate Bay
North Foreland lighthouse
Looking down on Viking Bay and the beach at Broadstairs
Looking back at Broadstairs
The coast of France 32 miles distant
Zoomed shot of the Pas-de-Calais
Heading towards Ramsgate with Deal in the far distance
Lift down to Ramsgate beach
Ramsgate’s busy harbour
Viking replica ship The Hugin at Cliffend
Crossing Sandwich Haven into Sandwich

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance =6,044 miles

 

 

 

328. Faversham to Birchington-on-Sea

I decided to get two days walking in along the Kent coast before the month end. There’s no way I am going to catch-up with all the lost time over the lockdown period, but a few extra days here and there will help. I decided on a single night stop-over and chose a B&B in Margate, at a reasonable rate of £40. After booking online I later noticed that they wanted a £200 deposit for breakages – I would certainly never agree to that given I was only in the room for 10 hours and the furniture value in the room was less than £50, should I go on a wild drunken wrecking spree!

I left Shropshire very early, eager to beat the early morning commuter traffic on the M1 and M25. With speed restrictions on motorway roadworks raised from 50mph to 60 mph I made swift progress. I even got over the Dartford Crossing before 06:00, saving the toll fare, although I still have about £14 credit on my Gov.Uk Dartford crossing account. Having an account saves the hassle of remembering to pay and you save 50p on the normal £2.50 crossing toll.

I drove to and parked in the small seaside resort of Birchington-on-Sea. It was as far I would have liked to walk for the day, while saving myself for the following day’s walk. I parked in the Parade which had free all day parking. I made my way along the coast a little before heading inland through residential streets to the train station at Birchington. The train was virtually empty, mind you it was 06:30!

I walked through the empty streets of Faversham calling in at a cafe to buy a latte ‘to-go’. Like a few weeks ago I was very impressed with Faversham and its buildings. I headed out along Faversham Creek, on the opposite bank to my last walk. I passed through boatyards and past a large sewage works. When I reached the hamlet of Nagden I followed a footpath across Graveney Marshes, although it was actually through a field of barley. I noticed signs against a plan for a large solar farm on the Marshes. Most of the ‘marsh’ appeared to contain crops, so was agricultural land, not natural marsh.

I eventually re-joined the Saxon Shore way on the sea bank which formed the southern shore of the River Swale. The Isle of Sheppey was still visible a short distance across the Swale. The morning was glorious sunshine, with just a sprinkling of clouds being driven by a stiff breeze, which was at my back for most of the walk. As I made my way along the sea bank, the Swale widened and Sheppey began to be left behind and views back across the Thames Estuary revealed a distant Southend-on-Sea.

I passed into the residential area of Seasalter and then into the town of Whitstable. The town was very busy with people outside cafes and bars. I did not linger and passed the historic harbour onto Tankerton Beach on the eastern side of Whitstable. The promenade was very busy with many families cycling along the sea front or paddling/swimming from the shingle shore. It was not long before I arrived at another seaside resort, that of Herne Bay. For some miles a rather isolated structure situated about a kilometre offshore had caught my eye. Looking at my map is was soon apparent that the offshore structure was once part of a long pier. In fact this was the third pier at Herne Bay. Back in 1978 after large storms the central part of the pier collapsed into the sea, weakened it has been claimed, by the WW2 intentional destruction to prevent a landing stage for any German invasion.

The wharf at Faversham
Heading across Graveney Marshes
On the sea wall heading east
Obviously locals who know that walking below mean high water is permissable
Arriving in Whitstable
The Pier, whats left of it at Herne Bay
Bronze statue of Amy Johnson, whose plane went missing off Herne Bay in 1941
The Clock Tower – built in 1837 and believed to be one of the earliest purpose-built, free-standing clock towers in the United Kingdom
Heading towards Bishopstone below Beltinge Cliff

I continued out of the town towards Bishopstone where the sea wall promenade stopped and I followed a rising path up onto the cliff-top and emerged into Reculver Country Park. The path along the top of the cliff was a lovely springy grass turf, which made for very easy walking. I was heading for two large towers, the remnants of St. Mary’s church, which was actually part of a monastery built on the site of a Roman fort – Regulbium,  abandoned around 400AD. I read an info board describing what would have been seen from this elevated position 1800 years ago. The shoreline would have been very close to the eastern side of the fort with the Wantsum Channel creating an island called Thanet. Still known today as the Isle of Thanet it was the area I was heading for and the towns of Birchington, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate.

