Saturday, 24 October 2015

Isle of Grain Country Park, Kent

At the tip of the Hoo peninsula where the River Thames meets the River Medway is the perfect walk to survey the Thames Estuary.

Opposite, in the distance a string of Essex towns from Benfleet to Shoeburyness form a continuous line. To your right Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey. Beyond, on a clear day, you can see the Whitstable coast leading down to the Isle of Thanet ending at Margate. 

At every turn reminders of our centuries old fear of invasion emerge, a Napoleonic fort  sticking out of the sea and second world war anti tank obstacles on the beach.

A string of tiny beaches are made up entirely of cockle shells. You could even swim here at high tide. At low tide vast mudflats are suddenly unveiled and quickly populated by hundreds and hundreds of waders. Further out vast container ships make their way to Tilbury or disembark just across the water at Sheerness or further down the Medway at Thamesport.

The industrial hinterland is inhabited by enormous power stations and oil refineries, mostly disused. Wildlife colonises the swathes of green, freshwater pools and scrub between sea and industry which makes up the country park.

I wasn’t expecting much but as you can probably tell, I was entranced by this place. Keep your expectations low and perhaps you will be too.

How to Get There. 
About an hour and a quarter car journey. Out through the Blackwall tunnel onto the A2 or alternatively over the dart crossing,  turning off at junction 1 as it becomes the M2 follow the signs to Isle of Grain and then to Grain itself where there is a small car park by the beach. 

The flag marks the walk

As you drive through the middle of the Isle its remoteness is striking, it's also interesting to drive between the fields of oil refineries and energy plants. 

The Walk 
This walk is only 4 miles long a 'there and back' walk, but it's easy to spend hours here if you  like to sit and gaze. For the map lovers among us it's explorer 163 Gravesend and Rochester.

An easy straight forward walk, essentially along the esplanade or sea wall, all part of the country park. 

You could make it a circular walk as the footpath goes inland a bit and back to Grain, but that looked a bit boring. However we did walk up to the high points in the country park and through the woodland paths in the last stretch before Grain on our way back which was nice. 

It's claimed this is where Turner sketched 'The Fighting Temeraire'. HMS Temeraire had played a key role in Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In 1838 the gun ship was decommissioned and taken by tugs from Sheerness to Rotherhithe to be broken up. 

The Fighting Temeraire Turner (1838) (The Guardian)

The walk begins, looking across the Thames to Southend on Sea. 

Looking the other way down the Thames with Isle of Sheppey in the distance

Shell beaches along the way

Very little pottery along these lovely small beaches, but surprisingly they are made up entirely of shells. We spent ages just gazing out to sea, watching ship after ship sailing up the Thames 

Container Ships on the Thames from the Isle of Grain

Isle of Grain Country Park 
Less than a mile into the walk  Grain Tower comes into view, stuck out in the mouth of the Medway Estuary. It was built in the 1860s when there was considerable tension with France, it was only decommissioned in 1956. Most of the fort has been demolished. In the second world war huge anti submarine nets crossed the rivers from here, preventing German Uboats from making their way up the Thames or down the Medway. 
Grain Tower with Sheerness port in the distance

Grain Tower

At low tide a causeway to the Tower appears which you can just make out in the photo below. You can walk out and explore the Tower, sadly we didn't have time on this visit. 

As you walk further the Medway Estuary opens out. The bridge linking the mainland to the Isle of Sheppey can be seen in the distance. 

Medway Estuary from the Isle of Grain Country Park

A huge disused power station comes into view. The building was due to be demolished the day after we visited and the tower comes down next September, what a shame. 

Grain power Station Build in the 1970s

You can begin to make out the cranes of Thamesport, the UK's third largest container port and the remaining circular oil storage containers. 

Isle of Grain with the cranes of Thamesport in the distance.

Across the Medway is Sheerness port, originally established as a Royal Navy dockyard in 1669 after the Dutch raids on Medway in 1666. It became a commercial port in the 1960s and is now one of the major UK ports for importing meat, vegetables and cars. 

Sheerness Port


and more industrial buildings on the Isle of Grain.  

