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.

Alex

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.

Teletubby

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

Serendipity

As we walked out of Grain something caught my eye.  I stood and stared as a pair of eyes stared back at me.  I craned my head forward and squinted.  Was it?  It couldn’t be?  But it was!

Two years ago we had passed through Grain on Stage #15 of our walk around the coast of Britain.  Towards the end of the walk we were joined by a young cat.  It walked with us for just under half a mile, before finally creeping into some riprap.  Here’s a picture from that day, as it strolls along with our daughter, Catherine:

Cate with CatThe Friendly Cat from Grain, as we called it, was our first ever non-human Guest Walker.  We have very fond memories of that cat.

Fast-forward back to today.

The cat that now sat in front of me could have been any old tabby cat, I told myself.  Yet there was something about it and its manner that made me think otherwise.  I took a picture of it and when I got home I compared it to the pictures from two years ago.  The picture on the left is from 2012; the one on the right from 2014.

The Friendly Cat from Grain 2012 and 2014I studied the photos for quite a while.  It was the cat’s left leg that did it for me.  See how there is a broken black line which angles up, from just above a splodge, and which runs into the thick black band above?

“That’s the Friendly Cat from Grain!” I shouted out loud.  The cat and I looked at each other.  The cat had an air of indifferent curiosity about it; I on the other hand was ginning like a fool.

I eventually left it there, sitting and staring.  I got back in my car, as I had a pressing engagement with an adventure further up the coast.

What a delight to see our friend again, and looking so well!

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

  • 2012 Meeting with the Friendly Cat From Grain:  N 51° 27.562 E 000° 43.055
  • 2014 Meeting with the Friendly Cat From Grain:  N 51° 27.405 E 000° 42.975

Walk Statistics:

  • Date of Walk: 17 May 2014

Return to Grain Tower Part VI – A Last Look Back

As we left Grain Tower I took one last look back.

Looking Back to Grain TowerI would like to come back here some day, go to the tower and wait for the tide to come in.  I think that to stay there, totally cut off, and with the water lapping at the walls, would be an incredible experience.  I would be stuck there for 12 hours waiting for the tide to recede, but what a thing to do.

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

  • Grain Beach Car Park:  N 51° 27.582 E 000° 43.046
  • Grain Tower:  N 51° 27.089 E 000° 43.869

Walk Statistics:

  • Date of Walk: 17 May 2014

Return to Grain Tower Part V – The Chain

In 1914 it was decided to erect a massive floating boom across the mouth of the River Medway.  The intention was to keep enemy ships out of the river and all that it held (including the important Chatham dockyard).  This boom ran from the Isle of Grain to the Isle of Sheppey, and Grain Tower formed the anchoring point on the Grain side.  The boom itself is long gone, but the massive chains which anchored it to Grain Tower are still wrapped round tower’s base.

Back of Grain TowerThe links of these enormous chains, each of which is a good foot or so long, are weathered by time and tide.

Chains Close UpThe orange of the weeping rust fights with the green of the algae as the links slowly waste away.

Chains

We left them to fight it out; it was time to get back to shore.

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

  • Grain Beach Car Park:  N 51° 27.582 E 000° 43.046
  • Grain Tower:  N 51° 27.089 E 000° 43.869

Walk Statistics:

  • Date of Walk: 17 May 2014
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