Last week we were unable to walk; the wet downpour of the weather was matched by the equally wet downpour of our daughter’s vomit virus. Not so this week! With grit and determination (which, it turned out, we would need), we went off to attack the next stage of our walk around the coast of Britain.
Our aim today was to leave the pretty village of Lower Halstow and continue east, along the Saxon Shore Way, before crossing over to the Isle of Sheppey.
Halstow itself is an ancient village, originally called “Halig Stow” (literally, “Holy Place”). Its church, St Margaret of Antioch, dates back to Saxon times. Some parts of the original building, hidden underneath plaster, were only discovered during the First World War, when the plaster cracked. The cause was apparently due to reverberations from gunfire, even though the nearest front was some 70 miles away.
We left the village behind and walked into open countryside. We soon hit our first major challenge of the day: a field of rapeseed. A machete would have been useful, but as it was our son and daughter saw the whole thing as an adventure and went pathfinding for us. That was all very well, but within ten feet they were hidden from view and the plants closed in behind them, hiding the path from the rest of us. The Latin name for the rapeseed plant is Brassica napus. An apt name it is too, because after forcing a path for almost half a mile (it felt a lot longer) a nap was exactly what we felt like.
After a brief walk through an orchard we came out onto Raspberry Hill Lane, a narrow road which seemed to have been recently re-surfaced, and which therefore had that soft, almost bouncy, feel of fresh tarmac underfoot. After the jungle we had just been through, a stretch of easy plod was welcome indeed.
Soon enough, however, the Saxon Shore Way turned off and directed us back into fields. By now everyone was hungry, so we decided to stop for an early lunch in a large field which was sparsely inhabited by a few grazing horses. This was a mistake (from my wife’s viewpoint) or quite fun (according to mine), as a mare and her small foal saw us and came to say hello. They trundled up and gave us a thorough examination by sniffing our hands, legs, arms, and bags. Having worked out that we had come into their field laden with food, they decided to try to join us for lunch. This was too much for my wife. She announced she had been “snotted on”, and requested that we move. The horses followed close behind until we left the field. They got nothing for their troubles, poor things.
These particular horses were not the only mare and foal in the field. We were rather concerned for the other pair. The foal was lying flat on the ground, with its mother stood unmoving next to it. For ten minutes or so we watched. Was the foal alive?
We moved on, but I kept taking backward glances. Then all of a sudden, the foal sat up. Perhaps it was just resting. For a couple of minutes I kept turning back; the foal was still sat up. Then we turned a corner and the horses were hidden by trees.
We were now heading into the Chetney Marshes. A rather desolate area, we were whipped by the wind as we walked. We found a sheltered spot for lunch and then moved on. The area was full of waterfowl and, in particular, rabbits. These rabbits were fast, and the minute they sensed our approach they were off like a shot.
Our path took us into the marshes, round and then out again, down to the Sheppey Crossing. There are two bridges from the Kent mainland to the Isle of Sheppey. The first is the Kingsferry Bridge, a vertical lift bridge built in 1959. With only one lane in either direction, and with traffic having to stop each time the bridge lifted, a new bridge, The Sheppey Crossing, was built in 2006. It has to be said that both are impressive structures.
The Sheppey Crossing is a dual-carriageway route and cannot be crossed on foot; we took the Kingsferry Bridge. Our plan now was to cut through some fields to the west and head up to Queenborough, a small town on the western side of the island. Alas, we were thwarted in spectacular fashion.
Two ships were heading towards the bridges, meaning we would get to see the Kingsferry Bridge raised. We rushed along the embankment to gain a vantage point. As we hurried over we saw three youths with guns casually slung over their shoulders. These guns may only have been air rifles, but they were fitted with telescopic sights; all the better to seek out the fleshy parts of casual hikers. The posse were looking from side to side, as if seeking something worth shooting. Would that be us? I had a snap decision to make as we hurried on – should I stick close by my family and use them as human shields or head off to get a decent photo? The photo opportunity won. My family were safe.