I dropped down to the sea wall which ran for over 3 miles as the Thanet Coast Path into Birchington. The resort of Birchington was quite busy with holiday makers on the shingle beach and the play areas surrounding the beach. I reached my car, my feet were hurting and I’m glad to have finished this long stretch.

The towers of St Mary’s at Reculver
The ruins of St. Marys, the towers were retained for navigation aids
Original Roman wall near the East gate guardhouse, currently under excavation
Heading towards Birchington-on-Sea
A bicycle made for five!?
Approaching Birchington-on-Sea

Distance today = 21 miles
Total distance =6,024 miles

 

 

327. Balmedie to Portlethen

Today would see a lot more road walking as I passed through Scotland’s third largest city – Aberdeen, cross over two famous rivers and would also see me racking up 6000 miles of coastal walking!

I set off very early from my B&B in Aberdeen as I needed to catch the 06:03 #7B bus back to Aberdeen, after parking at the rail station in Portlethen. The bus was quite busy for that time of the morning. I was slightly nervous because at the Bus Station in Aberdeen I only had 6 minutes before I caught the connecting #61 bus onto Balmedie. I needn’t have worried as the traffic was light and I had time to spare.

The forecast today for this part of Scotland was persistent light rain all day, which meant that I was going to get wet. I set off through Balmedie making my way through the dunes onto the beach to continue my walk south from where I left off yesterday. The beach was totally deserted and the rain was nowhere to be seen….yet. I had almost 5 miles of dead straight walking to do along the beach which I knew from other long beach stretches can be tedious at times. But given the right underfoot conditions you can make swift progress. With only the distant sight of the tower blocks in Aberdeen visible, I decided to start picking up pieces of ‘sea-glass’ of various shades. Apparently, you can buy this stuff on the internet and it is different from glass that has been ‘frosted’ in a tumbler. I caught a glimpse of a small watch tower up above the dune-line cliff and knew I must be on the Blackdog Rifle Range. I had checked beforehand to see the firing times and was pleased to find that the range was not in use for the whole of July.

Heading down Balmedie Beach
Watchtower for the Blackdog Firing Range
Sea Glass

I eventually arrived at the mouth of the River Don and headed inland slightly to walk over the Bridge of Don. I then followed the banks of the Don back out to the coast and continue into Aberdeen along the  2 mile esplanade. The rain which had been ‘spitting’ for the last hour, became more intense and made it difficult to take any photos without getting the lens wet. I spotted Pittodrie, home to Aberdeen FC and I could also see the city’s cathedral. I emerged by the docks and passed around them and then crossed the River Dee.

I turned east and followed south esplanade road, walking past a mixture of fish processing units and wharfs, with boats tied up, used for the offshore oil industry. It was not long before I came to the harbour mouth and could look down on Aberdeen and my route down from the north. I was now heading out along a road towards Stevenson’s 1833 Lighthouse at Girdle Ness, but first I climbed a steep slope up to the Battery overlooking Aberdeen Harbour. The battery was built in the 1860’s and saw action during both World Wars. The Battery was later used by Aberdeen Council to house homeless families after the end of WW2. It is now a scheduled Ancient Monument.

Ther mouth of the River Don
Rain-speckled shot of the Don Bridge
Rain-speckled shot of the Esplanade
Looking back northwards
Aberdeen Docks
Crossing the River Dee
Offshore life-boat evacuation training centre
Looking back to Aberdeen and its harbour
Torry Battery
Inside Torry Battery

I dropped back down to the road hoping to complete a full circuit around to Nigg Bay. Unfortunately I had not reckoned with the Aberdeen Harbour Expansion Project which was now blocking the road around Girdle Ness. I could have nipped over the adjacent Balnagask Golf Course, but the course was in heavy use and it would not have been much use as a security fence had been used to seal off the golf course as well. I had to retrace my steps to St Fitticks Road and then on to Nigg Bay. The scale of the Harbour extension project is massive  and will alter Nigg Bay forever.

