160. Stoke to Grain

October 2006

Most coastal walks I thoroughly enjoy. There is the odd exception, the sort of walk that I’d happily not repeat. This is one of the latter category, unfortunately.

I drove to Stoke via the M25, A2 and A228 and parked on the road in the village of Stoke, near to the church. From here I followed same footpath I had followed last time to Stoke Creek Crossing, over the railway line, and down to the little wharf. It was low tide so the boats were again marooned on the mud flats.

Stoke Wharf

I wonder how often they moved. I also had my camera (accidentally) set on a high ISO setting. I didn’t notice for a while and so many of the photos are rather grainy on this walk.

I followed the sea bank but was rather surprised to find a micro-light plane passing just to my left.

Microlight near Lower Stoke

A check on the map showed “Airfield” marked at the end of the road from Middle Stoke to the creek, so that must be why. And it really didn’t seem a sensible place for an airfield. Sure, it was flat but it was very narrow with a railway line just to the left (behind that fence) and power lines a very short distance beyond them to the left (less than 100 metres). Get it slightly wrong and you’d end up tangled in power lines or on the railway line.

To my right was a mixture of marsh and muddy creeks. Today it was only hazy sunshine, now well into autumn and it was not as attractive as it had been in the late afternoon sunshine of my previous walk.

Stoke Saltings

On my left I was soon passing small hangers, well they were more large tents really, housing the tiny little planes.

Microlight at Middle Stoke

I soon reached the end of the little airfield where there was a path left to Middle Stoke, but I carried on along the sea wall path.

I now had the salt marsh to my left but also water to my left behind the sea wall. This was part of Stoke Marshes and presumably the pools had been dug to collect the water and keep the rest of the land dry. They seemed to be used by fisherman with a few cars parked up beside the water.

Stoke Saltings

I continued on the flat sea wall path and soon the water became a bit more open to my right. In the distance I could see the cranes of the container port at Grain.

Grain Container Terminal

To my left I could see the tanks of the oil refinery on the other side of the road.

Stoke Saltings

Later on I’d be walking on the road between the refinery, the container port and the power station. All that industry packed together – clearly I had a lot to look forward to!

A few boats were moored right out in the mud some distance from the land. I did wonder if they have been abandoned after all it did not look safe to walk out on the mud to them at low tide and at high tide you’d need another boat to get to them!

Stoke Saltings

A few others were moored up beside a make-shift pier which had most of the planks missing.

Derelict jetty on Stoke Saltings

The path headed south to the end of a little spit of land and then round a corner alongside Colemouth Creek.

Colemouth Creek near Grain

At the end of this creek the path emerged onto the road (the A228).

Colemouth Creek near Grain

This was the bit I had been dreading. When I drove here this road was busy and about 50% of the traffic seemed to be lorries. Now I’d have to walk on that road and with no pavement. I tried to follow the verge, but soon there was a crash barrier on that side of the road so I had to cross back to the right. To my left now was industry, an oil refinery I believe. Soon I had industry on my right, too.

It was an unpleasant walk and though the road had a 40mph speed limit very few drivers adhered to it (something I’d also noticed on the drive here). Soon I was surprised to come across a level crossing. The railway line heads into the industry to my right and is only used by freight trains these days. But here it crossed the road and oddly, the road then changes from the A228 to the B2001, for reasons I’m not clear.

However what was interesting is that this was still a manually worked level crossing, with the wooden gates manually moved across the road and with the signal box just to the right. I wondered how often it was used. I suspected not often, but I since suspect that I’m wrong. Fellow coastal walker Nic (and family) had an interesting encounter here with a workmen who, from their photos, were building a bridge here so that the road could cross the railway line without the need to use the level crossing. Surely someone would not go to all the expense to build a bridge over the tracks if the level crossing was used rarely?

One thing that the B2001 had that the A228 did not was a pavement. Narrow and overgrown, yes, but at least it existed and got me off that road. Either side access roads entered various industrial complexes but all were dead ends, so I stuck to the road. Gradually as I continued through the industry the amount of traffic decreased, as the lorries entered the various turnings. Much of the industry seemed to be derelict and soon the road had high fences either side, too. It was a relief when these fences soon ended and I had fields on either side. I was nearing the end of the industry.

