162. Allhallows-on-Sea to Cliffe

October 2006

After previous walks around industry, and tortuous twisty turny paths around numerous streams and estuaries I was looking forward to this walk because on the map later I’d actually be able to draw a long line showing progress along the shore. For the first time in a while there was a footpath all the way, so I’d not have to turn back or walk long distances on roads. I’d also be next to the shore (or Thames Estuary) for almost all this walk.

Logistically, this was a slightly more tricky walk, as there is no bus between Allhallows-on-Sea and Cliffe, I’d need to change busses in Strood. I decided instead to take the train to Strood, the bus to Allhallows-on-Sea and then I could walk to Cliffe, take the bus back to Strood and then the train home. I took the train to London Waterloo then crossed the footbridge to Waterloo East station where I took the train to Strood. The train to Strood was quite slow, stopping at many stations on the way. I was hoping there might be some views of the Thames, but there wern’t any, at least not that I noticed. From Strood I took the bus which was on time and made the slow journey out to Allhallows-on-Sea, but there were few people on it, so it was a pleasant enough journey.

On my last walk I had puzzled about Allhallows-on-Sea. The beach was as much mud as sand and didn’t seem very attractive to me, it was really too far up the Thames estuary to be a resort, I felt. I did a little research and found that it had an interesting history.

Allhallows-on-Sea

Queen Victoria first popularised the coast as a destination and so resorts sprang up all along the coast to serve this growing demand. This was further helped by workers being given a weeks holiday from factories and trains becoming more affordable (and extensive). The popularity of the coast was probably at it’s height during the inter-war period (after which cars and flights became increasingly affordable). Rail companies struggled to cope with the huge and growing crowds wanting to travel to the coast at weekends (the Great Western Railway even adopted the slogan “The Nations Holiday Line” at the time). The railway companies themselves began developing resorts and it must have seemed that all you needed to do was build a railway line, a station, a hotel and produce some of those lovely old posters advertising the place to stick up in the city stations and bingo, the tourists would flock there for a holiday and you had yourself a booming resort.

That was the theory with Allhallows-on-Sea. The Southern Railway opened a new branch line to Allhallows-on-Sea in the 1930s, hoping to create a resort. Ambitious plans were developed, along with Kent Council, to build an artificial wave machine, the largest swimming pool in the UK and an amusement park four times larger than Blackpool Pleasure beach.  However the ambitious mass development never really took place, then World War II happened and it never really developed as a resort. Less than 30 years after it opened, the station closed.

Today as I found it is a resort almost entirely made up of chalets and caravans (the latter I suspect mostly being owned rather than rented out). From the entrance to the caravan park I headed north on the road through the park to reach the beach following the same route I had followed previously. The tide was quite high so the beach was mostly sand and shingle rather than mud. It was autumn now so the beach was also pretty quiet.

Allhallows-on-Sea

I followed the grass just behind the beach with views over to Southend-on-Sea on the other side of the estuary.

Jetty at Allhallows-on-Sea

I followed the grass until I met a yacht club. Here the path was constrained between the concrete sea wall and a chain link fence between me and the yacht club.

This was the first indication of problems. A sign warned that the path ahead was dangerous due to subsidence. Well the alternative was a long walk inland – exactly what I had hoped to avoid! So I continued. There was a crack in the concrete at the end of the yacht club but it was not really a problem to get past.

Broken promenade at Allhallows-on-Sea

Beyond the yacht club ahead was just salt marsh so I turned left and reached the edge of a golf course. I could not see a path. Double checking the map I realised I was meant to be nearer the coast – the path must be through that salt marsh. So I headed back to the shore.

Ahead was an area of salt marsh (I’ve been seeing a lot of it in North Kent) and so I followed the slightly muddy beach along the coastal edge of this.

Salt marsh west of Allhallows-on-Sea

At the end I came to a slightly surreal sight of a World War II pillbox now all at sea. Presumably it had been built on a sections of the marsh or field that had since eroded away and the pill box had ended up in the estuary.

All at sea

Here though I had another problem. Ahead the way was blocked by a stream, which seemed man made. There was no bridge so the path headed inland. But before I could reach the sea wall on which the path continued there was another stream. What there wasn’t was any bridge across it.

Salt marsh west of Allhallows-on-Sea

So I headed back east along the marsh as the stream seemed to narrow here. When it got narrow enough I thought I could jump over, I did just that. Except I slightly mis judged it and got my left foot all wet as that one landed in the muddy stream, rather than on the grass as I’d hoped. Just beyond that though there was a second stream! This time though, submerged, I could just about make out a stile at the fence. So at least this was the path – the streams must have changed and the Council not bothered to build bridges.

