Gravesend via Cliffe to St Mary Hoo

Cliffe has an important place in these walks, partly it was the first walk I did where I thought the pictures told a story, and were more about post-industrial and decay than your usual landscape drivel and where I first had the idea of the Coastal Walks and linking them to my existing River Thames walks. Also it was September 2009, the year I started the coastal walks, and this was an extension to those, even though I’d been walking the river since 1999.

I’m surprised it’s taken nearly 5 years to come back, especially since Gravesend is so easy to reach from London, but I got to Gravesend on the Greenhithe walk, so time to delve into the Isle of Grain.

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_071
Swans and man, 2009

So this is a rare thing a sequel walk, but also a continuation – I started way too late from Gravesend, missed all the buses home (something I did this time too, oh I wish the Hundred & Hoo Railway was still going) so I only got to the first fort, what I thought was Cliffe fort but actually is the Napoleonic era Shornemead Fort. This time I went onto St Mary Hoo – I was aiming for All Hallows and a mythical bus from Grain, but I had to abort as it got too late and too dark.

This one is quite detailed – it was the longest walk in a long while – over 18 miles, and two walks five years apart – but also a lot of post-research about things I found that I wanted to know more about. This isn’t a sign of a shift to professionalism, more an interest in the curious places and things I found.

I still refuse to research an area intentionally before I walk, apart from public transport access. I find it changes your first experience of a place to read guidebooks or sites, it narrows your visceral ‘in the moment’ feelings, findings, mistakes and stumblings down to ones other people have deigned ‘worthy’. Most of the times the enforced or unintentional detours, random finds and happy accidents and the in-between Edgelands areas that aren’t classically beautiful are more interesting than anything you’d find in a book. You can always go back to explore bits you missed or want to look at further anyway.

I did know about the Hans Egede though, randomly via Google Maps image, but all the rest from the first fort was new to me.

This post is brought to you by shopping trolleys, discarded broken plastic chairs, tyres and construction hats – there were so many, I wondered how so many get lost in the river, do workpeople just lose them at this massive rate?

Leaving Gravesend station as quickly as possible, I scurried to the pier. Yes Gravesend has a pier – several in fact. Compared to five years ago where I saw sunken barges and another crumbling wharf (I think gone now?) it seems the area has been tarted up a lot, or maybe it’s just the fact the tide is in hiding all the traffic cones, tyres and shopping trolleys. Confusingly what’s marked as Gravesend Pier on the map is actually a loading wharf, the pier on which you can alight on boats is this one, rather short and stubby, but a pier nonetheless:

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_017
Gravesend Pier, 2009

It’s not changed that much, so I won’t do the before/after…whereas if you were walking along the river front past the St Andrews Art Centre five years ago, you would come across the rather ruinous and derelict Clarendon Hotel, which I was surprised to find in 2014 has been done up and is all shiny and nice. For instance compare the overgrown garden of before:

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_058
Clarendon Hotel garden, 2009

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC7994
Same place, 2014 – and the same gates!

Certainly seems like a lot has changed, for instance Fort Gardens has had a 2012 makeover since, and is actually a nice place to visit, whereas before it was rather bare, windswept and foreboding. Now it’s full of kids playing on those far too healthy-looking and gym-like machines that pass for a children’s play park nowadays – brainwashing from an early age, I guess? I don’t remember the Tea Rooms either, or the posh-looking gated estate to the North of the park, looking out of place, all Yacht Club pomp. I do remember a lot of mud, what I jokingly then called ‘Gravesend Beach’ – the bloke above talking on his phone on one of the staves precariously with avenging swans.

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_063
Shopping Canute, 2009

So onwards over the small gated bridge that opens into the Canal Basin (more of canals later) and over into a netherworld of old factories, graffiti, abandoned rubbish and old signs. This is Gordon Promenade, which I spent a long time photographing in 2009. This time I was more interested in the new graffiti, and surprised that people are working here, these factories are still in use. In 2009 it seemed like a ghost town…and yes the Saxon Shore Way runs right through them, although it seems a bit like you shouldn’t be there. Less abandoned rubbish this time, and less survivors from a bygone age – last time there was a whole sofa there. This sign is still there though:

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_094
Albion Marine Engineers 2009

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8020
Graffiti, 2014

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8026

There was this rather interesting sign, this seemed to be a local schools project that indicated the site of a WW2 plane crash – apparently the remains of the Hurricane plane and pilot, a Sergeant Eric E Williams is still buried in there.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8031
Killer Bunny, 2014

The path eventually becomes a single person fenced path, offencive as John usually says, and a flurry of graffiti in this abandoned area. Not sure who ? is but he liked spraying his mysterious mark everywhere, like a Doctor Who fetishist. I hope he’s called Ron (Mister Ron…Mysteron? Geddit? Oh why do I bother…). I liked this one though – more appropriate as the walk was just before Easter. Killer Bunny indeed.

