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Reading to Goring

Otherwise known as Path Wars: Attack of the Cyclists, this was a walk back in May continuing the walk from Reading to Goring & Streatley. Original plan was just to go to Pangbourne or Tilehurst if the weather changed or I had to abandon, but actually the weather was fine and I made good progress. I knew that after Goring it was a bit fun to work out the next exit, so that was another walk.

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First up was the Victorian drinking fountain on the Thames Promenade car park. It had seen better days, but an amazing survivor from days when public drinking water was a health issue. It was erected in the 1890’s to commemorate Frank Attwells, Mayor of Reading 1891-2, in fact he died in office – I assume put up by his wife Sarah, who died in 1905 and was also commemorated. I wish modern fountains were as grand. As usual, it had become an impromptu dumping area for rubbish 🙁

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Walking onwards past the very pitchurskew canal boats and very posh houses on the other side of the river, and the swans, ducks and geese en masse. I was struck by the view across the fields of what looks like a disused Leisure Centre, or at least a very beat up one. In it’s sorry state, it reminded me of a concentration camp, a sort of Ghetto of Fun. Those places creep me out, in fact, the enforced jollity factory nature makes me think of people or leisure being processed, like a sort of meat. It’s one of my favourites, hence why it’s the featured image at the top.

Also being late afternoon on a sunny day there were many people leisuring themselves on the river, along the river playing table tennis in their gardens or just enjoying the sunshine. Hate to think how many millions those houses are worth. I seem to be making a habit of taking pictures of canoeists and rowers recently, and this was not an exception:

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Cuteness to the max were the baby ducklings and baby swans, a contrast to the dark thoughts about factory fun palaces. But it was a nice stroll along the river, and the Promenade is quite wide and thus you don’t mind the cyclists whizzing by. This was an all too brief respite, sadly.

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The promenade narrows into a small path along fields. You’d think this would mean the cyclists would slow down, but not at all. The path is at some points barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side, at some points only big enough for one person. Definitely NOT a cycle track. I looked around for signs, but apart from a later No Motorbike sign I saw none until later…but surely cyclists had more sense than to bomb down a single track path en masse?

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You can see from the picture how being passed by cycles at speed walking on the path might be not only intimidating, but dangerous. Many cycles passed me, quite a few at speed helmed by Lycrablokes with expensive mountain bikes. This is a cycling rat run! But I mean it’s not like there is anything suggesting that you shouldn’t ride down here or anything…

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…oh.

There are quite a few gates after this, but it seems that the cyclists don’t take the hint that like commuters and towpaths, maybe bombing down small paths isn’t that pedestrian friendly, nor encouraged (otherwise why are the gates there to make cyclists dismount?). Apparently according to one I accosted, 30+ bikers use this route. It’s the Thames Path, which usually doesn’t allow bicycles, but the bloke was using the classic ‘there’s no sign telling me not to’ argument which is always the response of someone who isn’t thinking, or usually doing something they know is anti-social. I pointed out that there are many things that don’t have signs, like not killing people or not being a complete dick…doesn’t mean you’re allowed to. Sadly I think Thatcher’s Children and beyond have the idea that they are entitled to do as they please as long as the Nannystate has not explicitly and visibly forbidden it. This is why we have so many silly redundant signs for people like this, like ‘Danger! Kettle Is Hot!’ and ‘Warning! River Contains Mud and Deep Water’ – because if there isn’t a sign they bleat as they sink below the muddy water. Let these (not) grown-up children drown, I say. It’s Darwin in action.

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Happier thoughts, or trying to have them as you come along side the brick railway embankment, lots of old fading graffiti, CND signs, skulls, that sort of thing. You try and ignore the bikers bombing past within an inch of your nose – even though there are a few families with pushchairs, I hate to think what happened when they screeched around the corner and there wasn’t space for either bike or chair. It’s quite dark here, with trees, a bit cold actually even with the sunshine. But you happily stroll on until the path suddenly and inexplicably runs out. Name and shame time here: ROEBUCK FERRY COTTAGE – COME ON DOWN!

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Here is the gate. I pissed on it to show my ‘appreciation’

Yes it’s one of the destroyed ferries, I guess the path would have switched to the other side at some point, but not any more. So you have a happy traipse along a massive road for several miles ahead of you. Before heading up to the massively and impressively over-engineered bridge, you see this strange pub sign. Maybe the Cottage used to be a Hotel? Maybe you could get through there? No sign of the Hotel, and give the sign’s repair, looks like it hasn’t been running for some time?

Not shown is the ‘Welcome to Reading’ sign behind it, tempted to add sarkily ‘Enjoy our crazy cyclists’. It’s a good thing those cyclists were quite often doing some sort of sprint back up the path back where I came from, because on the bridge and beyond they weren’t that welcome. The bridge not having ramps or any concession to cyclists again suggests they weren’t in the right, either.