The walk ends when a high wire fence crosses the path preventing you from going any further. To the left a jetty ventures into the river, unfortunately that too is fenced off. 

A jetty at the end of the walk  

It is worth timing your visit to catch both high and low tides. There was a strange point in the cycle when the water seemed like a lake and the sound of the sea changed. The next time we looked over a quarter of mile of mudflats had suddenly appeared. 

The Thames just before low tide at Grain

Thames Mudflats at Grain looking out to Southend on Sea. 

Anti tank obstacles from the second world war on Grain beach. 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

River Crouch, Essex (Frambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch)

A long but very easy peaceful walk along one of those wide creeks that pierce the Essex Coastline. Not the most dramatic or varied of walks but very pleasing with nice views, clusters of boats, estuarine birds and at the end the picturesque town of Burnham-on-crouch. The perfect walk to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen for ages.

How to get there
This walk is at my upper travel limit of 1½  hours. I traveled from Harringay Station, first grabbing my first coffee and cinnamon buns for later from the newish But First Coffee, the other side of Harringay Station on Quernmore Road, both were excellent.  You travel to Stratford Station then take a train to North Frambridge (changing at Wickford). You return from Burham-on-Crouch, 2 stations down the line. 

The Walk
The walk is on the Dengie peninsula and is around 10 miles long. 

Location of walk in Essex (© Google Map)
Walking person marks the walk (from Essex 

Fambridge - Burnham Ordnance Survey Route Map
North Frambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch (from Essex

I found this walk on the brilliant Essex Walks website, with downloadable maps and directions far better than you’ll get here. Silvermud covering one person's walks around the Essex Coast has interesting historical titbits about this walk. 

You turn left out of the station and down a road lined with houses, each within its own plot and backed by fields.  Houses I imagine many Londoners hanker after in their dreams of a country life.  

As the road bears to the right you carry on straight down an unmade lane to Blue House Farm nature reserve, managed by Essex Wildlife Trust. The barn in front is home to 3 families of barn owls. Sadly the webcam wasn’t working when we visited.

To the right of the barn the footpath carries on. 

Looking back to Blue House Farm Frambridge 

The ditch before the sea wall 

Through a field of sheep and then up to the sea wall and suddenly you can revel in being out of London bathed in big skies, breathing pure air with long vistas back to a small flotilla of boats marking Frambridge and in the other direction the watery highway stretching out to the sea.
River Crouch looking back to Frambridge

The rest of the walk is pretty much all along this sea wall as it winds its way along the course of the River Crouch, Bridgemarsh Creek and then back alongside the River Crouch again.

Bridgemarsh Creek, with rows of  wooden posts running into the water, how old and what for I wonder.

Bridgemarsh Creek with yacht  in distance

A Jetty at Althorne mid point on the walk, complete with bench out of view for a perfect picnic or coffee stop

Who wouldn't want this shed near Creeksea?

Looking back to Althorne

Baltic Wharf on Wallasea Island. 


Across the water from Creeksea you see Baltic Wharf on Wallasea Island built in the 1920s. A liner service apparently operates between Latvia and Estonia and there are regular shipments from Sweden, bringing mainly timber and steel. 

Burham comes into view and it's around Burham Marina and then into town. There has been human activity and settlement in this area since neolithic times, there is evidence of Roman enclosures, it was close to Viking battles and in Medieval times the town expanded with fishing a major source of income. During the London plague in 1665 sailors from Burnham and Bradwell were the only people prepared to ferry grain into the capital. They were rewarded by an exemption from duty when landing grain for ever. The oyster beds in the area were expanded in the 1700s employing large numbers. In 1898 Burnham was connected to the rail network and  became a popular yachting centre, leading to boat building and sail making. 

Burnham in the distance with the Marina to the left. 

Boats at the head of Burnham Marina 

The riverfront is a mix of aged weather beaten corrugated iron workshops and very attractive modest Georgian houses and inns. It’s certainly worth continuing along the whole esplanade before you head up to the station. 

1930s Cinema still open at Burnham