So I tried to jump to the stile as it was under only about 1cm of water. I made it, but this time my right foot went straight through the wood, which, as I discovered, had rotted. This time I was up almost to my knees in the muddy water and now had both feet wet. Things were not going well, but it was a relief to at least find I could then reach the sea wall and find the path was better along here.

St Mary's Marshes, Kent

I would have to walk the rest of the way in wet shoes though and hope that the sunshine would dry out my feet. My trousers were at least black, so did not obviously show the dirt.

The route was easy, for a few hundred meters, until the sea wall seemed to end. I turned in land into an area of scrubby bushes but soon found the narrow path became a dead-end. Once again I could see no way ahead other than to head back over the marsh, and jumping over the channels of water again.

The Thames estuary

This time I made it across without getting wet feet and followed the muddy marshy shore line again. I made my way with difficulty west until I met the sea wall at the edge of St Mary’s Marshes and could turn north with this. I’d gone barely a mile, but it had taken me ages and had been very frustrating. I only hoped the rest of the walk would be easier, or I would not make it before dark.

Thankfully, the route did improve. The path was now a neatly mown grassy path along the sea wall and although I had drainage channels to my left I didn’t need to cross them. Near West Point I even came across a small sandy beach. That felt like my reward for persevering.

St Mary's Marshes, Kent

It didn’t last long and it had a bit of washed up debris, but it was a lot nicer than salt marsh.

Looking inland there was a few roofless concrete buildings.

St Mary's Marshes, Kent

I suspect this area was heavily used for something (I know not what) during World War II and these buildings were the remains of that. Ahead I had another area of marsh to get around, but this time there was a proper path.

St Mary's Bay, Halstow Marshes

St Mary's Bay, Halstow Marshes

It was a shame to see just how much debris and rubbish had been washed up at the edge of it, though. At the end was another little sandy beach, but sadly fenced off (why?).

St Mary's Bay, Halstow Marshes

I came to a fotopath post ahead, the first in a long time which showed the route I was following was not called “Curlews, Convicts and Contraband”.

Curlews, Convicts and Contraband on Halstow Marshes

Well seeing the first and last of those would be nice, I’m not so sure about the convicts! This turns out to be a walk (not shown on the map) around this peninsula. But I was glad to see it, because it should, I hoped, mean the path was more walked and so in better condition.

Halstow Marshes

Back on the sea wall path by the estuary again I passed a few more ruined buildings (marked as “Camp (disused)” on the map, presumably an army camp of some sort. The view over the other side of the Thames estuary was not exactly pleasant either. More heavy industry.

Oil storage depot at Canvey Island

Not something I was looking forward to walking through or past. This was the edge of Canvey Island is marked on the map as “Oil Storage Depot” but it looked more like a refinery to me, with flare stacks and chimneys.

Soon the path turned left again with the bank into another marshy little bay, Egypt Bay.I don’t know why it’s called that but it had a small sandy beach at the start, but then became marsh. I puzzled over what forces cause part of it to be beach and part marsh like this, it’s odd.

Egypt Bay, Halstow Marshes

Egypt Bay, Halstow Marshes

Rounding the bay I noticed there was a heavy rain shower just inland of me. I was hoping to avoid it – and luckily I did. Out over the Thames estuary it was now grey, with heavy industry on the other bank and a container ship (presumably from Hamburg, given what it said on the ship) heading out to sea (perhaps to Hamburg).

Cliffe Marshes

It was clear I was nearing a major city now – London, with all the industry and shipping. Once the shower passed it brightened up a bit again and I was now walking behind a low concrete wall. I was a little nervous of the walk ahead.

Until now there had been paths inland should I find the route blocked. But Egypt Bay was the last point with a footpath (or road) heading inland from the sea wall. The next would be near Cliffe, some 6 miles ahead. I really hoped I wasn’t going to find the path blocked after 5 3/4 miles and have to turn back, because there seemed no other route!

The route ahead was easy but not the most interesting now. I’d passed the last of the little bays now and to my right was marked Blyth Sand but the map suggested it was all mud, not sand. The tide was in though, so I couldn’t see and I suspected that made it look better.

Cliffe Marshes

The sea wall soon gave way to some rocks, of the sort that looked to have been placed here rather than be natural. Another shower passed close by, but again just missing me, causing a pretty rainbow over the Thames.

Cliffe Marshes

More large ships passed by on their way to … somewhere.

The Thames Estuary near Cliffe

The path was good so I made rapid progress along here, helped by the fact it was flat and was soon nearing the point where the wall started to turn left with the Thames which then begins to narrow quite rapidly. London is getting close!

