Greenhithe to Dartford
Monday January 2nd 2017
We decided to try and have a walk before term started and, as there were so many engineering works on the railway it proved impossible to work out the trains to get to Essex, so we headed back to Kent. Even this was tricky but we set out before dawn for Waterloo, thence to Elephant and Castle on the Bakerloo Line. Never having been here before we followed the signs to the main line station which took us through a maze of tunnels, along the Northern Line platform, up a lift and out into the street. From there we found our way into Elephant and Castle shopping centre and to the station which was on the other side. The station was open but not the shops, but as we had a while to wait we had a wander round anyway. As we were heading back to the station a coffee shop opened. The coffee was not particularly pleasant, but it was cheap and hot and hit the spot. The train towards Gravesend was very slow but eventually we got back to our previous stopping place outside Asda at Greenhithe where we stocked up with lunch and drinks and used the loos.
There was a path signed around the back of Asda but it petered out into brambles so we found our way across the car park and through the petrol station instead. After a few yards a good path led us back to the water’s edge and a fabulous view of the QEII Bridge not far ahead. We set off along an obvious path on a bank above the river, enjoying the spectacle of the bridge getting bigger as we walked along.
Soon we could read the names on the lorries and then we were too close for that. Standing underneath was a bit of an anti-climax as the bridge is narrow and the deck high above our heads. Somewhere we walked over The Dartford Tunnel but there was no sign of anything under our feet.
After the bridge the path wound past jetties and industrial buildings; sewage works, a brewery (we think) and a power station.
There was plenty to see across and on the river and although it was not a pretty walk it was interesting.
Finally we left the industry behind and could see the flood barrier at the mouth of the River Darent ahead. It was huge, much bigger than we had expected and a real landmark.
Before that though, we were looking out for a track marked on the map as Hospital Tramway. This had been used to bring patients in and out of the Joyce Green hospital, which was located on this site until the 1990s. The hospital opened in 1903 to house smallpox patients, who were brought in by ambulance boat. Prior to this they had been housed in three ships berthed nearby but more capacity was needed and a safer environment so the hospital was built. There a smaller hospital called Long Reach located on the river bank but Joyce Green was further inland. Later the hospital catered for other infectious diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever, measles and whooping cough. The track was there and would have been a useful alternative way of the marshes but we continued along the top of the embankment.
This is obviously an area that floods readily as we were probably twelve feet up and there was a ditch and another embankment behind. After that were flat lands which could absorb a huge amount of water and protect the town beyond.
Just before we reached the River Darent, a yacht appeared taking advantage of a brisk wind and a beautiful day. We stopped for a break at the flood barrier. One problem with walking in January is that it is too muddy to sit down just anywhere but there was a convenient concrete wall to perch upon. We both had a snack and a drink and then carried on.
Rather resultantly we turned left now to follow the River Darent to the first crossing three miles inland. There has been some talk of installing a footbridge at the flood barrier and that would have saved us quite a hike. But for now the only way to cross is to walk along the river path into Dartford and out again. The path meandered along but there was no chance of getting lost as it was on the top on a high embankment, presumably part of the flood defences. The river looked very insignificant, a trickle in the mud, but the tide was out and it probably looks very different at high tide or when it floods.
The path was very wiggly, even more than the river, but it was interesting to look down on the remains of the airfield which had been located here. Some of the buildings were still there and have been incorporated into a moto cross track, deserted today. We had been able to hear gunfire all the way though, so presumably the shooting range was in use. The airfield here was in use between 1911-1919 being originally run by Vickers who tested their planes here. During WWI it was used as a training centre.
All too soon we were approaching civilisation in the form of a bridge carrying the Dartford bypass. We had expected to cross the road here but realised there was a tunnel underneath and a path from the riverbank to the road on both sides. This meant that we had found the crossing point nearest the river and we decided to make this the stopping point for the day.
Soon after this, I began to feel unwell and we abandoned our plans to go back into London via a different route and explore and instead hurried on into Dartford. After a stop at the stops for the loo and a drink we headed for home.
959am 4047 1.61
1259am 18733 7.45