The road soon joined up with the main railway line into Aberdeen where I managed to get back on the Aberdeenshire Coast Path. In the far distance I could see why, when I reached the town of Cove Bay, that  I would need to divert inland, due the large quarry at Blackhill’s. I re-joined the main coast road at Burnbanks and followed the road into and out of Cove. This whole area was full of Industrial Parks and new housing.

On the edge of the town I turned down a lane which went right past the Blackhill’s Quarry. The road had very little traffic along and I soon crossed back over the railway line heading for the small village of Findon. At Findon I could have proceeded onto Portlethen Village, but because I would pass through the village on my next leg of the journey, I decided to cut inland along minor roads to the railway station at Portlethen, and so conclude my three days of walking.

Huge Concrete building blocks for the Harbour Expansion Project
Looking back of what is left of Nigg Bay

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25067

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance =6,003 miles

 

 

326. Cruden Bay to Balmedie

Today was going to be more of the same as yesterday, with one big difference – no rain forecast. I set off very early from Aberdeen to drive to Balmedie, about 9 miles up the coast. Here I parked in a free car park and walked back to the main road to catch the 07:02 #61 bus to Cruden Bay. I was getting a bit worried when the bus was 10 minutes late, fortunately it arrived soon after.

I got off in Cruden Bay and walked to a small footbridge over a burn bordering the golf course. From the opposite bank it was a short walk around the dunes and onto the beach at Bay of Cruden. The morning weather was gorgeous sunshine, with little or no clouds in the sky. I had the beach mostly to myself and with the tide out I was able to make quick progress across the firm sand. At the far end of the beach I had to transfer from beach up the cliffs to a cliff-top path. This was in fact the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path (ACP), which is one of the coastal trails that make up the North Sea Trail. Unfortunately the ACP is rather ‘sketchy’ in many places and although it is well marked in and around the Aberdeen area, the actual start and finish of the path is unclear. The path here was quite overgrown, especially after 3 months of lockdown. This meant the going was slow, due to the tall wet vegetation and the path following the outside fence between the cliff-top and fields. I passed through the small village of Whinnyfold and continued for another 3 miles hugging the cliff-top path in and out of the many sea incursions. By the time I reached Mains of Slains I was quite fatigued, it had been quite tough ploughing through the undergrowth with the many ups and downs. At Mains of Slains I could see the small ruined keep of the old Slains Castle. The castle was destroyed in the late 16th century by James VI and during the 1950’s had a private dwelling erected within its ruined walls.

Crossing the Water of Cruden
Heading across the Bay of Cruden
The village of Whinnyfold
Cormorants nesting on a sea stack
They make them tough here, 3 strands of barbed-wire for a stile …no margin for error!!
Looking towards Mains of Slains

After Slains Castle I started to meet a lot more people, walking out from the village of Collieston where I was next headed. The state of the path also improved significantly, being flat, wider and devoid of high vegetation. I took a rest chatting to an elderly couple I met on this section of the path. When I arrived at Collieston I could see that the beaches where quite busy with families enjoying the hot summer weather. Collieston is made up of Kirkton of Slains, Low Town and Collieston itself, although it is still quite a small village. Soon after leaving Collieston I passed into the extremely large Forvie Nature Reserve, a huge expanse of heathland, dunes and cliffs. The footpaths here were very good on wide springy turf. I arrived above Hackley Bay, which contained another charming beach, which had a few people on it. At Rockend I could have continued down the coast to Newburgh Bar, however, I had planned to divert inland along a good path in search of the remains of Forvie Church. The church took a bit of finding, set in amongst the dunes. The church dates to the 13th century or before, and was dedicated to St Adamnan. It is not known when the church or settlement was abandoned, but the church itself was dug out by a local doctor at the end of the 19th Century. I headed inland to cross over the rather Welsh-sounding name of River Ythan, in fact the name may have derived from a Brittonic source.