Cliffe Marshes

Rainbow over the Thames

Inland there were many ruined buildings again. They looked like more left overs from World War II, roofless and made of concrete, I wondered what used to happen here. The map showed the buildings too but this time did not offer any clues as to what they were.

Cliffe Marshes

The view over the Thames was a varied one, with the wide blue waters of the river in the foreground but beyond that a massive oil refinery and another oil stroage depot.

Old jetty beside Cliffe Marshes

This is a landscape that has changed quite a bit since I did this walk. This was over 10 years ago. Since then, the old Oil Storage Depot has been developed into “London Gateway Port”, a huge container port. Though I can’t imagine it is much prettier.

I passed an odd concrete structure, I assumed this was to do with the light marked on the map at Lower Hope Point.

Lower Hope Point

I had now turned to start heading south and looking across the Estuary I could now make out a power station in the distance (Tilbury, I think). Clearly the other bank of the Thames was also going to be rather industrial.

The Thames estuary

(I later read somewhere that in Northern Europe at least it is common to site most of the industry to the east of the city centre, because the prevailing winds normally come from the west and so blow the pollution away from, rather than over, the city).

Another heavy shower was on the other shore, making for some dramatic light as the sun reflected off the waters of the Thames to the dark clouds on the other bank.

The Thames Estuary near Cliffe

I continued past a derelict pier (not marked on the map). Perhaps connected with the old military structures inland?

Old jetty beside Cliffe Marshes

I continued to another pier, this one still intact and marked on the map. This had a pipe line marked on the map. Inland are what is now Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve but are I think pools formed my gravel extraction over the years – but not sure that you can pump gravel though a pipe line? So it’s a mystery to me what the pier is used for.

The Thames estuary near Cliffe

Passing this pier on the other bank I could make out the travelling cranes marked on the map at Mucking Marsh. Here waste from central London is shipped by boat from a small wharf next to Cannon Street Station to the landfill site here on what was I presume once Mucking Marsh. It seemed an appropriate name.

Now I was closer, that pier turned out to be a pipe going right along the pier. Perhaps oil is pumped on or off ships? No idea. Ahead I had reached the small Cliffe Creek. Cliffe Fort was just the other side of it, surrounded by more jetties and industry.

Cliffe Creek

By now I was tired and was glad to be nearing the end of the walk as my pace had slowed. I followed the footpath along the north bank of this creek and at the end could pick up a byway that headed between the lakes of the Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve.

Cliffe Creek

I believe these are old gravel workings which have now become a nature reserve. They were actually rather pretty and at the far end I could even make out chalk cliffs.

Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve

Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve

Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve

Bird hides and a few little islands had been created. At the end the path turned out to be wooded and at a junction I turned left and headed for Cliffe.

Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve

At the end of Allen’s Hill I left the last of the ponds behind and headed for Cliffe, where the track soon became the road. The church looked like it might have been quite pretty, but most of it was under scaffolding, which was a shame.

I was tired and glad to reach the end of this long walk. I had nearly half an hour to wait for the bus though. When it did arrive it was an ancient bright-yellow double decker bus which smelt rather damp and musty and with orange and brown covered seats. Still it got me to Strood from where I took the trains back home.

I was glad to have made it to the end of the walk. It was a longer route than I had been used to up to that point and with all the problems I’d had at the start of the walk I was glad that the later part, on that long and remote path were trouble free. I was pleasantly surprised just how remote and peaceful it can be now that I am getting close to London.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. As mentioned, you will need to change buses in Strood. Buy a “Adult Day Medway Zone” ticket which covers both buses and is cheaper than two singles.

Arriva bus route 191 : Gillingham – Chatham – Rochster – Strood – Hoo St Werburgh – High Halstow – Allhallows-on-Sea – Lower Stoke – Grain. It runs broadly once every 2 hourly between Allhallows-on-Sea and Strood, seven days a week and takes around 45 minutes from Strood.

Arriva bus route 133 : Cliffe – Frindsbury – Strood – Rochester – Chatham. Hourly, Monday – Saturday (no Sunday service). It takes a little under 20 minutes between Cliffe and Strood.

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

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2 Responses to 162. Allhallows-on-Sea to Cliffe

  1. Ha! We both got lost in those marshes. I didn’t get wet – found several plank bridges that someone must have put down – but I did feel horribly trapped and also had a snake encounter. The ruined buildings might be the remains of ammunition stores (somebody suggested that on my blog). No idea why Egypt Bay is called Egypt Bay, except someone suggested that Phoenician coins were found nearby and it may have been an ancient trading route. Cliffe is brilliantly named, isn’t it – the only cliff for miles around!

    • jcombe says:

      I’m glad it wasn’t just me that got lost in the marshes then! Thanks for the information about the ruined buildings, it makes sense.

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