158. Rainham to Strood

September 2006

This was a walk I was not particularly looking forward to – a walk through the urban sprawl of the Medway towns. Whilst it certainly wasn’t my favourite walk it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and had some enjoyable parts – and a lot of history.

I drove down to Strood via the M25 and M2 and parked at the station in Strood, then took the train a couple of stops to Rainham, where I had finished last time.

I retraced my steps from the station to the banks of the Medway via Berengrave Nature Reserve. From here I knew I must be in Kent, since the first thing that caught my eye was a wrecked boat.

The Medway in Rainham

There must be hundreds (if not thousands!) of them around the rivers, creeks and estuaries of Kent. I could also see the Kingsnorth power station over on the Isle of Grain on the other side of the estuary. Something to look forward (!) to for another walk.

The Medway in Rainham

Soon I passed a derelict old wharf on the right. It had a variety of uses over the years including a ship breakers and scrap yard. Beyond this I was once more into salt marsh, though with the tide fairly high it was quite pretty with the boats and masts reflecting in the calm waters.

The Medway in Rainham

The path was very pleasant, wide and easy to follow, so I made quick progress. Soon I had reached the narrow spit of land that heads out to Horrid Hill, part of Riverside Country Park.

The Medway in Rainham

I headed out along this, despite it being a dead-end as it looked quite interesting.

Horrid Hill, Gillingham

I passed the rusting remains of another ship (a Google search reveals it to be the tug “Waterloo”).

Horrid Hill, Gillingham

The path then passed woodland and soon reached the end of the spit, where it widened to the hill.

Horrid Hill, Gillingham

The spit got it’s name as it was once used by convicts and smugglers.

Horrid Hill, Gillingham

There were the remains of what looked to be quite an old stone wall at the end, though with a more modern brick wall behind.

I could also see the Kingsnorth Power station again, something I’m clearly going to be seeing a lot of for a while. After this I returned the way I’d come and continued along the Saxon Shore Way.

Horrid Hill, Gillingham

Unlike further east in Kent, this was a good easy to follow path here. Out in the Medway I could watch large tankers and other ships making their way out to sea or in towards London.

There were also a couple of marshy islands just off the shore to my right which are oddly unnamed on the map.

The Medway at Gillingham

As I approached Gillingham the path had to head inland past another small industrial site but I could at least return to the waters edge once past it. Out to sea were some of those concrete barges used during World War II (Mulberry harbours?) that had now been sunk. I wondered why but later found out it was to provide protection for Gillingham Yacht club!

The Medway at Gillingham

The Medway at Gillingham

Just beyond this I came to The Strand Leisure Park. This seemed rather unloved with grass growing out of the promenade and the lido closed (though possibly just for the season, despite it only being September).

The Strand Leisure Park, Gillingham

The Strand Leisure Park, Gillingham

I could follow the river through this but ahead I was now coming to industry and docks. The Saxon Shore Way bailed out on me here, heading more than a mile inland on paths and quieter roads away from the coast. I was tempted to follow suit but decided to try and stick as close to the coast as possible. That meant following the A289. The A289 is a busy dual carriageway so this is not a pleasant route to walk, but it did at least have a pavement, or I wouldn’t have considered it.

It was a tedious walk though as the road was hemmed in with industry on the right and Univeristy of Kent Medway Campus. I could not continue on the A289 all the way as it this modern main road soon heads through the Medway Tunnel which it is not permitted to walk through. So I continued to the roundabout ahead. Here again I had a choice. I could turn left to Chatham or right to a dead-end new development of “St Mary’s Island”, which is not an island. I decided on the latter option.

So I followed the road out to the island, crossing the swing bridge over the two marinas. It was a rather soulless development of housing.

St Mary's Island, Chatham

St Mary's Island, Chatham

Though there were also a few old buildings around, like this one hidden behind a fence either awaiting demolition or re-development (I hoped for the latter given it had survived the demolition of other buildings around).

St Mary's Island, Chatham

I was able to head to the west of the island and get a nice view over the Medway. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely castle, surrounded by trees.

Upnor Castle from Chatham

This is Upnor Castle and gave me something to look forward to on my next walk. Walking out to here had been worth it for this view alone.

Having reached the west side of the island I was pleased to find I could turn south along the coast passing “Dickens World” to reach the Chatham Historic Dockyard. I didn’t have time to visit it on this walk and I really should go back (as I really enjoy the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and I imagine this is also very good). I remember that the HMS Victory (now at Portsmouth) was in fact built here at Chatham and ropes were also made here.

I was pleased though that like Portsmouth, it is possible to wander around outside the buildings without paying to go in.

Chatham Historic Dockyard

Chatham Historic Dockyard

The buildings were large and quite interesting to look at too, though I was a bit surprised to find an old steam locomotive outside, perhaps once used to move goods around the docks.

Chatham Historic Dockyard

The buildings had the cranes outside which were presumably used to move and launch the boats.

Chatham Historic Dockyard

It all looked very interesting and probably needs a whole day to do it justice. One day, one day.

Chatham Historic Dockyard

I left the dockyard through a very grand gate, showing the important of this sight to the navy.

Entrance to Chatham Historic Dockyard

There still seems to be quite a military presence in the town, as I passed what I took to be barracks, clearly still used for their original purpose judging by all the camouflage army clothing hanging out of the windows to dry. Presumably Saturday is washing day!

Barracks in Chatham

I continued passing this statue of a man on a horse though I’m afraid I didn’t note down who it was, but it marks the entrance to Fort Amherst. The fort was open and you can walk around the grounds outside for free. I had a look in where there was obviously a wedding going on (or about to start) .

Fort Amherst, Chatham

The fort was built into the chalk and you can also take tours of the tunnels underneath and through the chalk. Another thing that looks worth coming back to.

I climbed up to the walls of the fort which offered views over Chatham which looked fairly ugly, unfortunately.

Chatham from Fort Amherst

Fort Amherst, Chatham

Having enjoyed my walk around the grounds of the fort, I emerged from the fort back on the main road by a church and just after this could turn right and follow a path alongside a nice riverside park. Though the views over the river were more industrial now.

The Medway at Chatham

I passed some more attractive buildings which probably once had a military use judging my their design and all the canons dotted around.

Chatham

Ahead I could continue by the river and come to Sun Pier. It was odd to see a pier here though it is mostly just used by fisherman now, but it did offer views of the Medway.

The Medway at Chatham

From here though I passed a few more interesting buildings and headed back to the road, as there is no more access along the river side for a while. This soon took me to the (now former) Rochester station (a new station having since opened nearer the town centre and the old one closed down).

I passed under the railway and continued now along Rochester High Street. Rochester and Chatham are the more historic of the Medway towns, and I was soon to see this history. The buildings on the first part were pleasant enough but soon I crossed the A229 and could continue on the pedestrianised part of the street where it was even better. Rochester was an interesting and pretty town.

Rochester

Rochester High Street

I even passed this odd Swiss-style chalet which looked a little out of place.

Rochester High Street

It was a fascinating mix of buildings from the new to the very old including some half-timbered houses and old brick buildings.

Rochester High Street

Rochester High Street

Rochester High Street

Rochester High Street

I was approaching the Rochester Bridge at the end of the High Street, which would take me across the Medway into Strood.

However before I went that way I wanted to take a look around Rochester. So I turned left into the beautiful Cathedral green, where the cathedral and castle are to be found.

Rochester Cathedral

The castle is still quite intact, with the large outer walls remaining and the walls of the keep, which is now partly in ruins but still extremely impressive in scale.