Looking across to Collieston
Looking back at Collieston
Looking down on Hackley Bay
Forvie Church

I crossed over the River Ythan and walked into Newburgh. I popped into a shop to stock up on more drinks as it was getting very warm. I headed across the golf course and emerged back onto the beach. It was very crowded and to make matters worse the tide was well in, which meant there was not much beach to walk on. Once onto the main beach I could look down the coast and see the tower blocks of Aberdeen in the far distance. The beach was dead straight and I would be on it for almost 5 miles. Unfortunately, the sand was not good for walking on in many places, so progress was slow and tiring.

I left the ‘crowds’ behind and soon had the beach to myself. With the high dune system on my right it was difficult to actually know where you were in respect of when to leave the beach. After picking up more beach-goers 4 miles down the coast I knew they must have come from the car parks at Balmedie Country Park. I left the beach and found the car park with my car in it. It had taken 8 hours to do this section and I was very fatigued.

Crossing the River Ythan at Newburgh
The beach at Newburgh
Heading south down the beach towards Balmedie

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25061

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,983 miles

 

325. St. Fergus to Cruden Bay

It seemed like an eternity since I last walked in Scotland, January 2020 in fact. So the news from Nicola Spud-gun that tourism would be opening up from the 15th July had me pouring over accommodation availability in the Aberdeen area. I managed to book three nights cheap accommodation in Aberdeen, so I set off from Shropshire to begin the long drive north.

I made a very early start from my B&B in Aberdeen, mainly due to the fact there would be fewer passengers on the bus services I would need to catch to St Fergus. But first I had to drive to Cruden Bay where I would finish today’s walk. I parked in the car park in Harbour Street and walked back to the main road. I caught the 6:38 #61 bus to Peterhead, which had a few people on board. Some chaps who sat behind me obviously did not bother with the face mask rule and spent most of the time ‘effing and blinding’ about this and that. I got off the bus in a deserted Peterhead and found a Co-Op where I got a welcome cup of coffee. I then caught the #69B bus for the short journey to St Fergus.

It was a beautiful sunny summer morning when I set off back down the coastal access road, that I had last walked along over 6 months before. I was able to put my PPE stuff (mask, gloves & sanitiser) away for today, but knowing that this would be a regular part of my coast-walking kit from now on. Although warm, the weather was muggy and some rain showers were forecast. I arrived at the beach and made my way along the shoreline, where the tide was out and I had excellent firm sand to walk along. I could make out the houses of Peterhead in the distance, as the clouds began to darken. Just after crossing the Birnie Memorial Bridge across the River Ugie, the first of a number of heavy showers opened up. I did not put my jacket on, as I thought the shower would not last long, after 5 minutes I was soaked and within 10 minutes the sun was out again. I continued along a road through the town and past the very busy port area. Peterhead is still an important fish landing town as well as serving the offshore oil fields.

Looking back to Rattray Head
Looking south towards Peterhead
Grey Heron near the River Ugie
Heading towards the Birnie Bridge across The River Ugie into Peterhead
Fishing Trawler leaving Peterhead Harbour
Andy Scott’s (Kelpies, Arria) Fisher Jessie Statue in Peterhead

I walked around Peterhead Bay and came to a marina. I followed a very overgrown path up to Peterhead Prison, where I could see a Core Path disappearing into a mass of wet waist high grass. I backtracked slightly and opted to walk around the prison via the road. As I passed around the prison I was surprised to see that the prison that I had been looking at, with its high rusted barbed wire fences was in fact the old prison and was now a museum! The newly-built (2014) prison, HMP Grampian, was now visible and looked quite a size having replaced the older Peterhead and Aberdeen Prisons.

 

 

 

I could see quite a bit of industry ahead blocking my way, including a rather large power station. Fortunately, I had consulted with the Aberdeenshire Council’s Core Footpath files and could see a route along the coast virtually all the way to Cruden Bay. This meant I was able to pass on the shore-side of the large oil/gas fired Peterhead Power Station. By the time I passed a large fish processing factory I had reached the small village of Boddam. On the outskirts of Boddam, I managed to pick up a path that followed the line of the old Boddam branch line that last carried passenger back in 1932 but fell out of use and having had its track pulled up in 1950. The busy A90 road was now encroaching close to the cliff-line, which meant the path I was following through deep grass became sandwiched between the road and the sea. As the coast became increasingly rugged, with high granite cliffs, the road diverged away.

