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Swale to Sheppey

This walk is all about the caged bird. Do they sing? Well the ones in the reserve make hell of a noise, whereas the ones in the clink probably don’t dare sing because it’s bad for your health – the cows will get you. All told a walk where I finally get onto the island of Sheppey, but run out of time and when dashing for the last train, then find out their roads are unwalkable.

And I know – long time no see. For various reasons, including illness and thus the walks last year ending in July, and other things I’ve not updated since last June (!). I have a few 2014 walks to post, then I’ll delve back into the archive, 2013 and beyond!

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Here’s the new Sheppey bridge, there are two bridges to Sheppey, the local 1960’s Kingsferry Bridge that also carries the railway and the centre part lifts for shipping, and the big recent massive motorway bridge from 2006 which you can see above. Certainly the former is quieter so I took that since I’d missed the 334 and I didn’t fancy waiting…it seemed a long way across the bridge and along the busy road – even though it’s a local road, it’s not much quieter than the main motorway! You can see the abrupt exit of the path…crossing the road there you take your life in your hands! Maybe next time I’ll take the bus.

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Mr Glove Feels How I Feel About The Traffic…

I wasn’t sure which way to head but I’d see the bird/nature reserve on the map and it was the only way along the coast. Seems like Elmsley has done some rebranding? Later turns out I was correct, it was RSPB but has now gone independent.

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I followed the path past the farms, the CCTV signs (?) and the burnt out settee (??) and saw rabbits. Eventually I came to the track for the reserve, it’s signed but noticed there is a closing time, 8pm I think it was when I was there, but I suspect that’s for cars…no idea if there is access after that time. Turns out the other side is quite leaky, so I doubt you’d be shut in, but might be a long walk around or an ungainly shimmy over a fence or gate. Be warned to protect the birds from predators they have high gates here…

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Not a high fence, but a wet one. Good for horse trials though?

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‘Cheap cheap…guano going cheap…’ this bird wouldn’t leave me alone, noisy fucker.

I seemed to be the only one walking, there was a noisy bird stalking me above making a lot of noise even though I stuck to the path…must be used to drivers only. They were all driving around, single males, stopping and looking very furtive…it seemed more like a cruising area than a bird reserve? Very odd…I guess this is what twitchers ‘do’ – but like past experience of RSPB places it’s all motorism, car parks, not made for pedestrians or those arriving on public transport. Which I find really odd since you’d think they’d be more, well, ecological…given the horrors going on near John’s ‘Villa’ in Burnham-on-Crouch (more of that on a later walk) in the name of creating a bird reserve – actually just finding a dumping place for CrossRail rubble – there’s a lot of strange not-that-ecological bird-brained stuff going on. It does seem the birds matter most, but the means aren’t considered? It’s not like cars are particularly friendly to birds anyway.

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Trying to avoid the bird who wants to re-enact Hitchcock for some reason (swearing at it didn’t help, I just hurried on along the road), this place is waterlands, with grazing cows and distant factories, which makes for an odd juxtaposition. Don’t get to chummy with the cows – John hates cows, he’s scared of them. I’m not, but these lot seemed to gang up on me, and I had to make a sharp exit. Maybe they are camera shy? Or represented by Getty?

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They’re coming for you, Barbara, They want to talk to you about the steaks you’ve been eating…

As you get closer to the coast you find rather overgrown sea walls, with annoying signs telling you not to look over them because it will ‘disturb the birds’ – it seems the birds are already disturbed, proper mental in fact. So you trudge on for a bit, but rebel I am I later popped up to have a look…path was so overgrown it was unpassable. I just got so bored of seeing a green bank though, I had to go look. I didn’t see any birds, actually. Or much of anything…

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Ahh! At last a bird. Err…a dead one. I doubt in a nature reserve crows and ravens get the same ‘respect’ (i.e. shot or ringed necks) they do in farms. I wonder how this one died – car strike? Rather pretty house here – barn I guess….there isn’t many distinguishing features in Elmsley apart from the hides, the mad birds, the cows and the odd ruin/barn. This one you can see miles away, I have loads of pictures of it.