Rochester Castle

It shows the importance of this town with the need to defend it. The Cathedral too through smaller in scale was also lovely.

Since I didn’t have any particular need to hurry home I made time to visit both the cathedral and castle. From the castle walls I could look out over the Medway and Rochester Bridge, which I would soon cross, though it was not a very pretty bridge.

The Medway at Rochester

However an information board within the castle showed a much older brick arched bridge had once been here. Sadly the keep is largely a shell so you can only look up to the sky where once there would have been floors.

Rochester Castle

However there are wooden steps taking you part way up from where I could enjoy views of the cathedral and river.

The Medway at Rochester

Rochester Cathedral

The stonework, too was still quite intricate.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

Having enjoyed the castle, I turned my attention to the cathedral.

Rochester Cathedral

Inside this had fine stone work (perhaps some marble) but a lot of it was covered in scaffolding, though I loved the wooden ceiling.

Heading back to the High Street I passed more lovely buildings and reached the Rochester Bridge.

Rochester

Rochester

In fact this is actually three bridges in one, two road bridges (now carrying two lanes of traffic in each direction, in theory, as you can see this wasn’t the case at the time), and a 3rd bridge carrying the railway.

Rochester Bridge

The view from the bridge was limited because I was following the pavement between the two parts of the bridge. Once over I turned right, under the railway line and made my way back to the station.

This was an odd walk really. The first part was still fairly rural, beside the Medway and an interesting walk out to Horrid Hill. Then there was a horrid section beside the busy dual carriageway before I reached Chatham. Here it was packed with history, as I passed the historic dockyard and continued along more roads to reach Rochester. Rochester was a delight, with it’s beautiful High Street, cathedral and castle and I’m glad I made time for these, even if I didn’t for the dockyard. Although I wasn’t quite clear of the Medway towns I could also see that there would be more of interest on my next walk.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

South Eastern Trains London to Gravesend, Maidstone, Faversham and Ramsgate : London St Pancras (International) – Stratford International – Ebbsfleet International – Gravesend – Strood – Rochester – Chatham – Gillingham – Rainham – Sittingbourne – Faversham – Whitstable – Herne Bay – Birchington-on-Sea – Margate – Broadstairs – Ramsgate – Sandwich – Deal – Walmer – Martin Mill – Dover Priory – Folkestone Central – Folkestone West – Ashford International (and onwards back to London St Pancras). Trains run twice an hour between Strood and Rainham Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. Trains take about 15 minutes between Strood and Rainham.

Trains also run from London Charing Cross and London Bridge to Strood, Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham and from London Victoria to Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Rainham.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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157. Swale to Rainham

September 2006

Now back on the mainland this was another walk alongside marshes. I drove to Rainham Station and parked in the station car park. From there I took the train to Swale station. This is the 3rd time I’ve taken a train to or from this remote station (the least used in Kent) proving that even a remote station has it’s uses! Once again, I was the only person to get on or off.

As the station is on the southern approach to the bridge I have to walk a bit south to the road junction and then follow the road back towards the bridge and turn left just before the road goes under it. I go up steps and am now back on the Saxon Shore Way.

The Sheppey Crossing, Swale

I was back on familiar territory, a raised sea bank path beside marshes on my left and the Swale on my right. In about half a mile I come to some lights marked on the map. Not lighthouses, the turn out to be small lights marked on the top of wooden posts. Quite why this particular part of the Swale needs marking in this way I’m not sure.

Ferry Marshes near Swale

Inland the names hint at the old use of this area – Ferry Marshes and Old Ferry Road, clearly names pre-dating the opening of the bridges to the Isle of Sheppey. Inland there is a creek which seems to come to an abrupt end at the modern sea wall.

Chetney Marshes

Chetney Marshes

Cattle are grazing on the marsh to my left under the shadow of the bridge. The land is criss-crossed with streams and drainage channels and I imagine must all flood in the winter, so it is probably of little use other than grazing land.

The path ahead goes through a few gates, but at most of them the stile is broken, so I have to climb over the gates. A rather aggressive sign attached to one of them warns “Any dogs found in livestock will be shot”. And adds, underneath in smaller lettering and in brackets and seemingly without a hint of irony “Please help to protect our wildlife“!

The sea wall has numerous debris washed up against it from the incoming tide, presumably left from the last storm or higher than usual tide.

Chetney Marshes

After about a mile the path along the sea wall comes to an abrupt end. Ahead is Chetney Marshes and whilst a sea wall goes around most of this, there are no public rights of way. I had wondered if it might be possible to continue, but another rather aggressive sign puts paid to that “Private. Please keep out. Any disturbance to birds will result in prosecution”.

Chetney Marshes

So here I have to turn inland along a wide track heading towards a remote farm along a track marked as Old Counter Wall which is also raised up.

Chetney Marshes

The path soon passes under power lines and approaches a wind pump. Here the main track turns to the right to the farm and Chetney Hill, but it is a dead-end so I continue on the footpath ahead which also heads to the same farm, but via a slightly shorter route. The farm looks run down with broken windows and a tatty caravan alongside the barn. At the farm I can turn left and return back to the waterside. This is also not the sea. I’m on a narrow spit of land with the east of the land facing the Swale and the west another major estuary, this time the Medway. Immediately beside the path is Chetney Hill an island, though joined to the mainland via a bridge and I suspect part of the farm.

Chetney Hill

Father out in the Medway are all sorts of marshy islands. They show evidence of old sea walls on the map but are now flooded.

Bedlams Bottom

I’m not sure whether the sea wall was naturally breached or deliberately so, as has been done elsewhere on the coast. The northern of these islands is called Burntwick Island but the larger southern one is oddly unnamed, though it’s southern tip, named Slaughterhouse Point hints at what used to happen here.

I’m now alongside mud flats and marshes once again though with views over to the distant Isle of Grain (which isn’t really an island). The path continued on the edge of the estuary past an area marked as Bedlams Bottom, which made me laugh.

Marshes near Iwade

Passing an old creek there are numerous rotting boats – I’ve seen a lot of rotting boats in Kent.

Wrecked boats in Bedlams Bottom

Sadly ahead the path now leaves the coast and continues inland to the road. I am not really sure which side of the fence I’m supposed to be on, since there are no signs but the fence has mostly collapsed anyway. At the road, Raspberry Hill Lane, I have a choice. I could turn right along the road (but it has no pavement) or follow the Saxon Shore Way which parallels the road roughly 400 metres further inland. I opt for the latter.

I soon reach Raspberry Hill Park presumably named because it’s a hill where Raspberry’s used to be grown (perhaps they still are). Ahead the path soon forks but I soon begin to regret my choice. Signage is non-existent and I’m never really sure if I’m on the right path. Indeed the map shows numerous tracks on different routes to the right of way. At one point the Saxon Shore Way is even shown as going straight over a lake. Well I can’t walk on water so I muddle through as best I can, going between the two lakes. For a long distance path I’m not impressed, I expected it would be properly signed.

Still the upside is that the path is raised up a bit so so I have a fine view over the marshes of the Medway, though it is pretty misty so I can’t see far.

Raspberry Hill near Iwade

The marshes from Raspberry Hill near Iwade

Ahead at a place called Funton there is a by-way off to the right back down to the road. However I hate road walking when there is a lot of traffic and since the path is clearly marked ahead across the field, I decided to stick with it. This path turns out to be better and brings me beside the Funton Brickworks with it’s distinctive chimney and piles of bricks. From I’m relived to find here is a clear route onwards, though at one point I’m amused to come across a stile, complete with Saxon Shore Way marker, but the fence or hedge either side of it has long since been removed, leaving the stile redundant in the middle of a field. Pheasants pop out of the field edge as I pass.

