Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Walk 38 -- Sittingbourne to the Kingsferry Bridge

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 176 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 318 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny, but a biting wind in exposed places.
Location: Sittingbourne to the Kingsferry Bridge.
Distance: 5½ miles.
Total distance: 230½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy banks, occasionally topped with gravel. A short section of road where we had to play ‘dodge-the-lorries’!
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Old Oak’ in Sittingbourne where we enjoyed Hampshire Brewery’s ‘Gold Reserve’.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove from Medway Youth Hostel to the Kingsferry Bridge where we parked almost underneath it in a lorry lay-by. We donned our walking gear, then cycled in a freezing wind to the ASDA supermarket car park in Sittingbourne. We chained our bikes to their bike stand as if we were going to use the store. (Actually, we did buy a few oddments in there, both yesterday and today, if only to justify using their loo several times!)
At the end, we drove back to ASDA before partaking of tea from our flasks because it was too cold to stop by the Kingsferry Bridge. We picked up the bikes, and drove all the way home to Bognor in the dark. I hate these early nights – I watched the sun set as we drove back to ASDA, and it was only 4.25pm!

Medway Youth Hostel is wonderful! We couldn’t believe the difference between it and Canterbury. Medway is a pair of oast houses which were converted into a hostel only five years ago. We felt comfortable, safe, it was really quiet, and all our fellow-guests were bona-fide holidaymakers. As a result, we both slept well and were in much better moods for our walk today.
As we left the Kingsferry Bridge on our bikes, we wondered what we were in for because the wind we were riding against was bitter! However, as we approached the shelter of the town, we found it much easier and less cold to cycle. We rode past ASDA and into Sittingbourne, parking our bikes next to the public conveniences; then we walked down the High Street and bought our lunch. There were two ‘real ale’ pubs to choose from, both due to open at eleven o’clock according to the ‘beer bible’. At a few minutes after eleven, we tried to enter the ‘Red Lion’ (the favoured one because it usually has more beers on) only to find the door was locked – not again! A notice informed us that, just for today, they weren’t going to open until midday because of a rewiring job. Is there a conspiracy to stop us getting at our beer? So we had to walk half a mile down the road to the ‘Old Oak’ where they had just one ale which was to our liking – but at least they were open! Then we had to walk the half mile back to retrieve our bikes, before cycling back to ASDA car park. Having deposited the wheels, we ‘dodged-the-lorries’ on the narrow lane to get to the stile on the Saxon Shore Way and start the Walk ‘proper’.
Today could be classed as the smelliest walk so far! We had to pass a sewage works, which was vile, and a number of industrial complexes. It was not exactly a country walk, and did not feel much like a coastal one either. It is on days like this that we have to ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this?” It’s a good thing we weren’t in yesterday’s foul mood, or the ‘Round-Britain-Walk’ may have ended there and then!
The path was quite muddy for the first half mile, though we couldn’t blame cattle today. Colin went shooting ahead, but I found it difficult to walk safely on the slime and was lagging behind. The reason for his rush was the noise of go-karts on the opposite bank of Milton Creek. We couldn’t see them because the circuit was over a bank, and he was haring on hoping to get to a rise before they stopped. Eventually, he climbed a steep bank on our side in order to watch them. He said he would love to do go-kart racing again, but I think it is tedious to drive round and round the same track – I like to get somewhere.
We stopped there to sit and consume our lunch. We were hungry, and didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s fiasco when we didn’t get to eat until the middle of the afternoon. Also, we knew the sewage works was coming up next – and the least said about that, the better! Suffice it to say that we both put on a pace for the next mile or so, but now the track was no longer narrow or muddy so walking was easier. In fact, the whole of today’s hike was a lot greener than we had expected after looking at the map. It might skirt several industrial ‘works’, but it is The Saxon Shore Way and is well signposted and maintained. We tried to concentrate on the birds over the river. We saw a lot of my favourite oyster-catchers, and a huge curlew quite close with its very long beak. We also saw a beautiful bird with a white collar and a rusty red breast perched on a post very near us. We couldn’t identify it, and when Colin started to get his camera out it flew away.