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Over the railway bridge and up onto the quite busy road, you after a short while come to another path, through a private wood. This makes it very clear that there are no cyclists allowed. Yippee! Problem is, the wood is far too short, and you get dumped into a very strange Surrey-like housing cul-de-sac. Not unpleasant, but a long way from the river (now the other side of a railway too) and not exactly green nor pleasant. This is the delights of Purley, and after a mile or two of it’s never-ending middle class estates, you’ll be tired of it. It’s one hell of a detour so some people can play ping pong in their garden!

There is another classic Thames Path misdirection trick here though at the junction of St Mary’s Avenue where it says ‘Thames Path to the Lock’. This skirts along the edge of the housing estate but doesn’t go near the river for quite some time like it might suggest. Ignore that and head down the avenue towards St Mary’s church if you want a much nicer walk along the river. This must be some weird way of appeasing the locals that they get their path in peace without pesky walkers? Very odd, and not the first time I’ve seen signs directing you AWAY from the actual/nicest path. I’d always prefer to walk along the river, rather than up a small road across an estate, any day.

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So if you walk past the church along Waterside Drive to Brading Way you’ll see a path off Chesnut Drive to the river. This is where you’ll find a Path Ends 100m sign back where you came from – the exciting end of that path is pictured above. The inhabitants of what seems to be 26 River Gardens, Purley are building a really ugly building, as well as blocking off the path for everyone. I suggest if they want to sell you that building tell them where to go, since not only does it look fucking awful, it follows that if they treat us mild walking types badly they probably then have no scruples in other dealings too (Hello Google! Hello Estate Agents! This is a lesson in name and shame, allow public rights of way or I’ll call you out and lower your property prices :-P)

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A much nicer sign reminds you this is Wind in the Willows land, Kenneth Grahame not only grew up in Cookham – we’ll visit there in an earlier walk – he died at Pangbourne near here. By which I mean he lived there, it wasn’t some accident or suicide tourism (Come To Pangbourne And Die! Oh You’ll Laugh!’). As a result you do see a lot of Ratty tat, but this one on a barge is really nice.

The River Gardens looks severely private, and tries to give that ‘you shouldn’t be here air’ but actually it isn’t, as you will find the gate to the a well hidden, (possibly intentionally) footpath sign. This part of the walk is beautiful, the best part, and you can see why the locals might want to keep this secret.

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COOOOWS! The river meadow walk along to Mapledurham Lock is very peaceful, and a nice respite from all that tarmac and concrete. At the lock you’ll join the path from St Mary’s Avenue, and be grateful you didn’t go that way. I promise you.

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The lock has a nice looking cafe but it was closed. ‘OPEN FOR ICES DRINKS CRISPS…ALSO PLANTS’ – yum! Plants!

Onward past the lock and again, some amazingly scenery across the river – towards Goring Heath looks like it has some landscaping – remains of gardens? But on your side there is also Much Pichtureskew. Wow. Such lovely. So photo.

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Quite a few boats along the river, the high bank makes this look like it’s actually sailing on grass, not water.

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I’d love to live on this boat – old school and an amazing setting.

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You can see what I meant about landscaped, those hills aren’t naturally like that.

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No idea what birdy this is. Grebe? Crested grebe? Big bird? Blue tit? Red Metal Headbanger Bird? IHNI. I usually get annoyed at those signs everywhere which you hope to have interesting local info, and usually all have the same canned info that this place is the place in the world you’ll find a Lesser Great Crested Booby Fartywhoopbird and a really rare Blue Buttocked Ant, or something. I’m sure someone loves those, but I’d rather not know what type of grass is so special it grows upside down, or whatever it is. Give me historical info! Walking info! A Map? Just something that isn’t just ganked from an Osborne House Nature Book?

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Proud of the timing of this picture…was already aiming and the crow just photobombed me. I have two shots, with and without. This is my favourite. Nothing else to report here, really. PICCIES!

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It was around here the insects started to get a bit much, and I saw more rowing & canoeing. There seems to be several canoeing schools here, and one especially at Pangbourne – I guess that’s the embarassingly titled ‘Adventure Dolphin’ – and Goring. And onto Pangbourne Meadow – with sadly the return of the bicyclistes. The path diverts somewhat at Pangbourne, as they haven’t finished replacing the Whitchurch-on-Thames tollbridge. Yes they still have one of those, no idea how they kept their sticky hands onto it…but it’s all a Big Hot Industrial Mess at the moment.

You can still get over the river on a footbridge though. I was 50/50 whether to stay and find a nice pub, but it was only 8pm and I could see Goring & Streatley was only a few miles away. I watched a canoeist do endless eskimo rolls from the bridge and shuddered – I once did one of those PGL/summer camp things, but never could do canoeing because I couldn’t swim, so got left alone on the shore for hours. Very boring, but I hate being underwater…truth was I was dreading doing those rolls anyway. What happens if you can’t get back up?