Wander through containerland, and enjoy the strangely happy giant head and then we find the remains of the Thames and Medway canal built in 1824. In 2009 this had a sign, but it’s now long gone. Turn the corner up Mark Lane past the marine debris of old anchors, chains, and a lightbuoy tower which seems to have been boarded over now, and looks a lot less photogenic – vandalism?

Past the Ship and Lobster which looks like a nice small pub, the small sort that used to be common along the river serving the Watermen, and onto the concrete sea defences. Still much rubbish here, and eventually ends abruptly with graffiti and abandoned shopping trolleys – well it did in 2009:

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_132
Phatz, 2009

I guess Phatz (or is it Phats?) would be happy to know his yellow scrawling graffiti is still standing five years later, if rather faded…with a new addition to the side. Wasone? Wosine? Not sure. The shopping trolleys infest the whole area, less than before but still lurk around the odd corner.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8070

So over the wall and onto the green yet rather pockmarked sea defences – too dry to be muddy thankfully. Signs of fires, wooden and plastic flotsam, discarded signs and collections of rocks almost like neolithic man had decided to remake huts again in this abandoned landscape. Passed a few people fishing – that’s new, didn’t see anyone five years ago. Dog walkers don’t seem to come here though.

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_144

These strange buildings are still here, if less colourful now. I wasn’t sure back then if it was some kind of Stalinist Holiday Camp, but I think it’s something to do with Milton Range. I half expected these to be gone, it looked like they were being demolished, but not so. There are a lot of ex-ranges near here – if Google Satellite is to be believed it looks like Milton Ranges is still used.

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_206
Shornemead Fort in 2009

On onto Shornemead Fort, which if you read the Wiki entry seems to been a bust, as forts go. Dating from 1790, you can still wander around it, although it’s crumbling. Also last time there seemed to be some work done there – apparently it was the RSPB blocking up the tunnels, which it got too late then to explore the fort, so I missed that chance. Sounds like they were flooded though. I remember in 2009, pre-Smartphone wandering for miles trying to find a bus, and eventually walked to one of the near train stations I think. I also didn’t have a torch and it got very dark, with no lights in the area…

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_216
Shornemead Fort in 2009

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8099
More spontaneous graffiti in front of the fort, 2014

And onto Cliffe Fort proper…walking along there was more signs of fires, I guess people come here at night for a BBQ or something – many tyres, bottles, rubbish, cones, and even more discarded construction hats.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8138

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8168

Then I see a rather worrying sign – that the path is closed due to coastal erosion. I pressed on, half expecting at any moment to plunge into the murky depths. I had reason to go anyway – not only does it seem the other paths around there are flooded, but there was the wreck of the Hans Egede which if I’d known about back on 2009 I might have pressed on to see – certainly it was probably more intact then. But first I found a more modern wreck…a BMW? There aren’t any roads, and most of the area is flooded, so I really did wonder how they drove this here:

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8178

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8216

The Hans Egede was a 1920’s boat, which had been used as a hulk since the 1950’s. It eventually sank, and they beached it here. Although I was more worried about the state of the tide being too high, that wasn’t a problem it was the direction of sun that affected my shots of this…there are some rather strange ruins behind the wreck, bits of Nore Fort. This was a Maunsell army fort like the ones that became legendary in early pirate radio (e.g. Shivering Sands which became the tragic Radio City after Lord Sutch sold it, Red Sands was Radio 390), but a ship hit them and four of the stationed crew died, so they were eventually dismantled, then moved here.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8225

This is all that remains of the Brennan Torpedo an early guided missile system. Cliffe Fort itself is private, part of the gravel extraction company lands. Amazed something hasn’t been done with it, given it’s size and apparent importance. It’s now flooded though, like quite a few forts in the area. I doubt the gravel extraction helps the erosion or the flooding!