Sadly the path soon ends at the road so I have to follow it ahead but it is not for long and there is a (well hidden) stile to the left which follows a path parallel with the road, but means I can avoid another stretch. It passes behind houses and through a small orchard. This emerges at the road and I can turn right then left along the minor road passing the pretty church in Lower Halstow. It looks very old (and later I found out that parts of it date from the 7th Century!).

St Margaret of Antioch, Lower Halstow

St Margaret of Antioch, Lower Halstow

Lower Halstow was I suspect once more important than it is today as beyond the church I’m passing an old dock on the right now empty of water and with just a few boats moored up.

Wharf at Lower Halstow

Once round the small dock I can turn right and follow a footpath along it’s western edge and back along the coast once more. There are numerous boats moored up in the estuaries of the Medway here and a few derelict ones closer to the shore.

Halstow Creek

Halstow Creek

It is an easy and pleasant walk along the sea bank and in a little under a mile I reach Twinney Wharf. Here more boats are moored up in the creek, which looks to be rapidly turning to marsh. Although the boats are tied up with rope I wonder if it’s even possible for them to get through the marsh back to the open water any longer.

Creek near near Upchurch

The path is soon running alongside orchards inland, for which Kent is famous but I’ve seen little of so far. The path is easy and after another half a mile I reach another small wharf. More boats are moored here. I pass through this to reach a third little dock in the marsh.

Creek near Ham Green

Sadly here the path along the shore ends again. I half to head inland along the road to the small village of Ham Green. Here I can cross the road and then after a brief right turn turn left onto a path between apple trees. The apples don’t seem to have been picked and are scattering the ground. It’s tempting to take one as a little snack, but I resist.

Orchard near Upchurch

At the end of the orchard I struggle to find the path back to the road at Wetham Green but eventually find the way. Back on the road I turn right and after a short distance can turn right on a footpath off the road, still the Saxon Shore Way. A track really, it passes some fishing lakes on the right and an area littered with debris from old cars until I reach the road near Upchurch.

Here I have to follow the road again, turning right into a small village which seems to lack a name (though Horsham Farm is marked alongside it). Although a small place it does have a pub, The Brown Jug, which at the time was a Shepherd Neame pub (which brings back memories of my walks around Faversham)  but subsequently, and after a brief closure, it is now a freehouse instead.

The village suggested on the map turns out to be a fairly modern estate which is otherwise remote, perhaps an “overspill” from nearby Medway. As the road turns left ahead there is supposed to be a footpath cutting the corner, but I can find no evidence of it on the ground, so I stick to the road to Windmill Hill. The road now turns right and soon comes to another wharf, this one rather industrial and with caravans on one side. Just after this I can turn off the road and follow a footpath behind some more industrial buildings and finally as these end emerge beside Otterham Creek.

Otterham Creek

The tide is low and the creek devoid of any water with a few ruined boats resting on the mud. As I continue, on the opposite bank is a wharf where cranes unload from boats but it is marked as a tip so I suspect it’s scrap metal.

Otterham Creek

I’m now following the spit of land marked as Motney Hill and I can follow it for about half a mile until I am approaching a sewage works at the far end.

Otterham Creek

Here I have to cut inland onto the road leading to the sewage works passing a couple of isolated houses. It does not seem a great place to live on a little peninsula next to the sewage works!

The track is soon alongside the water again, now on the west side of this peninsula. This is Rainham Creek and it is now quite misty, but I can see land in the distance, which I think is Horrid Hill an even narrower spit attached to the mainland.

Rainham Creek

Next time I’ll find out what is so horrid about it. I can also make out the power station at Kingsnorth in the distance. through the mist.

Rainham Creek

However I’ve reached the end of this walk and I follow the roads inland for about 3/4 of a mile to reach Rainham Station, where I returned to my car and drove home.

This was not one of the best coastal walks. Whilst it had some nice areas, such as around Iwade and the lovely village of Lower Halstow, a lot of the walk was on inland paths and roads as quite a large area of the coast is without public access here. I was also disappointed that the Saxon Shore Way was poorly signed and simply didn’t seem to exist in places and the other footpaths were no better. Perhaps the England Coast Path will improve matters here when it reaches this part of Kent.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk

Trains run approximately every 30 minutes between Rainham (Kent) and Swale but you need to change at Sittingbourne. If taking the train to/from Rainham be sure to select Rainham in Kent because there is also a station called Rainham in Essex. It typically takes about 20 minutes by train between Rainham and Swale, including the change.

South Eastern Trains London to Medway, Faversham, Ramsgate and Dover : St Pancras International – Stratford International – Ebbsfleet International – Gravesend – Strood – Rochester – Chatham – Gillingham – RainhamSittinbourne – FavershamWhitstable – Herne Bay – Birchington-on-Sea – Margate – Broadstairs – Ramsgate. Trains run hourly seven days a week. In addition there is also an hourly train from London Victoria, Bromley South, Longfield and Meopham which then joins the router above at Rochester. This also runs hourly giving two trains per hour between Rainham and Sittingbourne. The trains from London St Pancras are faster and more expensive.

South Eastern Trains Sittingbourne to Sheerness-on-Sea : Sittingbourne – Kemsley – Swale – Queenborough – Sheerness-on-Sea. Trains run every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays between Sittingbourne and Swale.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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156. Swale to Eastchurch

September 2006

This walk took me along the south coast of the Isle of Sheppey, but it certainly was not without it’s challenges!

I decided to travel by train for this walk as I was starting at the remote Swale station. I took the train to London then changed onto the train to Sittingbourne and lastly onto the Sheerness branch line to reach the remote Swale station. Unsurprisingly, I was the only person to get off the train (this is the least used station in Kent).

Swale station

Swale station is at the south end of the old Kingsferry Bridge. The railway tracks go along the right hand side of the bridge. The station platform is on the left of the tracks and the road left of that. So first I had to cross onto the Isle of Sheppey.

Sheppey Crossing

Problem number 1 then was that just as the train passed, the bridge began to lift, so I had to wait for the bridge to raise and go back down before I could cross onto the Isle of Sheppey. A single yacht went through and you can see the few cars queuing on the road on the other side. So I had to wait for the yacht to pass and the road to come back down, so I could cross over.

Kingsferry Bridge lifting

The second problem was that once over the bridge, I wanted to turn immediately right to follow the path along the sea wall, which I hoped might be possible. But the railway line was in the way. So I had to follow the road north. Thankfully it did have a pavement and with the opening of the new bridge, there is now little traffic using the old bridge (which is now a B-road). The road I was on crossed the railway and then ran alongside the A249.

So I was over the railway line but still heading inland. There was a track to my right, a couple of hundred metres away that I needed to follow back to the shore, but there was no path over to it and a man-made water channel to my right, which I would have to get across. So I had to stick to the road to Straymarsh Farm on the right. I had walked about 1 mile now, but was now almost a mile inland! Once on this road (called Ferry Road I noticed, so presumably it led to what was once a ferry), I could fork right, away from the farm and head back towards the shore.

Sheppey Crossing

I followed this track (a road, really) for almost a mile back to the shore beside the Kingsferry Bridge, where there was a slipway for what was presumably the ferry before the first bridge opened. I had walked about 45 minutes now, to end up about 200 metres from my start point! Still at least I was back beside the shore now.

The path passed a large pond on the left, man made I suspect and the other way I could look back over the twin bridges linking Sheppey with the mainland.