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St Mary The Virgin, rather than St Mary the Complete Whore, St Mary The Scarlet Hussy, St Mary Does Oral Count? and St Mary Will Shag Anyone For Chips, I guess?

This is where it gets rather odd, not sure if it was the bridge or lateness but I got a bit lost around the mill – the path to the church is well hidden. Then through the very pretty churchyard, past the Tudor houses (ooh nice pub! Boo! Now having second thoughts about that eating/drinking thing…) and onward past about 10,000 galleries. It seems Whitchurch exists for small galleries and tat shops. Well it certainly doesn’t exist for footpaths, pavements or easy rights of way, that’s for sure.

When you find Hartslock Bridleway, apart from the severe looking PRIVATE CARRIAGEWAY type signs which are slightly off-putting, it’s very much a direct mostly un-rivered (is that a verb? Is now) slog to Goring. It gets quite steep in places, and sadly I couldn’t get a good shot of the sunset. On the upside, I didn’t get a shot of the sunset. So it works out really (I know, I have to take them even though I never post them, because it’s JUST SO CHEESY).

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One of the interesting things is the sudden arrival of pillboxes. No, not the drug sort, the military sort, out of the blue. You’d not think sleepy Pangbourne or Goring as being the frontline of the Second World War, but on my next walk I spotted quite a few RAF bases, such as Abingdon and Benson – and a few that the Yanks won’t give up. So I guess they were worried about crack German Barge Commandos, slowly making their way up the river in Cammo Narrowboats, pretending to be tourists when all tourism had stopped…no, that wouldn’t work. The mind does boggle, but then again I guess small boats could make their way up river, so hence the pillboxes along it. There were many more on my next walk…this deserted one looked rather poetic in the forest. I didn’t go inside…far too late, dark and I hate those kinds of spaces!

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As it was nearing the elections, I found it funny someone had thrown blue paint on the UKIP sign in one of the fields. Really, if you were voting UKIP you should not only be ashamed, you shouldn’t really be advertising it. I ended up at Goring & Streatley station just in time for the train, was a bit of a scamper but made it, so went back to Reading. I went to get some coffee, and had an interesting conversation with the Reading University student serving me. I mentioned the cyclists and she said she was from Oxford and cycled everywhere there, but in Reading the traffic was too much, and she gave up after a week. She wondered where the cyclists were…suddenly it made sense! The cyclists were using the paths as rat runs to avoid the cars…so much for Reading the new silicon city!

As I tweeted back then, it did seem an own goal though, the problem with doing that is not only does it annoy the likes of me, it also means motorists don’t get used to cyclists. The same argument over riding pavements I had with Critical Mass people applies here – that separation/avoiding traffic doesn’t work, it means the drivers get away with bad habits and never learn, and the pedestrians get annoyed with the bikes in their space. I walk on footpaths to avoid traffic, the commuter rat-run that goes through where I live 4-7pm, the idea is to get away from people and traffic. This completely fails if then the traffic then comes zipping by at high volume?

Return of the Pointless Stats!

Food

A few M&Ms – I think I ran out
1 litre of water
1 Cappuccino

Music

Disco – loads of 70’s & 80’s Disco and No Wave such as
Disco Not Disco 1 & 2 8/10
Ben Liebrand – Grand 12 Inches 1 & 2 10/10
Sage Francis – Sick of Li(f)e mixtape especially Origin To Descent and Years Demo – 9/10
Random Bootie mashups – pretty good, 7/10

Naughty Bicycles photographed for abandoned name & shame FB group or blog called ‘2 Wheels Bad’:
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Canoeists photographed (no shame):

21 (!)

May is National Walking Month…

Yes a non-walk post! They do happen. May in the UK is Living Street’s National Walking Month (I meant to post on this earlier, I am on their mailing list after all…). I’m hoping the weather will be better than today’s rainstorm, so I will get out and do more walks and detail them here, I’m sure I’ll at least do a few. Or if it rains for the whole of May (don’t laugh, it has happened, this is Britain remember), I’ll at least be writing about my past ones.

But I do wonder where they get some of the people to blather on about walking, here’s the list of what Rebecca Solnit, an expert because she wrote a book, obviously, said walks should be:

  • Walk further and with no fixed route
  • Stop texting and mapping
  • Don’t soundtrack your walks
  • Go alone
  • Find walkable places
  • Walk mindfully

Don’t laugh. Oh OK, laugh. What is this ‘walk mindfully’ shit? New age Gladwellian self-improvement crap, I’d bet.