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8223

The erosion actually turns out to be this small affair, which you can actually just walk around along the beach, or along the fence if you’re careful. I passed some giggling ramblers looking at a map who seemed rather bemused (yeah, I don’t get on with Kendal Mintcakes) so I felt the need to press on and prove them wrong. After that you reach a lot of gorse and scratchy bushes, remains of the rest of the fort and WW2 military ruins (which aerial shots show you how large it is in fact) which you can walk along the remains of the road and look at some of the parts outside the gravel works to the right of that aerial shot, which are I think more modern. Some have gone into the Fort, but given that it’s private and flooded I wasn’t going to do that. Disused buildings creep me out, anyway.

Continuing on past the muddy remains of Cliffe creek (I wonder if munitions ships docked here?) and onto what the RSPB called euphemistically the Flamingo Pools, or Cliffe Pools. These apparently are the remnants of diggings for the cement works, which along with the scary sounding asbestos factory in nearby Higham was the main industry in the area – and one other, which we’ll get to in a bit. There is strange flotsam around here, so much wood and plastic gets swept down here, you can see why people create fires along here since unusually there is so much timber and even the odd escaped sofa or surreally placed table:

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8266

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8277
And yes more of the escaped hats and cones…

After Cliffe Pools I was starting to get concerned about time, I’d judged the walk as being 12-13 miles but I was 6 miles or more from All Hallows…I decided to walk on, and eventually find an ‘out’ to try and connect to the bus later on coming from Grain. There’s only one big main road, and although the times were questionable I was sure the bus must pass through there. This turned out to be a mistake, since after Cliffe Pools and the map (Osmand/Open Source Map or Google Maps) suggesting you can escape at certain points, you can’t. There is water ditches and ponds, and large fences and Keep Out signs to make sure you don’t – I suspect some bits are leaky or accessible, including Mead Road, but it seemed the land owner(s) were trying their best to stop any kind of access to the path. This became more of a problem later.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8363

So walking along precariously along the top of the sea wall, it’s pretty bleak, with only lambs and sheep for company (sometimes they break out and graze by the river, a strange sort of pastoral scene in the industrial landscape). The monotony is only broken by odd piles of rocks, I’m guessing to sure up the defences, and the equally neolithic monument marking the Eastern limits of the Company of Thames Watermen and Lightermen.

After a while you come across some really strange sets of ruins, initially looking like dead farms and barns, but after a while the serried ranks seem strange. This apparently is the remains of the Curtis and Harvey Gunpowder and Explosive works…yes like Foulness Island currently is, and other parts of the area munitions were made here until the 1920’s. A very dangerous place to work also! I guess it makes sense since it’s so remote, but the crumbling buildings are rather spooky. Looks like you might be able to get access or at least look closer via a road that runs up. On the other side, it wasn’t obvious HOW you could get out, or connect. Maybe I missed this in the twilight…there are paths marked, but as you got there, no sign of them. It’s a very large place – look it up on Google satellite maps. Tempted to go back and explore further, although apparently there is shooting here, so I will stick to tracks and roads unless it’s completely open.

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8406

Talking of which, it seems one of the landowners blocked the public right of way entirely with a large black vinyl fence,no stile or anything (later ones had a cut out area to do so, but not this one). No official signs about closing the path – which are needed, it’s a public right of way so I think a local byelaw or council ruling has to be passed before it’s stopped – nor sign of a detour, official or otherwise. So I swore and precariously stepped around as you can see it goes right up to the edge of the sea wall. No idea how the landowner can block a public footpath like this? I wonder if the Ramblers would be interested.

They seemed to be doing some works here, and had fishing (or shooting?) positions, but no sign of a way out inland – there was supposed to be a path where the black fence is above, but it seemed to be one long muddy ditch/stream. So I was starting to get worried, All Hallows the next reliable ‘out’ was many miles away and it was getting dark…and obviously would be missing the bus. But at least there were scenes like this to look at:

2009 Cliffe_1101_0_20090914_Cliffe_177

So eventually I found a way out, after Decoy Fleet (interesting name) the path branches inland at St Mary’s Bay towards St Mary Hoo. It was seriously getting dark at this time…fine as I had my torch (you can see my torch-enabled night photography below) but then the path went uphill sharply across furrowed if thankfully dry fields with no obvious path…so I ended up using my phone GPS and OSMAND ‘blind’ – left a bit, right a bit, like I was in an episode of Knightmare. Eventually I found a track, then the main street and onto St Mary’s Hoo, which looked nice if rather abandoned in the dark, very few lights. Early to bed people?