Passing the pond on my left, I now had a largely featureless landscape – Minster Marshes, with some pylons and the power lines in the distance.

Minster Marshes

The path was easy going though, short grass on a raised sea bank and being late summer, the path was dry underfoot. I watched the train trundle back over the bridge, heading for Sheerness.

Sheppey crossing

Ahead I was coming to a little inlet of some sort. Clearly man-made the sides were straight and the stream inland seemed to have been dammed.

Across the Swale I now had the industry of Ridham Dock, with piles of aggregates and the cranes presumably used to unload the ships that dock here. Being Saturday, all was quiet today though.

Ridham Dock from the Isle of Sheppey

Rounding the dock the path continued on the sea wall, now dead straight.

Ferry Marshes, Isle of Sheppey

Out to my right a large ship was passing showing a registered port of “St Johns” which I’d never heard of (it turned out to in the West Indies, a “flag of convenience” I suspect).

The Swale

The landscape to my right continued to be dominated by the ugly industry of Ridham Dock, however I was now beginning to get areas of marsh on my right, too.

Ridham Dock from the Isle of Sheppey

For a while I had water on both sides, a flooded area of marsh to my left and the Swale and marshes alongside it to my right.

Marshes near Elmley

I soon came to another man-made little dock. This one had crumbling concrete sides, a rotted jetty and the decaying skeleton of an old wooden boat. Whatever activity used to take place had long since ceased.

Old Dock near Elmley Hills, Isle of Sheppey

I was lucky with the tide, as it looked to be high tide, just grasses popping up above the water to my right, making for interesting patterns. Much better than mud flats, anyway!

Elmley Island Marshes

I rounded this little dock but sadly this marked the end of the path along the sea wall. I headed inland along the bridlepath along the south side of this old dock and the stream leading to it, heading inland. At the end of the water on the left, a footpath turned off to the right. heading for what looks like an old slipway (perhaps another old ferry crossing). I set off along this boggy path over the marsh. The going was easy enough for about 500 metres, with the path, a track really, passing numbers water channels of Elmley Marshes. Until suddenly I came to a larger area of water ahead, which the track just disappeared into.

There was no bridge and to way across that I could see without getting wet feet, and this was brown muddy water, not something I wanted to try and walk through. I assume the farmer fords it in a vehicle. Frustrating, because this is a right of way marked on the map and given it’s a footpath, it should be passable on foot. So more wasted time, I had to re-trace my steps back to the old dock. This time I followed the bridlepath towards Kings Hill Farm.

Kings Hill Farm, Isle of Sheppey

I followed the track to reach the farm and then turned right. Oddly just after the buildings, the official right of way is shown as turning off the track to the right heading to the shore and then turning inland, parallel with the shore to join the same track I was on, about 300 metres ahead. With all the wasted time I could not be bothered with that and continued on the track ahead, despite note marked as a right of way. This took me back to the shore at Sharfleet Creek.

Sharfleet Creek, Isle of Sheppey

But it was only briefly along the shore, as ahead the man-made sea wall turned to the right, but the footpath continued ahead, probably on an older sea wall now 100 metres or so inland, passing boggy marsh on both sides. I was briefly back to the shore at Wellmarsh Creek, half a mile or so ahead. Then the same happened, the sea wall turned right, but the path continued ahead.

However this time the nature reserve had also provided a path along the sea wall I could follow instead so I could stick to the coast this time. This was very pleasant, soon passing over the Elmley Fleet on my left.

The Swale

Elmley Fleet, Isle of Sheppey

In fact the path on the sea wall continued, past marshes, all the way to Spitend Point. Having had frustrations with official rights of way that weren’t usable it was nice to find a coastal route that I didn’t think I would be able to walk that was usable!

Elmley Marshes, Isle of Sheppey

Spitend Fleet, Isle of Sheppey

Near Spitend Point, Ise of Sheppey

Spitend Point, Isle of Sheppey

At Spitend Point I head to turn inland again to follow the southern edge of Windmill Creek.

Windmill Creek, Isle of Sheppey

Windmill Creek, Isle of Sheppey

At the end I could turn right, back on the right of way along the top of the creek. This was the last point along the coast. Now the track headed briefly along the north edge of the creek to about half way along, then turned inland. This headed to Bells Creek where I disturbed lots of ducks, who all flew off as I approached.

Bells Creek, Isle of Sheppey

I was now near Little Bells and Great Bells and faced a choice. A right of way headed off east to New Rides and then fizzed out just before the B2231. Or I could continue on the track ahead, which was not marked as a footpath, but soon joined the road beside a couple of prisons. The latter route was shorter, so I opted for that.

It soon joined the public road, which I could follow beside the prisons on my right. and then reach the B2231 and continue ahead to Eastchurch, where I found the pretty and clearly very old church.

Eastchurch

There is a bus from here, but I found that I had about 40 minutes to wait. I passed the time by taking a look around the church and taking a few photos along the footpath north from near the church to the road east of Garretts Farm, where I could enjoy views over the north coast of the island.

View near Eastchurch

Heading back, I took the bus which took me to Sheerness-on-Sea from where I could take the train home, passing through the remote Swale station where I had started the day on the way.

This was my last walk on the Isle of Sheppey and anyone paying close attention to my route will realise I left the “coast” between Eastchurch and Pump Hill on Harty Marshes unwalked. This is because to join this walk up with my previous circular walk at Leysdown would be entirely along roads, none of which was even within a mile of the coast – that is as close as I could get. The though of walking 3 miles on roads with no pavement not even near the coast didn’t appeal. I’m not cheating, after all the “rules” I wrote at the start say I don’t have to walk around islands. And whilst I had walked round most of Sheppey I did not want to return just for an inland road walk. So next time I will be back on the mainland.

This walk was rather mixed and the south coast of the Isle of Sheppey turned out to be a frustrating place to walk. Having to head a mile inland to cross the railway, then walking on marsh facing industry to reach an unusable path I had to abandon. Thankfully, after than things improved with a nice walk along the sea wall through Elmley Marshes to Spitend Point. Sadly from here it was several miles walking inland on roads including past a couple of prisons, so not the best end to the walk either! But at least the weather had been fine and it was still a pleasant walk for the most part, despite not being the most varied or spectacular.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. It is best to take the bus from Eastchurch to Sheerness-on-Sea and then the train from there back to Swale.

Arriva bus route 362 : Rushenden – Queenborough – Sheerness-on-Sea – Minster – Eastchurch – Warden – Leysdown-on-Sea. Hourly seven days a week.

South Eastern Trains Sheerness branch : Sheerness-on-Sea – Queenborough – Swale – Kemsley – Sittingbourne. Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sunday.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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155. Leysdown-on-Sea circular via Harty

August 2006

This walk took in the east coast of the Isle of Sheppey where the coast turns from beach to mud, marshes and rivers.

For this walk I drove from home crossing the (then) new Sheppey Crossing to Leysdown-on-Sea where I was pleased to find the car park was free.

Leysdown-on-Sea is not a posh location, the main street being almost entirely lined with amusement arcades and takeaways.

Leysdown-on-Sea

On the green on the other side of the road a funfair has set up, so Leysdown was especially busy.

Leysdown-on-Sea

I was glad to reach the promenade, where a sign informed me “Blue Flag Beach begins here”. Leysdown might not be sophisticated but at least it’s clean.

I headed from the promenade down to the beach. At high tide the beach was a mixture of sand and fine shingle, but nearer the sea the sand was a little muddier and mixed with rocks.

