159. Strood to Lower Stoke

September 2006

For this walk I was leaving the urban Medway towns behind and heading along the north banks of the Medway back towards the coast. I drove down to Strood and parked at the station there.

From here I retraced the route from my last walk back down to the shores of the Medway to a road called Canal Road, whose name I puzzled over since it was beside the river which had never been a canal (to my knowledge, anyway). There were, briefly, views of the Medway and there are some unusual sights to be seen including an old Russian submarine I somehow missed last time.

The Medway at Strood

I understand this was bought here with plans to restore it and open to the public. But I don’t think this ever happened, and it is slowly rusting away in the Medway – a strange sight.

Canal Road soon became a tatty road passing through an area of industrial units. In amongst the lorries and dirt, I was surprised to see this old Hilman Minx parked up.

Hilman Imp (I think) at Strood

It looked rather out of place and I wondered if the owner was working nearby.

Ahead I passed a few houses of the village of Frindsbury on my left. To my right was derelict land which looked as if it had once had an industrial use and the Medway beyond. Ahead I had a choice. The official Saxon Shore Way continued ahead but strictly speaking the most coastal route was to turn right through a huge industrial estate, Medway City Estate. This would be the most coastal route, but looking at the map there was little prospect of even seeing the Medway. I didn’t fancy walking through an industrial estate probably with no pavement, so I quickly abandoned thoughts of walking through there and stuck with the main path.

Soon I reached the pretty church of Frindsbury on my left. I walked over for a closer look but whilst I could walk around it, the door was locked.

Frindsbury

The path passed a huge old pit on the left. Not sure what it is for – is chalk quarried? I guess it must be for chalk on blackboards, but I’m sure there must be other uses. The land to my right had clearly also been quarried and now the industry was built on it, because the land to my right was much lower and had sheer cliffs.

On my left I soon passed Manor Farm which had a lovely old barn but it was behind sturdy metal gates and fences. I hoped it was to be restored rather than demolished, it looked like the sort of place that would be listed.

Old barn at Frindsbury

Past this I crossed some scurbland and then the A289 on it’s approach to the Medway tunnel. This was a busy dual-carriageway so I had to be careful crossing.

Safely across I then passed the sewage works and some sort of man-made lake on the right. Finally I reached the banks of the Medway again, and finally I had left the Medway towns. I was rewarded with a rather lovely view with the wooded banks of the river ahead and the river full of moored up boats.

Marshes beside the Medway at Upper Upnor

I could also see the sheds of the Chatham historic dockyard across the river.

The Medway at Upper Upnor

I then had a proper path along the banks of the Medway through the village of Upper Upnor (they must like “Up” around here).

It was a beautiful village with a large castle built right onto the banks of the river ahead.

Upper Upnor

Marshes beside the Medway at Upper Upnor

This along with Rochester Castle were presumably built to protect the estuary from invasion. Upnor was clearly a very old and historic village and one which I suspect was once far more important than it is now. I headed up the High Street which quickly gained height, giving me views back over the Medway and Chatham.

The street was cobbled and lined with interesting houses, some with white clapper board and others brick.

Upper Upnor High Street

Clearly there was a wedding on what with all the people in suits and hats. However I was distracted by Upnor Castle. I love a good castle and could not resist stopping for a visit. The castle is run by English Heritage and it turned out I was here on the very last day it was open that year – I had timed it well!

Upnor Castle

The castle was not particularly big but I was pleased that you could climb up to the top of the towers so I could enjoy the views over the Medway.

The Medway from Upnor Castle

It was an interesting castle, with the usual array of canons and guns.

Upnor Castle

Upnor Castle

The castle was built in 1601 so is well over 400 years old and I very much enjoyed my visit.

From the castle I could also look out over the rapidly developing St Marys Island where I had walked last time, I imagine the waste land in front is now all covered in houses and flats.

View from Upnor Castle

Having visited the castle I headed back up the High Street since the onward route was along the road parallel with the coast at the top of the High Street. Heading back up the High Street I passed another old car which had just been parked. An early Morris Minor I think I rather liked it, because the photo could probably have been taken any time in the last 50 years or so and would have looked identical.

Upper Upnor

I had to continue on the road passed some more industry and then an area of new housing at Lower Upnor. Then it was back to the banks of the Medway again. The tide now going out, leaving large mud flats and jetties had been built so that boats could still land at low tide.

The Medway near Lower Upnor

I passed a boat yard and a couple of pubs, one was called The Pier. There was a pier of sorts too, but it looked more of a jetty for boats really rather than a pleasure pier.

The Medway near Lower Upnor

The Medway here is clearly a popular place for boating, as I passed more boat yards and jetties. These eventually ended and the Saxon Shore Way now followed what had become a shingle beach at the back of the river. Backed by trees it was lovely and felt rural again after all the urban walking, it was nice to be back in the country. Not sure if you would be able to follow it at high tide, though.