2014 Gravesend Cliffe to St Mary Hoo_20140416__DSC8435

The walk to the main road was eventful also – I decided to walk down the Ratcliffe Highway which despite the name was one of those incredibly busy single carriage roads that carries far too much traffic even at that time of night…which like the walk to Southminster which I’ll detail in future was scary since without pavement or even verges it’s not always safe to walk along, day or night. Thankfully it was a short walk and got to the main road at Fenn Street. I saw from the map there was a pub which is partly why I went this way, to call for a taxi then wait in a nice warm pub…to find that the Fenn Bell Inn is no more. Signs are still there, but looks like it’s not a pub, or was closed (on a midweek night in the evening?).

So eventually found a taxi to come out, and took the taxi to Strood. I could’ve walked it, but as you can see this walk had already ballooned to 18+ miles (so much for the rough estimate of 13.5 that Maps Ruler 2 app gave!) and I didn’t want to walk the 3-4+ miles to civilisation across busy roads (although thankfully with pavements). Certainly looking at the map Higham might be better for Cliffe if I want to go back there, or investigate the peripatetic buses from Strood or Gravesend to Grain – there are buses to St Mary Hoo so I can get there, I found the bus stop near Fenn Street. That would be a weekday or Saturday event though, since Sunday buses are mostly fat chance in that area, apart from the main Grain bus. But I’d like to explore Cliffe more – the wreck and the works, and the walk to the failed sea-side town of All Hallows should be interesting also…but I think two separate visits.

You can see the photos from the 2009 Cliffe Walk, and the 2014 walk to St Mary Hoo – a lot more extra shots of the Hans Egede, the car wreck, graffiti, far too many shots of flotsam, the Explosive Factory and many many sunsets!

Teynham to Swale (Isle of Sheppey Bridge)

Another continuation of a walk last year, one I did from Faversham via Oare via the impossibly picturesque Harty Ferry, this time I took the Chavelin to Strood and changed for the world’s slowest local service to Teynham. Best thing about Teynham is the road out of it towards Conyer, but it looks like it has other delights as well:

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7313

Walking towards Conyer via the path across the fields there’s various farm buildings, mud (hmm), horses, and later on a Church and the usual cars bombing down tiny lanes at 40-50mph, the usual Kent thing (I was thinking something similar to Kent about those drivers….). Still this definitely is a working landscape, with orchards, abandoned and still in use farm buildings:

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7330

Walking the winding windy path and over the water sluice (or is a lock? Seems to have collected vast amounts of rubbish the same), the busy marina and the couple who seemed to be sleeping in the middle of the day on the bank of the Conyer Creek from the Swale (I suspect they were just sheltering from the winds, despite the nice sunny looking day, it was blowing a gale). Previous walks I had been frozen and boiled depending on where the wind was, so this time I had extra layers, although given the really nice weather in London that day, I was surprised how cold it was by the Swale.

Passing various dog walkers, and a view of the busy marina then onto the Swale which is a really impressive view. Although the sailor in me sees the patches of smooth and ruffled water and says ‘shallow, mudbanks, DANGER!’. Old habits die hard. I can even tell you what those signs are, they are rather unofficial/ad-hoc port and starboard channel indicators, although the closeness says it’s a pretty small channel. Certainly Google doesn’t bother to mark it properly, and it was mostly mud when I went by…I’m guessing the marina has a small window of escape and entry!

