High pressure had settled over the south east, when Doug and I set off on another walk last Monday, this time to extend my Kent coastal walk westwards, from Sittingbourne. We’d seen the weather forecast and knew it was going to be a warm day, we just didn’t realise quite how hot it was going to be.
on the other side of the creek
After leaving Sittingbourne station, our aim was to take the western bank of Milton Creek (which flows from the centre of the town) and head up to the Swale before turning west, the route of the Saxon Shore way. I’d already walked the eastern bank when walking from Sittingbourne to Faversham about six weeks earlier. Unfortunately, we spent a lot of time pounding around industrial and retail estates (and getting lost in Church Marshes) before we finally made it to the shoreline. By then, the sun was at its highest and there wasn’t a breath of wind, it was very warm, not ideal walking weather. Once we reached the bank of the creek, I realised we’d joined it almost opposite the point I’d commenced my previous walk, which was disappointing. We had quite a way to go and it was getting even warmer.
As you’d expect, the walk on this side of Milton Creek is pretty much identical to the walk on the opposite bank. It’s flat, but not easy going, thanks to the cracked, uneven, rabbit hole-strewn, earthen path on top of the dyke and the viewpoint changes only slowly as you make your way along the meandering creek. It’s an experience uncannily similar to an Essex walk I did recently, even down to the landfill site on the left-hand bank. However, once you get to the Swale, the landscape gets a little more interesting; there are quite a few industrial estates here, with docks and jetties dotted along the banks of the river and, in the distance, there are the two bridges linking the Isle of Sheppey to England – the Kingsferry Bridge and the Sheppey Crossing.
Briefly, there was an onshore breeze and for a little while walking was a lot less hot and sticky, but the breeze soon petered out and the temperature started to climb higher. By the time we got to the Sheppey bridges, the temperature was in the low 30s and the river glassy smooth. It was pretty close to high tide and we were twice treated to the sight of the center span of the Kingsferry Bridge rising to allow the passage of a couple of coasters travelling to and from Ridham Dock. We passed under the bridges, stopping to take a few snaps and then carried on, towards Chetney Marshes.
Only about half of the peninsular here is accessible to the public, you can’t reach the banks of the Medway at this point on the coast. Which was a little disappointing as we would have liked to have been able to get closer to the Isle of Grain, another favourite photographic location of ours, to see the familiar jetties, refinery and power station from a new viewpoint. As we turned inland to cross to the other side of the marsh, the industrial landscape on the other bank was tantalisingly in the distance, reflected perfectly in the still water.
We crossed scrubby marshland, walking into the blinding sun, passing what must be one of the most isolated farmsteads in Kent and back on to the river bank at the other side of the marsh. By now it was slack water and from the viewpoint of the levee, we could see just how low-lying this area is and how much of the land on this coast is protected by the dyke. The mirror-like surface on the seaward side looked at least a couple of meters higher than the water in the marsh.
In the still hot air and despite the sight of modern container gantries, pylons and power stations on the horizon, it feels an ancient landscape. The rotting timbers of an abandoned boat jutted from the glassy waters of the lagoon – the quaintly-named Bedlams Bottom – and aerial photos of this area taken at low tide, reveal almost two dozen more hulks abandoned in this spot. We didn’t see a single other person on this portion of the walk, it’s an archetypal backwater. Life moves at a different pace here. Looking at our map, the place-names here could have come straight from pirate adventure stories – Deadmans Island, Slaughterhouse Point, Raspberry Hill, Slayhills Marsh and, of course, Bedlams Bottom. A foggy morning would be all you need to complete the illusion.
an unclear path
To carry on westward, the Saxon Shore way turns inland. What bits of solid land there are on this part of coast are privately owned and don’t join up. So the path heads south and uphill a little, before turning west. This is also private land, mainly farmland, it’s criss-crossed with public paths and bridleways, yet finding the right path proved on a few occasions to be problematic. There are guide posts at the edges of the fields, but the actual route across the land is not clear and three times we had to be re-directed by wary, although not necessarily unfriendly, locals. The route looked obvious enough on our maps, but harrowing, planting and overgrowth had often masked the actual path. It was all too easy to end up having to backtrack, which was becoming tiresome, as here inland it was even hotter than the coast and there was not much shade.
We reached a large, recently tilled, field where the path across it and the exit were invisible. The prospect of trudging all the way across this field, with the distinct possibility of having to come all the way back did not appeal, so we turned down the lane by the side of the it and walk down to the main road to continue our journey to Lower Halstow on tarmac. By now, we were hot, sweaty, footsore, dehydrated – we’d drunk the last of our water. We were feeling a desperate need to get to a pub we knew of in the village. The prospect of our own Ice Cold in Alex moment was a frequent topic of conversation during the last couple of kilometres on the road. Thankfully, the road was much easier going than ploughed fields, although the walk seemed much further than the map indicated, but at least there was some shade from the trees lining the road. Presently, we found ourselves beside an old church, we had at last reached Lower Halstow. All we needed now was the pub and, when we found it, The Three Tuns, proved to be even better than we hoped (anything with liquid would have sufficed at this point). It’s a handsome, friendly, local offering an amazing range of local ciders. Rehydration proved to be such a lengthy process that we almost missed the last train home from Newington.
This walk was an unexpectedly tiring 28 kilometers, even though it is flat terrain. Nevertheless, I’ve now completed 170Km of the Kent coast and you can view the main part of the route walked today here.