Being mindful suggests that the rest of the time you’re off in some la-la-land, which is a luxury most people cannot afford, ut walk somewhere away from people – which is possible EVERYWHERE, yes even in ‘crowded’ London you don’t need ‘walkable places’ – you will get away from distractions. Everywhere is walkable, and the most surprising places are actually interesting and not signed ‘Mindful Walking HERE!’ with a nice little brown sign, sealed and delivered to Walking Enlightenment. Really it’s this sort of stuff that makes me angry.

What do you need to walk? Two feet in front of the other. That’s all. No extra gear, no extra mind-training, no extra ‘stuff’. Tim’s list for walking goes thus:

  • Start walking
  • When tired, or it gets too late, stop
  • Rules are for suckers. Or people desperately scraping up copy for a BBC magazine. Or argument linkbait…oh damn…

And the author of the piece  also says you shouldn’t listen to music or podcasts either. Grr, best time to listen to podcasts like my lovely one *cough* is when you can ‘mindfully’ concentrate on them. Depends if you see music as a background ‘distraction’ or something that can enhance the experience, that deserves more than just ignorance. I listen to music on my walks but on shuffle, and quite often the two complement, so I can concentrate on the environment and the music. And yes, it helps me relax.

But sometimes bliss is so quiet you might not listen at all – Venice was a revelation in that fact, and made me realise I use music to block out a lot of traffic noise, and stupid people. As there were no cars, and I couldn’t understand the language it meant for days I never listened to my iPod. But in the UK I walk places with cars, and yes stupid people….but it’s more than just a block, particularly on my walks.

I’m all for Living Streets Walking Month, anyway – but the press and PR need to realise that coating walking with some glamorous, capitalistic or ‘mindful’ self-improvement sheen is self-defeating, it only serves to give people excuses NOT to walk. Best thing about walking is anyone can do it, at any time, in any place, and find things they never expected even where they live. It doesn’t need ‘selling’ in that way. It doesn’t desperately need an ‘angle’ unlike the author of this piece.

What does need ‘selling’ that less people need cars, that public transport needs to be better and is non-existent in parts, that some roads can be extremely pedestrian unfriendly (then again, there are nearly always ways around that, but Right to Roam would help for the really antisocial landowners that stop or block walking on their land or rights of way) but that doesn’t seem ‘sexy’ enough for magazines and the press.

Far easier to focus on the personal sphere and apply ‘mindful’ self-improvement solutions to a social problem that didn’t exist…I would say this is blame the victim, really. With the assault of cars in our cities and also small country roads, can you blame people for not walking as much? Make it nicer to walk, and duh, people will walk, I don’t think people are mindless zombies by choice, or that they are that mindless actually.

As  a side note – I don’t see how the RSPB and National Trust with their massive car parks, and lack of access for pedestrians is helping either – quite often the access to a RSPB reserve or National Trust property reminds me of the entrance to large supermarkets where you are bombarded with cars and crossing busy roads before you even get there. This shows these organisations aren’t really walker or public transport friendly at all.

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.

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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:

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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:

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Clarendon Hotel garden, 2009

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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.

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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:

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Albion Marine Engineers 2009

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Graffiti, 2014

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Shornemead Fort in 2009

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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!

Welcome to Walking the Wrong Way

Walking the wrong way: down the path less travelled and getting lost on the way. Walking into the wind or sun. Walking without a map, without water, without sun cream or warm clothes and missing the last bus. Walking only on sunny days and not in rain. Walking across military ranges ignoring the keep out signs, past nuclear power plants, walking late at night along cliffs.

I’ve done all of these, survived to tell the tale and did them intentionally and unintentionally. And I’ve learned quite a lot along the way – a random squiggly line that is still err, unsquiggling?

Here are photos and reports from those journeys, past and future, an artistic exercise and Loneliness of the Late Disorganised Walker in one mad man’s idea of walking around Britain and up the Thames in tiny stages only on nice days (rain? Ugh!) and to where there is a pub or a chip shop (usually just closed, because, well, they hate tourists).

My River Walks I’ve already walked from Henley to Swanscombe Marshes along the Thames, since 1999 (back to when I used a film camera – scanning those might be harder), and a few years back I started my Coastal walk around Britain. Last count I’m over 50 miles from Chichester to Teynsham in Kent. OK I’m not exactly in a hurry, but I suspect the 6am-starting cagouled Kendal Mint Cake types forget it’s not about getting there, it’s the journey along the way.

And anyway they drive cars, those cheating, planet-destroying, recycling yobs (hey there’s nothing more ironic than a National Trust Car Park!) – and I have to rely on public transport. And as you will see, that’s sometimes harder to plan than the walk itself.

And check out the fancy map! Not much to see yet apart from my test posts, but yes, every walking post and even posts and pics along the way will be geolocated, and most likely have a GPS GPX track (either in fancypants plugin form or just an image) and details. And a lot of rambling probably…(no not that sort, well yes that sort, both really).