Thursday August 7th 2014
Swale Station-Otterham Quay
Getting to the start of this walk at a reasonable time was going to a challenge. In order to work in the changes of train at Clapham Junction, Victoria and Sittingbourne to arrive at Swale at a reasonably early hour, we had to leave Aldershot at 6.30 in the morning. So two very bleary-eyed walkers clambered on the train and executed the required changes, safely arriving at the deserted station platform at Swale at 9.20 to the amazement of the guard who only witnesses about two hundred people a year using this stop.
We found the missing path down to the road which had caused us so much grief at the end of the previous walk. From the station side it was obvious and within a minute we were back on the road and ready to climb up the bank to find The Swale once again.
The sun was already warm on our backs and there was a pleasant breeze as we set off along the embankment. The tide was in and The Swale looking good. Behind us the giant Sheppey crossing dwarfed the smaller old rail and road bridge and the train going back to Sittingbourne seemed tiny.
The Saxon Shore way was our route for most of the day and after a couple of miles we reached a gate and knew we would have to turn inland.
This was where we would say farewell to The Swale so we decided it would a good point to have a break. As we sat on the short grass, enjoying a drink and a biscuit, we realised that the strange shaped rock at the end of a small island just in front of us was actually a seal basking in the sun. He stayed there for several minutes until he was disturbed by a small cargo boat heading for the open sea. Our first seal!
We knew they had been spotted in the waters here but finally we had seen one for ourselves.
The route was slightly different this time as we have left behind walking down one side of a creek, across the bottom and up the other side. A lot of the land here is designated as nature reserves and no access is allowed. This means cutting across the headlands from one stretch of water to another. Once again we were sure that if birds interested us, we would have seen many fascinating creatures. There were certainly some strange calls as we made our way along a well-defined track beside Chetney Marshes nature reserve, and past a farm which had a rather American prairie feel to it. It had a square barn, a grain silo and was surrounded by flat open land. Once past the farm we could see the end of our path as it arrived at the next stretch of water.
This was Funton Creek, part of the estuary of the River Medway. It was very peaceful here and the embankment path gave us easy walking apart from dodging piles of horse manure donated by horses in the field below. They were the most beautiful variety of colours and sizes; a truly multicultural meadow.
As we walked further we could see a collection of boat remains but it was difficult to work out quite what they had been. Later research suggests they may have been flat bottomed barges used by the brickmaking industry which had once flourished here and left to rot when the industry finished. In their own way they were quite picturesque. The creek hereabouts was named on the map as Bedlam’s Bottom.
It was getting very warm at Bedlam’s Bottom and we began to actively seek out some shade. Luckily the next path led us through a small pear orchard up the slopes of Raspberry Hill. At the top was a bench, a view and a breeze, so we sat on one for a while to enjoy the other two.
Over the other side of Raspberry Hill was Raspberry Hill Lane. The Saxon Shore Way crisscrossed this little road in and out of footpaths but we decided just to walk along it. It was narrow in places but there was lots of shade and not much traffic so we had a couple of miles of easy walking. We had hoped that there might be views over the creek but there were too many trees in the way and it was not as interesting as it might have been.
Finally we reached the outskirts of the village of Little Halstow. Outside a house was a fruit and veg stall with an honesty box so we bought a bag of Victoria plums to eat later. We decided to stop in the village so walked on along the road a little way to The Three Tuns where we found a seat in the shade and enjoyed a cool drink and a bowl of beautifully cooked chips each. The loos were good too.
Lower Halstow is a very pretty village, which originally depended on the water for its living. In later years a brickworks provided much of the employment. Today it is a quiet haven for commuters, being just a few miles from the busy Medway towns.
After a good break we found a path through to the church, which was dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch, the patron saint of expectant mothers. The location of this church was stunning, right on the edge of Halstow Creek, yet another inlet of the Medway.
We left Lower Halstow behind and set out along the embankment on the western side of the creek. The creek edge meandered and there were good views over the mudflats; the tide was now very firmly out. The afternoon had become hot and sultry and we stopped quite often under trees to cool down.
Soon we arrived at Twinney Wharf and we turned inland to begin the walk north of the village of Upchurch towards the next inlet. We came out on a lane but it didn’t quite look right and we realised we had turned off the embankment too soon. However a few hundred yards up the lane we regained our route and found the next path. It was well signed with a good stile but totally overgrown with stinging nettles and there was no way of walking along it. However, just beyond the path was an open gate and we took the liberty of walking through a yard and into an orchard at which point the original path joined us. So all was well and we enjoyed the grass underfoot and admired the ripening pears. We really felt that we were in the garden of England.
At the end of the orchard we crossed a track and found the next section of path into the back of some stables. It was well signed with polite notices asking walkers to stay on the path and not touch the horses. After crossing a schooling ring, there was no chance of wandering as the path was fenced on both sides. This made it narrow and it was a bit overgrown in places but at least we couldn’t stray onto private land. At the end of this path was a lovely big tree which made for a good short stop once again.
We followed another quiet lane for a few hundred yards then it was off into a grassy field and a welcome row of trees at the end for a decent break with a drink and a biscuit. Once we set off again we were baffled to find no way through the trees. We knew we were on the right path so this was very odd. Eventually we found a tiny gap and scrambled through to find ourselves on the edge of a fishing lake! That wasn’t what we expected. However a very nice Scotsman put down his rod and pointed us out towards the road and somewhere the correct path must have joined us as we came out where we should have done beside a farm and finally out onto Horsham Lane through a car sales yard.
We were coming into the outskirts of Rainham now and this road was very busy and the few yards we had to walk along it was fairly unpleasant. However it wasn’t far and the next path was ridiculously easy to find. A newly refurbished stile was surrounded by five separate footpath signs! The other side of the stile was the final orchard for the day and a soft underfoot walk through yet more pears. On the far side of the trees was a narrow path dropping steeply to the road below. The turning off this road was a concrete private road which would lead us to Otterham Quay. However our stopping place for the day was half way down just before the entrance to another pear orchard.
A footpath here would take us almost to the end of Station Road for an easy walk to Rainham Station. First though we had to negotiate the path which was badly overgrown and very narrow. We walked with hands above our heads to avoid the stinging nettles. Our legs got stung even through trousers and it was not the best way to end the day.
However we got there and found the station easily via a little shop which furnished drinks and nibbles for the train. We came home via Gillingham and Waterloo East, which takes longer but is an easier route after a long day out.
We thoroughly enjoyed the walk this time. The scenery was much more pleasant than the last one and the paths more varied in length and type. It’s not quite coast walking and we won’t be back on the coast for a while, but it was pretty good for all that.
Swale 9.25am 1825 steps 0.67m
Otterham 4.15 pm 28280 steps 11.25m
Walk time 6hr 50mins
Miles 10.58 Running Total 617.3