Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Walk 49 -- Hoo St Werburgh to Kent Oil Refinery

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 42 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 184 days.
Weather: Very hot and humid – we got quite dehydrated.
Location: Hoo St Werburgh to Kent Oil Refinery – not the most exciting of places!
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 307½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly grassy river banks, one or two country lanes, a dreadful bridle path that was almost impassable because of armpit-high thistles, stinging nettles and brambles, and finally a deadly section of busy road through the oil refinery!
Tide: Coming in, then going out again.
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 our campsite to Grain where we parked in the car park by the beach. We donned our walking boots, locked the bike rack inside the car, then cycled back to Hoo St Werburgh where we bought our lunch in the village shop. We cycled on down to the marina and chained the bikes to a post at the spot where we cut inland across the fields yesterday.
At the end, we got so hot, tired, dehydrated and depressed that we made the decision to cut short the 15 mile hike we had planned for today. As we approached Grain village, we walked straight on back to our car. We downed several cups of tea, then returned to our campsite making a short detour to pick up the bikes on the way.

We had planned a long hike today, fifteen miles! We wanted so much to reach Gravesend this week, then we will not have to return to Kent. We are really fed up with this county, after all we have walked nearly three quarters of the way round it! We made a pretty good start to the day, but it was quite a distance to drive out to Grain at the end of the Hoo Peninsula and it took us a long time to cycle the eight miles back to Hoo St Werburgh. After we had bought our lunch in the local shop and cycled down to the marina, we were both well and truly knackered!
We walked for about half a mile along the grassy raised river bank, looking back at the restored Thames Barges in Hoo Marina and out to ships and birds in the channel and a couple of ancient forts on mudbanks. Then we came to a ‘pill-box’ – Second World War style – the roof of which was at exactly the right height to make a comfy seat. So we made use of it and sat down to have our lunch with gloomy thoughts that we still had 14½ miles of power stations, an oil refinery and an Army range to go!
It was not long before our way was barred by the first power station and we had to turn inland. The footpath across the fields was not very clear, but we managed to navigate our way successfully – almost back on ourselves – to reach some lanes which would take us round the complex. As soon as we left the river bank, we lost the tiny breeze which had been keeping us sane and we became very hot and bothered walking along. The lanes led past the entrance to the power station where there were children playing outside a ‘Field Centre’, but we couldn’t think of anything that could possibly be of interest for young children to study in such an area.
We avoided the heavy traffic in and out of an industrial estate, and tried to find the bridlepath which was marked on our map.
Part way into the factory complex, we realised that we were parallel to the path we wanted but that it was on the other side of a high fence and a host of brambles! In a foul mood, we retraced our steps about a quarter of a mile. I had a corn on my toe which had become very painful, so I sat on a post, removed my boot and put on another cornpad adding to the one already there. Then I took some painkillers – and cursed my wretched feet! Colin had found the entrance to the bridlepath, it was a disgrace! There was no signpost, and it was armpit deep in brambles, thistles and stinging nettles. At times we wondered if we would be able to continue, it was so badly overgrown! We battled our way to the railway and found that the gates and notices for the path crossing the line were still in place. However, just before the first gate and hidden by dense undergrowth was a puddle of thick glutinous mud. I stepped straight into it, up to my ankle. My right boot was a mess, I was not pleased!
After the crossing, the going was easier and we soon emerged on to a proper lane. This we followed along two sides of a square. There was a track leading back to the river bank which was marked on my internet map but not on the OS map, and we were hoping we would be able to use it to get us back across the railway. We could, so that saved us a bit of distance. We had to climb over one of the farm gates at the railway because it was not a public right of way, but the other was not locked. We had regained the waterside and our breeze! We back-tracked a few yards to the nether boundary of the power station we had successfully skirted, and celebrated by sitting on the grassy bank to eat another snack.
From there we continued eastwards with mud to our right and the railway line to the left. We passed a small wharf where there were several boats and a few people about. We had met hardly anybody up until then – nobody else is as crazy as us. (We told one chap we were walking to Scotland, he must have thought we were really round the bend!) Next we passed a micro-light airfield squashed between the river bank and the railway. We watched a small plane take off from the grassy airstrip and later on come in to land – dangerously close to overhead power lines! We thought it a very unsafe place for this kind of activity, a slight buffeting of the wind and sizzle! – all you have left is a plume of smoke! However, it didn’t happen today because there was no wind, it was just hot!
On and on we trudged, ever nearer to the Kent Oil Refinery with its line of cranes looking like giant giraffes facing the sea! We sat down on the bank and contemplated this scene – not very pretty. We were both hot, tired, dehydrated and fed up. Neither of us were enjoying ourselves and neither of us relished the thought of the long deadly walk through the oil refinery ahead of us. Colin was ready to throw in the towel now and give up the ‘Round-Britain-Walk’ altogether. I was tempted to agree, but I didn’t want to give in to the moment and then regret it later. We were so depressed we didn't realise, until a long time later, that we had passed the three hundred mile point of our trek.
We discussed the fact that part of our problem this week was that we were emotionally drained. It was a mere seven days since we had to put our nineteen-year-old cat, Bolly, down and five days since Colin was told he has prostate cancer. We haven’t had time to mourn Bolly or come to terms with the cancer, and we have decided to tell no one about the cancer until after Paul’s wedding in five weeks time because we don’t want to put a damper on the jollifications – that, in itself, is a strain. Every day, despite good intentions, we have made late starts and the walks have been longer than we have anticipated. We didn’t know how we were going to get past the Army range on the other side of Grain – it is miles to walk round and a local man had told us this morning that he and his family ‘often trespass on there on days when they are not firing’, but we could hear them exploding away even as we discussed it! We were too exhausted to get to Gravesend this week, so we came to a compromise.
We decided to walk straight through the oil refinery and on to our car parked in Grain today, missing out the last five miles of the planned walk. Tomorrow we will pack up our camp (two days earlier than planned), do the five miles to the Army range and then go home. When we are feeling less tired and not so uptight we will review the situation.
Having made these decisions, we both immediately felt better about the Walk. We got up and stomped along the few yards to the road where the public footpath stopped. Once on the road we marched! Two miles of road through the refinery – deadly! We didn’t say a word to each other, in fact we didn’t even walk together, we just marched one in front of the other with a grim determination to get it over as quickly as possible. We reached the outskirts of the village of Grain.

That ended Walk no.49, we shall pick up Walk no.50 next time on the corner where the road leads down to Grain Power Station. We walked on into the village, called at the shop and then continued to the car park where we had left the car this morning. After several cups of tea from our flasks, we both felt a lot better about everything. On the way back to the campsite we only had to make a short detour to pick up our bikes from Hoo Marina, but even so – we ended up cooking in the dark yet again!

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