Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Walk 48 -- Rochester to Hoo St Werburgh

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 41 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 183 days.
Weather: Very hot and sunny. (Most uncomfortable for walking!)
Location: Rochester to Hoo St Werburgh.
Distance: 5 miles.
Total distance: 297½ miles.
Terrain: Gravel and paved paths, shingle beach and finally an unkempt footpath behind and through boatyards with rather too many stinging nettles!
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: No.12, the Medway at Rochester.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.44 just before we descended the hill at Frindsbury. No.45 (a high one, this, difficult to get a kiss over the top!) behind some army land at the bottom near the Medway Tunnel.
Pubs: The ‘Kings Arms’ where Colin drank ‘It is Now’ and I had a shandy. The ‘Tudor Rose’ where we enjoyed ‘Rumpus’ and ‘Golden Braid’. Both pubs were in Upnor about fifty yards from each other!
‘English Heritage’ properties: We passed three which we had looked at the day before along with a Cathedral.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from our campsite to Hoo St Werburgh where we parked in the village car park. We donned our walking boots, locked the bike rack inside the car, then cycled back to Rochester – zapping some arrogant teenage schoolboys and a group of ‘New-Age Travellers’ who were blocking the official cycle lanes in different places in very anti-social ways! We chained the bikes to a post in the car park by the railway.
At the end, we walked across a couple of fields to our car. After a cup of tea, we drove back to our campsite, picking up our bikes in Rochester on the way.

After our walk round St Mary’s Island this morning, we were hot, tired and very thirsty! We drove straight to Upnor where there are two ‘real ale’ pubs in the same tiny street. There we sat in the garden and had lunch, by which time it was already the middle of the afternoon – but we felt a lot better, and carried on setting up the real walk for today. By the time we had achieved this, it was a quarter to five! Even worse than yesterday!

We started by having a quick look at the river from a little private garden in front of some new properties (Private! Residents only!) but realised we would have to go back to the road on the other side of the car park in order to get under the railway. We made a decision here to add another ‘rule’ to our trek – we do not have to walk through an industrial estate if it is quicker to bypass it! There is nothing more soul-destroying than to hike past lots of factories when we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves, and we had enough of them when we were in Sittingbourne. So, after we had passed Rochester Station we did not attempt to cross back under the railway to get nearer to the river because it was all dead-end industrial stuff and really boring. We made straight for the double road bridge and crossed the Medway at last!
We turned immediately right under the railway to walk back along the other side of the river, and passed through some very pleasant gardens which included an imaginative children’s playground – how I would have loved this modern play equipment fifty years ago when I was seven! (Although we did have a lot of fun on those ‘umbrella’ roundabouts which are now deemed too dangerous.)
We then had to walk up a puddly track passing a dubious looking car repair shop which had one car on the roof! We don’t know how they got it up there – or why. We crossed a road, and did not turn right into Frindsbury Industrial Estate. This is really why we had made our new rule today – the whole peninsula is factories, and on our way down by bike we had got lost in there amongst the warehouses and were blasted by lorries zooming hither and thither with all the attendant noise, dust and pollution. Not fun!
If we had managed to find our way through taking ‘the nearest safe path to the coast’, we would have ended up at exactly the same roundabout but a lot later, crosser and tireder! Instead, we took a footpath which went quite steeply uphill and along the top of chalk cliffs (where we found a big black beetle) giving us a lovely view back across Rochester – and of the industrial estate stretching out before our eyes! Then we descended through a kissing gate into a pleasant green meadow, and down to the busy roundabout where cars were whizzing towards the Medway Tunnel and lorries were accelerating out of the industrial estate.
After crossing the dual carriageway with the aid of traffic lights, we had to negotiate a ‘New-Age Travellers’ camp! About a dozen caravans, even more vans and cars, and all their attendant paraphernalia / children / dogs / chickens / ironmongery were parked all over the footpath / bridleway / cycletrack. I was a little nervous because earlier, when we came cycling down that way, we had had difficulty getting round all of this stuff, particularly the open windows of the caravans which stuck out horizontally into our path at about eye level. After narrowly avoiding having my eye gouged out because I wobbled violently to miss a dog and didn’t see the window until it was almost too late, I had yelled at a young chap, “You shouldn’t be here, this is a public right of way, you know!” – to which he daintily replied, “Yeah! And we’re staying here forever, like shit!” By that time we were well down the path and away, but now we had to walk back through them! I pulled my ‘Flowerpot-Man’ sun hat over my eyes and trudged through purposefully looking into the middle distance – no one seemed to associate me with the mad cyclist of a couple of hours ago! (Much later that same evening, we drove past there to the roundabout and every single one of them had gone, just leaving their rubbish behind.)
Further on there was a very high kissing gate (difficult to purse our lips over!) We were still on the footpath / bridleway / cycletrack, but passing an Army base and cyclists were asked to dismount. Why? We had ignored this request/order on our way down because we couldn’t see any reason for not cycling along a cycletrack especially designated for cyclists! On reaching the road which leads into the Army base, we turned on to a footpath which led down to the beach. Very shortly we were at Upnor Castle. It was closed, of course, because we were well into the evening, so we sat on a bench outside the entrance looking across the river at St Mary’s Island and trying to pick out landmarks we had seen earlier in the day. We were at the end of Upnor High street, a cobbled road boasting two ‘real ale’ pubs! We went to the one we didn’t visit for lunch earlier, and enjoyed our drinks in their pleasant back garden.
From there we had to take to the road for a bit because there was yet another Army base (behind a high wall) enjoying river frontage – they take up all the best sites! We regained the beach at Lower Upnor which seemed to be a little upmarket yachting centre, but their pub is not in the ‘Good Beer Guide’ and so is beneath contempt as far as Colin is concerned!
Noses in the air, we marched past and the path continued along the beach, occasionally just below high water mark which was a little disconcerting, and slippery! Trees lined the shore, and we sat on a piece of wood to eat our bars of chocolate which had melted in our bags – goooey!! Faces and fingers coated in this sticky confection, like small children we continued along the shingle which was fairly hard-packed so not too difficult. We could see ancient and not-so-ancient forts out in the river on muddy islands, and passed a Second World War ‘pill-box’ which had slipped down the beach and was teetering at an angle. Other brickwork we passed, we didn’t know what it was and quite frankly I was so tired by then I didn’t care!

We came eventually to Hoo Marina, which is more like an industrial complex because they restore boats there rather than just sail them. The path wended its way through the sheds and warehouses, but it was not easy to see where it went and it was quite overgrown in places. We were too tired to negotiate nettles and brambles with good temper! Wish I’d brought my sticks!

We weren’t sure which road to take inland, and a man with two dogs asked us if we needed directions because he saw us looking at the map. Colin got chatting to him about the Thames Barges we could see behind the fence, and he told us that the one under wraps had featured in a recent Channel Four TV programme called ‘The Salvage Squad’. He was restoring an old wooden lightship – he said it was hard work but very rewarding, and it should be worth a quarter of a million pounds when he has finished it! Some investment!We came to the end of the marina, and turned inland.

That ended Walk no.47, we shall pick up Walk no.48 next time at the eastern end of Hoo Marina. We walked inland across a couple of fields to Hoo St Werburgh where our car was parked. After a quick cup of tea from our flasks, we drove to Rochester to pick up our bikes and then on to our campsite – without getting lost today! However, it was so late that we cooked and ate by the light of our lamp for the second evening in succession.

No comments: