Monday, October 29, 2001

Walk 36 -- Oare to Conyer

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 174 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 316 days.
Weather: Sunny and warm with a light breeze, then it got very dull, but no rain.
Location: Oare to Conyer.
Distance: 6 miles.
Total distance: 218 miles.
Terrain: Grass banks, occasionally topped with gravel. Muddy in places.
Tide: Out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None, though we passed a disused one to the Isle of Sheppey which would have saved us 29 miles!!
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos. 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 along Oare Creek and around the Nature Reserve. (This is the record so far for kissing gates in one day – smoo-ooch!)
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.11, a ‘Maison Dieu’ at Ospringe. No.12, a stone chapel in a ploughed field about half a mile further west.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove from home to the hamlet of Conyer with our bikes on the back of the car. We donned our walking gear, then cycled to Oare where we chained our bikes to a fence by the bridge. (It did feel funny cycling in walking boots – but we coped.)
At the end, we had a cup of tea from our flasks in the car, then we drove back to Oare to pick up the bikes. We had a quick look at the two ‘English Heritage’ properties before driving to Canterbury where we were booked in at the Youth Hostel for the night.

Today’s Walk started very well – with a kissing gate, one of eight! The first half mile or so of river bank was quite muddy because there were cows in the field and a lot of rain fell in this area a week ago – in fact a whole month’s-worth fell in one day causing localised flooding. Good job we hadn’t planned to walk last week! After the second kissing gate, conditions improved because the cattle hadn’t been allowed along there to mess up the path and turn it into a quagmire. I am terrified of slipping over because I know how easy it is to break a leg.
While we were cycling along to get to the beginning of today’s walk, Colin had seen no less than three woodpeckers. He was sure that two of them were Green and the third a Lesser Spotted. I have to look where I am going when I am cycling (I don’t know how he manages to see all this wildlife without running into things when he is driving or cycling) and by the time I had stopped and looked around, they had all gone.
The same went for a kingfisher which he was convinced he saw as we cycled over a little stream.
After the second kissing gate, we had to cross a small drainage ditch. Colin was first, and saw the blue streak of another kingfisher as it flew away from under the little bridge. I just saw the back of it as it disappeared behind some bushes. Excitement! Excitement! But we didn’t see any more even though we approached all further ditches cautiously and quietly. We did see a pair of swans with cygnets, and no less than five herons standing on the far side of a field where we think there must have been a drainage ditch.
We had walked about half a mile when I realised that I had left the map in the saddle-bag of my bike! We reasoned that we couldn’t possibly go wrong – we follow the river bank until we hit the sea, then we follow the shore until we get to Conyer where our car (with flasks of hot tea and chocolate biscuits!) awaits us. We decided it wasn’t worth going back for it, so this was the first of our Walks we did without a map! (Even on the first Walk which we knew so well, from Bognor to Littlehampton, we took the map along although we didn’t need to refer to it.) So we carried on mapless!
All the human activity seemed to be on the other side of the river – loads of yachts and boats. Then we saw the pub where they refused to serve us on our last Walk, so we blew a raspberry across the water! We passed under the buzzing electricity wires, and tried to make out the tree where Colin had ‘scrumped’ all those delicious apples two Walks ago. We couldn’t see it, we think it was too far down the other side of the bank. We entered the Nature Reserve (through another kissing gate) and walked right to the point. We could see all the way back to Whitstable and the end of Herne Bay’s pier. At last we were walking along the seashore again, although the Isle of Sheppey was so near it looked like yet another river bank.
The bird life was amazing! Colin had his binoculars and I had my little telescope which has opened up a whole new world to me. Instead of just seeing blurry blobs, I can now bring the birds into sharp focus and they are fantastic! We saw ducks of all sorts, curlews, peewits, skylarks, kestrels, an egret, but my favourite was the oyster-catchers. These beautiful black and white birds were walking along the mudflats on their stumpy legs poking into the sand every so often with their long beaks – I could have watched them for hours. We could hear them as well, which really was wonderful. We were so far away from civilisation (only the occasional hoot from a train in the distance spoilt it) that we could actually listen to natural sounds. The pee-ee-wit was the most musical – magic!
We reached the visitor centre where there was a small car park with one car in it, but no one about at all. The building was locked and shuttered, but by the entrance was a bench out of the wind. That is where we sat to eat our lunch. Then, arm in arm because I didn’t want to slip, we walked carefully down to the end of the disused jetty which was there. Once upon a time there was a ferry across to the island at this point, which would have saved us no less than twenty-nine miles of walking had it still been in operation! I wonder how long ago it closed.
So we carried on westwards towards the bridge, which we won’t reach until the day after tomorrow! We met just ONE person on the whole walk – a girl out with her dog. We continually stopped to look at the birds which was the main interest today. As we got more tired, it seemed an really long way to Conyer – but we had no map to glance at and see how far we had progressed. We kept thinking, ‘It must be the next dent in the bank – No! Then it is definitely the next one!’ and so on. Well, we had been up since five o’clock in order to get there and complete the walk before dark, and we were beginning to feel it. At last! we reached Conyer Creek, but then it seemed to be an awful long way down it to the hamlet. We had just forgotten how far it was on the map.

We couldn’t make out whether the ‘shooting’ noises we kept hearing were bird-scarers or a clay pigeon shoot, it just didn’t sound right for either. As we approached the village, the noise stopped and some youths emerged from the bushes walking ahead of us. We don’t know what they were shooting at, but reckoned they must have run out of ammunition. We passed a row of pukka houses which were only half built. They overlook the creek (pure mud, except at high tide) and there is a boatyard a few yards further down. We wondered how much they were selling these ‘waterfront residences’ for. We passed the pub and the door was open, but Colin wouldn’t even look in to see what ales they sold because it wasn’t in his ‘Good Beer Guide’! There was our car, parked by the side of the road we were walking down, actually on ‘the nearest safe path to the coast’.

That ended Walk no.36, we shall pick up Walk no.37 next time about fifty yards south of the pub in Conyer. We had some tea from our flasks, then drove back to Oare to pick up our bikes. Next we drove down to the A2 to look at two ‘English Heritage’ properties which we had passed within a mile of on our walk (rule no.10).

The first is described as ‘the remains of a small medieval church incorporating part of a 4th-century Romano-British pagan mausoleum’. What they didn’t tell us was that it was in the middle of a ploughed field! We stopped the car in the field gateway, looked across the mud at a few bits of stone sticking up under a tree, shook our heads and drove on!
The second is described as ‘part of a medieval complex of royal lodge, almshouses and hospital, this is much as it was 400 years ago’. We parked a little down the road and walked back to look at it. Certainly a very old building, but it closed yesterday for the 2001 season! It won’t open again until next Easter. We tried to look in the windows, but couldn’t see much.

It was getting quite dark by then – how I hate this time of year when the sun sets in the middle of the afternoon! We drove on to Canterbury Youth Hostel in the gathering gloom.

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