Blyth sands to Grain Village Isle of Grain
Its Friday 19th October 18,myself, Dave Evans and the Vicar (Andrew Pagram) have travelled via bus from Chatham to Cliff village to walk from Blyth Sands to Grain Village on the banks of the River Thames. It's another lovely day and we have a walk of roughly 1.8 miles across Cooling Marsh to get to the start of today's walk. Cliff and the surrounding area is a very interesting place and it is thought to be one of the possible locations of an ancient Saxon town called Clovesho, or Clofeshoch located in Mercia. It is thought that it could of been here that the Anglo-Saxon Church held it's important Councils of Clovesho between 742 and 825. The location of Clovesho has never been successfully identified but it was known to be near London and Cliff, along with several other towns, seems to fit the bill. It is steeped in History and in 774 Offa, King of Mercia, built a rustic wooden church dedicated to St Helen, a popular Mercian saint who was by legend the daughter of Coel ("Old King Cole") of Colchester. Cliffe is also cited in early records as having been called Clive and Cliffe-at-Hoo.
As mentioned in my previous blog page, the footpath from Cliffe village used to finish about a kilometre from the seawall despite there being a trackway to it, meaning that there was no access to the foreshore. On several occasions in the past I had risked walking this trackway only to be stopped by someone living in a mobile caravan at the sheepfold and reminded it was private. Although allowed to continue on the path, it always made it a bit awkward for me, meaning I avoided the route. However alterations to the seawall and the creation of compensatory mudflats by a large part of the seawall being moved further inland, means that the path now connects with the Thames foreshore path. So everyone can now join or leave the seawall at Blyth Sands / Cooling Marsh, opening up this area to all walkers. Remember, there is only one footpath running out from Cliffe village onto the marsh and alterations to the seawall have yet to be mapped, but please believe me when I tell you, you can now access the foreshore here.
In this photo you can see part of the 900m section of the seawall that has now been removed as a managed realignment site called "Site X". The seawall has been breached to create one of two compensatory mudflats to mitigate the construction of the DP World London Gateway site on the opposite side of the Thames in Essex. A new seawall, which I am standing on, has now been built further inland to allow the estuarine waters to flood in and out with the tide. This has created a new mudflat habitat for many animals, especially breeding and wintering birds.
If you look closely here at low water the original footings of the seawall can still be seen.
Leaving Cooling Marshes we head toward Halstow Marsh and Egypt Bay.
Just inside the seawall defences you will see these drainage dykes which helps channel the fresh water from the marshes through the defences to the sea. However, across the marsh natural fresh water channels called fleets still remain, Cliffe Fleet, Salt Fleet, Hope Fleet, Buckland Fleet and Decoy Fleet all would have flowed to the River Thames naturally if this seawall had not been built. Started in the 16th century construction and maintenance of a seawall on Grain was mainly the responsibility of the North and East Kent Sewer Commission, but the process of reclaiming salt marsh for grazing probably started in Roman times. Still ongoing today it is paramount to prevent the fresh water marsh from incursions from rising sea levels.
Along with Blyth Sands, Egypt Bay's name is clouded in mystery. Searching online, little is known how both got their names but it is said that Egypt Bay may have got it's name from trading links to the Phoenicians and locally several Phoenician coin discoveries may point to this connection. The Phoenicians came from a land Retenu (Canaan) which borders Egypt and it is thought that these traders, who ranged far and wide, bought commodities such as silver, high quality pottery and wines to the Thames. What is known, Egypt Bay and St Mary's Bay further ahead were used to moor rotting Men-Of-War prison hulks, incarcerating convicts here in hellish isolation. Charles Dickens visited Egypt Bay and was inspired to use the location as the spot convict Magwitch escaped to terrorise young Pip in Great Expectations.
The Larger St Mary's Bay.
Here at St Marshes Hoo we can see the remains of the Thames Storage (explosives) Company magazines, which went into liquidation in 1907. Constructed in 1892 it was here that they packed, repacked and stored explosives as a commercial venture. Today seven magazines survive in a ruinous state, some with protective earth bunds (embankments of soil). Built here due to it's remote location, it was briefly reincarnated as a Government magazine but closed again in 1913.
Among the flotsam and jetsam this old "Mooring Can" (buoy) has found its way onto the foreshore. Knowing nothing about this type of mooring buoy, another Mudlarker has told me that a riser chain goes up through the centre, and is then fixed. The other end runs down to the seabed and is in turn connected to a ground chain or anchor or anchors depending on what size of vessel it is tied to. Now old fashioned, you probably will never see another.