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7353
Contents of every sluice, lock or canal, like, ever. Surprised no motorbike, child’s bike or shopping trolley, then again any supermarket is miles away.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7360
No idea about these spiralling marks, it’s almost as if the rabbits have been taking LSD then chasing each other all at once…

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7371

Views over to Sheppey remind me of Scotland, and I look for ruined houses but actually see wind farms and power plants. Despite the wind it’s a brilliantly bright day, and flooding is still in evidence in the fields the other side of the sea wall. Then again, quite a lot of this area has dykes and ponds anyway, so it’s hard to tell, but I saw quite a few drowned gates so I’m guessing this scene wasn’t normal, and is most likely fresh water rather than sea water.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7382

Ahead is Milton Creek, which seems oddly appropriate because if your idea of Paradise is post-industrial, factories and shipwrecks, then you’ve found it…but these are remains of a maritime  ‘Paradise’ (for whom?) which has since been lost, as well. I stumble onto the remains of two very old looking wooden barges, or barques (the three masted sailing boats used in trading) sticking out of the mud like beached whales, or whatever cliched metaphor was passing that day:

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7419

The size of the beams says old, I’d say a century or more…they shifted to iron boats around the turn of the last century. But the new ‘Paradise’ can be seen behind, of the factories beyond, reminding you for all your nostalgia and Ye Olde Worlde, this is a working landscape. And I doubt one that was that hospitable back then, even with the austerity and Victorian rewrites of history currently going on. Let Them Eat Cupcakes!

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7453

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7449

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7455

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7456

I’m a big fan of wrecks – in fact spent last night reading about ghost ships, real and fictional, partly inspired by the search for the lost Malaysian flight – funny how Wikipedia journeys divert quite quickly. So you’ll see quite a few on this blog – although not as much as I’d like, quite often wrecks get removed for safety of shipping (or to be scrapped or refurbished) or are quite difficult to get to and photograph. But I always spot them – and after this I saw many tell-tail rows of wooden beams in the mud, so there are quite a few other wrecks here I think.

So onward to Milton Creek…further upstream there is the remains of a quay, which makes me wonder if the boats were to do with the brick factory there. As far as I can tell the factory is that old, but large fences now shut it off from the creek and the old quay. Lonely tires and a wheelbarrow sit on the mud. Everything goes by road now.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7489

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7495

This would be a common theme from now on, a big contrast from the previous walk via Harty’s Ferry. Picturesque Lost, with the Kelmsley Down paper mill looming large, in sight and smell. I was sure this was some big agricultural or chemical plant, turns out it’s a paper mill that has been there for over a hundred years, originally run by Frank Lloyd. I saw some railway style signs near the plant, which makes sense now as the Bowater Paper Railway has become, with a few stops and starts, the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway. I must travel on this next time I come down, if possible. So maybe those wrecked barques actually travelled to Spain, and brought esparto grass for the paper mill? A romantic thought.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7496
A Picturesque Modern Landscape – Take That, Gainsborough.

Onto the motorway bridge, and trying to cross and find the path on the other side. Strange that the new Swale Country Park – which would explain the strange little parklet on the other side of the river – doesn’t actually facilitate linking from the coastal path?

So passing the rude chalk signs from children and a dead fox on the bridge, tail swinging in the breeze, you have go over the bridge, leg it over the Armco fence on the other side, go down the steep bank with newly planted trees, and a gap in the wooden fence which looks intentional, if not actually marked. This is not connected planning, it seems they assume everyone is either going to drive there (the park looks like an expectant car park in fact, with a few signs and a sculpture) or walk up the river. They’ve never obviously considered that people might walk along the Saxon Shore Way into the ‘park’ or want to walk along the several paths fanning out from there. Very strange.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7505

Another fun thing is finding the path. I took a few pictures of the Saxon Shore and footpath signs, this is because they are so sparse. Even with a GPS and knowing the path was there, I  managed to miss the shoreline path past the Kelmsley mill. I ended up at the exciting evirons of the a bridge under the motorway, confused. This of course was really well sign posted, as everyone wants to walk along a busy motorway, don’t they? Hold that thought. Anyway I had to double back, and on past the mill. It smelled, but not as bad as the delights of what came later. You can see through the fence lots of underground vats marked with ‘Leachate’ on them, it all had the hallmark of Three Mile Island or Springfield Nuclear Plant. I hurried past, and onto a tempting remains of a landing platform…knowing how evil the mud was here though, I wasn’t going to try. Amazed it was all open though…

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7534

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7539
Remains of tank traps? Or remains of industrialisation?