Leysdown-on-Sea

The beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

Out to sea I could see the towers of the Red Sands Forts on the horizon. I still would like to get out to these some time.

Red Sands Forts

Thankfully the low tide mark meant there was firm sand to walk on, as there were wooden groynes further up the beach. Behind the beach the coast was lined with chalets and caravan parks behind a sea wall. I was glad the tide was out since the map suggests there is little if any beach at high tide.

Leysdown-on-Sea

A few boats were resting on the sand too, tide up to buoys.

Boats on the beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

As I headed further east the tide seemed to recede much further and I had to be careful of areas of mud which were beginning to appear.

Muddy beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

In one place bits of broken concrete pipe littered the beach.

Old pipe at Leysdown-on-Sea

I began to see more and more shells and soon the whole back of the beach was made entirely of shells. I was nearing the so-named “Hamlet of Shellness” and the beach just north of it called Shell Beach. It wasn’t hard to understand how both places had been named but I wondered what forces were at work to make so many shells wash up just here?

By now the groynes were high enough up that you could easily wander under the wooden planks. I wondered if the lower ones had rotted away or if the beach had eroded so much that the base of the beach was now much lower.

Leysdown-on-Sea

The rotting remains of the sea defences made for some interesting abstract photos, though. I was rather enjoying this stretch.

Groyne at Leysdown-on-Sea

Groynes near Leysdown-on-Sea

Groynes near Leysdown-on-Sea

Out to sea I could now also see lots of sails. Zooming in I could see these were large numbers of what I now know are Thames Sailing barges, and they are very beautiful craft. I wondered if this is normal in August or if there was some sort of event on.

Boats in the Swale

I soon passed some sort of decaying concrete structure and then numerous huts in varying states of repair that make up the hamlet of Shell Beach.

Shellbeach, Isle of Sheppey

Some were clearly beyond hope, boarded up and abandoned others certainly run down with gutters hanging off and an air of dereliction about them. I wondered if anyone lived here or if these were all some sort of “holiday home” used for a few weeks a year. Either way I did not find the place welcoming and it seemed to end with what looked like a derelict cafe or pub.

Shellbeach, Isle of Sheppey

I continued along the beach and then reached the Hamlet of Shellness which marks the far south eastern corner of the island. This place was in better condition with the homes looking more permanent and cared for.

Shellness

At the far end I passed another disused concrete structure, this one clearly a lookout post from World War II.

Old Word War II lookout at Shellness

Ahead was a thin spit of land, Shell Ness after which the hamlet is named. Although a dead-end I walked along this to it’s very end where the shell and sand beach gave way abruptly to a muddy stream and marshes.

Shell Ness, Isle of Sheppey

The end of Shell Ness, Isle of Sheppey

Mud at the end of Shell Ness, Isle of Sheppey

Out to sea I could see Whitstable where I had walked a few months earlier. Despite so many miles covered since then (about 30) I had covered only about 3 as the crow flies.

The Swale near Shellness

As this was a dead-end I had to retrace my steps back to Shellness and then could follow a footpath along the now familiar raised sea bank alongside marsh that seems to characterise much of the North Kent coast.

Path near Shellness, Isle of Sheppey

Although the grass alongside the path was long the path seemed to be well used enough that the grass on the path itself was short and brown, as it had been a good summer.

There wasn’t much to see. Marshes on either side really, with a few streams and drainage ditches in between.

Harty Marshes, Isle of Sheppey

Soon I had reached an area of marsh inland called The Swale National Nature Reserve. Though the only really clue was what I took to be a bird-hide just off the path.

The Swale National Nature Reserve

The Swale near Harty

However I couldn’t see a lot of bird life, perhaps if there was it was mostly hidden by the long grass.

The path then left the shore and suddenly became a bridleway where the footpath I had been following was signed “Shellness 3KM”. Though I was puzzled why the distance was in  rather than the more usual miles. Passing through a gate I followed a car-wide track through fields to reach another track where I could turn left and reach the end of the road at a place called Sayes Court.

Although marked on the map I had failed to notice there was a church here, and it was a beautiful one, too, which looked very old (I later learnt it was built in 1089, making it nearly 1000 years old – amazing).

Harty Church

Harty Church

It also has no water, electricity or gas, so it is lit by oil lamps when in use. The land from the church gently slopes down to the Swale, a now familiar feature of my recent walks in Kent.

I now followed a bridleway south west over fields to reach another minor public road. This one lead to the Ferry House Inn, which I had seen from the other side of the estuary on previous walks. Again, many miles walked to end up half a mile away!

The Ferry Inn, Harty

The road past the pub ended where it then became a slipway leading out into the Swale where, of course, a ferry used to run. I bet it must have provided a lot of custom for the pub for those waiting for the ferry back when it ran. Considering there is nothing else here now the pub is a remarkable survivor.

Old ferry slipway

The Swale

The tide was still far enough out I could walk a long way along the jetty, so I did just that (despite someone leaving a boat right on the jetty making it hard). Now I was looking over mud flats and the muddy waters of the Swale. Like so many of these estuaries, it is lined with rotting boats.

The Swale at Harty

Interestingly the pub seems to be doing well with an obviously recent wooden extension to one side that I suspected might house a function room and I think they also offer rooms to let.

The Ferry Inn, Harty

I followed a second bridleway that went past the western side of the pub and back to the road at the corner of Mocketts. Unfortunately here there is no further access on or near the coast for the next 2 miles. So I was going to have to head quite a way inland to continue. I had a choice. A bridleway headed west past Mocketts and the remains of lots of ancient salt works (according to the map) to reach the road at Capel Gate. Here I could continue north along this road for a mile to reach the B2231 and follow this for 2 miles back to Leysdown. Or I could stick to road to a place marked as Elliotts then follow a bridleway back to Leysdown via Muswell Manor.

Despite the longer distance I decided the first option was more coastal. But immediately after setting off the path was supposed to follow the track leading to Mocketts Farm. But there was no bridleway sign and a sign saying that it was private. The path was supposed to go right in front of the house so it was likely I would be spotted. After that the map, bizarrely shows the path as ending on one side of a large pond and resuming on the other side, with no bridge indicated. I decided to abandon this path, as I suspected even if I ignored the private sign I’d fine no sign of the path on the ground and it would be blocked at the pond. So the decision was made for me – option 2 it was.

So it was about a mile along the road to Elliotts, but as expected there was very little traffic – it only goes to an isolated pub after all.

The Isle of Sheppey

Wondering what state this bridlepath might be in I was pleased to see that it was in fact a tarmac track. It was a pretty featureless landscape it passed over, just flat fields. Ahead there was an odd area of water that looked like part of wide river on the map but ended at a wall at either end. I realised this was likely drainage for the surrounding fields. I was hoping this might be pretty but it was mostly reeds with only a small bit of water visible.

Capel Fleet, Isle of Sheppey

Muswell Manor just beyond it also proved to be a disappointment – it was just another caravan park. Still from here I had a short distance on the road back to the coast a bit south of Leysdown. Now into the early evening with the sun getting lower in the sky, it was a pleasant walk of about half a mile back along the beach I had walked earlier to the car park and the end of my walk.

The beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

It was unusual to do a circular “coastal walk” but in this case the lack of settlements along the south coast (and the lack of paths in places) meant that it was the easiest option. In the end it turned out to be better than I had expected. A nice beach to follow from Leysdown, the interesting shell beach and Shell Ness. The remote church and pub at Harty were another unexpected bonus. It was only the last part, following roads and tracks back to Leysdown that was pretty dull. I did wonder later whether it would have been better to do the walk in the other direction. But it was too late now!

