Friday, March 22, 2002

Walk 40 -- Eastchurch to Leysdown-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 318 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 95 days.
Weather: Dull, but remaining dry except for one five-minute shower late in the afternoon. There was a light wind and it was quite mild.
Location: Eastchurch to Leysdown-on-Sea, Isle of Sheppey.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 250 miles.
Terrain: A busy road with no footway where we had to leap into the hedge every few seconds, then a quieter road. Several miles across farmland where there was no vestige of the footpath, but we managed not to have to wade through any drainage ditches. An unofficial path around a hill, an official path across a very bumpy field, hard-packed tracks, a grassy bank through a nature reserve, and finally a pleasant grassy bank along the top of the sea wall. Quite a variety, and not easy walking!
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None, though we passed the other end of the long disused Harty ferry which would have saved us twenty-nine miles had it still been functional.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.39 & 40 at the beginning of the Shell Ness Nature Reserve, and no.41 at the end of it. (No.39 had sharp bits of wire and I pierced my thumb!)
Pubs: None, because the Ferry Inn was closed for major refurbishment!
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from the Medway Youth Hostel to Leysdown-on-Sea where we parked by the sea wall. We donned our walking boots, locked the bike rack inside the car, then cycled back to Eastchurch where we left the bikes chained to a post on the patch of grass where we had parked the day before.
At the end, we had two cups of tea from our flasks in the car. Then we drove to Eastchurch to pick up the bikes. From there we drove back to the Medway Youth Hostel.

Last night was very comfortable in our converted oast-houses hostel, there was only one other guest. The warden told us that he had been “all day” clearing up after a school party who had stayed two nights and were “completely out of control”! We had originally planned to come a day earlier, but put it off because the weather was so foul. Had we stuck to our original plan, we would have spent our first night caught up with those dreadful kids! God is good to me!!
However, today did not start very well – last night I broke my glasses. I have been wearing spectacles since I was two years old as I was born with a complex eye defect. For the past ten years or so I have been wearing light-sensitive vari-focals and have become absolutely dependent on them. Without my glasses everything is out of focus no matter how near or far it is. The difference between my near-vision and my distance-vision has gradually increased and is now vast. Colin attempted to mend the glasses with sticky tape and then with ‘super-glue’, but to no avail. The nose piece sheered off one side and there seems to be no way the two pieces can be stuck together. I had an old pair of distance-vision specs in the car which I sometimes use for driving, so I put those on today and used a magnifying glass for map-reading. But it was all very uncomfortable and I have no middle-vision. The plastic frames kept slipping off my nose and made my ears sore, so I spent a good bit of today’s walk with them in my hand looking out on a fuzzy world! My head felt odd and I got quite depressed.

Before we started today's Walk, we had a quick look round Eastchurch. The village claims to be the "First Home of British Aviation, 1909" and there is a memorial to some of the earliest pilots, many of whom were killed whilst experimenting with their flying machines. We were disappointed to find there was no mention of Farnborough, nor of 'Colonel' Samuel Cody who flew the first fixed wing aircraft in this country on the 16th October 1908 on Laffan's Plain, now the two-mile runway at Farnborough. Surely Farnborough is the "Home of British Aviation"?