We passed the end station on the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway (the track is only a mile and a half long) and found the gate was open leading into the station yard. We went through to look at one of the steam engines on display there, and Colin then wandered further in to look at some more of them. An elderly gentleman wearing an enthusiasts T-shirt approached me, so I greeted him and explained that we were just passing on the river bank and had come in out of curiosity. He seemed a bit vague, so I asked him when the railway opened again next season. He wandered off to a bungalow-type mobile home, then a younger man came out with a bunch of leaflets about it all. He was very talkative and friendly, and told us we were free to look around.
By that time Colin had rejoined us, and started talking to the older man about some of the engines. I didn’t find it all that fascinating, but listened politely to the old gent as he bumbled on rather hesitantly. He was very courteous, but I couldn’t help feeling that he viewed us with suspicion – two eccentrics with a highly implausible story about walking along a stinky river bank on a weekday at this time of year. Likely story! What are they really up to? I was also very conscious of the time because I did not want to be walking in the dark, and eventually I managed to hassle Colin away. One piece of interesting information we did glean from this gentleman was that the railway originally led up to Ridham Dock, almost the extent of today’s walk. It was constructed to accommodate the paper mill – that same mill which blocked our access to the footpath yesterday causing us to change plans and lose time.
We regained the river bank, and soon walked over an overgrown concrete platform which was originally a wharf for the station, so we had just been told. Next we reached the mouth of Milton Creek, and turned along The Swale again. It didn’t look any different because the channel is as narrow as a river at this point. Up ahead we could see a long jetty with a ship at the far end being loaded with containers. The jetty was plastered with DANGER notices, so we decided it was not a safe path and kept to the river bank.
We were passing a number of industrial complexes, some smellier than others! One which fascinated me consisted of an enormous pool of water which was being aerated in small fountains. Whether it was a cooling plant or a sewage works I don’t know, but it looked pretty! Far ahead we could see thick black smoke billowing across our green path and the channel.
We could have turned off before the smoke if we were to follow the Saxon Shore Way, but there was a path up to Ridham Dock which was a public footpath – so we went up there.
We were walking on top of an attractive green bank, but when we got to the smoke it filled our lungs with acrid ash and got in our eyes too. It was most unpleasant, but fortunately short-lived. We soon got to the very end at Ridham Dock. We couldn’t see anything as there was a building and a hedge in the way, so we walked back along the bottom of the green bank to keep out of the smoke.
We rejoined the Saxon Shore Way which led us across some green fields to the entrance to Ridham Dock. This was very busy, mostly with ‘Eddie Stobart’ lorries rushing hither and thither. I’m not sure what kind of shipping uses the dock, but I think the lorries pick up and drop off containers there. Unfortunately, the next part of the Way was along a road which had no pavements, so it was a game of ‘dodge-the-Eddie-Stobarts’ for the next couple of hundred yards – not much fun!
As we turned the corner, the footpath went over a stile and led between two hedges adjacent to the road. That was infinitely better! When we reached The Swale once more, on the other side of Ridham Dock, we climbed up on to the bank and immediately we were in the cold wind which we had left at the bridge earlier that morning. It made us shiver, yet all day we had been almost too hot in the brilliant sunshine.
Whether it is always windy and cold along that part of the channel, or it was just because it was near the end of the day I don’t know. I took a photo of the Kingsferry Bridge in the fading sunlight, and then put my camera away. We walked the last stretch quickly to the Bridge and regained our car because it was not the kind of weather to hang about!
That ended Walk no.38, we shall pick up Walk no.39 next time at the Kingsferry Bridge and walk on to the Isle of Sheppey. It was so cold and breezy by the bridge that we drove swiftly to the ASDA car park in Sittingbourne before we had our cups of tea from the flasks. We picked up the bikes, and drove home to Bognor in the dark.

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