Thursday, June 20, 2002

Walk 50 -- Kent Oil Refinery to Grain

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 43 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 185 days.
Weather: A wet start as we packed up camp, but it had turned fine by the time we started the walk. There was a pleasant breeze which lifted our spirits no end!
Location: Kent Oil Refinery to Grain.
Distance: 5 miles.
Total distance: 312½ miles.
Terrain: Disused road, grassy banks and concrete proms.
Tide: Right 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 packed up our camp (located between a motorway and an airport – but with delightful toilets!) and drove to Grain where we parked in the car park by the beach again. It was less than a mile from where we left the ‘official’ route yesterday, so we didn’t think it worth while unlocking the bikes and dismantling the bike rack. We left all in situ and walked.
At the end, we had a couple of cups of tea with sticky cakes we had bought earlier, then drove home to Bognor.

Yesterday, when we had both been feeling very low, Colin had complained about walking back to the true start of today’s walk and said he was going to take a ‘quicker route’ through the village. I had said, “Go on, then, but I am going to walk back to the road which leads down to Grain Power Station so that all the Walks we have done so far link up! Today, we both felt a hundred times better, and he didn’t mention his ‘quicker route’ at all. He just followed me to the correct starting point – which wasn’t very exciting but at least we can still boast we have walked ‘every inch of the way’ from Bognor Regis'.
We skirted Grain Power station which was very quiet, and we realised it was no longer in use. We wondered if that was permanent – it all looked rather dead. (Several weeks later, we heard a News item which said that people were not using as much electricity as had been anticipated. As a result, two power stations in England were being closed down – one of these was Grain Power Station.) I took a photo of a beautiful wild rose bush in full flower, the scent emanating from it was rather wonderful too. We walked the length of a disused road behind the power station, then along the raised river bank until our way was barred by barbed wire and KEEP OUT notices. This was the nether end of the oil refinery / power station complex that we had walked miles to get round.
We sat on the sea wall, overlooking a jetty which was just inside the forbidden territory. Across the river, a mere mile away, lay Sheerness Docks. We have walked nigh on fifty miles to cross that mile of water, no wonder we felt jaded! It was quite a busy port on this sunny afternoon. We watched two ships leave, one was turned right round within its own length by two tugs – it was quite an impressive operation. We wondered how many more new cars those ships had delivered to fill our crowded roads.
So far we had met no one. We started walking back along the sea wall, which was topped with short grass and so was quite pleasant, when we met a couple walking their dog. Fine – but about a hundred yards further on we narrowly missed treading in a huge dog s**t in the middle of the path! It had not been there earlier, why can’t dog owners be more responsible about clearing up their pet’s mess? We passed the water outlet to the power station and it was dry. It looked as if it had been like that for some time.
The tide was right out so when we passed Grain Tower, which is geographically in the middle of the Medway entrance, we could see that the structure was actually on our side of the channel. It looks like a fort of NapolĂ©onic vintage, but has an extension in Second World War style. Telephone wires go out there at ground level protected by a brick causeway, so at very low tide it is possible to walk the half mile to the tower. In fact, a group of people had done that, we could see them milling about under the building. If we hadn’t been so tired and pushed for time, we might have considered it ourselves; but I looked at the green slime in patches on the causeway, and—remembering Brighton Marina—declared it an unsafe path! (In fact, my right shoulder has been aching and stiffening up in recent weeks after two and a half years of complete freedom of movement – I shall have to get it looked at again if it keeps on like this.)
Grain is a strange little village, squashed as it is between an oil refinery and an active Army range! Even so, they have tried to make a little seaside resort out of it and interest the local schoolchildren in the wildlife there. We passed a group of girls, aged about ten, who had been playing on the beach and were covered in sandy mud. They were at the arguing stage, and went off home in high dudgeon – I wonder what their mothers thought of the mess they had got themselves into!
We could clearly see the north coast of Sheppey from Grain Beach, and we were working out where we had walked and where our campsite (with the dreadful toilets) was situated. We couldn’t think of any reason why we should ever visit the Isle of Sheppey again in our lives! We could also see the Essex coast, and just about make out Southend Pier, though it was difficult because it was end-on to us.
We passed a number of other people sitting on the concrete steps enjoying the afternoon sun, and continued along an overgrown path which became more and more uneven because it leads nowhere. We passed some sand quarry workings, then we came to a barbed wire barrier with a big red notice –

That ended Walk no.50, we returned the couple of hundred yards to Grain Beach car park and that is where we will pick up Walk no.51 next time. We both admitted that we had rather enjoyed today’s hike, and were glad that we hadn’t given in to our feelings yesterday. We had saved a sticky cake each to treat ourselves along with a couple of cups of tea from our flasks. Then we had a smooth drive home to Bognor, taking a little over two hours for the journey.
Our only problem now is – what are we going to do about that wretched Army range? It is eight miles to walk round it legally – mostly on busy roads and through that dreadful oil refinery again – all for the sake of a single mile through private land!

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