The first part of today’s walk was dreadful! For over a mile we had to walk along the side of a very busy B-road where there was no footway, not even a grass verge. The traffic was constant and speedy, and every few yards we had to leap into the hedge in order to stay alive! Colin wanted to cycle it, said it was “stupid” to walk such an unpleasant road. It probably was, but I was insistent that I want to always be able to say we have walked every inch of the way from Bognor. I told him that he could cycle it if he liked, but I was going to walk – so he did too, just declared at the end, “I hope you enjoyed that, because I didn’t!” No, I didn’t either, but we haven’t given in yet and missed out walking any of ‘the nearest path to the coast’!
With relief we turned south into a lane which we had to walk down for a further mile, and we were only passed by one fairly slow car. At the start of this lane was a big notice telling us that the Ferry Inn at Harty was closed due to major refurbishment! Is there a conspiracy to stop us getting any ‘real ale’ on our ‘Round-Britain-Walk’? Should we turn teetotal now? That was the only ‘real ale’ pub we were due to pass in three days of walking, and I had planned to get there just after lunch to wash down our sarnies before it closed. I must congratulate Colin on the lack of fuss he made – I think he has given up and gone into a decline!
At the bend in the lane, according to the map, the public footpath leads off across the marshes for about two miles to the Harty Ferry – but in reality we could see no vestige of it. There was no signpost, no stile, and no sign that anyone had walked that way before us! We climbed over a gate into a field, and started navigating by orientating the map and then looking for a landmark to make for on the horizon. Being marshland, all the field boundaries were deep drainage ditches and we were concerned that we would not be able to cross them where we wanted to. We were hungry by then, so we sat on the sloping bank of a ditch out of the wind to eat our lunch.
Then we carried on, navigating by looking at landmarks, and found we could cross most of the ditches at animal gateways. (Colin reckoned he saw a hare in the distance, but I couldn’t see it with my ‘wrong’ glasses on.) Eventually we ‘lost it’ completely, couldn’t get across a ditch where we were convinced the ‘footpath’ was supposed to go, and so made towards a flock of sheep being shepherded by three blokes who didn’t seem to like each other much. The one who fancied himself as ‘boss’ obviously thought the other two were incompetent, and they were taking very little notice of what he was saying. We got the impression they were ‘townies’ playing at farming. They had one dead sheep in the back of a truck, and when Colin told them where we had passed another one they didn’t seem much interested. By then we had seen the end of the ditch, so we refrained from asking them the way and they treated us as if we were invisible which is not usually our experience with country people.
Further on, the ‘path’ was so soggy and uneven we kept leaping across a narrow ditch to walk on the driest patches. We could then see where we were ‘supposed’ to go – up a hill alongside an arable field. But we knew we would immediately have to walk down again to the old ferry, so decided to take an unofficial path round the edge of the hill and stay on the level. We crossed over a fence where it was broken, and this path was much more clearly marked than the so-called public footpath we had tried to follow for the last couple of miles.
Colin found a plastic decoy duck and tried to kid me it was a real one which was tame enough to let him pick it up. We also found a large number of shot ‘clay pigeons’ and spent cartridge cases with the name of the Ferry Inn printed on them – no wonder the path was well marked!
The grass seawall bank, which came in from the west where we climbed over the fence, looked as if it had a firm dry path along the top. Studying the map later, we reckoned we could have walked straight along it from the nature reserves where we were yesterday, keeping nearer to the coast and saving us several miles, walking through a prison, along a main road and other such nasties. It is easy to see these things in hindsight, but if we had parked our car at the Ferry Inn yesterday and then not been able to get through because of deep drainage ditches and marsh, we would have been right up it! It is not marked as a public footpath, but that seems to be irrelevant on the Isle of Sheppey.
We walked down the ferry road as far as we could, which was quite a distance because the tide was way out. We had to be careful not to slip on the seaweed. Oare Creek seemed to be little more than an armslength away, yet we have had to walk twenty-nine miles extra because the ferry is redundant. We could have been here last October on Walk 36 instead of five months later on Walk 40! We sat on a rusty boat trailer and ate the sticky buns we had bought earlier in the morning in Leysdown.
As we walked past the Ferry Inn, there still seemed a lot of work to be done to the car park and gardens, and they haven’t much time if they hope to get the place open for Easter which is only next week (I hate it when Easter is in March). A group of men were laying turf, but it was very yellow and had obviously been rolled up too long. They spoke to each other in a foreign language except the one in charge who seemed frustrated that the others weren’t working hard enough and doing it wrong. We wondered if they were illegal immigrants being exploited as cheap labour.
We were discussing this as we walked up the road when we realised we had passed the spot where the footpath supposedly led off into a field (Colin was in charge of the map because I had given up frabbing about with my magnifying glass!) We walked back, and again there was no sign of the footpath where it is so clearly marked on the map. We crossed a dry ditch and a string of barbed wire, then set off across the bumpy lumpy field through the long grass. It was very hard walking, thank goodness it wasn’t far. I wished we had gone round by the road after all, but Colin was delighted because he kept seeing a hare, or maybe several different hares. At last I saw it too, but by the time I had got my telescope to my eye it had disappeared into the grass again. Colin was over the moon because he reckoned he had had seven or eight sightings of hares today – I wish I could see!
We regained a solid track, passed a derelict house, and eventually walked down to a Nature Reserve which goes all the way along to Shell Ness, the most south-easterly corner of Sheppey. Two kissing gates lead into the Reserve, the first had bits of broken wire netting on it and I jabbed my thumb making it bleed. The public footpath was well signposted, for a change, along the top of the grass covered sea wall – so much for our silhouettes supposedly upsetting the nesting birds here! It was the best part of today – easy walking along a grass path with excellent views of the birds. We saw oyster-catchers, shelducks, partridges, pheasants, greylag geese, Canada geese, widgeons, eider (a drake with four ducks), coots, peewits, a heron flew over, ringed plovers, a white goose and some wrens. The downside was that we got caught in a shower of rain when we were right out in the open! Rain was not forecast for today, but we could see this shower edging towards us and it didn’t miss – oh dear!
By the time we got to Shell Ness it was fine again. There is a row of houses there plastered with PRIVATE KEEP OUT type of notices of which we have seen so many on the trek so far, and probably will see a lot more of. We walked down the back of them to the Point, and sat down for a while to look at the sea. We could see Whitstable clearly, and Herne Bay in the distance. Through my little telescope I could see the twin towers of Reculver on the horizon – it seems a long time since we were there.
It was a couple of miles to our car along the seawall, which was quite pleasant walking. We passed an official nudist beach! We had permission to take all our clothes off and gambol about in the waves, but we resisted the temptation because of the stiff breeze that was blowing across on this March day! In fact, there didn’t seem to be any takers at all, I wonder why! It was nice to be by the real sea again – occasionally we seem to have lost sight of the fact we are doing a coastal trek when we have to take so many detours inland to avoid marshland, stomp through industrial areas which could be anywhere, and there has been too much river-bank walking since we got in the region of Sheppey. Our car was parked by the seawall at the southern end of Leysdown-on-Sea.

That ended Walk no.40, we shall pick up Walk no.41 next time on the seawall at Leysdown-on-Sea. We had tea and biscuits, then we drove back to Eastchurch where we parked momentarily on the newly tarmacked PRIVATE PROPERTY NO PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAY track to load up our bikes. Then we returned to the Medway Youth Hostel, near Gillingham, for the night.

1 comment:

Nevergivein said...

In answer to your question about Samuel Cody and Farnborough:
The Broomfield myth attributes Cody as making five flights on 16th May 1908, this without any official records of the flights taking place. The RAE andthe Science Museum were happy to perpetuate this myth at the time. However, using archives from both the science museum and the RAE, Perry B Walker exposed the myth. Full details of the controversy are contained in EARLY AVIATION AT FARNBOROUGH: THE FIRST AEROPLANES. The guinness book of records lists the first British flight, and other Aviation firsts as by JTC Moore Brabazon, at Mussel Manor, Leysdown, Isle of Sheppey