As this is a circular walk there is no need for public transport, but Arriva Bus route 362 runs between Sheerness-on-Sea (which has a railway station) and Leysdown-on-Sea hourly seven days a week.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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154. Sheerness to Leysdown-on-Sea

July 2006

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this walk but it turned out to be unexpectedly good and surprising in a few ways. It was also a short walk but one of the issues is that there are no towns and not really any villages on the south coast of the Isle of Sheppey. So today it was just a short walk from the north west to the north east corner of the island along the north coast. But after the last few walks had all been over marshes I was looking forward to being next to the sea rather than estuaries again.

This time I took the train via London to Sittingbourne and then the shuttle train from there to Sheerness-on-Sea. An oddity I noticed on the way is that it is only the railway company that calls it Sheerness-on-Sea. The Ordnance Survey and Wikipedia neither have the “on-Sea” suffix. Perhaps it was the railway companies trying to make it sound nicer (Bridport Harbour was renamed to West Bay by the railway companies to make it sound nicer – a name it still has despite the railway long since having closed!)

From the station I headed down to the beach, it was only a short distance. I was surprised how quiet it was. It is late July, during the school holidays and a warm sunny day. But it is almost deserted. Just a few people sitting on the wall and a few on the beach. Odd.

The beach near Sheerness

The beach near Sheerness

There is a promenade so I follow that to start with. A short distance along the stepped sea wall seems to have some sort of art project. There are words written out, perhaps some sort of poem? But as you can see it seems many of the letters have been peeled off or removed, so it all seems a bit pointless to me.

The beach near Sheerness

Out to see I can still make out Essesx in the distance, though today I’m heading further out the Thames estuary rather than inwards. I pass a few seats under a round shelter that looks more like a little bandstand (perhaps it used to be). The tide is going out and the beach is a mixture of shingle at high tide and slightly muddy sand further out.

The beach near Sheerness

I can look back over the quiet town as I near the end of the town. Although this is beach it is clear there is industry close by as a tower looms over the town (this turns out to be the power station on the Isle of Grain – which isn’t actually an island).

The beach near Sheerness

Strangely I come across a tractor parked up on the promenade near the east of the town. It is clearly quite old but also very smart, I can’t quite work out if the owner has just parked it here or it’s meant to be more “art”. It looks to neat to be a farmers tractor (I have before passed tractors on walks I’ve assumed by their condition to be abandoned, only to see the farmer turn up and start it up!).

The beach near Sheerness

Behind me the town has given way to housing and the beach is now entirely deserted.

The beach near Sheerness

Ahead an area of rock armour means there is now no beach and just at this point inland there is a chalet park. You don’t see many of these now, they are mostly static caravans, though neither is exactly pretty. Beyond that is an odd feature. An area of water but looking at the map it is a dead-straight line. I assumed it was a canal but it has the name Barton Point and Queenborough Lines. The name gives it away as I remember the Hilsea Lines on Portsea island near Portsmouth. These were water channels dug to provide an extra line of defence. Presumably Sheerness was once a military town or an important dock and this was dug to try to provide extra protection for it. Now it is called Barton’s Point Coastal Park.

Barton's Point and Queenborough Lines on the Isle of Sheppey

I have reached the end of Sheerness and the promenade and bridlepath on the map also ends here. Thankfully there is a wide track along the top of the beach, so wide in fact it seems to be partly used as an informal car park. The track soon ends and drops me back down to the road, just as the promenade start again. I’ve now reached the edge of the next town, Minster, it is less than half a mile from the end of Sheerness to the start of Minster. It sounds a nice name and there is in fact an Abbey marked on the map but it’s a bit inland so I didn’t visit it. Minster is a little busier than Sheerness though it is still far from crowded.

The beach at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

In fact it’s rather nice, as it’s backed by low grassy cliffs (something I’ve not seen in a while, so whilst I know I’m in a town I can’t actually see it). The downside is I can see the promenade doesn’t go all the way and so I suspect it might be a dead-end. To my left the beach is mostly shingle and clearly has been building up since only the top of the hand rails of the steps down onto the beach can be seen, the rest is buried in the shingle.

The beach at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

At the far end, as expected, the promenade ends. However just before it does so there are steps up the gently sloping grassy cliffs. Here there is an informal path along the cliffs. Although not marked on the map as a right of way it is marked as a grey dotted line and is clearly well used.

The coast near Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

So I follow that, pleasantly surprised to be walking on the top of cliffs (I thought the next time I saw cliffs would be in Essex). The height gained is not enormous, but it is enough to get quite a nice view back to Minster.

The coast near Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

Sadly this path soon turns inland to the residential roads of Minster. I don’t have to join the road for long soon taking the minor road to a place called East End. I soon pass a building which announces itself on the door as East End Farm. It is a lovely clapper-board building (I do like this style) and whilst the house looks in good condition the garden looks abandoned and I wonder if it is still lived in, though the ladder at one side and a pile of bricks suggests perhaps there is just work being done.

East End Farm on the Isle of Sheppey

Just past this a footpath begins, but the signs are not encouraging as I pass a large sign “Public Footpath 17 – CAUTION CLIFF EROSION – The public are advised not to proceed beyond this point”. I proceed beyond this point and am rewarded with another nice view. I can see from the cliff face and profile though that there has been a lot of erosion here.

The coast near Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

The coast near Minster on the Isle of Sheppey

Despite the dire warnings I can make my way along the path OK and ahead it soon reaches a road again. Sadly I soon reach the end of another road but the route ahead is private so I have to turn right along a road (which ends at the sea) back to the main road. Just before the main road I then turn right along a minor road (Plough Road) but it is now about half a mile to the sea. Though looking inland I can just make out the thin strip of water reflecting the light – the Swale which seperates Sheppey from the mainland.

View over the isle of Sheppey

I have to follow this minor road for a little over a mile until I come to a footpath heading to the short alongside Hens Brook. On the right is a huge caravan park. Or at least some of it is a caravan park – I’m a bit surprised to see lines of old pre-fabricated huts with asbestos roofs. I assume they are holiday homes but they looked pretty run down.

Caravan park near Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey

I was glad I had made the effort though, as at the far end of the path it just ended at the cliffs. But here it was unexpectedly beautiful.

The coast near Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey

Looking west I could see the very eroded muddy cliffs backed by fields. This was a beautiful and deserted coast stretch of coast, with a shingle beach below. An unofficial path headed down onto the beach (probably well used by the residents of the caravan park). I was tempted to follow it and try and walk along the beach, but looking in the other direction, where I was headed, I could see the cliffs came right down to the waters edge so I suspect access onwards would be difficult.

The coast near Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey

On the way back I accidentally missed (ahem…) the large private sign at the caravan park and walked along the imaginatively named “Fourth Avenue” which soon became the public road anyway. At the end I turned left and follow the road towards Swanley Farm where another path, this time a bridleway, headed back to the sea. From the map it suggests it once headed down to the cliff top then turned right to rejoin another road, but the top left corner of the path had been lost to erosion. I tried to follow it but when the houses end, the path seemed to vanish too (despite being marked on the map as continuing to the shore), so I decided to head back. Though I was a bit surprised to find this peacock in amongst the bushes beside the path!

Peacock

So back to the road, I turned left and followed the road past Gartts Farm. Though this road too is a dead-end (as a road) it is linked with a byway to the village of Warden. I passed a nice old building, now boarded up and vandalised, a sad sight.

Derelict building

Though the byway turned off to the right just before the road reached the sea, I continued the short distance to the end of the road. The end of the road was sudden – it just dropped off the cliff!