The old Peterhead Prison, now a museum

 

The outfall from Peterherad Power Station
Buchan Ness Lighthouse at Boddam
The distinctive Red Shed Post Office at Boddam

A second heavy rain shower hit me as I struggled through long grass that bordered fenced in fields. I passed along Longhaven Cliffs where I could see birds nesting in their tens of thousands. Besides the noise that greeted me, was the stench of stinking rotten fish. The noise and smell was me for the next 3 miles and together with the amazing cliff scenery was the highlight of the walk. By the time I reached the Bullers of Buchan, I began to meet other walkers that were utilising the nearby Car park. Almost a kilometre from the Bullers, I came upon a spectacular sight – a sea stack that was covered in birds of all types – Kittiwakes, Cormorants, Shags, Guillemots, gulls etc. The Dunbuy Sea Stack almost appeared as two separate stacks and its top was worn down almost to bare rock with the nesting birds. The stack also had another surprise, a huge arch, much bigger than any other Sea arch I had seen, with huge rock-fall present.

I continued onto towards the ruins of New Slains Castle, which had been visible in the distance for some time. The ruins were quite busy with walkers out from Cruden Bay. Although, recently rebuilt (around early 19th Century), the castle has a long and complex history. It was used by Bram Stoker in his book Dracula and you can see why. Most of the buildings were still intact with just the roof and floors missing. Plans to turn the place into apartments back in 2005 fell through.

I followed an excellent path into Cruden Bay and was pleased to find that my legs had stood up well to today’s walk after the prolonged absence of coastline walking.

Looking towards Longhaven Cliffs
Numerous stacks with nesting birds near Bullers of Buchan
Granite quarries near Bullers of Buchan
Looking back north at the dramatic cliff-line
Nesting Kittiwakes with chicks (the ones without the yellow bill) at Bullers of Buchan
The sea arch at Bullers of Buchan
Dunbuy Sea Stack
The Dunbuy sea arch….amazing!
New Slains Castle
Inside Slains Castle

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25060

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,963 miles

 

53a. Rock to Padstow

This was to be a single day’s walk around one of the estuaries that I used a ferry for while walking the South West Coastal Path back in 2015. I have been slowly ‘plugging’ away at these ‘gaps’ to ensure that I have a continuous record of walking around the coastline of Great Britain. As I have mentioned before it’s about joining up the footprints! Because I have three of these ‘gaps’ to finish, all in Cornwall, I decided that I would do a single trip today and complete the remaing ‘gaps’ over two days in a months’ time.

This really was a long way to drive (534 miles) for just 15 miles of walking! But it needed to be done. The walk would be very straight forward, I would  park in Wadebridge, which is the first walkable bridging point over the River Camel, I would  then walk towards Rock to use the ferry to cross over The Camel to Padstow. I would then follow the Camel Trail back to Wadebridge. The trouble was the first few miles of the walk from Wadebridge to Rock was along the B3314, which had no verge in many places and subject regular and high speed traffic. There was no way I was walking along that road – at any time of the day! I opted instead to take a wider route out towards the village of Chapel Amber using footpaths, green lanes and minor lanes.

I had driven through the night from Shropshire and set off at 06:15. It was a lovely summer Sunday morning when I set off from a small industrial park in Wadebridge. The amount of dew on the grass ensured that I would have very wet feet after a few miles of walking. I continued through the small farm at Tregorden following a green lane. As I approached Chapel Amble I was confronted by a small herd of cows. They appeared very curious with me and started following me. I managed to cross a small bridge and soon realised that the path I had been following had disappeared – I would have to walk back through the cattle who had gathered at the bridge. There was no way around these animals so I decided to walk straight at them! They gave way, but were still very frisky! I managed to find a gap in the hedge and jumped through. The footpath here was really overgrown, so I suspect that the cattle did not see many walkers.

