Greenhithe to Swanscombe and Gravesend

Smile it’s just aliens…graffiti during the walk

First of the River Walks (and the last one I’ve done to date) to be posted here, and it’s the closest I’ve gotten to UrbEx for a long while. I’d seen some interesting pictures of Swanscombe peninsula, but also heard they are building a Paramount Theme Park there despite it being the site of neolithic settlements, WW2 ruins and the remains of a cement factory – and some rare jumping spiders – so I made it a priority to go and document before it all gets Mickeyfied. I wasn’t disappointed.

I had tried to explore at the end of a previous walk, and in the dark without a torch followed the old factory road which was marked on the OSMAND map* as being open. I arrived to find a 6 foot gate. Locked. I ended up having to vault over it…funnily enough as I found on this trip, there is a path open 24/7 just a few metres down from there, but as I expected, no lighting.

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Wondering if there is anything more soul destroying than rail replacement bus services. Packed ones at that.
Sun Jul 28 18:26:44

Starting at Greenhithe Station which like all the chaos around London Bridge station and also further along towards Gravesend meant the rail replacement ‘fun’ mentioned above…more of this later. When I finally arrived, I walked along the front, a beautiful day. Local residents of the flats near the river do seem to like putting up fences, it’s obvious some of the gated-estate types don’t like the oiks perambulating down the front. Barges full of scrap metal pass by, and the chimneys and windfarms in the distance bellow and hover (or whatever it is windfarms do). Eventually passed by to the rather abandoned looking part with new flats built above and a large sea wall and path below. Local kids seem to love to graffiti and chalk on this wall, as to whether Jamie is a large gentleman of the homosexual persuasion we will never know.

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After these flats they were building some new ones, I think access to this was why the gates were locked. But oddly you can just walk into the peninsula path along the river via a concrete staircase that seems to go nowhere. The grass and the view is beautiful. I passed a pack of a local family who had been fishing, probably off the pier, who eyed me warily and shouted for their kids to come up to the front…they were particularly ugly kids, so not sure why they were concerned.

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Not some Mad Max dystopia, this is the disused loading pier, I assume for the old cement factory. Obviously not been used for some time.

There was what seemed to be some sort of remains of a dry dock or wharf, or truck loading area ramp…lots of disused spraycans, remains of fires, dangerous iron cable, smashed bottles and yes, graffiti.

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Following along a path that unlike the fly, fresh or fishing parts had not been walked on much for a while it was so overgrown and onto the real star of the walk – the creek harbour. I’d found this via satellite map, and then looked up pictures of it, many rotten or abandoned boats it seemed. Well, not abandoned at all, there were people there working. Apparently to man I met up with later when trying to find an exit (wary of another 6 foot vault) it’s a boat club and harbour, owned and run locally. He didn’t seem concerned by the Theme Park, so maybe it won’t affect them?

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Anyway the growing grass and the tide being out gave it an air of a harbour abandoned by the tide, or boats sailing along on grass:

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I wandered around while hearing banging and work from one of the caravans or boats. I half expected to be hastily ejected, but there are footpaths than run through here, so you should be OK. I walked around the headland, and past a scary looking radar? antenna tower that’s run by the Thames Harbour Authority or Port of London. It’s not clear if you can follow the shoreline along past that, it looked totally overgrown, interspersed with abandoned vehicles, skips and a digger. So I walked along the roads, remains of the works that used to be here. Here’s one now, which seemed to be chemical/unstable, so good luck to the Theme Park with that clean up!

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I rejoined the shoreline and intended to walk along past what seems to be a container facility or sand extraction works, but it seemed far from easy to go down that way. Looking on the satellite map later confirmed I would have literally had to walk across the factory wharf, which given it’s still operational I doubt they’d be happy with. One for another day. I loved the gloaming and the shots of the river though, almost Dutch or Venetian in tone, the East End Canaletto?

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So I walked back, bumping into a local who showed me the way out via the path I avoided last time. Now the saga of getting home…remember those ‘Engineering Works’ mentioned at the start? Well cue over an hour of just missing buses, or getting to Stonebridge station and not being sure if trains were stopping there (yes even those ‘Press for information’ booths didn’t seem to be responding). I ended up walking to Gravesend and getting a train back from there, as I knew the Chavelin aka HS1 called there late, even if the local Greenhithe/Stonebridge services were screwed.

Being so close to London I wasn’t concerned, and like the Bosham walk it was interesting how along the river there are industrial wharfs and factories you cannot walk along but run even late on a Sunday night, banging and crashing. (You can’t even walk along the front even when marked – the bit by Northfleet works / Robin Creek had a path marked and was there, but blocked off due to redevelopment – then again as we know OSMAND and the Hike Bike map can’t been 100% trusted!).

So at least I could tick off Gravesend, that was the part of the reason for that late night walk too, as that meant I had connected all the way to Cliffe – where Boris wants his blessed airport – a walk I’d done many years previous.

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<geek alert> * Yes I use OSMAND, with vector amps usually with the Hike/Bike layer for double checking. I’d love an OS 1:25,000 maps without paying paper prices on mine. not sure Ordnance Survey have ever really gotten mobile, with their expensive or restrictive licensing. It’s like OS think walkers and ramblers are their to be endlessly squeezed for money. Most app devs seem to get scared off, or the app is useless for walkers at the less restricted or open 1:50,000 or 1:250,000 levels. Great for drivers, walkers and bikers less so. It’s not what I call ‘open’ anyway – and we already paid for this so a bit loathe to pay twice, even if it is now £1.99 per tile. Their OpenData maps almost got used here but it wasn’t flexible enough, the track colour didn’t seem to be able to be changed and got lost in the noise, and no altitude or distance. It’ll be interesting to see if OS allows any decent walking apps to use their maps though… </geek>

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).