Emsworth to Portsmouth 31.07.13

After a little searching I find my way down to the Promenade, a wide path circling a pond. Known as Fisherman’s Walk, the information sign tells me that it was originally built to enable fishermen to gain access to the oyster beds off Haying Island.

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Well I hope they had better luck than me at “gaining access” as my path soon narrows down to a faint passage through long grass and mud and stops at a fence with cows on the other side. I am obviously not meant to go any further so I turn round, walk back in the direction of town, ask a few locals and eventually end up on Mill Lane. The serenity of Mill House calms my irritation and soon I am out on the sea wall heading for Langstone which I can see in the distance.

P1030263The tide is out so I am able to walk on the shore, trying not to slip on the slimy seaweed – I pass a few boaty people in wellies and am treated to a string of cheery greetings.  My next stop is Langstone Mill, a tide mill derelict by 1934 and restored as a private residence in 1939. and a little later I stop at a pub for a cup of tea.

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Refreshed I pick up the sea wall again, the entertainment being provided by scores of men energetically digging in the mud. I assume it is for fish bait – ragworms I’m told.

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I also come across the big wire parcels of stones that were everywhere on the coast around Brighton – used to protect the sea bank from erosion.

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In the distance I can see and hear the traffic rushing over the bridge to Hayling Island – this is the road I will have to cross to get me back onto the Solent Way. I get to it soon enough and about a mile later the path turns inland to circle a large recycling plant where two very sunburnt workmen stop what they’re doing to stare at me, probably wondering what on earth I find of interest in this part of the coast.

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The path takes me through flowering bushes, busy with bees and butterflies and then plunges me into the gloom of a copse of evergreen trees, some of which look very dead.

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The path is soft with fallen pine needles but it finishes too soon and I am soon out again on the baking tarmac of a road running through an industrial estate. Having trouble finding the path I ask a truck driver who sends me down the next turning left and back to the shore. From this point on nothing really happens. I trudge along a cycle path running parallel to the A27, realising that I am bound for Farrington Marshes with no food in my rucksack and no sign of any cafe or shop for miles. Searching in the dark corners of my rucksack my fingers close around a forgotten withered apple – amazing how good things can taste when you’re hungry.

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The marshes are beautiful, the bird song and sunshine momentarily taking my mind off my hunger but closing the gate of the nature reserve behind me I see where I now have to go………..an intimidating motorway intersection looms in front of me with a complex pattern of cycle paths and pedestrian crossings.P1030278

I eventually make it to a service station and stand transfixed in front of the sandwiches in the cooler. Feeling just a little out of place I find a small piece of grass and eat my “lunch” vowing to plan my provisions a little better in the future.

Onward ever onward, thinking it can’t be far to Portsmouth, I cross a bridge over Broom’s Channel and back to the sea wall, a sign on the fence of a sailing club making me chuckle.

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I am now on Portsea Island, marshes on my left and the outskirts of Southsea on my right. I walk through Milton Common, stopping to read the sign encouraging a moment’s thought for lost servicemen. Next to the sign is a shrine to leave a flower or some other form of recognition and thanks – I give it a few moments’ thought.

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I then come to a stop at a pub where the path seems to go no further. A local drunk tells me I can walk along the shoreline so round the back of allotment gardens I go, picking my way through litter and mud until I climb up into a housing estate with no redeeming features and completely devoid of colour. My heart sinks as by now I am feeling very tired and still no sign of Portsmouth proper. Limping along the pavement I barely manage to overtake a bowed old gentleman shuffling along, his lottery ticket clutched tightly in his right hand. Just as I am beginning to despair I round a corner and there is the sea, the real sea with the very long Southsea Promenade stretching into the distance. I am on the home stretch, past the Royal Marines Museum and the bike racks with their knitted covers (no idea!) and on to where I can see the Britanny ferries edging their way into the harbour.

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I finally reach the glitter of Clarence Pier and desperately ignoring the wonderful smell of fish and chips I turn inland to find my B&B.