I continued through the small village of Chapel Amble, then taking a narrow lane out to Middle and Lower Amble. I arrived on the B3314 at Gutt Bridge, where I would try and find a footpath which was marked on my OS map. My suspicions about the road where confirmed by the volume and speed of the vehicles using this road. I found a hole in the hedge and climbed a small stile. I emerged into a field full of cattle…again! They were also very curious and made towards me. I ensured I stayed to the side of the field enabling a place to bolt to – if needed. Seeing that they were getting too close to me, I told them to “bugger off” which they did!

I was now close to the River Camel, but now had to climb onto higher ground. I emerged on another quiet lane and passed through the farms at Tregenna, Trevelver and Carlyon. I could now see down onto the Camel and ahead to Padstow. From Carlyon I tried to follow another footpath. Like many of the footpaths in this part of Cornwall, the paths have a start point but once you are on them tend to disappear. I set off across a field of waist-high barley. I did not have a clue where the path would emerge on the road whic I was aiming for. I stumbled through a hedge onto a lane and should have left it at that, but I could see a footpath marked which would take me into Rock. I set off along a footpath, which dumped into …………another field of cattle, who were enclosed by an electric fence. The cattle appeared not interested in me, but the footpath signs had disappeared. I wandered around a couple of fields and pushed through onto what appeared to be a well-used footpath. I walked into the small hamlet of Porthilly, on the banks of the Camel. The tide was out so I could walk across Porthilly Cove towards the main road into Rock.

Rock was busy when I arrived at the ferry point. A few people were already waiting for the ferry, which I could I see was still tied up across the river at Padstow. I donned my gloves and mask, as did the other passengers when the ferry arrived. I could see that the ferry was selling face masks at 50p each. I paid the £3 charge using a contactless card. I spoke to another walker who was walking the SWCP, he was hoping to reach Newquay that night.

Leaving Wadebridge early in the morning
Passing through the village of Chapel Amble
Looking down on the Camel from near Trevelver
Heading towards Rock on a footpath[?] through waist-high Barley
Looking across the Camel towards Pasdstow from near Rock
On the beach at Porthilly
Preparing to board the ferry across to Padstow

I set off through Padstow, which was not as busy the last time I walked through it – certainly different times and a different world! I would now follow the Camel Trail back to Wadebridge. This Trail was constructed on the route of the old London and South Western railway line which last carried passengers back in 1967. Today, it is mostly used by walkers and cyclists and continues on past Wadebridge towards Bodmin. Because the route is very flat and wide, it is heavily used by bicycles and a flourishing range of bicycle hire shops have sprung up in Wadebridge. I only counted a couple of other walkers along the route but hundreds of cyclists. The walk along the trail became a bit tedious, with its constant flow of cyclists and linear route, but the occasional glimpse of the Camel Estuary was very enjoyable. As I neared Wadebridge I could look across The Camel and see the opposite bank. It confirmed what I indeed suspected – that, although no path was marked on the map, I could have walked along the high water mark of the Camel for just 2km and bypassed the B3314 and the fields of many cows.

Padstow harbour
Rick Steins Cookery School HQ
Old railway Bridge crossing Little Petherick Creek
Looking down the Camel towards the sea
Looking back towards Padstow
People out on the river enjoying themselves
Approaching Wadebridge and about to pass under the A39
One of the many bicyle hire shops in Wadebridge
The Old Bridge across The Camel in Wadebridge

Distance today = 15 miles
Total distance = 5,945 miles

 

 

324. Swale to Faversham

It was back to the mainland for today’s walk, which meant driving from my B&B on the Isle of Sheppey to the small medieval town of Faversham further up the Kent coast.

I had located a free car park close to the Albion pub alongside Faversham Creek in the centre of Faversham. I now had to get back to Swale where I would begin today’s walk. I walked through the deserted town centre, which was very pretty, particularly the Elizabethan Guildhall with its wooden underlying timbers. I caught a train first to Sittingbourne then connected for the short journey to Swale on the Sheerness bound train. There were few people about and all including the staff wore face masks.

I had walked through Swale when I first walked to Sheppey back in March. For the life of me I could not understand why a train station was built there, because apart from the small train halt, there was nothing else around it. I made my way across the road and picked up a small road for a short distance that lead onto the sea bank and the Saxon Shore Way, which I would remain on for the rest of the day.

