11 – Coalhouse Fort (again) to Gravesend

HOORAY!  At long long last we have crossed the River Thames into Kent.

Today we were joined by my uncle and aunt, John and Trisha, who came to help us celebrate the crossing of our first county border.  We started our walk back at Coalhouse Fort, the point where my wife and kids had reached a couple of weeks ago, before illness struck and counted them out of last week’s walk.  We paused for a while at Harry’s Bench, the memorial described in my previous post, where Ben and Cate left a teddy each.  Off we then went, following the path to Tilbury.

I will not describe the route from Coalhouse Fort, to Tilbury Power Station, to Tilbury Fort and on to The World’s End Pub, as that has also been done in my previous post.  Suffice to say that the only new thing we saw during this walk was a caterpillar, a ruby tiger moth caterpillar I think, trying to cross the path.  After taking a few photos we assisted it on its way to the other side of the path and into the verge, for fear it may otherwise be trodden on.  As we walked on the heavy industry hummed, and some men in some heavy trucks, carrying earth being offloaded from a barge, waved as we watched them go about their business.

As we approached The World’s End pub, we saw a large passenger ship docked at the jetty of the London Cruise Terminal.  This was the Marco Polo, built in 1965 by an East German company for the Soviet-owned Baltic Shipping Company and originaly called the Alexandr Pushkin.  She was sold in 1985 and then again in 1991.  After a complete re-fit in 1993 she went back into service as an 820 passenger cruise ship.  She was sailing today for a Northern Lights mini-cruise.

On 6 July 2009 the Marco Polo docked at Invergordon, Scotland, having sailed from Tilbury.  During an official health inspection, some 150 passengers were discovered to have been infected with norovirus, a gastrointestinal virus causing diarrhoea and vomiting, and capable of being transferred through anything or anyone the sufferer touches, such as a door handle.  On the same day, a 74-year old passenger died of a heart attack, though he had serious underlying health problems and it is not known whether norovirus contributed to his death.  The number of infections eventually reached about 400, and on the following day the cruise was cancelled.

The relevance of all this is that the London Cruise Terminal had seen this blog and very kindly offered to take us round their facility today on a private tour.  Unfortunately, on hearing that my daughter had been ill with a virus, this tour had to be cancelled.  Quite rightly, the London Cruise Terminal said, the risk was not worth it.  Thus it was that we had a quick look at the place from the outside, and then headed over to The World’s End and had a good pub lunch (I can recommend the chilli con carne) before heading over to the Tilbury-to-Gravesend ferry.  This is next door to the cruise terminal, down a ramp with views to the most vile sludge I think I have ever seen.

We had a little while to wait for the ferry, which left every half hour (except for a one-hour lunch break), so watched the gulls wheel overhead.  The ferry eventually made its way across from the opposite shore.  We boarded, ready to take our expedition into the Garden of England.

Our journey to Gravesend by water was following in royal footsteps (or oar strokes).  In 1381, King Richard II was taken to Gravesend by water, but not liking the “…shabby appearance of the inhabitants, was afraid to land and was rowed back to the Tower…“.  I looked out for signs of shabbiness throughout our time here.  The local students lived up to this reputation, but I was later very pleased to see an elderly gentleman sat on a bench in a bowler hat.  Yes, it was dusty and almost Laurel and Hardy in its look, but it is clear that the inhabitants of Gravesend have started making an effort in the last 600 years since Richard last saw them.  Who am I to judge, though?  I am shabbily dressed at the best of times…

Gravesend, and indeed its Ferry, are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  The ferry is an important part of Gravesend’s history, for the town was granted exclusive rights for the “Long Ferry”, taking passengers into London, in 1381.  This followed the burning of the town in the previous year after an attack by the French and Spanish.  The Long Ferry is not the one we had just arrived by.  That is the shorter “Cross Ferry”.

Gravesend’s other notable claim to fame, concerning the coast at least, is that Princess Pocahontas  died there in March 1617.  The daughter of a native Virginian indian tribal leader, she is well known for her association with the colonials of the time, and part of her story has been made into several films, including two animated features by Disney.  Originally captured in 1613 during the Anglo-Indian hostilities of the time, Pocahontas converted to Christianity during her captivity, and when offered the chance to go back to her people she chose to stay with the English.  She married an English settler, and in 1616 was taken to England and presented to society as a “civilised savage”.  The following year, she and her husband set sail for home, but got only as far as Gravesend, when she fell gravely ill and quickly succumbed, dying in her husband’s arms, from causes unknown.  She is buried under the chancel of St George’s Church, in the grounds of which is a life-sized bronze statue commemorating her.

We had a little bit more time in Gravesend before the ferry left to return us to Essex, so visited St Andrew’s Church (now an arts centre) and Mission House.  The small, rather quaint, church stands right by the shore, and inside apparently has a memorial dedicated to the sailors of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two ships which were lost in the Arctic in the 1840’s with all 129 crew members.  In 1848 a search was made for the missing ships, but it was not until 1853 when some relics were found and stories of the lost mission related by local Inuit tribes.  The two ships had become trapped in pack ice, and eventually the command to abandon had been given.  The crew had died of various causes, including hypothermia and starvation, and the Inuit gave verbal reports of cannibalism.  These reports are “…at least somewhat supported…” by cut marks found on skeletal remains which were found during the late 20th Century.  The search for further information and evidence about this ill-fated expedition continues to this day.

Alas, St Andrew’s was closed when we arrived, so we could not see the memorial.  We made our way back to the ferry landing and boarded to go back to Tilbury Fort, where we had parked.  A lonely seagull perched on a flagpole and watched us depart.

 We got back to Tilbury and dry land.  As we walked up the gangplank to shore, I felt very pleased that we had now taken our walk from the shores of Essex to those of Kent.  “Well,” I said to my aunt happily, “we’re in Kent!”

“Indeed we are!” my aunt replied.

There was a woman walking next to us.  She gave us a “poor confused people” look.  I could tell that she desperately wanted to tell us that we were mistaken; that we were not in Kent at all, but Essex.

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

  • Coalhouse Fort:  N 51° 27.899 E 000° 25.975
  • Harry’s Bench:  N 51° 27.639 E 000° 25.860
  • The World’s End Pub:  N 51° 27.147 E 000° 22.229
  • London Cruise Terminal:  N 51° 27.080 E 000° 21.832
  • Tilbury Ferry Landing:  N 51° 27.040 E 000° 22.012
  • Gravesend Ferry Landing:  N 51° 26.745 E 000° 22.092
  • St George’s Church and Pocahontas Statue:  N 51° 26.642 E 000° 22.081
  • St Andrew’s Church:  N 51° 26.684 E 000° 22.297

Walk #11 Statistics:

    • Date of Walk: 17 February 2012
    • Walk #11 total distance covered: 5.74 miles (not including the ferry which would add another 0.73 miles)
    • Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 71.52 miles
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