Stanford-Le-Hope to Gravesend 29.07.13

I remember walking down the hill to the station at Stanford last October – with tired aching feet. This morning I’m walking up the hill from the station to the church and there’s a bounce in my stride. Over confidence is never a good thing however and in my blind enthusiasm to get going I miss the turning off to the right which will take me over to Mucking Church. Having wasted 15 minutes I happily find myself on a lovely path walking through whispering reed beds, stopping briefly to learn about damselflies which (yes you’ve guessed it) are more delicate and fragile than dragonflies

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After a while the path takes me past a farm which boasts a solitary, bad-tempered cow with an impressive set of horns and a yard full of cooing doves.

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Realising that Mucking Church is now a private residence I take a look at the map to see how best to get back to the river. Taking advice from a passing local I follow the signs for the newly created Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, an area that has recently risen from the ashes of the Mucking Marshes landfill site. At the visitor centre I learn more about the plans to restore a much larger area by 2016, which partly makes up for the disappointment I feel when I’m told I cannot walk the seawall from here due to all the work being done.

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Where I could have walked…….

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So, back down the footpath I go, my frustration slightly tempered by an interesting sign which keeps me on my toes……..

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The tedium of the walk on the road to East Tilbury is slightly alleviated by the need to avoid getting run over. The traffic is moving fast on this narrow road and because there are quite a few bends I find myself zipping from one side of the road to the other like a fly trying to avoid getting swatted.

After a while I am relieved to see the footpath sign off to the left which will take me back to the sea wall. The first part of the walk is through a playing field and past the backs of some tatty looking houses, but soon I find myself alone on a narrow path stretching only to the next bend. With a high fence on one side and overgrown hedges on the other I cannot see out and I start to feel a little uneasy. To make matters worse I keep seeing single magpies and I’m getting very tired of saluting! Rounding a corner I see two young men in the distance, leaning on their bicycles. Although I realise I’m being silly my heart starts thumping and head down I start walking towards them. One of the bicycles is blocking my path but as I get closer one of the boys moves it to let me pass and says sorry. All my anxiety melts away and five minutes later I am scrabbling up a bank in a sudden strong wind to face the mighty Thames.

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I turn right and from now on it’s straightforward sea wall walking – in the sunshine. I am amazed and excited to follow the slow movements of the massive container ships grinding up the river out of Tilbury and happy to see the landscaped gardens of Coalhouse Fort ahead – I need a place to sit and eat my sandwiches.

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As I sit wriggling my bare toes in the soft grass a racing trap appears, the horse skittish and blinkered – when I take a picture the driver gives me a friendly smile.

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But it is now time to get going again, I don’t want to miss the last ferry from Tilbury to Gravesend. Packing up I head off back onto the sea wall which takes me closer and closer to the chimneys of Tilbury Power Station and after fending off the curious stares of a number of hard hatted workmen I take a path that looks like it was laid that morning.

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My footsteps are probably some of the first to crunch the virginal gravel. After a while the road stops and reverts to a grassy path which twinkles in the sunlight. I’m thinking this must be an old landfill site and the glass is from broken bottles. As I get closer to the power station I am directed down onto a path next to a very high concrete wall.P1030248The wall is covered in graffiti and crude drawings. Now I have no choice but to follow this wall and it seems never-ending – I just hope it is not a dead end. The powerful silhouettes of dockland machinery rise up out of the river as I approach Tilbury Fort, their inhumanity reducing me to the status of some lowly creature creeping along the riverbank.

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At last I see the guns of Tilbury Fort and a gate which I assume means the end of the sea wall. Looking down the bank to the right I see another path that looks as if it will take me past the back of the fort so, wondering only a little about the security sign, I head confidently down the path, round the fort, only to come to a dead end – a locked gate with very dangerous looking spikes on top of it.

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Sighing I turn around and walk back to take a look at the first gate which had stopped me in my tracks. Lo and behold the first gate is easy to deal with so I am now back on the sea wall again, resolutely walking past the World’s End where I could have gone for a pint if I wasn’t in such a hurry to get the ferry. And there she is – the ramshackle Duchess to rock me over to Gravesend and a train back to London.

