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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