More jetties, cranes in a more working disposition, and other factories followed – including turning one corner, a factory processing manure. Even on a cold day like this it was steaming – I assume they were using it for creating nitrates, but the smell of the paper mill was sweet roses compared to this…I gagged and got away as quickly as possible. My escape seemed successful until the path seemed to run out, and turned into a precarious concrete pathway with a gate at the end. Nice view of the bridge, but looks like there isn’t a path round here.

This is Ridham Dock – apparently the new place that the material for paper arrives after Milton Creek was Lost to Silt. So much for Paradise – and this path. So I had to double back. I’d seen the incredibly muddy path full of massive pools of water as I passed and thought to myself ‘You won’t catch me going down there!’ – and I now had to take it, skipping around the mud, water and insects as it was now getting towards sundown. Thankfully I didn’t have to go back past the manure plant though.

The detour was an odd one, intially along the sort of road you wonder if it’s really a road or just some leftover from the war or private way…with the port on the right hand side and fences upon fences to stop you going in. There’s a footpath which follows the road, gladly along a sort of causeway but with scratchy bushes and thankfully little mud. There is a ditch full of water between you and the road, so it’s not easy to escape. And at the other end, I stumbled over the remains I suspect of the other side of the railway, I guess Ridham Dock had a now disused connection to the Swale/Sheppey mainline? Rubbish was scattered everywhere, but this line wasn’t going to run with rag-tag barbed wire fences and concrete blocks on the line:

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7596

So leaving the scratchy path over the remains of a crossing and across the road, I ended up on the right path again to the Swale and towards Sheppey Bridge. It was starting to get really cold now, and the sun was going down. I was glad to be mostly away from all those insects though. I passed some ruined and not-so-ruined boats, there seems to be a little anchorage by the bridge – must go back there and take pictures in decent light – some interestingly wrecks and graffiti:
2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7604

As I got near to Swale station, which is just before Sheppey Bridge (which is an ingenious double decker design, and the trains go on the lower part) I saw a train pull away. I swore, and checked my train schedule – I knew they ran til late, but I’d timed it very badly, next one was in an hour. So I thought I’d try to walk to Sittingbourne, rather than not-sit in an empty open station (no seats). Surely there must be a path, or a way along the main road?

Big mistake, crossing the main road there several times was fun, but there seemed to be no path or right of way along the most direct route along the motorway. The only way I could see is walk via Iwade, which means in part walking away from Sittingbourne then back – 3-4 miles. Unlike the motorway, not as the crow flies. So dejected I went back to Swale station to wait for the next train. I sat in the bus stop as it was the only seat nearby – yes they had just stopped too, it was 6pm, and all the buses seemed to finish by 5:30 or earlier – wonderful sunset though.

I was also rather damp too, since under the station there is a little tunnel for the local access road to go through, which was leaking…and a driver of course drenched me, probably intentionally. These two things did NOT endear me to Swale, or the locals who seem far too enamoured of their cars.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7620
A list of buses not turning up at this stop until tomorrow. How, err, helpful.

So the train eventually came, and I got the hell out of Swale, thankfully. I must watch the train times next time. I had glanced at them to make sure they existed, and knew there was buses to/from Sheppey, but I’d not taken note of the frequency. Usually it’s enough that there IS a bus or a train service at all, that’s cause for celebration. Anything more in this Land of The Car is a bonus.

2014 Teynham to Swale - Sheppey Bridge_20140316__DSC7656

You can now see all the pictures from this walk in my Teynham to Swale Picasa album, or some of them on the map below.

Pointless Stats

Music

Various tracks friends had sent me:

Anandar Shankar and Bollywood music – very good 9/10French Ye Ye pop – Chantal Goya, Marie Laforêt & Francois Hardy was so so, but France Gall was really good 6/10
Lovely Eggs – very funny 7/10
Dory Previn o.O demented psych or what?
Cristina’s ‘It’s That All There Is?’ – equally demented.

Track find of the walk – by the Paper Mill Free Design’s 2002 – Hit Song came on…pure demented oddness, like jingle writing and pop song colliding in over cheery knowingness because ‘we did all this time and it didn’t work’. Could sarcasm be sung so sweetly?

Food & Water
One half of a 2 pack of a poncey M&S Sausage Roll – too much wheat/onion!
Half a pack of Prawn Cocktail crisps also left over from the last walk
Probably a few M&Ms
1 1/2 litres of water

Bourne End to Shiplake

Sorry this post was delayed! You might have noticed the site going down a week ago, well I had to reinstall everything which took days…and after that I didn’t feel like doing much at all.

