72b – Boscombe Part II

The boards of Boscombe Pier made for comfortable walking.  I could not really put my finger on why exactly, but piers are made for walking on and I enjoyed walking on Boscombe Pier.  And whilst it is true to say that most piers are symmetrical in shape, I especially enjoyed the symmetry of this pier.

Boscombe PierThe central shelter of Boscombe Pier is lined with information boards describing the history of the area.  There is an interesting story about a whale.

In 1897 a whale strayed too close to the shore and was run over by a steamer.  The whale suffered a broken back, died, and was washed up on Boscombe beach.  It was 70 feet long, weighed over 40 tonnes, and came to present a bit of a problem to the authorities.  At first, it drew excited crowds.  Schoolmasters brought their classes down to give lectures.  Later, in the evening, the children would come back to climb over its carcass and use its slippery skin as a slide.  Their parents must have dispaired at the smell of them when they got back home.

IMG_7131 croppedThe whale was annexed by the Coastguard on behalf of Her Majesty’s Receiver of Wrecks (even today, any whale washed ashore is deemed the property of the Crown).  The Coastguard decided the best thing to do was auction it off.  Three days later a crowd of 500 people turned up to see it sold to a Dr Spencer Simpson for £27.  Dr Simpson declared he was going to strip the whale of its flesh, boil the skeleton and turn a profit by putting it on display and giving lectures.  He wrote a cheque out, duly addressed to the Queen, and got started.

15a - Boscobmbe Whale Information Board croppedStripping a whale of its flesh and boiling its skeleton is no small undertaking (I once found a sheep skull in the hills of Ingleborough, took it home and boiled it clean, so I have a small notion of the amount of work involved).  Anyway, Dr Spencer also discovered it was quite a lot of work, and he had a whole whale to deal with.  He enlisted local workmen to assist him.  In the meantime, whilst the carcass proved to be a popular tourist attraction, it slowly began to decompose.  One man travelled all the way from Somerset to see it.  He walked around it and then climbed on top of it.  Asked what he was going to do by climbing on top, he replied, “Do?  I’ve come forty mile to see this ‘ere whale, and I’m going to walk on him from his head to his tail”.  This he tried to do, but he sunk into the decaying flesh and had to be pulled out by onlookers.  I wonder if he got a change of clothes before travelling the forty miles back home?

As the whale decayed it also began to smell.  Worse and worse the stench became as the carcass slowly seeped and sank into the sand.  The workmen sprayed it with disinfectant, but the Council lost patience at such a large and insanitary pile of rotting flesh (Boscombe’s origins were a spa town, you must remember).  The Council sent their chief sanitary inspector out with men and carts so as to remove the body.  They were met by Dr Simpson who also had the backing of the coastguard, and so the chief sanitary inspector with his men and carts had to leave again.  Not to be deterred, the chief sanitary inspector returned five days later with more men and bigger carts.  A fight broke out, and Dr Simpson drew a sword-stick, threatening to run the chief sanitary inspector through with it!  He was promptly arrested and charged with assault!

The whale was dismantled and most of the blubber dumped off Brownsea Island.  Dr Simpson managed to get some of it to Poole where he intended to auction it off.  This auction was not a success; Dr Simpson spent £135 transporting it only to find that nobody turned up to bid.  Eventually, after 45 minutes, some curious seafarers arrived, and a short while later the blubber was sold for five shillings.

As for the skeleton, it was eventually displayed on the pier.  It lasted until 1904 when it was dismantled; it is now lost in the swirling, stinking mists of time.

Boscobmbe Whale Information Board croppedMy sheep skull, on the other hand, sits on my mantlepiece to this day and gazes at me unblinkingly as I write my blog posts, smiling at me with its toothy grin.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Boscombe Pier:  N 50° 43.130 W 001° 50.580

Walk #72 Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):

72a – Boscombe Part I

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  That’s what my mother used to tell me when I was young (and I couldn’t help noticing that she then went on to have two further children).  The reason I mention this is that at the end of our last walk I tried, and failed, to get a picture of a goat.  Thus, instead of starting this walk at the exact point where we ended our last one, we decided to start back at the goats.  Last time they were feeling shy.  Not so today!  They pranced around the cliffside with a frisk and a frolic for all to see.