It was another lovely summer’s day, but not as windy as yesterday. Today’s walk would be following the River Swale eastwards on its sea bank with a number of inland incursions to get around various creeks. The first obstacle was Ridham Dock which involved a minor inland diversion before emerging back on the sea wall. Large scale industry dominates this area and none more so than the newly built Wheelabrator Kemsley K3 generating power and heat station, producing 50Mw from recycled waste material and supplying all the electrical power to the adjacent large paper mill. The coloured rectangular panels are a striking feature on the local landscape.

Looking back at the bridges which cross The Swale to the Isle of Sheppey
Heading eastwards along The Swale towards Ridham Dock
Wheelabrator Kemsley K3 generating power and heat station

I passed around the old landfill sites at Kemsley Marshes and entered the first of the inland creeks which run into The Swale, this one was Milton Creek. I had to walk about a mile before I was able to cross over the creek via a busy road bridge. It was then a case of following the Saxon Shore way back out to the Swale. For the next 5 to 6 miles I stayed on the sea bank which had good views across The Swale to the Isle of Sheppey. Apart from a small incursion to get around Conyer Creek, the walking underfoot was excellent. My feet started to ache again, but I knew I could easily get to the end of the walk.

As I approached Uplees Marshes I could see the foundations of what I thought where old military type buildings, in fact they were once part of huge explosives factory and the scene of a tragic accident in 1916. A massive explosion of 15 tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate led to 116 men and boys losing their lives with the shock wave shattering windows in Southend and the tremor felt in Norwich. I was not aware of this event as I continued along the sea bank, but I later found out that most of the dead were buried in a communal grave in Faversham cemetery.

My final incursion inland took me across Oare Marshes following the Oare Creek and thence back out on the other side to join up with Faversham Creek and the walk around Ham Marshes and into Faversham itself.

The bridge over Milton Creek
Low tide on the Swale with rusting hulls on show
Heading down Conyer Creek
The marina at Conyer
One of the many foundations for the large explosives factory scene of a huge explosion in 1916 at Uplees Marsh
The old ferry jetty across to Sheppey
Heading down Oare Creek
Boatyard at Hollowshore across Oare Creek
Heading down Faversham Creek
Heading into Faversham
Shepherds Neame Brewery, Faversham
The Guildhall in Faversham
A cow tailed pump from the mid-19th century

 

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,930 miles

 

 

 

323. Queenborough to Leysdown-on-Sea via Isle of Harty

Well, like so many others it has been a long time since I had been able to get out and do some coastal walking. However, the time seems to have gone quite quickly with the many DIY ‘projects’ I have managed to complete during the ‘lock-down’; I now have a rebuilt kitchen, laundry room, hall, office as well as a pristine garden!

Because I had done no serious walking for over 3 months I decided to ease back into it. Because the planned easing of lockdown regulations in Scotland were not due until 15th July, this meant I would be returning to Kent and the Isle of Sheppey. I opted for two full days of walking, unsure of how my body would react to the lack of regular hard walking exercise.

My first days on the Isle of Sheppey back in March had not been that good, with an obvious disparity between footpaths marked on the OS map and what was actually on the ground! After doing further research I could see that other walkers had struggled to do a complete loop of the island, due to lack footpaths. I decided that I would continue out to Leysdown-on-Sea and then do a circular walk out to the Isle of Harty.

I set off very on a Sunday morning heading to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey where I parked. The reason for the early start to the walk was because I intended to walk along the islands northern shore, which could only be completed at low tide or a few hours either side of it. Low tide was 07:30 so I needed to make an early start.

I set off through the almost deserted streets of Queenborough. I soon reached the shoreline of the West Swale which ran into the River Medway. I made my way along the concrete sea wall for a short distance with views across the River Medway to The Isle of Grain. The path then headed inland as I became sandwiched between industrial sites either side of me, including a huge car storage area parked full of imported Vw’s, Audi’s, Skoda etc…The path emerged onto the A249 and entered Sheerness at a place called Bluetown, once a hive of shipbuilding activity but long since gone. After passing Tesco’s I emerged onto the sea defence promenade where I had views NW towards Southend-on-Sea, north out towards The North Sea and east along Sheppey’s northern coastline. I did not know how long I had to complete the shoreline walk either side of low tide towards Leysdown, so I kept up a brisk pace.