Arriving at the wide shingle beach of Dagnam Saltings the footpath disappears into the tall grass at the top of the beach, but the walk here on the beach is pleasant, so it's not a problem.
A beachcombers paradise the Dagnam Saltings is full of broken pottery and sea polished broken glass of all ages.
I love the smell of the sea and here it seemed to be very strong. Salt marshes are frequently submerged by the tides and contain a lot of decomposing plant material oxygen levels in the peat can be extremely low a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia is caused by the growth of bacteria which produce the sulphurous rotten-egg smell that is often associated with marshes and mud flats.
Along this section of foreshore there are a few concrete type 24 pillboxes each capable of holding eight soldiers. Part of a longer chain of ten pillboxes constructed as a subsidiary defence line to prevent enemy landings on the sands here. Just inland is Slough Fort another Napoleonic fortification bought back into service in 1939 to help with these same coastal defences.
As you can see in this picture one pillbox has ended up being semi-submerged by the sea and mud. I would hazard a guess that this has been slowly moved by the tide and coastal erosion to its current location. There is no way of visiting it through the deep estuarine mud, unless you know what you are doing, but I have seen some wonderful photo's online of sunsets behind it making it a beautiful focal point.
Dave and the Vicar winding their way through Dagnam Saltings.
'Man down', after briefly discussing just moments before that the mud can be slippery, the Vicar takes a tumble joining an elite group of participating walkers who have got themselves in trouble on the foreshore. Slipping over or taking one step too close to deeper mud has now claimed four walkers on my coastal walk, including myself. For me though what will remain in my memory about the Vicars tumble was the profanities that soon followed, I can tell you, it was not very Vicar like! :)
Another type 24 pillbox near Allhallows-On-Sea, sitting higher up on a shingle bank this one can be visited. In the distance on the opposite side of the Thames you can see Southend-On-Sea.
Every angle of this pillbox makes it a photographers delight and you can see from the tide marks on the side that at the highest tides of the year this box gets partially submerged at times too.
These wooden groynes mean we have arrived at Allhallows-On-Sea which sits at the northernmost part of Kent. Officially separated from the Isle of Grain by the water of the North Inlet (Yantlet Creek), which ran from the River Thames to the River Medway, now long silted up, meaning the Isle of Grain is no longer an island. The Parish of Allhallows is made up of two settlements which are now joined, the historic centre is Allhallows and the more recent riverside outlier here at Allhallows-On-Sea. Allhallows so called, gets its name from the church which owned much of the land here and means All Saints (Hallow being an alternative word for saint). After the First World War this area of the foreshore was redeveloped as Allhallows-On-sea and it was said that it was going to rival the resort of Blackpool. Another failed boast was that it would have amusement parks four times bigger than those of the northern resort, which is hard to envisage here today. Sadly the whole thing was abandoned primarily due to the outbreak of the Second World War. However another attempt by the Southern Railway to grow the resort continued when they decided to extend their Hoo Peninsula Line via a single line from Stoke Junction to Allhallows. Opened in 1932, initially it was a huge success carrying some 6500 passengers in its first year, however this was never to be repeated and the passenger numbers and freight cargo continued to decline before the line was eventually closed on the 3rd December 1961.
Allhallows Yacht Club was created by Captain Bacon in 1964. He ran the local army cadet unit located at Slough Fort. Captain Bacon’s idea was to help the local community to enjoy their leisure time by making use of the biggest resource in the area, the Thames Estuary.
Our last look back at the foreshore of Allhallows-On-Sea.
Allhallows Marshes has been used for grazing and arable farming for hundreds of years and today this practise continues.
I do like an old weathered sign and this makes it clear that you must "keep Dogs Under Control In Grazing Stock and Keep To The Path" the rest being unreadable, apart from Thank You.
The white boundary marker seen here at the entrance to Yantlet Creek is called the "London Stone" and is the official point where the River Thames ceases to be a river and becomes the sea. Imagine an invisible line (the Yantlet line) that runs from here to another marker "The Crow Stone" on the opposite bank at Westcliff-On-Sea in Essex. The Essex stone is featured on my Southend Pier to Thorney Bay, Canvey Island section. The larger skeletal structure in the foreground is the Yantlet Creek entrance shipping marker.