The end of the road.

Below were ruined buildings, probably that were once on the cliff top and lost to erosion, though they looked like old World War II buildings rather than houses.

The byway turned out to be more of a road past another large caravan park and a yard on the other side of the road where there were smashed up caravans and old gas bottles. What a mess.

Derelict caravans at Warden

Still peering over the bushes I was able to see my destination, Leysdown-on-Sea not far away and it looks quite nice.

Leysdown-on-Sea from Warden

At Warden I turned left down the first road to follow the road closest to the sea, which I suspect will soon be down the cliff, as the cliffs looked to be eroding quite quickly here.

The coast near Warden

At the point the road turned inland I was able to follow a path down past a campsite to the beach. It was prettier than I had expected, though the way the cliffs just gave way to mud shows they erode quickly here.

The beach at Warden

Rather than follow paths I was able to continue along the beach here past more muddy cliffs and rapidly eroding cliffs.

The beach at Warden

The coast between Leysdown-on-Sea and Warden

I soon reached the edge of Leysdown-on-Sea. Initially a shingle beach I soon came to the main beach ahead.

Leysdown-on-Sea

From afar, Leysdown-on-Sea had looked quite nice. But up close I was less keen. It is one of those beaches where cars are allowed to drive onto the beach (or at least, they do). Many seemed to have launched noisy jet skis and suddenly, it was crowded and noisy. It seems Leysdown, not Sheerness, is the place to go on Sheppey.

The beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

Having said that it was a sandy beach (despite being marked as mud on the map). Leysdown is the sort of place that does have a small permanent population but is mostly made up of caravan sights and chalet parks (or Holiday Villages, as the map calls them). This means in the summer the place is busy as most of the people staying at this park probably head down to this beach.

The beach at Leysdown-on-Sea

I ended my walk here though it reminded me a bit of Brean near Weston-super-Mare. I followed the road along the “strip” which consisted almost entirely of amusement arcades and takeaways. I didn’t think a lot of Leysdown-on-Sea to be honest, so I was glad I didn’t have long to wait for a bus out of the town.

Leysdown-on-Sea

Leysdown-on-Sea

This took me back to Sheerness where I took the train back home.

Although planned to be a short walk what with following several dead-end footpaths it had actually been a fairly long walk in the end. It turned out to be better than I expected. Leysdown-on-Sea was mostly a run-down holiday resort but the coast at Sheerness and Minster was quite nice and I particularly liked the eroding cliffs from Minster to Warden, which were unexpectedly pretty. The Isle of Sheppey was turning out to be more interesting than I expected and I was glad I decided to include it in my walk.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Arriva bus route 362 : Rushenden – Queenborough – Halfway Houses – SheernessMinster – Eastchurch – WardenLeysdown-on-Sea. Hourly seven days a week and takes around 50 minutes between Sheerness and Leysdown.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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153. Sittingbourne to Sheerness-on-Sea

July 2006

For this walk I had a choice. Continue on the mainland of Kent or cross to the Isle of Sheppey. I opted for the latter, but it wasn’t without it’s problems.

I drove to Sittinbourne and parked at the station, as I did last time. To be honest I wasn’t much looking forward to returning to Sittingbourne, I had not found it a nice place last time I was here – too industrial and ugly.

From the station I had to continue along busy roads to reach the inland end of Milton Creek. From here I could rejoin the Saxon Shore Way and follow this along the western edge of the creek up to the Swale estuary, which separates mainland Kent from the Isle of Sheppey.

The Milton Creek, Sittingbourne

Today the tide was in so rather than mud I had water, and it looked much better for it. The grass beside the path was long so I was glad that it was dry as this is a fast way to end up with soaking wet feet. The banks were lined with industry and wire fences, but it was still nicer than I had been expecting.

I heard the whistle of a steam train too, for Sittingbourne is the perhaps unlikely setting for a heritage steam railway, The Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway which runs between Sittingbourne and Kemsley Down, starting in industry, ending at a large factory (making cardboard, I believe) and passing through mostly industry on the way.

Thankfully this side of Sittingbourne was not so industrial and I was soon leaving the town behind, though it had one sting in it’s tail with a stinky sewage works to pass. As with most estuaries in Kent I passed the rotting remains of a boat on the other side of the creek.

The Milton Creek, Sittingbourne

The marshes quickly began to feel quite remote with a network of streams, ditches and creeks over the otherwise flat land. Only the power lines gave away the fact I was near a sizable town (though this view has changed now, with the construction of a new road bridge).

The Milton Creek, Sittingbourne

I soon reached Kemsley Down which sounds nice but isn’t. Here the path passed a massive factory (used to make cardboard, I think) and then round an old land fill site. However I had now left the Milton Creek behind and was now alongside the Swale, which separates mainland Kent from the Isle of Sheppey. Not quite the open sea, but a large expanse of water.

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

I soon passed a derelict jetty probably once used by the cardboard factory nearby. Looking across to Sheppey there was a small hill (Elmley Hills) and I was amused to see that a herd of cows had all chosen to stand at the top of this hill!

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

Elmley Hills on the Isle of Sheppey from the south side

On this side of the estuary though I soon reached more industry. Not sure what this is used for but the jetty here was very much still in use, with cranes at the far end and a very “chunky” fence stopping anyone without a key from being able to get along the jetty.

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

Passing under it the angle of the cranes meant I soon got an interesting photo where it looked like the cranes at the end touched.

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

I continued to pass more industry on the left though on the right areas of little marshy islands, whilst boats passed along the Swale. It was all very peaceful, but I did wonder how different it might be on a weekday when all this industry was operating.

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

Ahead I had another inland diversion. Ridham Dock occupies the coast ahead and whilst there is a path along the eastern side it’s a dead-end. I decided not to follow this path and instead stuck with the main Saxon Shore Way which takes an inland route around the dock. On the other side of the dock, I was back on the marsh and was now very close to the Kingsferry Bridge, that links the Isle of Sheppey with the mainland.

The Swale Estuary near Sittingbourne

Actually although my Ordnance Survey map showed only a single bridge, as you can see there are in fact too. The older lower bridge, the Kingsferry Bridge,  opened in 1960 and replaced an earlier bridge so badly damaged so badly by an errant Norwegian cargo ship that collided with it that it was not repaired. It carried both the A249 and the railway line over to the island but is unusual in that to allow taller ships to pass underneath, the central section lifts up. This caused problems with traffic onto the island (especially emergency vehicles) which often had to wait for boats to pass under the bridge. So a new bridge, called The Sheppey Crossing was built. This is the higher bridge above. This solves the problem of ships passing under by being much taller (but this requires much longer approach viaducts) allowing traffic to continue whilst boats pass underneath.

In fact this second bridge was not marked at all on my Ordnance Survey map and had only opened 5 days earlier (on the 3rd July 2006) so was brand new when I walked here. The old bridge remains in place I think largely because it still carries the railway.

I continued on the easy, though un-exciting path along the sea wall approaching the bridges.

A train crossing the Kingsferry Bridge

The Kingsferry Bridge

I was quite pleased to see that as I approached the bridge lifted, so I got to see it in operation. Apparently the priority on this bridge is first given to the trains, second to river traffic in the Swale and lastly to road traffic. So I got to watch the road lifting up into the estuary to allow a single yacht to pass under neath. I wondered how often the bridge lifts.

The Kings Ferry brige lifting

Approaching the bridge I passed under it to the gap between the two bridges and followed the road to get up onto the bridge. Though architecturally unremarkable I was impressed with the engineering and scale of the new bridge, way up above me.