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Rather worrying is this sign about a sewerage pipe leaking. Next to a nature reserve? I could rant all week about the various Water companies, they always go on about how they own so much land and thus protect wildlife, but quite often end up polluting it, wrecking it, creating massive ugly canals and earthworks, and a lot of signs telling you that instant death will befall you if you even breathe on their equipment. It seems their very M.O. is at odds at actually preserving nature, quite often unless they unusually leave it alone in the case of some ex-reservoirs. But then someone usually has the bright idea of filling the lake with grotty yachties, tourists, birdwatchers and their motor cars, or build over it with houses.

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Still that means this is somewhere that has some right of way. I’ve left the reserve via their massive gate, and now on a track. It’s marked on the map…no signs telling me it’s private, so I trudge on. It’s getting a bit late and I need to get back to Queensborough or Sheerness station – planning for Queensborough via Eastchurch but there are some surprises in store. My how the caged bird sings…

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Loads of canals and windpower here, there’s a windpower farm ahead. The map seems strangely fuzzy and incomplete, but I had heard mention of a prison…

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The loneliest bus stop, next to Her Majesty’s Pleasure. I suddenly come out of the track into a prison! I pause, wondering if I should be here? No signs, and examining the bus stop reveals that normal buses do stop here, so there must be some access, right?

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Err…I wasn’t planning to investigate further, honest!

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The rabbits LOVE the green grass between wire and walls, I guess it’s a no-go zone and they are left alone. Maybe they are trained to eat escaping prisoners? Rabbit guards.

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After wandering though with camera, doing my confident ‘I’m supposed to be here, don’t bother me’ routine I find this sign at the entrance. Oops. Why no sign on the other end? Do people never walk from the Nature Reserve or farm? There was a sign also saying not to take pictures….err…too late. Partly why I didn’t post this at the time, I was a bit wary. But this was a genuine mistake, and I wandered past many staff and wasn’t accosted. But headphones on, camera in hand and marching on, I guess I looked determined, or something?

I then try and walk along the road from Eastchurch to Queensborough. It starts off OK, but the pavement runs out. By now it seems like it’s local rush hour, and many cars are whizzing by at 40-60 miles an hour. It’s scary, and unwalkable. Thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any other paths, along the coast or here connecting Queensborough with this part of the island…it seems to be one of those situations where you have to ride the bus. But I needed to get to the train so I couldn’t wait for the cars to pass, I had to march on. Not fun.

I looked so scared that a passing police car stopped…he asked if I wanted help, I said yes because there wasn’t any pavements. So I got a lift to the station! This meant I actually caught the train, and got home in good time. One of the few times I’ve been relieved to see a copper.

So next time I’m going to get the bus from Sheerness or Queensborough past Eastchurch, and only walk what I can and take the bus back – or do it all by bus and just walk from Sheerness to Swale, on the other side. That looks doable. My rules are to walk around the island, but looks like unless I wade along the mud for 20 miles and probably find a few more prisons, this isn’t possible.

Can’t We Get Rid Of The Pointless Stats?

1 1/2 litre of water – I do take too much sometimes!
Wheat free rolls? I have memory of something like that…such a long time though!
A few M&Ms and jelly snakes for instant energy.


Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac, Mystery to Me, Future Games, Heroes Are Hard to Find, Penguin and Bare Trees – a whole lot of Bob Welch era early 70’s Mac! 9/10
When In Rome – The Promise 12″ – 6/10

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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.

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No idea about these spiralling marks, it’s almost as if the rabbits have been taking LSD then chasing each other all at once…

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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:
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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.

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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.

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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


Various tracks friends had sent me:

Anandar Shankar and Bollywood music – very good 9/10French Ye Ye pop – Chantal Goya, Marie LaforĂȘt & 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