Its Monday 24th September 18 and myself, David Beech, Dave Evans & Danny Palmer, who's made his way down to Gravesend from Enfield in London to join us, are walking from Gravesend to Blyth Sands, which sits on the very tip of the Isle of Grain Peninsula in Kent. This is an area that many people would not have heard of before or visited being quite remote, but I know this area very well due to another hobby I have as a Mudlark on the River Thames. Following part of the Saxon Shore way, our walk today will commence on the River Thames at the Town Pier and follows the Saxon Shore Way beside the river to Cliffe Creek before we turn north following the river coarse around Cliffe Marshes. This is the area many do not get to see and it must be the remotest place in Kent to walk. There are only a few access and exit points to this area and our walk will see us exiting at Blyth Sands via Cooling Marshes into the village of Cliffe.
Gravesend was first recorded as Gravesham in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it belonged to Odo, Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. Close to the Roman road of Watling Street and close to Vagniacae, the Roman Town now Springhead (the source of River Ebbsfleet), there has been evidence of settlement in this area since the Iron age. It has one of the oldest surviving markets in the country which dates from 1268, granted a charter along with Milton just along the road now a suburb of Gravesend by King Henry III. During the Hundred Years War, Gravesend suffered being sacked and burned by the Castilian Fleet in 1380 and there are the remains of a Tudor fort built by command of King Henry VIII in 1543.
Buried in an unknown grave at St George's Church Gravesend is Pocahontas (real name Amonute),a Native American woman born c1596. She was the daughter of the powerful Chief Powhatan, the ruler of the large Powhatan tribal nation and associated with the colonial settlement of Jamestown Virginia. She is remembered today due to the animated romantic musical film produced by Walt Disney in 1995. It is said she saved the life of Colonist John Smith in 1607, who was being held captive by her tribe, by placing her head upon Smith's when her father raised his war club to execute him. Later in 1614 she married John Rolfe and had a son but not before converting to Christianity and changing her name to Rebecca. However it is believed that her life was less romantic than the film would suggest and historical fact have now cast doubts over the events of her story. What is known is that she was presented to English society and may have even met king James I and Queen Anne, settling in rural Brentford. The romantic myth of Pocahontas endured to show that two cultures can find common ground, but in reality her story may have been used as a propaganda stunt in the day to make the white man feel better about themselves and their treatment of Native Americans. In the minds of the time Pocahontas may have been used to justify the changes they were making to the Native Americans lives and even seen as helping them change from savages to a civilised people. Sadly, whilst trying to return to Virginia, she was taken ill at Gravesend aged at just 20 or 21 she died and was buried there. Personally I hope aspects of the film are true and in reality she was in love, happy and treated well.
I must mention the large Sikh community in Gravesend that has steadily grown here since the 1950's. They have settled well here escaping poverty and have bought charm and a splash of vibrant colour to this maritime town. Today, three generations on, they are proud to call Gravesend and Britain their home and are working hard to break down barriers within the local community. In 2010 they opened the impressive Guru Nanak Temple a Sikh Gurdwara, which can be seen from the Thames estuary. Built at a cost of £15 million pounds. Impressively £12 million was raised and paid for by the local Sikh community, it is run by volunteers. For me Gravesend would not be the same without the Sikh community.