This Memorial Stone in Yantlet Creek marks the completion of the raising of the Thames Flood Defences between 1975 and 1985.
Once a busy hub from the River Thames to the River Medway via Colemouth Creek and then as a separate navigable channel, the Yantlet still has small reminders to its once busier past. Still visible today, although silted up, these former wharves were used for unloading and loading large guns and their mountings into the yantlet Battery. Opened in 1920 and now known as Yantlet Battery, this site was officially called the Grain Island Firing Point and was used for the development of large calibre guns and ammunition.
Now before setting off on today's walk, I did say to both Dave and the Vicar that at this part of the walk we could hit a small snag, because on the Ordinance Survey maps there is no direct footpath from Yantlet Creek to Grain Village. In fact the footpath continues to follow the creek back toward Lower Stoke and Allhallows before disappearing just short of both villages. However I was hoping that there was a local dog walkers route not mapped that links the Yantlet to Grain village. Luckily for us there was a metal gate left open, which I believe had a Southern Water sign on it and you could tell the path had been well walked. On the map it is marked NTL and this linked to a track way, before it immediately turns right behind an earth embankment. If you follow behind that embankment, which I believe is the boundary embankment for the Yantlet Battery, it winds around to join West Lane part of Grain village. Now we didn't see any signs saying that walkers were unwelcome and the path is well worn from feet on the ground, so hopefully no one would mind a few walkers using this route. It does seem a little odd that the Yantlet Creek footpath does not end up at grain village for bus connections etc, so fingers crossed if you use this route you'll have no bother.
Whilst walking behind the Battery embankment we come across this pony and my heart immediately sunk thinking it had been hurt by barbed wire or something, to my relief a child had used a red marker pen to write what looks like the horses name on its back.
Once on West Lane you are reminded by several signs that this is still a working military firing range and to keep out. When I was younger I used to visit a girlfriend who lived in Grain Village and the range was very much still in use in those days. I remember walking near the top of grain peninsula and seeing old scrap cars piled up and people moving about on the site. Every now and then there would be a bright flash and smoke, before a load bang and shock wave would hit you. The locals used to say that the SAS trained here, but to be fair it could have been any unit, I still found it deeply interesting though.
The remote picturesque church of St. James in Grain Village was built in the 12th century. It has undergone extensive rebuilding and restoration work over the years and bizarrely large parts of the church were demolished in the early 19th century to help reduce running costs, when it became apparent that such a large church was going to prove unnecessarily expensive to keep. The church survived without a tower until 1905 before a half hearted attempt to build one left the church with a tower shorter than the roof and nave.
From another angle you can get a good look at this odd little church and at the changes that have been made to it over the years.
Not far from this spot once stood the impressive Grain Fort, a former artillery fort constructed in the 1860s to defend the confluence of the Rivers Medway and Thames. The fort had a crescent shape keep which formed the casemated barracks and entrance to the fort. A raised earth bank behind this formed the terreplein, which was mounted with Rifled Muzzle Loading guns in large gun pits. Its location enabled its guns to support the nearby Dummy Battery, Grain Tower and Garrison Point Fort at Sheerness on the other side of the Medway. It continued to be used during World War I & II, but was repeatedly altered and its guns upgraded at various points in its history. Eventually it was decommissioned and demolished in 1956 when the UK abolished its coastal defence programme. Also at this location and stretching along the foreshore on land was Grain Wing Battery and Dummy Battery which supported each other by overlapping their arcs of fire with Grain Fort, Grain Tower and Garrison Point Fort Sheerness. The remnants of these buildings are still visible and much of the earthworks still survive in good condition. Although somewhat overgrown and with large parts buried underground, it is still worth a visit today. It would have been a formidable place to try to pass if on an enemy ship or boat. Today this area has been incorporated into a pleasant coastal park mostly enjoyed by dog walkers.
