Sunday, August 11, 2002

Walk 51 -- Grain to Allhallows

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 95 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 237 days.
Weather: ‘Fair-weather’ cloud and quite warm. Location: Grain to Allhallows.
Distance: 4 miles.
Total distance: 316½ miles.
Terrain: Roads, followed by a skirt round the edge of an army firing range (along a grass bank where we had to negotiate three unfriendly fences), then grassy river bank.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None, because we avoided an eight mile diversion by walking one mile across private land.
How we got there and back: We drove from Bognor to Allhallows and parked at the end of the road leading to the marshes. On seeing how near the oil refinery at Grain looked from there and noting from the map how far it was to get to Grain by road, we decided to change tactics. We didn’t know if it was possible to get around the Army range, and if we cycled the eight miles by road only to discover we couldn’t walk through the one mile of private land, we would then have to cycle eight miles back without achieving anything! So we padlocked our bikes to the car and walked to Grain along the river banks – in fact, we did the Walk in reverse. That way we were also able to ‘recce’ our route around the range.
At the end, we walked through a caravan/chalet site and back down the road to our car. After a cup of tea, we drove to the campsite near Rochester which we had used back in June, and there set up our tent.

Several things have happened to cheer us up since we last walked seven weeks ago. Yes, we still miss Bolly (the cat) but we have had time to get used to her not being there any more. Colin has had further medical tests to make sure the cancer has not spread to his bones, and we are fully expecting negative results so it will only be the prostate gland which is the problem. At the end of June we went to Slovenia with our friends from the B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. (Boldly Leading Intrepid Stomping Traipsing Ever Rambling Society – or – Blatently Loony Idiotic Senile Tottering Eccentric Rumbling Souls – or – whatever!) Tuesday walking group, and behaved ourselves disgracefully for a whole week! We had such fun in that beautiful part of the world, and the cream cakes were something else!
Then, in July, it was Paul and Caroline’s wedding which was also a fun event. They got married in the ancient village church in Alkborough, North Lincolnshire. It was magically rural – Caroline walked to the church on her father’s arm, with Kelly-Marie and Sarah (Caroline’s sister) carrying her train. Afterwards, Paul and Caroline walked back (with bridesmaids carrying her train again) along the street to the reception in a beautifully decorated marquee which incorporated the garden pond! Dancing carried on into the early hours, and we all had a wonderful time!
So we were in a much better mood to tackle this last boring bit of the North Kent coast, and were determined to get to Gravesend or bust! I must admit that the problem of the Army range had been constantly on my mind, but the obvious solution didn’t occur to me until we were parked in Allhallows eating the first half of our lunch and idly looking out over the marshes towards Grain. As we walked along the bank of Yantlet Creek, we noted that (a) the Army were not firing today, and (b) a number of local yobs were racing up and down on motor bikes all over the range on the other side of the river. We walked as nonchalantly as we could along the mile of private land, and not a single person accosted us or even noticed that we were trespassing! We ate the second half of our lunch sitting on the concrete steps above Grain Beach.
The walk ‘proper’ started from Grain Beach car park in the middle of the afternoon. We tried to have a quick look at Grain village church, but the door was locked so we couldn’t get in. A notice on the wall near the door said:
We walked through the village for the last time, and up the lane towards Rose Court Farm. We had just passed the first DANGER / MINISTRY OF DEFENCE RANGE / NO ADMITTANCE notice when …… the strap on Colin’s rucksack broke! Panic-stations! There we were, trying to be as quiet and quick and discreet as possible skitting across the non public-right-of-way bit, and we were fully exposed to Rose Court Farm where a dog started barking fit to bust as soon as it sensed our presence! It seemed an age before Colin got the strap tied to his liking and donned the bag once more (he will insist on bringing the kitchen sink on every little walk!) Round the next bend in the lane we came across a car parked, and to our left was a small pond. Fishing! So that’s all the notice the locals take of the Ministry of Defence. Anyway, the lane led to a row of cottages which you could visit ‘at your own risk’, but we were not even going that far.
We turned off the lane to follow a raised bank which led us directly to a bridging point over Yantlet Creek. We had to climb through a wooden fence, and hadn’t seen the PRIVATE KEEP OUT notice when we had come that way earlier – so we pretended not to see it on the way back! Two more fences had to be scaled, one a single strand of barbed wire which we crawled under holding it up for each other, and the other was made of smooth wire and just about low enough to step over. The only living things that noted our progress along the bank were a group of horses in the adjacent field which came over in the hope that we had something tasty for them to eat.
We passed several notices telling us we were on the fringe of a firing range, and that we would be in extreme danger if we took so much as one step to the right. About a quarter of a mile over to our right, we watched a jeep leave the row of cottages – where people seemed to be living quite happily without being blown to bits – and drive along the track to the creek. (We thought it was probably their short cut to Allhallows.) When we arrived at the creek ourselves, the gate (which had been wide open when we had come that way earlier) was locked shut. It was a simple matter to climb over it, cross the bridge – and we were on a legal public footpath once again! Q.E.D! We felt a certain sense of achievement that we had ‘beaten’ the Army!
There followed more dull river bank walking with flat boring marshes to our left as we hiked to the mouth of Yantlet Creek. Just before we got there, we noticed what looked like a memorial stone down by the water. Intrigued, we leapt over some mud to go and read the inscription. It was dedicated to a young man who had died, and the stone had been placed there because it was one of his favourite places and he often used to come there – I mean, what a life! Flat marshland overlooking the Thames Estuary? There are fantastic views of the oil refinery at Grain to the right, an Army firing range ahead and amazing views of the oil refinery at Canvey Island to the left! Haven’t these people been anywhere?
After that bit of excitement, the path turned left so that we were once more walking along the Thames Estuary. The Essex coast looked very near (and very industrial!) and there was quite a bit of traffic on the river. We could see the village of Allhallows across the marshes to our left, and knew our flasks and tea bags were in the boot of our car parked just over there! We walked along to the first caravan site, and turned inland.

That ended Walk no.51, we shall pick up Walk no.52 next time at the eastern corner of the caravan site in Allhallows-on-Sea. We followed the public footpath inland through the caravan/chalet site and returned to our car which was parked where the road ran out. After a cup of tea, we drove to the campsite near Rochester which we had used back in June (the one by the motorway but with the lovely toilets!) and there set up our tent.

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