This is the final walk in what I now call the Mud Trilogy – after this one I decided to stop walking until later in the year because, well, Tim and mud do NOT mix, and on all three walks I ended up in the middle of a swimming pool of mud, a completely sodden field due to a enforced ‘detour’. Yes I’m a bad walker, but avoiding drowning in mud is not fun, and because of the flooding and the especially wet winter, there is a lot of water out there!

There are plenty of walks to come though, both later in the year, and also the last coastal walk – and many years of walks before that.

This is both a continuation of the last blogged walk, Reading to Shiplake – which was supposed to get to Henley but I ran out of time, and an earlier walk from a few years ago which was meant to be Henley to Bourne End, but it also ended a few miles short at Marlow – during a fair I seem to remember with feral local youth gathering in the shadows and the police horse vans moving in en masse (!). So, I had two couple mile stretches within 10 miles of each other, and rather than hop on trains it seemed sensible to just walk it again in full to connect the two parts. So in future you will see some of these sights, but in the other direction, and from another time.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7659

When I came here in June 2012, typically for summer it was chucking it down (also there was a lot of Olympics-related fun along those stretches but that’s for another time). I’d just missed the train from Bourne End, having had to abort the walk due to rain and darkness (and also not being sure if I would get stranded on the opposite side of the river to the station – always a problem in this part of the world).

So Bourne End made me feel at home again by proceeding to rain as I arrived…deja vu. Sadly the pub I sheltered in two years ago by the station was no more – it was a really nice pub too. Despite the previous days of sunshine, this was suddenly an Arctic wind, and raining…it was supposed to be cloudy with sunny patches, but more cloudy with cloud patches with a touch of rain. Oh and a bit more cloud for good measure.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7666

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7672

So I headed to the river and thus the railway bridge, single track, iron and painted green. Apparently one Callum Dunkin had won the 2013 Rivet Challenge, I have no idea what that is…maybe he had to lick every rivet or something…or paint them institution green. At this point I got a bit confused which side I was supposed to be on, there’s a path on the other side but it’s not the Thames Path, and the station side has the Thames Path one way only, the other way blocked by the usual people wanting exclusive access to the river (which would have not been the case in toll-path days). So finally on the right track, and we’re met by the other thing that’s common in this world (apart from KEEP OUT! CCTV! Pretend legally binding signs, PRIVATE! and FIERCE DOGS!) which is the 6 foot high fence or hedge, usually with a mate on the other side only just over a body width apart. As my partner says, this is offencive (his pun, not mine! Don’t hit me!).

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7676

Hmm, nice view!

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7679

Insert olbigatory snark about the lack of need for ice-cream and cold drinks.

 

So past all the rowing clubs (another staple of this part of the world), intrigued at the 1947 Flood Mark on the entrance to Spade Oak Meadow, I wonder if this year was worse? Oh more mud, you shouldn’t have. Seems even the benches are fed up with it:

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7691

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7721

Passing rowers who seem to be taking the shank’s pony route with their boat, and past a rather strange castle type building on the opposite bank, which I’m fairly sure I’d taken pictures of last time – I wonder if I got this far then turned back to Marlow? It looked familiar, then again strange castle like buildings are common around here. As with the last river walk, many signs of flooding and flotsam along the banks, mud and even damage to a jetty which probably broke free or tried to float when underwater. All quiet until Marlow, and the path suddenly stops in a new development, rather unceremoniously. The park is nice (looked on the map, it doesn’t seem to have a name but it’s by Gossmore Recreation Park, or part of it), and lovely cherry blossom which has probably been tricked by the unusually nice weather…it might be regretting that now.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7750
Path…DENIED!

So round we go, along far too many roads, small windy medieval ones with of course the requisite rich wankers in a chrome-plated 4x4s – it seems along with large Audis and BMWs small roads collect these people like flies. Marlow looked better in the sunshine though, very busy and I found a nice cafe and had a chilli chicken and cucumber wrap which actually was quite nice despite the really odd concept, and a hot chocolate. Back via the Church which I had checked out last time, and again found the path near the bridge, although there was the usual conflicting signs (‘No access to river’ vs ‘Thames Path this way!’ – hmm, I wish signs were more clearly flagged visually as to whether they are for pedestrians or motorists…I tend to ignore signs as a result I have to say).