In the centre of this picture is Grain Tower, a mid-19th-century gun tower situated offshore just east of Grain village. Completed in 1855, it was built to protect both Sheerness and Chatham Dockyard on the River Medway from a perceived French naval threat during a period of tension in the 1850's. Built by Kirk and Parry of Lincolnshire, during construction it was hit by problems from the start due to its exposed position, sea state and the winter weather. These delays meant it had gone more than 50% over budget, costing £16,798. (equivalent to £1,574,050 today). Built along the same lines as the Martello towers that were constructed along the British and Irish coastlines in the early 19th century, it is the last example of a gun tower of this type. Rapid improvements to artillery technology in the mid-19th century meant that the tower was effectively obsolete as soon as it had been completed. A proposal to turn it into a casemated fort was dropped for being too expensive and by the end of the 19th century the tower had gained a new significance as a defence against raids by fast torpedo boats. It was used in both the First and Second World Wars, when its fabric was substantially altered to support new quick-firing guns. It was decommissioned in 1956 and remains derelict today. The tower stands three storeys high, faced in granite ashlar, and is roughly oval in shape. Its base is 21.8 by 19.3 metres (72 by 63 ft), its original height was 12.9 metres (42 ft), and it has walls 3.6 metres (12 ft) thick. The gun crews lived in barrack accommodation built beside the tower, which also housed stores and ammunition. It can be considered the last Martello tower to be built in Britain. The tower with the enviable address of No.1 The Thames has been privately owned since 2005 and I believe it is still available to buy for £500,000, after its reported sale for £400,000 in 2014 fell through. For a look inside the tower this site has some great photo's.
Much of Grain Tower Causeway constructed of concrete blocks and timber supports still survives today. This causeway can only be used at low water and at all other times you would need a boat to visit the tower. There is cartographic evidence suggesting that this causeway was moved from its original north west to south east position to its current east west alignment by 1889. Having visited the fort on many occasions the causeway is sometimes completely void of mud and in a good state of preservation in places. Today partially covered in mud it can still be walked safely, if you do not mind getting muddy that is!
f you look closer in this picture you can see the line of the causeway leading to the fort.
Now, being one for rules, the foreshore here can still be walked as far as Cockleshell Hard, but it does mean a walk to a dead end before returning back on ourselves. However this area is still worth visiting for its views over the Medway to Queenborough, Sheerness and for its tranquillity despite being next to a new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Plant (power station), the reason the footpath ends.
Some remnants of the Dummy Battery
Although the original Oil-fired Power Station at Grain is now long gone, its outflow is still very much needed today. I remember fishing beside this outflow when I was younger and remember it was a good spot for bass, attracted to the warm waters released from the power station into the Medway. Although today it seems very different and a bit weird not having the large Grain power station chimney in situ towering over us. The 244m chimney was demolished by explosion on the 7th September 2016 and was officially the largest structure to be demolished in the United Kingdom.
Amazingly as we continued to walk onto Cockleshell Hard, two lads have shown up with their fishing gear to fish beside the outflow, it was nice for me to see that some things don't change and I hope to return to fish here again sometime in the future.
Another view across the Medway featuring the Peel Energy wind turbines in Queenborough at the Port of Sheerness.
Remains of old wooden groynes at Cockleshell Hard Beach
This jetty marks the end of the path and the furthest most point you can walk the coast from Grain village. I was reading online that just beyond this Jetty is Horseshoe Point (not visible), which was once the site of a First World War Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) seaplane base and Marine Experimental Aircraft Depot. The seaplane base, commissioned in 1913, was one of the earliest naval air-stations. The Experimental Armament Section was established in late 1915 together with a Seaplane Test Flight and an Experimental Construction Section which together became the Marine Experimental Aircraft Depot. The base included a number of hangars and other buildings positioned parallel to the coast with a rectangular landing-ground (about 450 x 760m), two slipways and a jetty. Hard standing indicating the outline of these buildings can be seen on aerial photographs taken in 1946. New aircraft designs, flotation systems and armament were developed and deck-landing trials were undertaken on the small landing-strip. The base grew to a considerable size by the end of the First World War and continued in its trials capacity until the early 1920s. In 1924 it was closed and the experimental facility moved to Felixstowe. The remains of the slipway at Horseshoe point were removed in 2003 but many of the areas of hard standing are still visible on air photos dated 2011.
Quite clearly these signs tell you, you are not coming in. :)
Nearing the end of today's walk it's a laborious walk along this road back into grain Village.
Another view from behind the Dummy Battery coastal defences.
This row of former Coastguard cottages at Grain Village marks the end of today's walk and I would like to thank both Dave and Andy for their company today. It's been a very good walk in a beautiful area of Kent and one full of historical features. 15.36 miles.
Please remember I am walking the coast in aid of Demelza Children's Hospice and any donation no matter how small would be very much appreciated. Please see the donation link on the top of my home page. Thank you.