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 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.
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.
Poor 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!
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
- Date of Walk: 17 May 2014