The Medway near Hoo St Werburgh

The Medway near Hoo St Werburgh

Ahead an old World War II pillbox had tumbled onto the beach a reminder it has not always been so peaceful here.

The Medway near Hoo St Werburgh

Ahead I could see another marina, in which a couple of light ships were moored up. These are interesting vessels, like floating lighthouses, but I don’t think any are still in active use, sadly. Before reaching this I passed what looked like perhaps old kilns on the left but I later found out is part of Cockham Wood Fort. Though the bricks are now crumbling back into the Medway.

Cockham Fort near Hoo St Werburgh

The path continued on the river bank past another ruined boat (well, it is Kent!).

Derelict boat near Hoo St Werburgh

The path here seemed to have been protected by concrete blocks piled up to one side, I’m not sure how effective they would be.

The Medway near Hoo St Werburgh

I had now reached “Hoo Marina Park” and the marina itself. The park in question wasn’t a park in the classic sense, but a an estate of “Park Homes”. I could also get a closer look at those interesting Light ships.

Lightships in Hoo Marina

At the eastern end of the marina, it became more industrial with more boat yards and warehouses again. Tankers were moored up here and I suspected these business were involved in repairing or servicing them.

Marshes near Hoo St Werburgh

Beyond it though was a collection of boats clearly beyond help, more rotting wooden wrecks, something I’ve come to associate the Kent coast with.

Marshes near Hoo St Werburgh

Inland I could also spot the tower of Hoo St Werburgh church, though it was surrounded by modern housing.

Hoo St Werburgh

The path ahead continued right along the banks of the Medway but to my right there was now an un-named marshy island, it had Hoo Ness Jetty at the western end and the remains of an old fort, Hoo Fort at the east. Zooming in I could see it was an old Fort clearly older than World War II.

Darnet Fort

I later found the fort was completed in 1871 but had major problems with subsidence (probably not a surprise if you build a heavy castle on marshy land!). It was used again during World War II but is now derelict. It is owned by the Ministry of Defence still and landing is not permitted. Looked like an interesting place, though.

Ahead the view was now dominated by Kingsnorth Power station, where I was headed.

Stoke Saltings, Isle of Grain

I could follow the bank still but after about half a mile from the docks, the Saxon Shore Way turned inland again. But there was still a footpath along the shore for a while further, so I continued along it rather than head inland

Marshes near Hoo St Werburgh

A large jetty served the power station and I suspect this meant it was coal fired (I was right it is, along with oil). So presumably the coal is unloaded from ships here. In front of the power station the land became marshy, with the path following a raised sea bank but marsh land to my left.

Marshes near Hoo St Werburgh

Kingsnorth Power Station

Out to sea I could see another fort on an island. This is Darnet Fort and is apparently of identical design to Hoo Fort but has been partly flooded in an attempt to reduce vandalism.

On reaching the edge of the power station itself I could not continue along the coast now and would have to head inland.

This proved rather difficult. A footpath was marked as going across the marsh but it soon disappeared into channels of water. There were no bridges (though some floating bits of wood hinted that maybe there used to be) and I kept coming to channels too wide to cross and having to back track.

Footpath near Kingsnorth Power Station

I eventually made it around, but there were no signs and I was rather frustrated that the path on the map didn’t seem to exist on the ground (more recent maps show it partly in the water, which I can confirm is accurate!). Although at the far end there was a gate and stile – but no sign indicating it wasn’t actually passable. Beyond this the path improved since it was now a track, called Jacobs Lane. I followed it inland to Eschol Road and turned right along this, it being the closest road to the coast.

I soon passed the access road from the power station on the right. Beyond that was another industrial estate with I suspect much of the business connected with the power station. At the roundabout ahead a bridlepath was marked on the map. This seemed to follow a road. In fact there are numerous roads laid out here that lead nowhere. It was clearly planned to build more here but for some reason it hasn’t happened.

I followed the road until the industry ended and then tried to turn off left where I thought the path should be to cross the railway line. But I could not find the crossing and there wasn’t really a path any more. The railway was fenced, so there was no way across. Frustrated I had to head back (I think the path is actually just a few metres to the left of this road, but I didn’t spot it at the time).

So I headed back to the roundabout and this time turned right to follow the road north instead over the railway line and past Tunbridge Hill. Just at the end of the row of houses on the left a footpath was marked to the right on the map which should join up with the bridlepath I had tried to follow earlier. I headed along the track to the right to White Hall Farm but again, there was no sign of the supposed footpath on the left.

