The complicated network of footpaths crossing the Allhallows marshes, plus reports of heavy mud, makes up my mind – the first part of the walk is going cross country. And hurray for the Medway! The paths are clearly signposted and easy walking and I only get lost once. Round the corner from Rochester station I hop on a bus and 45 mins later I’m deposited outside the entrance to a substantial holiday park.
After confirming directions with a friendly young man (in a high viz vest) I set off up the rough path which skirts the back of hundreds of caravans and mobile homes until I reach the left turn back to Allhallows.
The sky is overcast with a promise of sunshine later and to the left, in the far distance is the industrial landscape of the Isle of Grain. On entering the village I try my luck with the church door – locked as usual, so I continue along the road until a right turn takes me up a track and across dazzling fields of rape to the hamlet of St Mary Hoo. Stopping to talk to a man trundling a wheelbarrow I have another go at a church visit, only to be told that the church was no longer a church but a home.
Chickens wander in the graveyard and I spend the next 5 minutes thinking of what it must be like to live in a church, whether one ever lost that sense of awe that even myself, a wobbly atheist, experiences in the “house of god”. Another field walk with the sun now turning the corn silver and I turn left onto the Saxon Shore Way, wincing as I tramp down a stair carpet of buttercups.
Tumbling out of the lush green of the path my boots meet baking tarmac and as it’s time for food I turn right into High Halstow. My luck is in, providing me with public toilets and a park – I sit and eat salmon sandwiches and watch a cricket match, trying but failing to work out the rules.
The sun is hot now and my left cheek is burning as I head down another slope of corn, with the snooty chimney of Kingsnorth looking on.
Walking through the beautifully kept Solomon’s Farm I consult the OS app and head confidently off in the wrong direction – into the dappled shade of a wide grassy path, a row of ancient trees on both sides. Lost in my thoughts I am shocked when the path ends in a large compost heap and feeling silly I am forced to skirt a field and jump over a hedge to get back to the blast of the A228. A short dash across the busy road and I’m back on a footpath which leads back to join the Saxon Shore Way. Halfway down the track a collection of caravans comes into view, and a very well built man in a dirty t-shirt is lumbering around the yard with a dispirited Rottweiler in tow. Feeling slightly nervous I scuttle pass, a furtive glance at the sign on the gate telling me this is the headquarters of Hells Angels MC Kent – I quicken my pace.
After a while I walk through stables and a fishing pond and the familiar sight of the sea wall rears up before me.
I climb the bank to be greeted with the usual mud and shingle of Essex and Kent estuaries, through the private, oh so very private, yacht clubs and ship yards of Hoo, past the claustrophobic rows of tarted up pre-fabs to the more genteel streets of medieval Lower Upnor, protected by its castle.
Arriving at a busy road I follow the signs up the hill to Findsbury Church with a stunning view over the Medway – only to be sucked down into the dying streets of Strood, over Rochester Bridge and home.