Return to Grain Tower Part II – Inside the Original Tower

They don’t make Towers like this one any more.  Although it was built in 1855, some parts of it feel almost medieval.

The main entrance is at first floor level, through a simple doorway.  See the steps to the side?  They really do bend like that.  The reinforcing steels have begun to corrode and the steps have cracked half way up.

The Entrance to Grain TowerTaking a peek inside the entrance revealed dank, dark passageways, stretching off into who knows what.  When we had walked up the causeway to the tower we saw fresh footprints in the sand.  Was anyone else in here?

Looking Inside the Main EntranceThe answer was no, but for a while we wondered.

Some of the curved passageways and staircases were dripping with atmosphere – you could scrape it off the walls!  It was intensely enjoyable to explore such a magnificent structure!

Curved StairsEven the graffiti seemed to be enjoying itself.

GraffitiAs we wandered through the tower we saw the shell hoist was still in position.  Many of the walls were curved to complement the round walls of the tower.  In the middle of the structure the central pillar supporting the roof fanned out at its top in a similar manner to those found in the Martello Towers.  You can just see it behind the shell hoist.

Looking Towards the Shell Hoist and Central Column


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 I – The Approach

Ever since we first visited Grain Tower two years ago I had yearned to return.  A strange round tower built a third of a mile out at sea.  Only accessible at low tide.  Old, unusual, derelict, ladders required and a geocache at the top – what’s not to like?  My son, Ben, and I looked forward to this trip expectantly.  My wife and daughter decided not to come (ask them what’s not to like if you want – I didn’t get it), but we were joined by three guest walkers: my brother Alex; my friend Ben (known as “Big Ben” in our household in order to differentiate him from our son); and Big Ben’s son, Toby.  Alex (who had his fish-eye lens with him today) is an accomplished photographer and many of the pictures from this walk belong to him.

We got up at 5:45am and made our way down to Grain, arriving at 7:15.  Big Ben shouldered the ladders and we walked the three-quarters of a mile down the coast.  The tide was out, exposing the causeway that led out to Grain Tower.  The sun was directly behind it.  Shimmering at us from across the flats, it looked almost as if it were a mirage.

Grain Tower First Thing in the Morning(Alex)Grain Tower was built in 1855.  It guards the entrance to the River Medway which leads down to Chatham and its historic dockyard.  The original structure is circular, based on the principles of the Martello Towers, but in World War Two a two-storey barracks was added to one side.  This is physically separate from the original building and accessed via a concrete gangway.

Grain Tower First Thing in the Morning

All in all the building is five storeys high, or more if you count its bowels which lie under the water mark at high tide.

The causeway to Grain Tower is an old cobbled strip a few feet across.  It is not maintained and many of the cobbles are missing, leaving little pools of water with beds of sand.  It is tempting to leave the causeway and walk along the flats.  If you do, there is a very real prospect that your feet will sink into soft sand and you will lose a boot.  We found it best to remain on the causeway.

The Approach to Grain TowerPoor old Big Ben!  Look at him carrying those ladders!  He refused to yield them to anyone else, yet when we arrived at the tower we found some kindly soul had already fixed some ladders leading up to the entrance at first floor (high tide) level.

Can you make out the ladders between the diagonal struts of the barracks building?  That’s where we were headed!

Grain Tower

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

The Coastal Path Gets Published Again!

Every now and again I get requests from people or companies who want to use my photos for one project or another.  I am chuffed to bits when this happens.  I enjoy photography, but I am little more than a point-and-click merchant so such requests do no end of good to my ego!

Many months ago I was contacted by a historian, Ron Stilwell, who was writing a book about Thanet and East Kent during World War II.  I was happy for him to use my photos for this project and he has very kindly kept me in touch to let me know how the project has progressed.  After many months and what is clearly a massive amount of hard work, Ron’s book, The Defence of Thanet and East Kent (1939-1945) has now been published.