I was getting pretty irritated now, having spent lots of time not really getting anywhere following paths that didn’t seem to exist and others that didn’t seem to be signed. So I had to head back to the road again. I followed it into the village of North Stoke, but it was not a pleasant walk as there was quite a bit of traffic.

I followed the road all the way to the next village, Stoke ahead. This at least had a pretty church for all my efforts.

Stoke, Isle of Grain

Lower Stoke, Isle of Grain

At Stoke I checked the map and realised there was in fact a path along the shore here, on the southern side of the Isle of Grain. It was a dead-end but if I didn’t walk it I felt like I was cheating. So I decided to follow this too. I took the track down from the village (Creek Lane) to a level crossing. Here I had to cross the railway line. Unusually for south east England, this rail line is used only be freight trains, there is no passenger service now (it ended in 1961), though I don’t know how often freight trains run.

A sign instructed me “Please use mirror provided”. Appearances matter around here, obviously, and it’s true my hair was looking a bit wind-blown, so I tidied it up in the mirror. Satisfied I had used the mirror, it must mean it was safe to cross.

Please use mirror provided

A little crossing hut existed beside the line here I suspect now a private house but one that must be rather noisy with the trains passing so close. Once over to my surprise there was quite a large wharf with boats moored all along the muddy creek.

Stoke Creek, Isle of Grain

In fact someone was just launching one. I turned right and followed the raised path. I was wondering how usable a dead-end path like this would be but in fact it seemed it was quite well used (dog walkers, perhaps?) and so was in good condition. As I neared the other edge of the power station there was a drainage channel to my right. Looking out over the marshes I could make out another power station (Grain) where I would get on my next walk.

Stoke Saltings from the Isle of Grain

Looking south I was interested to see numerous very long jetties, the nearest Bee Ness Jetty. It stretched for over a mile. But zooming in with my camera I could see a section was missing so it was obviously derelict and falling into the sea.

Bee Ness Jetty, Isle of Grain

Not sure what it had been used for in the past but I suspect it must have stretched so far into the deep water that large ships must have unloaded something here. At the end of the path were the usual collection of rotting boats, though these were of more recent metal construction.

Stoke Saltings on the Isle of Grain

Looking north I could see the large cranes of the Grain Container Terminal I would have to pass next time.

The Isle of Grain

I then headed back the way I’d come since the path was a dead-end with the power station ahead. Despite the sign, from the state of the gate I suspected many people had been trespassing.

Footpath near Stoke, Isle of Grain

However despite the dead end path I had quite enjoyed this section. I thought it was rather pretty, despite the amount of industry nearby.

Back at Stoke Creek Crossing the path continued north along the shore.

Stoke Saltings, Isle of Grain

There was another road about half a mile further north but with no crossing marked on the map I was not sure if there was another route over the railway line ahead. I was tired now and had had enough (I had walked a little over 15 miles by the end). Rather than risk walking that and having to come back I decided instead to save this path for next time. So I followed the path inland back to Stoke and thankfully found the footpath from there north east to Middle Stoke was in good condition too.

On reaching the village I followed Grain Road to the A228, crossed this and followed the High Street into Lower Stoke, where I ended the walk.

Lower Stoke, Isle of Grain

From here I took the bus back to Strood which took a very indirect route, taking almost an hour. But it gave me a preview of the next route and a chance for a rest!

This was a very mixed walk. The section along the northern banks of the Medway from Upper Upnor to Hoo St Werburgh was lovely. After that it was a frustrating walk inland following paths that either didn’t exist or were very hard to use, and taking several dead-ends. Despite this I enjoyed the last stretch along the dead-end path at Stoke beside the Medway. It was a nice finish, but it didn’t really make up for the earlier frustrations and this was one of those walks I was glad to finish so I would not have to do it again.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Arriva bus service 191 : Gillingham – Chatham – Rochster – Strood – Hoo St Werburgh – High Halstow – Allhallows-on-Sea – Lower Stoke – Grain. It runs broadly hourly between Strood and Lower Stoke, Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours on Sunday. It takes around 50 minutes to get from Lower Stoke back to Strood.

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

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2 Responses to 159. Strood to Lower Stoke

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, I think your Hillman is a Minx! I actually remember seeing them on the road and they were still making them up to 1970. The Imp was a smaller car and sort of matchbox shaped.
    Enjoying your retrospective journey and I will certainly make reference when I eventually get down tp this area. Meanwhile, just back from a couple of days in Knapdale. Hope to make Oban soon and should get to Fort William by the end of August.
    cheers
    alan

    • jcombe says:

      Thanks Alan, I’ve updated my comment about the car with it’s correct name. It sounds like you’re making good progress around Scotland. I have the west coast of Scotland all to walk. I know that it’s going to be long but I’ve heard it’s also very beautiful so looking forward to it.

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