Thursday, October 11, 2001

Walk 34 -- Whitstable to Faversham

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 156 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 298 days.
Weather: Black clouds with a brisk wind, but the rain just about held off. Warmer than yesterday.
Location: Whitstable to Faversham.
Distance: 9 miles.
Total distance: 208½ miles.
Terrain: Some roads and tarmacked paths, a little beach-walking, but mostly grass banks.
Tide: Way out.
Rivers to cross: No.9, Faversham Creek.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.30 at Seasalter. (We didn’t actually go through it because we couldn’t be bothered to jump down off the sea wall, but we had a kiss anyway!)
Pubs: The ‘Ship Centurion’ in Whitstable again, where this time I enjoyed Erdinger WeissbraĆ¼ – I tried some of Colin’s yesterday and it was deelish! Colin had Bateman’s ‘Blackbeerd’ and then Elgood’s ‘Black Dog’ mild.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove from the Youth Hostel at Broadstairs to Faversham where we parked the car fairly near the station. We caught a train to Whitstable, and called in at the same pub as yesterday on our way down to the seafront.
At the end, we walked through Faversham town centre and returned to our car where flasks of hot tea awaited us! Then we returned to Broadstairs Youth Hostel for the night.

We started with the pub today – got to get your priorities right! Then we bought some pies and cakes on our way to the seafront, so that by the time we began our Walk ‘proper’ it was almost lunchtime. We returned to Reeve’s Beach, and how much more pleasant! The sheltered bench, where the yobs were being so gross yesterday, was occupied by a group of elderly people; and we didn’t feel threatened or vulnerable as we had last night. We were able to read the information board, and found out that the area behind us – which is now a car park – was donated to the local populace for use as a roller skating rink in the days before motor cars. I am sure people had more fun at the seaside in those days, now that we have everything we are always ‘bored’.
Half a mile into today's Walk, we passed the two hundred mile mark!
We walked a little along the hard-packed shingle at the top of the beach, and came to a concrete walkway where a group of young children were sitting to eat their packed lunches. They were very well-behaved because there was about one adult for every three youngsters, and they were kept in check with high expectations of their conduct alongside an interest taken in their doings and sayings. As a result, they were all enjoying themselves enormously, and we didn’t mind sitting near them on an empty bench to consume our freshly cooked meat pies. If only all school parties could be so well disciplined!
We continued westward, and when the concrete walkway ran out we carried on along the top of the beach. The official path crosses the railway and goes along a road before crossing back to the beach, but you know what we think about walking along roads! The shingle got looser and more leg-shattering, so we tried several times to walk on the sand which had been revealed by the low tide. However, that was just gooey mud and even more difficult to negotiate, so we returned to the stones.
Then we came to the point where the official path returns to the top of the beach. There a private estate begins, consisting of houses along the top of a grass slope (no hogweed this time) with a tarmac path conveniently placed along the bottom. A notice at each end of the path warned us that it was for maintenance purposes only, that it was private, that it belonged to the people living on the estate, and that they maintained it at their own expense so ‘clear orf’ and don’t walk on it – or something to that effect! In other words, “Continue to shatter your legs on the shingle or sink without trace into the mud, but don’t walk on our nice smooth tarmac path ’cos it’s ours and you might wear it out – so there!”
Maintaining our knees and our calf muscles beautifully, we walked the whole length of it (“What notice? Did you see a notice? Never could get the hang of that reading lark in school!”) and at the end we had to swing out over the edge of the sea wall in order to get round a high fence which had been constructed in an attempt to bar our way. On my new ‘Explorer’ OS map and on the internet maps we have been using, that path is marked as a public right of way, in fact it is part of the long-distance footpath, the ‘Saxon Shore Way’; so how they have the nerve to claim it is private and attempt to block it with a fence, I don’t know.
The blocked path continued for a very short way across the corner of a caravan site, but since we were already on the sea wall we continued walking up there. When we saw the kissing gate which lets you out of the corner of the caravan site, we couldn’t be bothered to jump down to it, so we had a kiss up on the wall for good measure! Then we walked down a slope in order to look at an information board.
This told us all about the local oysters. During the 19th century, the best oysters in the world were gathered from the tidal flats around Whitstable and Seasalter – it was a huge industry and they were world-famous. In fact, oysters have been gathered all round the Kent coast since Roman times. There is still the remains of a storage ship which can be seen at low tide; and as it was low tide when we were there, this vessel was clearly visible. (We could also see two more Second World War platforms in the distance.) Two factors were responsible for the demise of the oysters around the time of the First World War – one was over-fishing and the other was pollution. By the 1920s, Whitstable’s oyster-fishing industry was no more. Will we ever learn to be tidier and less greedy?
While we were pondering on this, I had noted that a painter’s ladder was blocking the ‘Ladies’ entrance to the public conveniences there, but the chap seemed to be finished and was packing up. I was waiting for him to move when I heard him lock the door, so I swung round and asked if I could use the loo. He unlocked it again and said I could so long as I didn’t touch any doorframes or close any doors, so I was OK. Phew! There was nowhere to go otherwise, the whole area was wide open with not a bush in sight!