At 200 pages long, it has 50 glossy pictures and masses of other illustrations, both in black-and-white and colour.  It is fully referenced and indexed; I am no historian but Ron’s research is very detailed indeed.  His book covers the defence of the area region by region.  It deals not only physical fortifications, but also has some particularly interesting pages on various spy operations and the spies themselves (I was quite surprised how many there were – the spies of Thanet seem to have been as voluminous as baby spiders in their nests).  It covers Operation Sealion, Hitler’s plan to invade Britain, and considers what may have happened if Operation Sealion had been implemented.

As someone who has walked this entire stretch of coast I found the book fascinating.  We tend to stick very close to the coastline when we walk; we had no idea about so much of the history of the small strip of land on which we trod.

The Defence of Thanet and East Kent (1939-1945) is available at £12.99 plus £2.90 postage and packing by contacting the author, Ron Stilwell, via Facebook.

71i – Southbourne to Boscombe

The cliffs between Southbourne and Boscombe are not that high (about 95 feet according to my GPS).  All the same, they draw numberous paragliders who manage to get airborne from here and float up and down the coast.  Because they are so close to the ground it is possible to get some great shots of them with their colourful canopies and their gossamer-like lines.  I have never been paragliding but it is something I’d love to try one day.

Paraglider between Southbourne and BoscombeAs for the cliffs themselves, there are goats living there.  Yes!  There is an area of cliff which is fenced off and which is a permanent home to goats.  As we walked into Boscombe there they were, munching on the cliffside scrub.

Boscombe Goat HabitatWhat do you mean you can’t see them?  Well, I suppose they are quite difficult to spot.  You need to be an extremely accomplished photographer to catch them.  “Great!” I thought, “I’ll put my accomplished skills to the test!”  Here is my best shot of the day:

The Best Picture I Managed to get of a GoatI decided that perhaps I should brush up on my accomplishments and come back to this another time.  Either that or those goats need to eat a bit more scrub.  I went off to look at the brightly coloured beach huts instead.

Boscombe Beach Huts keystone distortion fixed and croppedFrom this point it was only a short walk to Boscombe Pier.

 BoscombeThe gates to the pier beckoned us in, but we decided to save our walk along the pier for the next time.  Stage 71 of our walk around the coast of Britain ended here.

Boscombe Pier

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 #71 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

71h – Southbourne

Southbourne marks the eastern boundary of a piece of promenade that stretches about 10 miles west in a large curve, all the way to Poole Harbour.  The entire stretch is home to numerous small terraces of beach huts.

Southbourne Beach HutsBeach huts.  We walk by a lot of them.  I kind of get them.  When I see three generations of one family spread out in front of one it looks quite idyllic in a homely sort of way.  The kids play with their buckets and spades on the beach while their parents half watch and half doze underneath their newspapers.  The grandparents potter around and are content to see their grandchildren growing up in the warm sunshine.

I kind of get that, although I’m not sure it’s for me.

What I don’t get is the activity in the cold seasons.  As we walk in the bracing winter winds, we pass families resolutely ensconced outside their huts.  They sit there, these Beach Hut Die Hards, puffed up with multi-layered knitwear, making cups of tea.  They sit on brightly coloured deck chairs in the grey gloom of the seascape.  They are surrounded by an empty ghost town of boarded up huts stretching away in the distance to either side of them, waiting for the winter to pass and for the next summer to come.

I don’t get that, although I accept these people probably watch us walking along with our boots and backpacks with equal bemusement.   I am sure they sip at their nice warm mugs of tea and are grateful for the shelter their huts provide.

Southbourne’s beach huts didn’t fare too well in the winter storms of 2013-2014.  Die Hard Beach Hut Families – Beware!  Sitting outside your beach hut in your knitwear during winter is a bad idea.  Cups of tea may be the answer to a lot of problems, but they aren’t very helpful when it comes to cliff falls!

Southbourne Beach Huts Destroyed by StormsIf you look closely in the rubble you may see a bit of tattered knitted clothing and the handle of a teacup poking up out of the chaos.