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This has been a very enjoyable walk – all the more for my initial doubts.

Bosham to Emsworth 25.07.13

It takes me 10 minutes to find my way out of Bosham as the tide is high and the houses and sailing clubs have monopolised the seafront. I walk through the churchyard 3 times before settling on a plan, but in the meantime I catch sight of a beautiful house. It looks very like the one I embroidered as an 8 year old which is now hanging in our kitchen.

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After navigating my way through the back streets of Bosham the path takes me across fields, over a road and on to a narrow grassy path down the other side of Bosham Channel        – there are lots of nettles and I am wearing shorts! The path soon stops so I take the tarmac road towards Chidham. Just before the village, a path leads off to the left through a small PRIVATE estate of manicured houses, signs everywhere instructing walkers to keep to the path. I am heading for the tip of the peninsula known as Cobnor Point but after being directed away from the water to avoid walking through a youth activity centre, I am then herded into another diversion. New fences have been erected to guide walkers down a temporary path which passes a busy site where diggers chew into the earth.

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A sign informs me that two breaches with bridges are planned, to protect the intertidal habitat affected by climate change – I now feel a little ashamed of my initial irritation. Rounding a corner I come to what I think must be the point of the peninsula. It is a beautiful spot overlooking the expanse of bright blue water. A knot of trees shaped by the prevailing wind provides the backdrop to a few quiet moments on a bench, a perfect spot to let thoughts go……………………….and to take heavy boots off and feel the warm grass between your toes. It is so peaceful.

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However, little do I know that every moment I spend luxuriating in the sun, the sea is creeping another few inches up the shore. I put on my boots to follow the footpath sign and then realise I will have to turn back. The path in front of me will soon be covered in water – the tide is coming in fast and there is no way I can walk higher up.

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Reluctantly I head back through the sheep runs, trespassing on the grounds of Cobnor Farm to come out onto a PRIVATE tarmac road that leads down to Chidham. I now have  a blister so I head for the pub marked on the map to get myself something to drink and search out the plasters. From there on it’s a short walk on the road until I veer off left onto a path which takes me back to the sea wall. This part of the walk is easy – a good path on a raised bank beside the water, a very welcome sea breeze and long views.

Stopping to talk to a cheery gentleman with five beautiful golden retrievers I am suddenly witness to a close encounter with a wind surfer. Losing control of his craft he falls into the water very close to where we are standing and although I don’t want to stare, I am fascinated by his many attempts to get back up on the board again. After a great deal of heaving on the sail and sloshing about in the water he eventually  gets himself to an upright position and the wind whisks him away. Arriving at Prinsted I decide not to walk around Thorney Island (no islands or anything that calls itself an island) and after wandering around in someone’s front garden looking for the footpath sign I head off to cross to the opposite side of the island. Coming out of a wood I am confronted with the strange sight of  what look like rows of white containers on black wooden stilts. These are the Emsworth Deckhouses presumably for the owners of the boats in Emsworth Marina – small boats, canoes and any other sailing paraphernalia can be stored underneath the houses.

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The signs in the boatyard are very confusing, I ask for directions but have to keep checking that I’m still on a right of way – I am battle scarred from a day of private estates. Eventually I come out to the “pond” – a narrow path crosses it which leads out to the centre of Emsworth. It’s only 4pm but I need somewhere to lie down so I head for my B&B.

Selsey Bill to Bosham 24.07.13

The taxi driver that takes me back to the shoreline is a recently retired gentleman from Maidstone who “has never looked back” and loves Selsey and its people. He has also cycled the beach from Selsey to Bracklesham, only dismounting a few times, so I feel a little better about tackling 4 miles of shingle with the tide coming in. With the windmill as  a landmark I set off down a narrow grassy path which then leads me through a newly built leisure centre and a little later a sign that I choose to ignore.