Unfortunately, we did have to walk along a road for the next half mile or so – a narrow road with no pavements, and traffic which was oblivious of any speed limits. It was hairy! There was a string of ‘houses’ between us and the beach, but some of them were little more than shacks. They may be lovely in the summer, but they are exposed to all the winds and tides along that godforsaken coast and have only shingle for a garden. I would hate to live in such a place! When the houses stopped, we noticed a strip of grass along the top of the beach which was infinitely better than dodging white vans on the road, so we climbed over the sea wall. A little further on the grass ran out, but the path continued on a grassy bank which had appeared between the sea wall and the road, so we didn’t have to play ‘dodgems’ any more.
We watched two people go down on to the mud pushing their bicycles – with difficulty I might add, although there seemed to be a few well defined ‘paths’ across the flats. They each looped about six well-filled sacks across the handlebars and then started back. I asked a passing couple if they knew what was in the sacks, and they answered, “Cockles!” They must have an outlet where they sell them, but it looked very hard work to me!
The road turned inland at an area of deserted holiday shacks and lots of notices declaring PRIVATE BEACH, KEEP OFF, etc. They were welcome to it, the holiday complex looked quite horrible! We only had to make a small detour to go behind it, then we regained the sea wall and walked along next to it for miles getting further and further from civilisation. We had mudflats to our right and marshes to our left – unsurprisingly, we didn’t meet anyone at all until we were nearly in Faversham.
We walked on for two and a half miles, occasionally passing through clever little metal stiles where you just push the centre poles apart and they spring back on their chains – there was nothing to climb over. The tide was out, and we looked for wildlife on the mudflats and marshes. There wasn’t much, the most exciting thing we saw was a heron but it wouldn’t let us get near and eventually flew off towards the Isle of Sheppey which was only a mile away to the north of us. We found some interesting caterpillars and fungi, and saw an unusual type of seagrass which grows below high water level. We seemed to be walking an awful long way. I couldn’t believe how slowly we were progressing, perhaps it was because there was nothing much to see.
Eventually we climbed over a real stile and turned quite abruptly left on to the river bank. There, amongst the hawthorn bushes on the marshes side of the path, was a fully laden apple tree! It was in the middle of nowhere, and we can only think that – a long time ago – a passing rambler threw his or her apple core into the grass by the footpath. We each tried an apple, and they were delicious – sweet but not quite a Cox. Colin then ‘scrumped’ about a dozen into his rucksack for consumption later!
Shortly after, the river divided. Nestled into the neck of the fork, over Faversham Creek from where we were, we could see tomorrow’s pub. We passed under the buzzing overhead electric lines and turned abruptly left again which meant that we were once more walking east. We could smell fermenting hops, which was rather spooky because we were in the middle of nowhere and the sky was getting darker and darker. We seemed to be walking away from Faversham which was doubly frustrating because we were very tired and it was trying to rain, but we had to follow the meanders of the creek. Slowly the river turned southwards – we skirted a farm and then turned sharply south-westwards directly towards the spire of Faversham church. The next couple of hundred yards of path were tarmacked, as if done for wheelchair access, so it was easier walking and the rain just about held off.
The paved path turned sharply left to go behind the sewage works, but we carried on the river bank past a notice which was so rusty we couldn’t read it – we could just about make out the word WARNING at the top. There we met the first person we had seen since leaving Seasalter a couple of hours previously. A man cycled past us, then a woman following him got off her bike when she met us because the path was so narrow. We asked her if she knew what the rusty notice said, and she replied that she had no idea but the path was a bit dodgy further on so it might refer to that. She was right – about the path, I mean – it got extremely narrow, slippery and was full of potholes. Despite passing very close to the sewage works, we didn’t experience any unpleasant odours.
We crossed a footbridge, and were followed by two boys in their early teens. One was carrying a fishing box and the other a cloth bag. As they passed us, one of them asked if we would like to buy a rabbit! He did not specify if it was for a pet or the pot, but we declined on both counts! They went on to ask a passing commuter on his bike if he would like to buy it, and was answered with a puzzled shake of the head. We suspected it was in the cloth bag and wondered if it was alive or dead. We were by a wharf with Thames barges moored in the creek, and a 16th century warehouse which is one of the oldest surviving in Britain.
It was very picturesque there, but the light was fading fast and not much good for photography. With our heads full of pictures of pet rabbits in stewpots, we walked down Abbey Street which claims to be the longest preserved medieval street in the country. It’s lovely old houses were saved from demolition as recently as the 1960s when the land was earmarked to build council houses! The Abbey itself was knocked down by Henry VIII’s mob, and there is very little of it left. The stone – which originally came from Caen – was taken back to France to strengthen the defences of Pas de Calais which was still in English possession at the time. However, it was nearing six o’clock, the light was fading fast and we were both too tired to appreciate it properly. We decided to have a better and more refreshed look at Faversham tomorrow.
The smell of fermenting hops grew stronger as we made our way through the streets to the bridge across Faversham Creek. As we turned the last corner, there was the cause – the Shepherd Neame Brewery in full production with steam coming out of its vents! It claims to be Britain’s oldest brewery, founded in 1698, though ale has been brewed here for hundreds of years before that. It claims to owe its continuing success to the use of local hops, and pure water drawn from its own well after being naturally filtered through the underlying chalk – but neither Colin nor I like Shepherd Neame ales as we find them rather sour! Opposite the brewery, we walked on to the bridge.

That ended Walk no.34, we shall pick up Walk no.35 next time on the bridge across Faversham Creek near the Shepherd Neame brewery. We found our way back through the town to where we had parked our car, downed a couple of cups of tea from our flask and then drove back to the hostel in Broadstairs.

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