It was a tedious walk but eventually I passed a sign for Grain Village and the speed limit became 30mph. My first welcome to Grain was the sign for Grain Power station to the right. From the map a bridleway is just left of this road and it might be possible to follow it and reach the coast. But I wasn’t certain and I really couldn’t face walking along the boring road into the power station only to have to come back. So I continued along the road to Grain village.

Soon I entered the village itself, now with houses beside the road. I wasn’t expecting a lot but it looked reasonably pleasant, though I hadn’t actually taken any photos along the whole road section. Not only was it all ugly I was a little concerned that someone would want to know what I was doing.

I forked left, with the main road at the Fire Station and followed this road, past the church, a car park and eventually to steps down to the coast.

Grain Church

At last, after all that industry, the sea again. There was even a beach and a little promenade.

The coast at Grain

It was eerily quite, I didn’t see anyone around. I continued left along the promenade but it soon abruptly ended where there were then low cliffs and some coastal defences.

The beach north of Grain

I continued up on a grassy path along the bank. But this soon was soon blocked with a pile of earth and a sign “Danger! Footpath closed” that went on to tell me that the route ahead had ceased to exist and the public were not permitted.

End of the footpath

In any case I could see from the map that it would soon have become a dead-end anyway, as it headed into a military firing range and a “Sand and Gravel Works”. It’s just that the path ended a little sooner than suggested on the map. The Isle of Grain is not a welcoming place.

The beach north of Grain

So I turned back and re-traced my steps back to the end of the road and continued along the promenade (if you could call it that). Ahead there was a particularly unusual building out to sea. This is Grain Tower Battery.

Grain Tower Battery

It dates from the mid 1800s and was built along similar lines to Martello Towers. Except that unusually this one was built not on land but on the mud flats out into the Medway so that at high tide it becomes an island. It is connected to the mainland by a causeway but much of this too has gone leaving mud flats to be crossed.

Grain Tower Battery

Improvements to artillery technology meant that the battery was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed. However it was used during World War I and II as a defence against torpedo’s. It was decomissioned in 1956 and has now become derelict. It is privately owned but was I believe sold again in 2015. The estate agent blurb (still available) describes it as a “5 bedroom house” as the title, but that doesn’t begin to describe the amount of work that would have to be done to make this habitable, and I doubt it ever will (most of the photos are just architects drawings). They also say that it comes with the address “No 1 The Thames”, which I suppose might be fun, but I doubt you’d convince a postmen to make the trek out along the causeway (tide permitting) to actually deliver any mail.

I took a few tentative steps out onto the causeway but the tide had not long gone out and it soon became wet and very muddy, so I gave up. I had to settle for zooming in with my camera to take a closer look.

Grain Tower Battery

The path continued past more derelict stuff to my right, it looked to also have had a military function but I don’t know what.

Old military buildings near Grain

Soon I was approaching Grain Power Station, protected by high fences again, which now lined the path.

Grain Power Station

I passed the water outlet for the power station. The path continued beyond it soon passing some sort of little lighhouse presumably to warn shipping of the presence of the Isle of Grain.

The coast south of Grain

The sea wall path soon turned to the right and even came to a sort of beach with a mixture of sand, mud and old tyres.

Beach near Grain

I continued past the wooden groynes until I had reached the end of the public footpath at the south of Grain, too. This ends at a jetty at Cockleshell Hard. What this jetty is used for I don’t know, but it was surrounded by tall fences and gates.

Cockleshell Hard, Isle of Grain

Numerous signs warned of the dangers of trying to enter and the route ahead too was now blocked with fences. So Grain village itself is a dead-end. Just one road in and out and no footpaths out of the area, either, all of them are dead-ends.

I considered, briefly, walking back to Stoke along the road. But decided there was really no point. Not only was it a horrible walk I had already done it and so there seemed no point in doing it again, albeit in a different direction. I’d see nothing new and I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I caught the bus back to Stoke and ended the walk there.

As you can probably tell I didn’t enjoy this walk. The first stretch along the marshes was pleasant enough. But after that there was a horrible stretch of walking along a busy road through heavy industry. When I’d finished that I came to Grain, where there was more industry. Though at least the old fort was quite interesting. I was at least glad to say I’d done it, but I very much doubt I will ever go back.

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 Grain and Lower Stoke, Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours on Sunday. It takes a little under 10 minutes between Grain and Lower Stoke.

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

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