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I can see the outline of big diggers and trucks in the distance but all is quiet and there’s plenty of space for me to walk on semi-firm sand close to the water. Huge piles of rough grey boulders have been deposited at regular intervals to act as breakwaters   – I recall the taxi driver telling me they have been brought from Norway. Walking on the sand is easy and when I’m forced higher up the beach by the tide I discover a service road that I can walk on, away from the dreaded shingle. In the distance I see a couple of men in hard hats and high viz vests and have a moment of worry about whether they are going to tell me to go back but they seem totally disinterested in me. The beach houses of Bracklesham are soon visible, some of them adding a touch of modernism and bohemia to the traditional bungalows.

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This one catches my eye…….the sea right behind it.By now the sun is really hot and I’m starting to feel a little faint – perhaps I need sugar? Or salt? I come away from the shops of East Wittering with a packet of peanuts and some dates.

The next part of the walk to West Wittering is an interesting picture of social class. Blocks of retirement flats and sixties bungalows gradually give way to more interesting wooden houses and modern flats. The houses get bigger and grander until the concrete path turns into a wide grassy track with sand dunes and the sparkling sea on the left and a line of almost impenetrable hedge on the right, the defence only broken by elegant entrances to these coastal palaces.

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Leaving the path I join the crowds down on the beach, feeling a little conspicuous in my leather walking boots and rucksack amongst the colourful beachwear and suntanned bodies. My feet are now craving cold water but I need to find the path that will take me up the Chichester Channel to West Itchenor and the ferry to Bosham. Wandering worriedly around the immense car park behind the dunes I see a tap for people to wash sand off their feet. Oh the joy of cold water on hot, throbbing feet! I decide to stop for a cup of tea at the beach cafe. As I drink my tea I see a few groups of people heading off to my right on what looks like a path heading into the marshes – this is my path. Soon I am striding confidently up the side of the estuary, entranced by the colours of the hundreds of small sailing boats out to play.

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I pass a couple of children playing in the water on a lilo, not far away from a sign warning of strong currents. I ask them to be careful but they just stare at me and don’t answer. Of course I realise the question is more for my benefit than theirs but I can’t help asking just the same.  The path from now on is clear and well signposted, I am sometimes exposed to the searing heat of the sun and at other times led into cool shady lanes.

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Although this part of the walk is lovely I am now very tired and extremely relieved to see the  the boats in the harbour at Itchenor (or Itchner as the locals call it) – I celebrate with an ice-cream and wait for the ferry. As I wait I get talking to a man in a sailing cap with the most weatherbeaten face I have ever seen. He is the captain of the harbour trip boat moored in the same place as the ferry. Catching sight of movement under his boat he tells me the fish I can see are sea bass – I am surprised to see them so close to the harbour.

Five minutes later the little ferry arrives, stacked high with bicycles and people. I am taken aback by the speed of the crossing and even more when it appears we get off onto a damp concrete causeway quite a way away from the shore. I am assuming that this can only be done at low tide.

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Arriving on dry land I follow the footpath up the side of Bosham Channel and soon after I spy the church spire of Bosham Parish Church. As I approach the village I notice big puddles and green algae on the road and I suddenly realise that I have been lucky enough to come this way at low tide – I would otherwise be walking through front gardens to get to the village on the other side.

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A sign on a wall confirms my suspicions………

This is enough for today and after a pint in the pub I catch the bus to Chichester where I will be staying in a student residence at the university.

Bognor Regis to Selsey Bill 23.07.13

Walking out of Bognor is fairly straightforward – until I hit Aldwick where private houses block anything but a shingle beach walk and the sky is darkening to give us the first rain for weeks. A passing fisherman, seeing me struggling into my rain gear mutters something about it only lasting 5 minutes – and he’s right. Walking on, hopping from decking to concrete slab to avoid the shingle I am stopped in my tracks by the VERY LOUD boom of what I take to be thunder – it is only later I realise that it was 11 am and the noise was the the guns going off to mark the birth of the new royal! After a few encounters with private estates and subsequent detours inland I reach Pagham Beach and stop for a cup of tea in the rock and roll cafe.

