Gravesend to Cliffe – Saxon Shore Way

Gravesend to Cliffe Walk May 2013

Here we are walking the first leg of the Saxon Shore WayStart: Gravesend -on the south bank of the Thames, in north west Kent, England, opposite Tilbury in Essex.   (read more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravesend,_Kent).

WEATHER:  Forecast for the day was not perfect, possible showers/isolated heavy showers – decision to walk was risky, a high percentage of getting wet, either slightly or basically drenched!  If not for the waterproof pants and jackets loaned to us by family members who are seasoned walkers (thanks Dave and Sue), we would of stayed home and cancelled the walk.  Temps:  9-14C Wind:  south westerly 15-17mph.

Getting to the start:  We drove to Cliffe and parked the car at St Helen’s Church car park, near the Six Bells pub. Caught the bus 133 into Rochester and alighted at the stop D, Canal Rd, Strood just before the bridge over the Medway into Rochester.  Crossed the road and waited at Stop E, 10-15mins for the bus 136 to Gravesend.

Waiting for bus 136 to Gravesend
Waiting for bus 136 to Gravesend

COLDER THAN EXPECTED:  Whilst waiting for the bus I realised how much colder it actually was feeling that morning, and was wondering whether my decision to wear one layer less and not include a woollen layer was a wise one, the wind had a bite to it, and I was jumping around to keep warm.  Bah hum bug.  Hopeful I would warm up during the walk.

Gravesend Railway Station
Gravesend Railway Station

We arrived in Gravesend and alighted at the Railway Station, realizing we could have got off the bus one stop earlier, because we ended up walking back towards it anyway, to get to the start of the walk at the Town Pier.  So we meandered a bit in town and stocked up on water and sports drink for the walk, so all good.  (if you could see my Runkeeper map of the walk – you would see our meandering at the beginning – crazy –  join me on Runkeeper.com to see full details of our walks).

Runkeeper tracking of walk
Runkeeper tracking of walk

MAP AND DIRECTIONS FOR WALK:  I checked the exact route on-line with the LDWA.  Double-checked with Google maps satellite view and took note of possible problem spots, looked easy enough, but until you are actually out there walking in the countryside (or town streets),  and there are tracks going in all directions and no signs, do you realise you really need a map.

TOWN PIER:  Down by the Thames we stopped and hastily put on our waterproof pants, the weather was not kind, the wind chill factor and the threatening clouds, all a good reason for being prepared for the possible downpour along the route.  Yes, it was sunny, but cold, so in the photos the weather looks lovely.

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We took a quick look into the museum, but it wasn’t opening till 12pm and we had a long way to go, so didn’t hang around.

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Milton Chantry – Gravesend oldest building (photo bottom left – below) :  The origins of Milton Chantry are said to go back to a leper hospital founded on the site in 1189. The Chantry became a tavern in 1697 and a small hamlet grew up around it. The Chantry was remodelled into a barracks and the walls faced with brick in the 1700’s as a defence. The fort continued in use until 1918 and the chapel now stands in a public park created in 1932. (Extract from http://www.historicbritain.com/vendor/miltonkent.aspx)1-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk6

This walk presents loads of photo opportunities whilst in Gravesend, views across the Thames, and passing ships on the river – being mindful of our objective (and the miles ahead with threatening weather), we still managed to take loads of photos whilst walking along the river bank through the town, and even out of town, with nothing but river on one side and “Danger Area” on the other.

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You get to walk through some lovely industrial parts which hug the river, whilst you walk among the rusting warehouses, and down back lanes….

1-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk12Then you finally find your way out into the opening along the river, with a fresh breeze to keep you walking faster….

1-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk191-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk22Along the way there are two (2) forts – Shornemead and Cliffe

Shornemead Fort:  a gun battery dating from the 1790s, built to support New Tavern Fort at Gravesend, Kent. Redeveloped in the 1850s to a pentagonal plan, one of the first “polygonal” works in Britain with 13 32-pounders (15 kg) on three faces.

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Snack break – out of the wind – protected by Shornemead Fort

Designed to house 13 cannon, and work began in 1847, finishing six years later.  Marshy ground proved incapable of supporting such a structure and the fort was completely rebuilt.  A new fort in the shape of a D, with the curved area for gun placements and casemates, and behind were barracks and admin buildings. The same problems with marshy ground caused further problems and in spite of superficial strengthening work on the magazines, it was decided by 1904 that Shornemead Fort could not withstand an attack. It was disarmed and no further work took place around the fort until two 5.5in guns were fitted during the Second World War; these were decommissioned at the end of hostilities.

Post-war, Shornemead Fort’s only use came as target practice for the Royal Engineers’ demolition squad, and their effectiveness is evident from the concrete, bricks and rubble at the site; they are all that remain of the barracks and administrative buildings.  (Extract from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shornemead_Fort).

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Cliffe Fort

Cliffe Fort:  a Royal Commission fort built in the 1860s on the edge of the Cliffe marshes on the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent to protect against invasion via the Thames. It is opposite Coalhouse Fort in Essex: they are 2 km apart. Construction was difficult due to the marshy ground and the malaria-carrying mosquitos. It was armed with 12.5-inch 38-ton and 11-inch 25-ton rifled muzzle-loading guns. Protection of these guns was provided by granite-faced casemates with shields for added defence. The shields, casemates and the rails on which the gun carriages stood are all still visible today.

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Brennan Torped station

A Brennan Torpedo station was added in 1890. This was a wire-guided torpedo used for harbour defence: the launching rails are still visible at low water. It was replaced around 1910 with quick firing guns. The fort was armed in World War I and was used as an anti-aircraft battery in World War II. It is now inside a gravel extraction site and is inaccessible and very overgrown. It can however be viewed from the riverside path.  (Extract from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliffe_Fort).

We were sad to see that access to Cliffe Fort was restricted, but not only is it within the gravel extraction site, it is fenced off, overgrown and sitting in water-logged marshes.

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You walk through the gravel extraction site, hugging the river as much as possible, everything is fenced off, and you follow the signs, as sparse as they are here.

1-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk43Then you get to stretch your legs through the marshes towards Cliffe, here it was a race with the fast approaching dark, rain filled clouds, and the strong wind.  Unfortunately or fortunately we only caught the beginnings of the downpour in the last 1.5 miles of the walk.

1-2013-05-11 Gravesend to Cliffe Walk47Glad to have a nice dry car waiting to greet us… and toilets near the car park.  As fast as possible we removed our wet waterproof jackets and backpacks, jumped in the car leaving our waterproof pants on, had a quenching drink and super energy ball snack and drove home.  GREAT WALK – not difficult – and surprisingly loads to photograph.  Enjoy the photo gallery!

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