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. 

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