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Leaving the shingle beach I opt for a narrow road running parallel, through tightly packed bungalows and sea shacks, until I find myself in a carpark almost at the mouth of Pagham Harbour. Unsure as to where to go next I consult the map and see a narrow ribbobn of land off to my right which I hope will take me over to the holiday park I can see in the distance. The only vehicle in the carpark contains a sleepy electrician who knows nothing about the area so I have no choice but to go and have a look myself – I do hope I won’t have to retrace my steps in this unremitting heat. Hurray! I find a path and a good one, wide and grassy, gaps in the hedge allowing me glimpses of sparkling blue water, the humble bindweed coming into its own.

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Very soon I come to the official entrance to Pagham Harbour, a nature reserve with many crisscrossing trails for walkers and birdwatchers.

P1030157Rounding a tight corner I almost crash into a man with a pair of binoculars round his neck staring disconsolately at the path in front of him. This was the one he had set out on that morning but his way back was now blocked by the tide. This meant he was walking my way so we fell in step – this accounts for the only picture of myself on the walk so far (as far as I remember).

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After being treated to an RSBC honey and ginger ice-cream Ray and I parted company and I set off down the west side of the harbour towards Church Norton. Coming out of the church I then follow the sea wall into Selsey, (Seal Island)  the home of the late Patrick Moore. Stepping carefully around lobster pots, past the strange lifeboat station, I make my way down to the point known as Selsey Bill where I join a small crowd watching a seal hump its way across the rocks and slither into the sea. I was too far away for a good photograph. P1030161P1030162By this time I am very tired and my iphone is dying, so I decide to leave the walk to Bracklesham until tomorrow.

Angmering to Bognor Regis 22.07.13

Feeling like the proverbial mad dog I get off the train from London into a sweltering midday heat and take a local bus to the coast – to the point where I left off all those months ago. Walking past the palatial houses of Angmering-On-Sea I am perplexed by conflicting signposts – one saying public right of way and the other…………I decide to carry on.signpost The tide is high and the beach is shingle so I take any opportunity to walk parallel with the coast. I am soon in Littlehampton – a pleasant seaside town with Union Jacks fluttering merrily in the breeze, but just before I hit the centre of the seafront I see a familar building. I realise it is the East Beach cafe, designed by Thomas Heatherwick of Olympic Cauldron fame – I remember reading about it some time ago.East beach cafe Further along I also come across some interesting colourful benches snaking their way along the sea front….P1030125 P1030126 P1030127By now I am really hot and sticky and looking at the map I realise that I have to do a detour around the mouth of the river Arun, across a pedestrian bridge and back along the other side. I decide to have an ice lolly, leaning over the harbour wall to watch the synchronised swimming performance which I’m sure the swans put on for my benefit.

P1030130Walking on over the bridge and through boatyards I eventually come up onto Littlehampton’s West Beach which is not as crowded as its sister and after 10 minutes of walking I find myself alone – or am I? The beach here has sand dunes to the right and I slowly realise that these are populated by scantliy clad men on their own. Heads and shoulders pop up every few minutes and scan the beach like meercats in the desert. I assume they are gay and this is a well known meeting place so I feel quite safe!

Reaching Climping some time later I cannot resist the pull of the sea any longer so I peel off my sticky, sweaty clothes and make my painstaking way across the sharp stones of the beach. A 10 minute bask in the sun and I’m on my way again, stopping to take a photo of a lovely thirties house behind the beach. A chatty local tells me it stood empty for years and has only recently been given a new lease of life. He also tells me that I will soon be able to walk on a sandy beach as the tide is on its way out.

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And he’s right – half an hour later I am on firm sand, entranced by the sight of the fluted roof of the leisure centre in the distance and when I get to Bognor, very disappointed by the pier.

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Southerndown to Llantwit Major 6.07.13

A visit to my mother in South Wales allows me a day to do some walking along the south coast. The weather is perfect, a sea mist which will blow away by 10 o’clock, the bus driver assures me – and he’s right. Memories of family holidays come floating through the window of the bus, the smell of sheep and warm grass, the sand dunes where I played with my cousins. Round the corner the lane down to the beach at Southerndown, where early birds are staking their claims with windbreaks and brightly coloured towels.