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7755
A better class of Keep Out sign in Marlow, you know, Probably an edict from the Marlow Society. Keep Out Thy Prole!

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7761
Sundial near the Church, Marlow

So leaving the Hyacinth Bucket World of Marlow, onto to Temple and Hurley lock…took some nice pictures at Temple Lock and Hurley Lock, where they do kayaking, they have a weir just for it, apparently! There was a group out there doing what ever kayak people do, usually getting wet and splashing about in loud clothes. You can see pictures of that on the Picasa album.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7806

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7809

Detour! How I hate the word ‘detour’. Along Blackboy Lane (I’m not saying anything) there apparently was subsidence, so the path was re-routed inland, along the barking dogs from hell, of the sort that threaten to jump the fence and go for your throat (and it was a small fence) and over a swimming pool in field form. I was not happy…

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7860

I wonder if there really IS subsidence, the locals around here can be odd about the path…it’s certainly somewhere I passed two years ago, gnomes and bird sculptures, mock Tudor, miniature clocktowers, Swiss chalets and duck houses, fluttering Union Jacks and Pirate flags for the wags, tupperware boats and pseudo-thatched cottages that bedevil the work of Martin Parr. Little England en rivière. I took many photographs of this last time, so wasn’t repeating it now – that’s for a future post.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7902

What isn’t Little is the Deer Park at Culham Court, which the path takes you through (the featured image). Very grand, and the deer were out in force, as is the CCTV cameras disguised as bird houses…I noticed those last time. I decide to take the inland route, I’d done the outer route last time, via Aston Church but turning along the road to Remenham rather than the Thames Path. It was sunset and just coming into Henley…I rushed this because I had to meet John later than night, but I really didn’t want to come back. I knew there were trains every 20 minutes from Shiplake, which is very good – and was aiming for the earlier one, so the last few miles got rather rushed.

It wouldn’t be a walk near Henley though without a shot of Temple Island…this grand structure is actually the posh form of one of those little green tents, it’s a fishing lodge designed by James Wyatt.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7900

So past Henley and along to Shiplake via Marsh Lock and weir. It’s unusual because the walkway heads out into the Thames and back around the lock, it’s rather grand especially with the amount of debris – including small boats and trees – that had been swept into it and trapped there, and the high water leading to dramatic, crashing noisy waves.

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7945

Onto Shiplake itself over some more muddy meadows (oh joy). Eventually via a rather mud-locked bridge and onto a small track, and suddenly come out to see a gigantic train set:

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7970

This according to John is Robert McAlpine’s house, he of the building firm. Looks like they are doing up his garden, guarded by a classic hut with security guard and CCTV warily in place (I think I got an ‘Oi!’, but headphones were on, it’s public path/road and didn’t feel like having to defend my legitimate right to take pictures so I kept going). Italian sunken gardens and a miniature gauge train, with a St Moritz station…this is where your building fees go! He’s neighbours of Bolney Court, which I mentioned in the last blog post in the 18th century blocked the tow path from continuing, and looks like the later arrivals have continued this tradition…I walk along the road with ‘BEWARE FIERCE DOGS!’ signs and wonder if this person is taking the piss with their housename:

2014 Bourne End to Shiplake_20140318__DSC7979

Riverbank? RIVERBANK? Yes I’d love to see the riverbank but your frigging house is in the way, and all the rest of yr mates…Then at the end of the lane the path veers of, and just like the start of the walk corralled into high hedges and big fences…and onto the Shiplake station. I’d misjudged it by about 20 minutes, but there was another train, and I knew I’d still get back to London in time, if a little later than I wanted. In fact, turns out I could have just made an interchange at Twyford that was late, but lack of information meant I just missed it. Still arrived quicker than what the Network Rail app said, though….

You can find the full set of photos on the map below or at the Bourne End to Shiplake Picasa album.

Pointless Stats

Music

Doctor Who – Whispering Forest 5th doctor serial off Radio 4
Anandar Shankar – pretty sure I was listening to this too
Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service on Iggy Pop – Jarvis’s last 6Music show before Iggy Pop took over

Water
1 litre of water