Monday, May 06, 2002

Walk 42 -- Warden Point to Minster, Isle of Sheppey

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 363 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 141 days.
Weather: Clearing skies to very sunny, but with a cold north-easterly wind.
Location: Warden Point to Minster, Isle of Sheppey.
Distance: 5 miles.
Total distance: 258 miles.
Terrain: First the descent of a soft earth cliff(!), then beach walking which was squidgy in places but not too bad (we alternated between sand and shingle, whichever was the firmest), and the final mile was along a concrete prom.
Tide: Out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘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 home to Minster where we parked on the seafront. We donned our walking boots, locked the bike rack inside the car, then cycled to Warden Point (don’t let anyone ever tell you that the Isle of Sheppey is flat!) We sat on the edge of the cliff and ate our lunch while Colin investigated the best ‘path’ we could descend to the beach. We chained the bikes to a fence near the monastery, and started the walk.
At the end, we had a cup of tea from our flask in the car. Then we drove to Warden Point to pick up the bikes. From the map, we chose a campsite between the two points and pitched our tent there – first time camping this year!

Since our last walk, I not only have had my glasses mended but I had my eyes tested again (they were due) and I have bought a brand new pair of spectacles. They cost an arm and a leg, but for the first time in more than thirty years the opticians were able to make up my prescription with light-reactive vari-focals in plastic! (Each bi-annual test, my eyes would get a little bit worse and they could only make my spectacles in heavy glass, but at last technology has overtaken me!) This means that not only can I see things a lot better both far and near, but my glasses don’t slip down my nose with the weight whenever I get hot. The new frames are so comfortable I don’t know I’ve got them on most of the time – it’s almost like having normal eyesight, except that I haven’t got binocular vision (but since I never have had it, I don’t know what I’m missing!)
At Warden Point we sat on the edge of the soft cliff, legs dangling over, to eat our lunch. I had been quite concerned, when planning today’s walk, that there is no public footpath along the north coast of Sheppey. There are loads of caravan sites with high fences right to the cliff edge, and it would have meant walking a zigzag route back along the roads we had just cycled (which weren’t very interesting) between view-stopping hedges and doubling the length of the walk. We were both relieved, therefore, to discover that the tide was out – had we come last week as originally planned (until the weather said otherwise) it would have been in. As I have said before, I’m sure God is on our side!
Colin said, “Do you think you could get down this cliff?” I had already been planning it! The cliff is soft earth and there have been many falls over the years, so it is far from vertical. Little paths networked away from us down to the beach, so Colin – sandwich in hand – went for an exploratory walk to find the easiest route. When he came back, we took our bikes to the ‘monastery’ to chain them to a telegraph pole, then we started our Walk.
We descended the cliff carefully, it wasn’t difficult at all. There were a number of slabs of cement, bricks rounded by waves and even bits of concrete building at crazy angles on the slope. We speculated that they were the remains of a Second World War look-out post, or maybe even a gun platform since Warden Point is in quite a strategic position overlooking the Thames Estuary. A lot of the cliff falls had already grown over with plants, and the more recent ones looked like a war-zone – it reminded us of the countryside the week after the 1987 hurricane. When we glanced back at what we had climbed down, it looked quite impressive!
Along the beach we had a choice of sand or shingle, both were quite firm. Occasionally the sand would get a bit squidgy so we moved on to the shingle – then the shingle would get a bit loose so we moved back to the sand. When we took a step on the sand and suddenly sank a bit, we were asking, “Where is the notice saying DANGER QUICKSAND that was always there in the comics we used to read as children?” Funnily enough, there was no one else about doing what we were doing! We were nearly at Minster before we met anybody.
Looking up at the cliffs as we passed, we were reminded of mountain ranges and one section was definitely Monument Valley! Trees, and sometimes hedges, had managed to hold the earth together with their roots whereas all was chaos around them leaving them isolated on pinnacles – it was quite a lesson on erosion. We were also fascinated by large boulders of packed mud on the beach which had cracked, crazy-paving style. Many of them were below high-water mark, so they couldn’t have dried out like that. We couldn’t work out how they had formed.
We rounded ‘Royal Oak Point’, and thought at first we were looking at the remains of a mulberry harbour (described on Walk 17). As we walked closer, we discovered that it was a line of sunken ships stretching out at right angles from the beach! They were very broken up, and could well have been there since the Second World War. We speculated that it was a practice area for the building of the artificial harbours once they had towed them to France.
We know, from a museum we have visited in Arromanches in Normandie, that several old ships were deliberately sunk in a line to form the foundations of the artificial harbour on that side of the Channel. Also that the mulberry harbours were made in the Thames Estuary then sunk in the mud until they were needed, to hide them from the Enemy. Ships don’t sink in a line naturally, so it all adds up.
By then the shingle was getting looser, the sand was getting squidgier and we were getting tireder! So we were glad to step on to a concrete wall which led on to a prom for the last mile or so. We could see Essex clearly across the water, we think it was Southend we were looking at. We walked just past our parked car to a set of steps with blue rails near a road junction.

That ended Walk no.42, we shall pick up Walk no.43 next time by the set of steps with blue rails near the road junction at Minster. We gulped down tea and chocolate biscuits before driving back to Warden Point to pick up our bikes. We picked a campsite at random from the map – it was situated on top of the cliffs above ‘Royal Oak Point’. Fantastic location, but terrible toilets!

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