Alas, as we took photos the Sheppey Militia moved ahead of us. They stationed themselves on an elevated concrete platform and started taking pot-shots at a sign. This sign proclaimed danger by way of slippery surface, deep water, and sudden drop, but not by way of delinquent teenagers with armed intent. They didn’t stop shooting as we walked right by them, but carried on. I accept we walked behind them, but in my view there was a certain lack of etiquette in their delinquency. It would have been polite to have ceased firing.
Shortly after making our escape, we realised we had taken a wrong turn. We had two choices. Either go back through the air-gun gauntlet, or try to cut through to the north. I looked at the map, and the terrain, and decided there was safe passage by cutting through. Although the Joan Fleet was immediately in front of us, there was a forging point. Triumphant in my navigational skills, I lead us over the fleet and, I suddenly realised, right into a dirt-bike racing track!
Were the bikes racing today? I couldn’t hear any. There was a forest of plants either side of us, about 10 feet tall. The track itself was narrow. It twisted and turned this way and that, so all corners were blind, both to us and any bike racers. We headed on, keeping a keen ear out for the high-pitched drone of a motorbike. None came. We soon reached a fork in the track, where the right hand path narrowed considerably. It was clearly not designed for motorbikes, so that was the path we took. Out of immediate danger, we found for the second time that day that we needed a machete. The foliage hemmed us in so closely I couldn’t even get a photo. Brambles pricked; stingers stung; we could only see the path by looking immediately below our feet, and had to part the bushes to make our way through. Eventually, we exited to the north and came to open grassland. We needed to get back east, but that way was blocked by the circular Joan Fleet. The only way was onwards, through knee high grass. As the fleet forced us round west and then back south we realised we had come full circle and would have to go back to the Sheppey bridges.
As we made our way back, we realised the Sheppey Militiamen were headed our way. They had not crossed the fleet, and so were on the southern bank, shooting across to our side. We made ourselves visible, and finally etiquette prevailed. They stopped their shooting and allowed us to pass before continuing their sport.
We made our way back and finally found the correct right of way. This took us through the South Marshes (more knee-high grass) towards the village of Rushenden. We made it to the end of the marsh, only to find that the path seemed to go straight through a barbed wire fence. However, a short distance along some kindly soul had flattened the fence, so as to give access to the road beyond. There was a stinking mire between the fence and the road, however, over this mire they had thrown a mattress, and so we could ford it – just. We each in turn had to get onto the mattress and off it again as quickly as possible, before it sunk with us on it.
We made our way into Rushenden, a bleak place where we felt like the outsiders we were. The village seemed most notable for its solar panels. Almost all of the houses seemed to have them. We continued on to the main road, and walked through an industrial area into Queenborough. Here we found a pub and called a taxi to take us back to Lower Halstow. What with all the detours, we had covered nearly 12 miles today. We rested over drinks and a light dinner at The Three Tuns, a pub I cannot recommend highly enough.
Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Lower Halstow: N 51° 22.440 E 000° 40.195
- Rapeseed Field: N 51° 22.441 E 000° 41.255
- Raspberry Hill Lane by Orchard: N 51° 22.889 E 000° 42.154
- Horses in Field: N 51° 23.210 E 000° 43.200
- The Path through the Chetney Marshes: N 51° 23.962 E 000° 43.099
- The Sheppey Crossing: N 51° 23.522 E 000° 44.988
- Kingsferry Bridge: N 51° 23.438 E 000° 45.005
- Sheppey Militia Shooting Platform: N 51° 23.691 E 000° 44.791
- Dirt Bike Track: N 51° 23.891 E 000° 44.719
- South Marshes: N 51° 23.823 E 000° 45.166
- The Mattress over the Mire: N 51° 24.297 E 000° 44.769
- Rushenden: N 51° 24.439 E 000° 44.744
- Queenborough: N 51° 25.035 E 000° 44.678
Walk #22 Statistics:
- Date of Walk: 9 June 2012
- Walk #22 total distance covered: 11.60 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 159.25 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!