Boscombe GoatsIt is worth mentioning that the missing beach hut in this picture was not destroyed by a plummeting goat, but rather by the winter storms at the beginning of 2014.  Cliffside goats do not fall.  They stand proud.

Boscombe GoatBravo, goats of Boscombe!  The people of Boscombe, however, were not standing very proud today.  In fact they didn’t appear to be standing at all.  I think they were all still in bed. Coastal Activity ParkBoascombe’s Coastal Inactivity Park was not very inspiring this morning and we quickly moved on.  Further along the seafront, towards the pier, we found a bit more activity.  At one point the man with the longest hair I have ever seen (at least on our Coastal Path) bounded passed us.  I reached for my camera but he was gone, racing through the people of Boscombe as if his hair gave him Samson-like strength.  All I managed was a blurry afterthought of a photo (my autofocus  was distracted by a pink polkadot bag).

The Man with the Longest HairAnd then we were back at Boscombe Pier, where we finished our last walk.  We were back on virgin territory.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Boscombe’s Goats:  N 50° 43.240 W 001° 50.200
  • Boscombe Pier:  N 50° 43.130 W 001° 50.580

Walk #72 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

The Coastal Path Gets App’d

I was delighted, a few months ago, to be contacted by a very nice person called Amena Ahmed from a company called Pixelwork.  She was helping design a mobile App about the Thames Estuary Path, in conjunction with Essex Council.  The Path runs for 29 miles from Tilbury to Leigh-on-Sea.  We had walked a lot of this three years ago and posted photos on the blog.  Pixelwork were interested in using some of these photos for their App, such as this one, of St Margaret’s Church in Bowers Gifford:

St Margaret's of Bowers Gifford

And this one, of Tilbury Fort (slanted horizon and all – if walking the coast of Britain teaches you anything at all, it is how to correct horizons in your photos):

Modern Gun at Tilbury Fort

For some reason Amena decided not to use this one of Tilbury Fort (which must surely be the better photo because the horizon isn’t quite as tilted and also because the artistic imagery speaks volumes):

Mark - Daydreaming

The idea for this App is fantastic.  You download a walk to your phone, then head off and get walking.  The App gives you a map to follow and waypoints on the way.  As you reach each waypoint you can tap a marker and a brief history pops up with photos and an audio commentary.  You can listen to the history of the area as you walk it.

The App can be found under “Thames EP” in the Apple iTunes store and is free to download.  In addition there is an associated website.

I have listened to several sections of the walk.  I wish it had been available when we were walking that stretch of coast because it is a truly wonderful idea.  Amena now needs to start rolling out an App for the entire UK coastline in my view – how good would that be?!?

Thames Estuary Path (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Tilbury Town and approximate start:  N 51° 27.700 E 000° 21.700
  • Leigh-on-Sea and approximate end:  N 51° 32.550 E 000° 39.200

The Coastal Path Goes Flying – Part IV

North we flew, back over the Medway, away from Rochester and towards Cliffe.  When we had passed Cliffe Fort two years ago it was sealed off and appeared flooded inside.  We could have crawled through a window, but decided not to.  Today, we flew directly overhead.  It was still flooded.

Cliffe FortCan you see that “V” shaped cutting in the shoreline between the two jetties?  That is the Brennan Torpedo Launch.  The Brennan Torpedo was patented in 1877 and is said by some to be the first ever guided missile (although in fact it wasn’t; there were earlier examples – it’s just they didn’t work as well as the Brennan).

We turned east, flying over the remains of the Curtis & Harvey site.  They made explosives here between 1901 and 1921, including the highly dangerous nitroglycerine.  The buildings were spaced apart from each other so that if one went up the others were better protected.  The walls of the buildings were made of brick and then shored up with earth embankments, and it is these banks which are so visible today.  The roofs were made of wood.  This meant if there was an explosion in one of the buildings the blast would be forced upwards, through the roof, and not sideways through the walls.

Curtis & Harvey FactoryWhilst we flew directly over the southern bank of the River Thames, Alex’s microlight headed out over the river, towards the tankers and chimneys of the Coryton oil refinery.

Alex Over the ThamesThe stretch of riverbank we were flying over was deserted.  I remembered it well from our walk here two years ago.  On leaving Gravesend there is nothing for about 14 miles until you reach Allhallows.  As a result very few people come here.  My pilot took full advantage of this, dipping the microlight’s nose down and dropping until we were only about 20 feet off the ground.  For half a mile or so we skimmed the ground and ruffled the grass before pulling up again as we reached Egypt Bay.