I passed by the regulatory early morning joggers and dog walkers as I entered the small village of Minster, here the promenade ended abruptly with the appearance of the cliff-line about 20m high. The whole cliff-line along this section of the coast has been “slumping” at an alarming rate for some time. The walk along the beach was a lot better than expected and quite easy underfoot. I was aware of a recent cliff fall at the end of May 2020, when a house, garage and cars disappeared over the edge. The lady owner bought the property in 2018 for £195,000 as a cash buyer and with no house insurance. A short 20 minute walk along this section of the coastline, would have saved her a considerable amount of money.

Looking west over the West Swale and Medway towards Rochester from Queenborough
Heading through the car storage area near Sheerness
Looking across The Thames Estuary towards Southend-on-Sea
Looking back towards Sheerness Docks
Heading east along the sea wall at Sheerness
Heading east along the promenade at Minster
Heading along the beach near Minster
Old rusting boat hulls near Eastchurch
Recent cliff fall near Eastchurch
All that remains of the house recently lost near Eastchurch
World War 2 pill-boxes near Warden Point

I arrive at Warden Point and passed around a few WW2 pill-boxes which had fallen down from above many years before. Here the walking, for a short distance, became quite muddy. I also met walkers who had ventured out from Warden. I spoke to a local man who pointed to a cliff-fall above us that he witnessed only last week. My walking shoes got very muddy at this point, fortunately I put my gaiters on a few miles back, which kept the worst of the mud off my shoes and trousers.

I continued on along the coast and came into Leysdown-on-Sea which had all the trappings of seaside “fun features” but on a micro-scale. I walked a short distance outside of the town and sat down for a rest, the heat of the day and my full-on exertions made me tired. I then had a decision to make. I wanted to include a loop walk down to Shellness Point and then out to the Isle of Harty and back to Leysdown. Unfortunately I would not be able to get the 13:30 back to Queenborough, but I could see from the timetable that there was an 11:30 bus back to Sheerness, which passed Halfway House, which was only 2km from Queenborough. I could easily walk this 2km back to Queenborough, pick up my car and drive back to Leysdown.

I walked back into Leysdown and waited for #360 wearing my gloves and face mask. Paying contactless was really easy. Other passengers got on and off the bus all adhering to the face covering rule. I got off the bus at Halfway House and walked along a proper footpath the 2km into Queenborough. Picking my car up and driving back to Leysdown I could see the town was very busy – I didn’t see any evidence of social distancing, although I did see some orderly queues for shops.

As my feet were hurting I had a further rest before setting out on my circular walk to the Isle of Harty – obviously, this was not an actual island. I set off along the sea bank and could that the tide was well in now. As I approached Shellness I passed by a Naturist Beach. I’ve walked through a couple of such beaches years ago, but at times when the weather had been awful. As I skirted the beach I could see that many had taken advantage of the warm weather – and there were lots of “bums and willies” on show, but a distinct lack of ladies present.

Throughout the day, although very sunny there had been a very blustery wind blowing, which had to this point been at my back; as I turned to walk SW I headed straight into this stiff but warm headwind. I could now see across the River Swale towards Faversham, where I would be walking tomorrow. I arrived at Sayes Court and the nearby Harty Church. At this point I looped back along a bridle path towards Leysdown. At Muswell Manor I came across a statue of the three Short brothers, who in association with the Wright brothers began building aircraft here at the beginning of the 20th century.

Arriving back at Leysdown would mark the end of my waking on The Isle of Sheppey. Lack of footpaths westwards from the Isle of Harty and Elmley Marshes meant my next day’s walk would commence at the small station halt of Swale, back on the Kent mainland.

Zoomed shot of Red Sands Towers – a set of World War 2 anti-aircraft defences
Looking back towards Warden from Leysdown
Heading towards Shellness Point
The other side of the Naturist Beach
Looking across The Swale towards Faversham from The Isle of Harty
Statue of the Short Brothers near Muswell Manor

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,912 miles

 

 

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