Saturday August 16th 2014
Otterham Quay- Rochester
We had another early start today for the journey to North Kent, this time leaving the train on the main line at Rainham. We had decided to use a taxi to get to Otterham Quay to speed things up but outside the station the taxi rank was empty. The man on the ticket gate in the station explained that the local taxis were in dispute with the railway about something and were not allowed to wait on the forecourt. However, just down the road was a taxi office and within ten minutes a lovely man deposited us on the concrete road leading to Otterham Quay.
The path to the quay wound alongside an industrial building but soon we were heading north on a familiar embankment path running beside Otterham Creek.
We stopped to let a cyclist past and he called out in broad Kent, “Alright Girls. Lovely day for it!” He sounded just like Pop Larkin! The path ended at a sewage works and we followed a quiet lane back southwards again until we came back to another inlet of the River Medway. This was more like a wide harbour and at the far end we could see the deeper channel with boats entering the main river and the Isle of Grain across the water.
The path now became very easy and quite busy as this former industrial area has been turned into a country park and we had the company of dog walkers and families out walking and cycling. We stopped at a large concrete quay marked on the map as Bloors Wharf. It had obviously been used in the not too distant past and as we were looking, we fell into conversation with two elderly gentlemen. They were just the right people to tell us all about it as they had both grown up locally and knew the area well. They explained all about the old industries of cement works, ship building and scrapping and many others. They pointed out landmarks and all sorts of details we would have not even noticed. It really is the people you meet who make this walk and these two enriched our day. We could have talked to them for hours. Reluctantly we parted and after a brief stop at the visitor centre continued on our way.
The path was very easy and unmistakeable and eventually came to an abrupt end at a small industrial estate. The way through the buildings and back to the shore was well marked though. We came out on the edge of a new waterside development with its own small marina. Here too were half a dozen large abandoned barges just sitting in the river, slowly rotting away.
Soon after that we could hear loud music ahead and we rounded the corner to the edge of The Strand Leisure Park, which had a funfair in place, hence the music. Suddenly we were in civilization and were taken aback when a man stopped us, unrolled a flag on a pole and said that runners would be coming through. In fact only about half a dozen people ran along towards us, turned behind him and ran back again with plenty of room for all of us on the wide promenade. A hooting heralded the arrival of a miniature train running round a track enclosing a children’s playground and crazy golf course.
We wandered on past more playgrounds, tennis courts, and playing fields. A small café beckoned and, as I was hungry, we decided to stop here for half an hour while I had something to eat. A delicious bacon bap hit the spot and we also used the very nice loos. As we rested we watched an archery taster session in the field nearest the café. The arrows had inflatable ends and the targets were inflatable too, so all very safe and a lot of fun. It was lovely to see so many families out and about enjoying themselves and we rather enjoyed our half hour’s rest.
We still had a long way to go though, so we bid the water goodbye and set off inland. The Medway towns are rather confusing as they all run into each other and there is no way to walk along the water’s edge to the first river crossing at Rochester. So I had worked out a cross-town route using parks and back roads as much as possible. We began by walking alongside the A289 for short distance, enjoying the windows of a boat shop on the way. Just along the road was a new development with a small Tesco shop so we bought lunch for Jen and a few nibbles for later. Then we continued along the main road to a railway bridge where we crossed over several lanes of traffic and turned south into the back streets of Gillingham.
The houses in these streets were mostly Victorian Terraces but there was a fair sprinkling of older more characterful buildings too.
It didn’t take too long to arrive at the entrance to what appeared to be just a municipal park but which is actually more interesting than that.
What is now the Great Line Heritage Park formed part of the defences of Chatham Dockyard and once had ditches and fortifications and The Field of Fire; an open space along which defenders could fire at attackers. Now it is 70 hectares of open space linking the towns of Chatham and Gillingham and, on this summer Saturday, was full of families playing football, cricket and just running about.
We sat down for half an hour so that Jen could eat her lunch then we set off up the hill along a wide track right through the middle of the park.
At the top we found the Chatham Naval Memorial and, of course, stopped to have a look. Chatham is one of three identical memorials to those lost at sea during World War 1. The other two are at Portsmouth and Plymouth, the other great naval centres. Chatham records the names of 8543 men and women who were based in the town. It was unveiled in 1924 by the Prince of Wales with the words “All the seas that encompass the world are their battlefield and their grave.” The World War II section is a semi-circular Portland stone wall commemorating 9946 personnel and was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1952. It is a striking sight perched on top of the hill overlooking Chatham town and we were happy to linger and have a long look.
From there the path descended very steeply, by steps in places, into Chatham Town Centre. As we left the park we came across The Ragged School which was opened in 1857 for the benefit of the children of the town.
Having enjoyed the walk across the park, we now found ourselves in a very busy town on a Saturday afternoon, not our idea of fun. However once we had found a way across the dual carriageway via a handy pelican crossing, we decided to take advantage of the town centre and visit the loos in the shopping centre. Again, not our idea of fun, but we were pleasantly surprised. It cost 20p to go in but the money was well used to employ two attendants, who cleaned each cubicle between visits. The result – spotless loos and a much more pleasant atmosphere than most shopping centre loos can aspire to. So if you are ever in Chatham, I can highly recommend the Pentagon Shopping Centre on the High Street if the need arises.
We left the shopping centre and confidently turned left onto the High Street. The route for the rest of the day was very straightforward as all we had to do was walk along Chatham High Street until it morphed into Rochester High Street and keep going until we reached the station. We strode along happily but after about ten minutes doubt crept in. Were we going the right way? There were no obvious landmarks and somehow it just didn’t feel right. We know exactly what to do in this situation. Look for an elderly person sitting on a bench and ask. So we did. As we were suspected, we had turned in the wrong direction when we came out of the shopping centre. “It’s a long way to Rochester Station though. You could get a cab” suggested the lady. Maybe not.
So back we went past all the little shops, past Rymans and the Pentagon heading happily west now. We paused at the bus station to look at a map, but it was just showed where the buses stopped. A rather tipsy man asked if he could help so we explained we were walking to Rochester Station. “It’s a long way,” he said and fell in beside us. I was just contemplating steering Jen into a shop, any shop, just to lose him, when he gave up. We must have been walking too fast for him. We left the shops behind and the road became narrow and rather run down. We crossed the border into Rochester and about ten minutes later could see the station sign. Everyone’s perception of distance is different but that was really not a long way.
It was only four o’clock but this was the place we had designated as our stopping point for the day, so we called into a corner shop for supplies and took the next train back towards London.
We had not really been looking forward to the day as it could hardly be classed as coast walking, but in the end it was enjoyable, varied and interesting.
Otterham Quay 9.43am 2882 steps 1.15m
Rochester Station 3.50pm 25733 steps 10.23 miles
Walk time 6hr 7mins
Miles 9.08. Running Total 626.4