Damian is joining me today and as the logistics of the Halstow Marshes have beaten me, we will be following the Saxon Shore Way as far east as High Halstow, a village I walked through on my previous walk from AllHallows to Rochester. The pontoons, slipways and jetties down on the river bank at Gravesend fit perfectly into the grey overcast weather, as do the chimneys of Tilbury power station, standing stern on the opposite side. We are soon forced to leave the river and walk through narrow alleys, past boatyards and enormous corrugated metal sheds, graveyards of weighty iron chains and rusty anchors.
At last the river appears and we’re walking on a grass path past folds of greasy mud and decaying boats. In the distance the roar of off road motorbikes threatens to unhinge my peace of mind but no, breathe…………..
The path soon leads to a derelict fort and for a while we clamber around the stone structures wondering how old it is, admiring the patterns of rusty metal and not so much the lurid graffiti.
Moving back to the path we walk past a field of horses and catch sight of a beautiful young foal on our side of the fence, separated from its mother. Snorting and trembling it resists our attempts to herd it back through the hole in the fence until it finally leaps into the tangle of trailing barbed wire momentarily getting stuck halfway. Relieved we walk back to the river bank, the path now taking us to Cliffe Fort, the supposed inspiration for the convict’s hideout in Great Expectations. The fort stands at the tip of a lake overlooked by the cranes and other paraphernalia of a gravel extraction site, a desert landscape on the edge of the marshes.
It’s here where we turn inland onto the Saxon Shore Way, a tarmac lane leading to the village of Cliffe, which boasts a miserable pub and bad beer. From then on it’s field work until we reach the ruins of Cooling Castle and the church, where a bench in the sun beckons.
Refreshed we walk on over fields of bright red poppies and yellow rape, clipping the edge of the RSPB nature reserve Northward Hill and then down into High Halstow where we stand in the sun waiting for the bus to take us home.