Flying Low Towards Egypt BayAs we gained altitude again I saw places I remembered well.  Look!  There was Allhallows caravan park and, to its left, the marshes we got a bit lost in.

Allhallows Holiday ParkAnd look!  There was the recently completed Stoke Bridge, where that unpleasant workman tried to force us into the back of his truck rather than let us walk along the side of the road.

Grain Road Flood BridgeThis bridge was under construction the last time we saw it.  It was completed now.  When we walked along that stretch of road two years ago, signs said it was a road accident hotspot and that there had been many deaths.  Had the bridge changed that, I wondered?

Down on the ground, Big Ben had my spare camera and took a great shot of us flying against the sun.

From BelowWe circled around and started our approach to the landing strip.

Stoke AirfieldThe kids waved as I came in to land, and I waved back.

Nic Coming in to LandWhat a great experience that was!  When I got back home I looked into the cost of lessons, however, it turns out that quite early on you need to buy your own microlight (or club together with others and share).  I decided it was rather too expensive just now.  But in the future, who knows…

Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Stoke Airfield:  N 51° 26.679 E 000° 37.888
  • Cliffe Fort:  N 51° 27.819 E 000° 27.350
  • Brennan Torpedo Launch:  N 51° 27.809 E 000° 27.272
  • Curtis & Harvey Explosives Factory:  N 51° 28.750 E 000° 29.150
  • Coryton:  N 51° 30.800 E 000° 31.000
  • Flying Low Towards Egypt Bay:  N 51° 29.155 E 000° 30.000
  • Allhallows Leisure Park:  N 51° 28.624 E 000° 38.741
  • Stoke Bridge:  N 51° 26.938 E 000° 39.000

Walk  Statistics:

  • Date of Flight: 17 May 2014

The Coastal Path Goes Flying – Part III

Once our microlight had taken off we flew up to 2,250 feet.  Having walked the entire Kent coastline, I was looking forward to seeing some of it from the sky.  Almost immediately we flew over something I had not seen from the ground.  It was the wreck of a German submarine from the First World War.  All forms of identification have been removed so nobody actually knows which submarine it is, though it is generally believed to be either UB-122 or UB-123.

UB-122 or UB-123

UB-122 was commissioned in March 1918 and then surrendered to the British in November of that year as part of the Armistice agreement.  She is believed to have been broken up or marooned in the Medway, so is a clear candidate for the wreck I was now seeing.  As for the UB-123, she was commissioned in April 1918 and sunk RMS Leinster on 10 October 1918.  Over 500 people died; the sinking remains the greatest loss of life in the Irish Sea.  UB-123 only lasted another nine days before striking a mine in the North Sea Mine Barrage.  All 36 crew members were lost.  The North Sea Mine Barrage ran from Orkney to Norway, so if this wreck was the UB-123 its final resting place seems a long way from its demise.

We continued on and got some great views over Kingsnorth Power Station.  When we passed Kingsnorth on our walk two years earlier a security guard had refused to allow me to take pictures; there wasn’t much he could do to stop me now!

Kingsnorth Power StationI glanced up.  Oh look!  There was Alex!

AlexWe approached St Mary’s Island and looked down on Chatham Marina and the Medway Tunnel.

St Mary's Island and Chatham MarinaAs we headed over to Chatham Alex’s microlight suddenly started to descend.  I watched it until it sunk below the side of my craft and was lost from view.  We carried on at the same altitude.  My pilot pointed out Chatham Historic Dockyard below; I could just make out the ships and submarine displayed there.  Then my pilot (who was the club’s Chief Instructor) tutted.  He had spotted Alex’s microlight flying over the dockyard far below.  “He shouldn’t be flying that low over a built up area,” he said.  Oh dear – it sounded as if Alex’s pilot was going to get an ear-full for his transgression!

I had to look for a full few seconds before I spotted him.  Can you see him?  If you look hard enough he’s there – I assure you!

Chatham Historic Dockyard - Can You See AlexAlex’s microlight didn’t spend long that low.  As we both turned north his craft started gaining height whilst my pilot dipped his nose and took us down.  Soon we were flying together again.


Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Stoke Airfield:  N 51° 26.679 E 000° 37.888
  • U-Boat Wreck:  N 51° 25.840 E 000° 37.915
  • Kingsnorth Power Station:  N 51° 25.098 E 000° 36.196
  • St Mary’s Island:  N 51° 24.400 E 000° 32.200
  • Medway Tunnel:  N 51° 24.020 E 000° 32.020
  • Chatham Historic Dockyard:  N 51° 23.720 E 000° 31.600

Walk  Statistics:

  • Date of Flight: 17 May 2014

The Coastal Path Goes Flying – Part II

One of the things I liked about our first microlight flight was that we got in the air relatively quickly.  The initial briefing lasted a few minutes and no more (only slightly longer than it took to sign the waiver).

The Briefing Microlights are very simple machines in many respects; I felt as if I was going to be going for a ride in a lawnmower.  The principle difference seemed to be that the blade was on the back of the machine and not underneath it. Did you know microlights can do wheelies?  That’s how they cut the grass on the airstrip!

The main rule was to make sure absolutely everything was tied down.  A loose camera or mobile phone is a very dangerous thing, it was explained to me.  In the air loose things fly into the propeller and/or shred the fabric of the wing.  Such things were not encouraged.  Alex and I strapped our cameras down.  Then we strapped ourselves down too.  Sat in a flying lawnmower and wearing a helmet that looked like we were going to do some tree surgery – this was great!

Getting Strapped InOur pilots climbed in and switched the engines on.  We had a five minute wait for the oil to heat up (yes, this really was a flying lawnmower, I thought) and then we were off, observed by our friend and Guest Walker, Ben.  Ben was not prepared to become a Guest Flyer but we were pleased he was grounded because he took the pictures.  Look!  There goes Alex!

Lift Off

Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Stoke Airfield:  N 51° 26.679 E 000° 37.888

Walk  Statistics:

  • Date of Walk: 17 May 2014

The Coastal Path Goes Flying – Part I

Whilst we were back in Grain we decided to head down to Middle Stoke and have a bit of an adventure at Medway Microlights.

To put matters quite simply, I love the sky.  I love the freedom of it.  I love the sheer vastness of it.  I like the clouds.  I love the fast walls of wind that fly thousands of feet overhead whilst the breeze on the ground whispers and swirls beneath.  I love the freshness of the clean air up there.  I love the peace;  I like it when you are completely alone in the sky, away from everything and everyone.  There is something profoundly existential about being up there, all alone.

When I was a child I used sometimes to dream that I would shoot up into the sky like a human bullet.  Within a second I was thousands of feet above the ground and had no means of stopping myself.  I would go so fast that my sight would blur and my head would be forced down into my chest (I had a theory about this – that as I slept my head was pressed against the headboard.  It was this, I thought, that made me dream my head was being pushed down into my chest).  My arms would be pinned down against my sides.  The force of my speed fixed me in a streamlined position that my body could not escape from.

I would have to focus every ounce of concentration and every straining muscle on shifting my head slightly into in order to change my direction.  I would try to send myself into a wide and graceful arc, turning back to the ground before I reached a point of no return hundreds of miles up.   And if I managed to turn back I would suddenly realise that there was no way of stopping myself.  The ground would grin and come to meet me as I sped down, unable to slow.  I would have to concentrate my entire being on trying to pull up.  More often than not I would manage to swoop into a turn at the last moment, grazing the ground as I did so and feeling the individual blades of grass brush against my fingers as I swept passed at a million miles an hour.

There were some occasions when I was able to control my direction completely.  I could loop and swoop freely around the sky, fast or slow.  But the best times were when I was rocketing and barely in control.

I used to love those dreams.  I had them regularly as a child.  As I grew older they stopped.  To this day I miss them and I wish there was some way of getting them back.  I have even tried pushing myself up in my bed before I go to sleep so that my head is pressing into the headboard, but I haven’t been able to bring them back for years.  If I am lucky enough to die peacefully in my bed then maybe the dream will come back to carry me away.

Anyway, that’s my dream.

The reality is slightly different.  For starters, they make you look like one of the Teletubbies.


Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Stoke Airfield:  N 51° 26.679 E 000° 37.888

Walk  Statistics:

  • Date of Walk: 17 May 2014

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 387 other followers