Saturday July 19th 2014
The weather all week had been beautiful; very hot with the proverbial three fine days and a thunderstorm. We did not really know what to expect as we set off for the day’s walking but went equipped for an English summer’s day; sunhats, sun cream, several bottles of water and waterproofs. It was t-shirt warm even as we left Aldershot at 7am for our journey via Clapham Junction and Victoria to Teynham. At Teynham we decided not to wait for the bus to Conyer and instead walked over the fields to the village. By 10 we had taken the beginning photo and were ready to go.
The sky was very grey as we confidently strolled into the Conyer Marina expecting to find a way out on the other side. We could see the footpath over the fence beyond a locked gate, but seemingly no way of getting to it. Not a good start to the day. But a lovely boat owner directed us back to the gate and the path which would take us onto the other side. She explained that the electronic marina gate would normally be closed but lightning the previous night had meant the power was off so it had been propped open and told us all about the storm the previous night which had terrified her poor dog.
To our delight just round the corner was one of the cycle network signs we love. We were now on cycle network number one which runs from Dover (45 miles away) to Inverness (1151 miles away).
We soon joined a familiar path along the embankment on the western side of Conyer Creek and enjoyed the boats moored here which included several house-boats as well as many small sailing boats.
Conyer receded as we strode along and before long we were back beside The Swale once again. It began to rain and there was rumble of thunder in the distance so we stopped to put on cagoules. But the rain came to nothing and it was already too hot to be comfortable so the jackets came off and the remaining spots of rain were quite welcome and cooling.
Soon we could see the new Sheppey Bridge in the distance and there were a few wrecked boats to look at but this was a fairly uninteresting part of the walk. We did stop to check out what we thought were seals in the water but they turned out to be a couple of logs.
We stopped again at the old ferry crossing to the Isle of Sheppey which although long disused, is still obvious. These two wrecks were here and we speculated that they might be the ferry boats just left to rot.
A few minutes more walking brought us to the beginning of Milton Creek, which has the town of Sittingbourne at its head. Luckily for us a new bridge has been built near our end of the creek saving us the long detour into Sittingbourne and out again. During the previous half hour or so the sky had slowly cleared, the sun had come out and the waterproofs were firmly packed away. Once we had crossed the bridge we stopped to apply some sun cream only to discover that neither of us had put any in the packs.
Decision time. Did we go on without it and hope for cloud or did we stop here and walk into Sittingbourne to get some. We decided to go on.
And so we embarked on what was probably one of the most miserable stretches of coast walking we have yet encountered. All that could be said for it was that in order to walk the whole coast it had to be done.
We began by missing the path immediately after the bridge as it was not signed at all. Considering we were on the Saxon Shore Way, which is a proper long distance path, the signage was appalling. The only signs we saw were in places where the path was obvious.
Having found the way finally, we wound between the high fence of Kemsley Paper Mill and the water. Underfoot the going was uneven and narrow and broken up in places so that every step had to be taken very carefully to avoid ankle turning. It was overgrown so nettles, brambles and other nasty plants were a constant hazard. To add to our woes, it suddenly got very hot and very oppressive with no shade as respite. Once we got past the paper mill the path broadened out however and we found a small copse of trees to sit under for a while. From there the path meandered along the creek edge with the fencing of various industrial sites to our left.
We passed a small dock where gravel was being unloaded from a cargo ship named the Lady Clara onto a conveyor belt which ran up and over the path. Soon we caught the unmistable whiff of sewage. This really was the back side of Sittingbourne.
Eventually we reached the edge of Ridham Docks and the end of the coastal path for now as we were forced inland to pass the dock. There was a wide track here and a tree so we stopped for a break. We were running way behind schedule now and lunch was a long way ahead so we ate the biscuits Jen had with her. They had been in her bag since a winter walk but past-their-sell-by-date, slightly-soft, stickily-runny chocolate Hob Nobs went down like nectar. Several biscuits and lots of water later we continued slowly, finding the path beside the southern perimeter of the docks. Again it was a very precarious route, desperately overgrown, badly signposted and with an uneven surface. But we reached the other end without mishap, had another under tree break then set out on the last leg. Finally we were on a proper road which led us easily past the southern edge of the works, then up the western side back to the creek again. On the way we crossed a small railway line which did not look as though it had been used for years.
At last we could see the end and, as it was Saturday and quiet, we elected to ignore the “no pedestrians” signs and walk along the road.
I suspect on a weekday it may have been more circumspect to seek out the creek path rather than been mown down by huge vehicles heading to and from the docks. We could see Swale Station under the big new bridge and approached it eagerly. But how to get into it? We walked under the railway bridge – no way in there. Back under the bridge. No we hadn’t missed an entrance there. Back under the bridge again where the road curved round to run parallel with the railway line. Still no entrance. We saw a train arrive and leave. In the end we decided to follow the curving road to the main road at the end watching all the while for anything that looked like a way in. We were expecting it to be a little tricky as the station is barely used but to not find anything. It was baffling and very annoying at this point in the day. The road ended at a T-junction so we turned left there and after a few yards came to a roundabout. Looking along the main road to the left from there we could see the station sign so we headed in that direction and lo, on the other side of this busy main road was the station entrance. Twenty minutes after first crossing the line under the bridge we hauled ourselves up onto the platform. It was extremely bleak – no signs, no seats, no ticket machines. Luckily my phone got a signal and told me that a train was due in about ten minutes.
The grand plan for the day had been to walk to Swale, catch the train to Sheerness for lunch, have a wander round Sheerness then come home. But we were far behind schedule by this time and arrived in Sheerness at 4 o’clock, very hot, tired and burnt. We headed for the Tesco superstore opposite the station which was air-conditioned. Bliss! It also had a café and loos so that we could refresh ourselves. Then we bought after-sun lotion and more water and just had time to wander along the prom for a while before walking back to the station via an ice cream stall.
We decided to come home via Waterloo, which meant another change at Gillingham but then a longish journey with no movement required. We crawled through Chatham, Rochester and Strood as there was some kind of signalling problem but then the train was rescheduled to run fast from Dartford to London Bridge so we caught up nicely.
All in all, an interesting day but not one of our favourite parts of Kent.
Running total 606.1