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

  • Southbourne Cliff Slide:  N 50° 43.252 W 001° 48.635

Walk #71 Statistics (of which this post forms the eighth part):

71g – Hengistbury Head (bottom of) to Southbourne

My car stinks.  Barnacles cluster along the bottom of the doors.  Limpets have attached themselves to the windscreen.  Crabs scuttle under the seats whenever we get in.  Seaweed hangs from the ceiling and drips on us as we drive along.  The car floor is a beach.  Every time I pull away at traffic lights, sea water slops from the front of the car to the rear like a fast flowing tide, washing flotsam and jetsam up onto the back seat.  Every morning when I get in my car to go to work I find that lugworm casts have appeared on the sandy floor overnight and when I open the driver’s door to get in water slops out over my shoes.

Ben, our son, is the cause of this.

Let me set the scene:

As we walked south towards Bournemouth we turned back for a well-deserved view of Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Wight in the background.  We had been walking alongside the Isle of Wight for many miles; we were now leaving it behind.

View back to Hengistbury Head croppedObserve, if you will, that at this point we were on a beach.

As soon as we reach the beach it happens.  All beaches slope inexorably, gradually, unavoidably, and inevitably towards the sea.  Our son, unconsciously, also begins to slip inexorably, gradually, unavoidably and inevitably down the gradient of the beach towards the gently lapping edge of the surf.  His passage to the sea is as natural as a tiny new-born turtle’s.

“Here he goes,” my wife and I say to each other.

We used to try to stop him, but we gave that up a long time ago.

It always starts the same way.  A flick of the ankle and a spray of a few droplets of salty water.  These small droplets are generally aimed at whomever is closest.

Ben Gets Wet Stage #1The soles of his shoes having licked the salty surf, Ben’s feet cannot help but be pulled a little further in.

Ben Gets Wet Stage #2And then a little further in again.

Ben Gets Wet Stage #3Until eventually he can’t help himself.

The JumpI’m sure you can guess what comes next…

Ben Gets Wet Stage #5During such episodes, Ben soaks up all sorts into his trousers.  Shrimps and sand; crabs and pebbles; seaweed and jellyfish; cod and mussels; octopi and sharks; small fishing vessels with their salty crews.  They all find themselves half way up his trouser-legs, trapped in his turn-ups, or stranded in his shoes.  They are all transported to my car where, as Ben slowly dries out on the journey home, they escape their trousery prison to find a new mobile residence amongst the leather upholstery of my Volvo.

Which, by the way, is leased.  I dread the day I have to return my car and explain the microcosm that exists within.

Ben Gets Wet Stage #6

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

  • Ben Gets Wet:  N 50° 43.075 W 001° 46.920

Walk #71 Statistics (of which this post forms the seventh part):

71f – Hengistbury Head (Bottom of)

As we came off Hengistbury Head various members of our party decided refreshments were in order.  Luckily, the Hiker Cafe was a short walk inland, so we headed over.  I felt I needed a bit of stodge so opted for a slice of Rocky Road biscuit.  I took a bite out of it and it tasted very nice, but I noticed it was a bit more moist than I was used to.  Then, in horror, I noticed something oozing out of the end of the half bitten slice.  Uggghhh!!!  This wasn’t Rocky Road!  This was Rocky Roadkill!

Rocky RoadkillWas this red ooze the result of an industrial accident at a food plant?  Had somebody fallen into the machinery and become an inadvertent, yet integral, part of the chocolaty snack?  Were the manufacturers scratching their heads over how to add this new fruity flavour in ways more ethical than gently shoving workers in to the mixing machines when nobody was looking?

No…it was just jam.

I hoped.

Wasn’t it?

Oh who cares – it was very tasty.  In fact you could say it was bloody tasty.  It literally dripped with flavour…

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

  • Hiker Cafe:  N 50° 43.159 W 001° 46.120

Walk #71 Statistics (of which this post forms the sixth part):


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