The Sheppey Crossing, Kent

Sadly I don’t think pedestrians are allowed on the new bridge. Although I was still surrounded by marsh land I suspect it will not remain like that, as signs advertised the land as for sale for “Open Storage, Development Land and Warehousing”.

Soon to be not marshes, Swale

So I headed up onto the old bridge. With the opening of the old bridge, it was eerily quiet in terms of traffic, though the traffic on the new bridge could be heard racing above. Unusually given there is nothing else here, there is a railway station at the south end of the bridge, Swale.

Sheppey Crossings

I believe the history of it is that a station was built at either end of the bridge after the bridge was damaged by that errant cargo ship and couldn’t be used. So temporary stations were built at either end of the severed bridge and passengers had to travel on a ferry over the estuary, between them. When the bridge re-opened the station on the north side of the bridge was closed but the station on the south side of the bridge was kept open (I think largely because the operator of the bridge used it to travel there). So now there is a station serving essentially just a bridge!

Geoff Marshall, who knows a bit about trains as he has (twice) previously held the World Record for travelling around all the London Underground stations in the fastest time has made a video about this odd station because it is the least used railway station in Kent. (In fact he’s currently on another project to travel to every rail station in the UK).

The station turned out to be rather handy for me, too. I hadn’t originally planned to walk all the islands of the coast too, but so far I have managed to get to all those it’s possible to get to, so decided to include the Isle of Sheppey too. As you can see there were also some road works on the Kingsferry bridge in connection with the new bridge. Once over the bridge I had planned to walk around the island clockwise and so wanted to take a footpath starting just on the north side of the bridge which heads north west to Rushenden past a building called The White House.

But when I crossed the bridge, there was a problem. A sign on a lampost indicated the footpath was currently closed to building work with the new road bridge. A sturdy barrier blocked the way. Even if I could get around that I could see works on the marshes below. Normally I find a closed path is in fact perfectly usable, but I suspect I could see there were problems here and works going on so it probably was not usable.

The notice helpfully informed me that the path was closed and there was “no alternative safe route”. A look at the map suggested the only alternative was the busy A249, the main trunk road onto the island. The A249 now goes over the new bridge and the road on the old bridge this is now a B-road but I knew traffic from the new bridge would soon join it, and I’d be walking beside a pavement-less busy A road. It was not a pleasant prospect or one I particularly wanted to undertake.

So I hatched an alternative plan. A few hundred meters north of Rushenden is another small town, Queenborough. This has a station. I’m next to another station and trains run every 30 minutes between them (I was surprised Swale got such a good service for such a remote place). So rather than risk the dangerous road walk I decided to use the train to by-pass the closed footpath.

Swale Station

Strictly this is not cheating because when I wrote my rules I did say I wouldn’t include every island but would try to if practical.

So instead I headed back to Swale station and took the train onwards to Queenborough. The timetable printed at the station  (there was no information display) was running up until 10th June 2006. It was now July, so no one had updated the timetable. I hoped it was still the same as the poster and it was, so I had about 15 minutes to wait for the train. There was not a lot to do at Swale other than take photos of the estuary and watch the train going the other way.

The Kings Ferry Bridge

Marshes at Swale, Kent

It did strike me that the Isle of Sheppey is fairly unusual in being an island but still connected by both road and railway to the mainland.

It had not been the best of welcomes to the Isle of Sheppey. I was hoping to enjoy the view from the train (even if I couldn’t walk it), but most of the short journey was taken up with buying a ticket from the conductor, who seemed surprised to have picked anyone up at Swale (where there is no where to buy a ticket).

So having got the train to Queenborough I headed down to the little creek called, imaginatively enough “The Creek” which passed through the village. It had quite a busy little quay, with numerous boats now marooned on the mud flats now that the tide had gone out.

The Creek, Queenborough

I followed the road along the north side of the creek and then briefly passed some industry to reach the shore again, now on the western side of the Isle of Sheppey. The tide was out revealing large areas of mud and sea weed and I could see many boats out in the estuary and more cranes on the distant shore.

Queenborough, The Isle of Sheppey

I continued past a pleasant little garden and continued on the footpath along the western shore of the island. It was more a promenade or road really, a wide tarmac track with a few benches alongside.

Queenborough, The Isle of Sheppey

At a car park the track narrowed to a path alongside more light industry on the right. Sadly the path runs for only about half a mile before turning inland. The land north of here has nothing at all marked on it on the map so I wondered why this was.

The reason soon became obvious. It turns out that Sheerness is still quite a busy port and a large number of new cars are imported through the docks.

Imported cars at Sheerness-on-Sea

And once imported here they sit in a massive car park presumably awaiting delivery to a garage or their new owner. So I followed the path beside the hire wire fence that keeps the public out of this huge car park.

The A249 near Sheerness

Soon the path, enclosed between fences reached the A249 again. Beyond it was more industry and freight trains too, presumably also used to move goods imported from the port. The path was not pleasant, squeezed between the high wire fence of the docks, the A249 and then the railway beyond it. I was glad to reach the end and pick up a more minor road through an area of Sheerness called Blue Town.

Well it wasn’t very blue but it did have some interesting buildings – I noticed the sign “Budden and Biggs Body Building Beverages” above this one, The Royal Fountain Hotel (though I believe it has since closed down) and another pub opposite, the Jolly Sailor.

Budden and Biggs Body Building Beverages

The former Royal Fountain Hotel

I suspected this was where the dock workers came to drink! In fact I passed several more pubs, crossed a small docks and at last could turn left and reach the sea.

And here it was the open sea, rather than marshes and estuary. It was so nice to see it again!

Sheerness-on-Sea

The beach at Sheerness is backed by a large and ugly concrete sea wall and below this is a beach, a mixture of sand and shingle. It may not be much but I was still pleased to see it.

Sheerness-on-Sea

I could also now clearly make out the Essex coast (Southend, I think) on the other side of the Thames estuary.

The Thames Estuary from Sheerness-on-Sea

At the time I was working in London and many of my colleagues lived in Kent. No one had a good thing to say about the Isle of Sheppey and Sheerness in particular. But whilst it wasn’t the greatest town it was not that bad either and had a few buildings of interest, too.

The beach at Sheerness-on-Sea

From here I headed the short distance inland to Sheerness-on-Sea station and took the train back to Sittingbourne.

It had been an interesting walk, not quite what I had in mind, as I had to use the train for part of it! The marshes at the start were pleasant, though to be honest I was getting a bit bored of marshes by now. So it was nice to cross to Sheppey and return to the open sea and the sound of waves once more! At least I knew next time I’d be returning to a beach, which was something to look forward too as well.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk :-

South Eastern Trains Sheerness-on-Sea to Sittingbourne : Sittingbourne – Kemsley – Swale – Queenborough – Sheerness-on-Sea. Trains run every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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East Coast of Scotland complete

I’m writing this from the departure lounge of Inverness airport where I’m waiting for the Easyjet to the glamorous Luton airport. But I’ve reached an important milestone on this trip having reached John o Groats and in fact a place called Gills Bay just west of there which has a ferry terminal but little else. It’s been a great few days walking with some truly stunning scenery. As usual route finding has been tricky, sometimes having to walk along the A9 sometimes finding a lovely unsigned and unmapped cliff path marked with nothing more than white topped fence posts. But I’ve now reached the milestone of walking the entire east coast of Scotland. Later this year I should complete the entire east coast of Britain as I have a small gap of about 30 miles to finish in England. I’m planning another couple of trips to Scotland this year.

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