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.
On the green on the other side of the road a funfair has set up, so Leysdown was especially busy.
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.
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.
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.
A few boats were resting on the sand too, tide up to buoys.
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.
In one place bits of broken concrete pipe littered the beach.
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.
The rotting remains of the sea defences made for some interesting abstract photos, though. I was rather enjoying this stretch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the far end I passed another disused concrete structure, this one clearly a lookout post from World War II.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!