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The coastal path winds steeply up the cliff and from the top I have a wonderful view of the wild sweep of Dunraven Bay (originally Dyndryfan) – vast beaches of golden sand, separated by craggy headlands and behind me, lolling in the sunshine, a herd of cows.

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Walking along the top of the cliffs I soon come to my first stile, fashioned from stone and concrete with a pretty yellow, white and blue plaque set into the stone – this is the logo of the Wales Coast Path. I am to come across quite a few of these lovely stiles, some of them with perfectly placed stone handles for the weary legged.

After a while the path leaves the cliff edge and dives into a lush green forest, the bright purples, pinks and yellows of wild flowers, nodding in the pools of sunlight – I try a photograph but neither the camera nor myself are up to the job. Another pretty stile leads me out of the cool shade of the forest where I stand blinking in the sun – to my left ancient cliffs of layered limestone and shale lord over a deserted beach.

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Walking on in the hot sun I come to a battered old shed which serves as a family run tea house, Nanny and Grandad settled in white plastic chairs, the one supervising proceedings the other glued to the rugby on the small TV. Coy grandchildren serve me a mug of strong tea which I take with me to the edge of the cliff to lie down for a rest. The faint sound of a bell from the sea puzzles me until I’m told it’s the buoy marking the entrance to the Bristol Channel.

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I walk on and just up the path is Nash Lighthouse, standing proud against the bright blue blue sky, its fog horn making me jump as I walk past. From now on it’s plain sailing along the cliff path down into another wood and following the happy shrieks of children playing in the sea I walk down concrete steps to the beach below the fortress of St. Donats. I am by now so hot and sweaty I tear off my clothes and hurl myself into the waves.  Refreshed I walk on to Llantwit Major, stopping to admire the line up of motorcycles and scooters outside the beach cafe.

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Twenty minutes later I’m sitting in a bus that will take me back to Cardiff and the train home.

Gravesend to High Halstow 16.06.13

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. P1020976The 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.P1020996

Allhallows On Sea to Rochester 08.06.13

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.P1020970

Rochester to Upchurch 29.05.13

I step down onto the platform at Rochester station in spitting rain – a fitting backdrop to the miserable high street and desolate sea front. In the distance the stark profile of Kingsnorth Power Station rises up out of the mist on the water and soon I move into futuristic bus stations and dockland development – evidence of the Medway development plan.

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Following instructions from a man in a high viz jacket (who doesn’t wear them these days?) I set off down a very busy road as there doesn’t seem to be a path following the water. As hundreds of cars whiz past my right ear I turn my eyes left to a beautiful brick wall, so out of place next to a motorway. This wall marks the boundaries of Chatham’s historic dockyards and at the bottom of the hill I see the grand entrance – not for the public though, so I walk on.

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After a while, just when I’m beginning to despair of ever finding somewhere with a toilet, a huge low level shopping park comes into view. Piped music and groups of squawking scantily clad teenagers send me scurrying past, but on the quay is a restaurant with a  friendly young man, every inch of his body covered in tattoos, who serves me tea and gives me directions. I sit and shudder at the massive billboards advertising “riverside living”, pictures of happy smiling people arranged to   camouflage the greying woodwork and flaking paint.

A crane catches my eye as I move on to yet another busy road which will take me past St.Mary’s Island and onto The Strand, where I will pick up the Saxon Shore Way.

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The Strand looks a little desolate in the drizzle and there is no-one around to try the mini railway or the technicolour ice creams – good weather for ducks.

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From then on it’s a lovely walk through Riverside Country Park, wide grassy paths curving around the peninsular, the obligatory wrecks listing in the mud and the constant call of sea birds. Apart from a mother and four children out for a walk I meet no-one and at the bottom of Otterham Creek I turn on to a road that will take me all the way to Upchurch. I have half an hour to sit and wait for the bus to Rainham so I allow myself a swift half in the pub.

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