Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Walk 53 -- Cliffe Creek to Gravesend

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 97 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 239 days.
Weather: Too hot for walking!
Location: Cliffe Creek to Gravesend.
Distance: 6 miles.
Total distance: 335½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy river banks, and latterly on roads and paths through industrial sites.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: No.12 at Gravesend, but it was closed. (We couldn’t get anywhere near it because they were rebuilding the forecourt at the shore end – in fact we had to walk right out into a busy road in order to get past!)
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Jolly Drayman’ in Gravesend where Colin enjoyed ‘Summer Challenge’ and ‘Nimmos XXXX’, and I had a shandy because I was so thirsty.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.16, Milton Chantry in New Tavern Fort, Gravesend – but it was closed!
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from our campsite near Rochester to Gravesend where we parked in a ‘long-stay’ car park near the waterfront. We cycled back to Cliffe along ‘cycleway 1’ which was miles in a dead straight line on the level (it turned out it was the original towpath of a long-defunct canal) and well away from any traffic – it was really pleasant! We locked our bikes to a post opposite the row of cottages where we parked yesterday, and walked a mile out to the end of Cliffe Creek.
At the end, we checked ferry times to Tilbury, went to the ‘Real Ale’ pub in Gravesend, had a look at the Pocahontas statue, and returned to our car for a cup of tea. Then we drove to Cliffe to retrieve our bikes (in the dark again!), and when we had them strapped on the car we drove back to our campsite near Rochester.

It was the middle of the afternoon before we started today’s walk because we were so tired after yesterday. We had eaten our lunch in Gravesend, seated by the river, and then we had cycled to Cliffe and walked a mile to Cliffe Creek. We climbed over the stile and proceeded along the other side of Cliffe Creek until we were out on the Thames Estuary again. There were gravel workings to our left. We turned a corner and passed Cliffe Fort which looked as if it could have been of NapolĂ©onic vintage, but I expect it was used in the Second World War too. Sixty years on, it is redundant and neglected. In fact, we couldn’t get anywhere near it for the brambles, barbed wire and DANGER – KEEP OUT notices.
The next mile or so felt rather strange because we seemed to be ‘walking on water’! To the left of us were disused gravel lakes, to the right of us was the Estuary, and we took a wiggly path between. It wasn’t very easy because the way was strewn with rubbish, and prickly weeds grew about three feet tall. We don’t think many people go that way! Suddenly we turned sharply to the right, and the path was open grass. From there on it was easy walking all the way to Gravesend.
Further on we passed another fort – well, this is the coastal route to London and needed to be defended in years gone past! Shornmead Fort looked much the same style as Cliffe Fort, was just as abandoned and neglected, but it was more accessible. We climbed through one of the ‘windows’ and found quite a lot of the brickwork was preserved although it had no roof. It was a fun place to explore, and we found evidence that it is much used for picnics and barbecues.
We could see Gravesend ahead of us, and we began to meet a lot more people – fishermen, dog-walkers, cyclists and so on. A trio of young people had jogged out from the town and were doing ‘pull-ups’ using the high bar of a fence. We were amazed that one of them did sixteen in quick succession! His friends couldn’t manage more than about four. The Thames had narrowed to less than a mile by that point, and the Essex side looked very industrial – which didn’t cheer us up any.
As we approached Gravesend, it became quite industrial on our side of the river too, and it wasn’t very clear where we had to leave the wall we were walking along and turn inland. When we came to a blank creeper-covered wall across our path, we knew we were no longer on the ‘right of way’ and had to go back a few yards repassing some people’s back gardens.
We had about half a mile walking along roads and paths through the industrial section – very narrow in parts with brambles drooping down across our faces – but we knew the way because we had cycled it earlier in the opposite direction. We emerged by some lock gates on a bridge over what used to be the entrance to the Rochester Canal which no longer exists. The lock gates now lead into Gravesend Marina. We turned a corner, and we were in some very pleasant gardens alongside the river. We sat on a bench to eat a snack and drink some water. It was already evening.
We had found out from a friend – who lives in London – how Gravesend came by its morbid name. When the Black Death swept the country during the fourteenth century, the City of London victims were buried on the southern shore of the River Thames to keep them away from the survivors. There were so many of them, their graves stretched all the way to the place we now call ‘Gravesend’! Apparently, modern society wants to change the name to something less macabre – but they can’t do that, it’s history!
We climbed steps into the New Tavern Fort Gardens behind where we were sitting, in order to visit the ‘English Heritage’ site, Milton Chantry. This is a small 14th century building which housed the chapel of a leper hospital and a family chantry. However, not only does it close at 5pm, but it is never open on a Tuesday (which is today!) The building later became a tavern, then part of a fort, and now it is public gardens where youths were dangerously kicking a football so we had to be very careful not to get hit. We had a look at some of the guns and tanks which are permanently on display there.
We continued west, trying to hug the shore, but found we were in a pub garden and couldn’t get out! It was not one of Colin’s ‘real ale’ establishments, so we retraced our steps to go round it and walked along by the shore again. We came almost to the pier, but they were refurbishing the forecourt so we had to walk right out into a busy road to get round it – there was no way we could get on to the pier. Opposite the ferry terminus, we diverted a few yards inland to look at the statue of Pocahontas in a churchyard.
Pocahontas was a North American Indian born in the British colony of Virginia, in America, at the end of the 16th century. She was the daughter of a powerful inter-tribal leader, and was only a child when she befriended the colonists who had settled in Chesapeake Bay. Hostilities often flared between the colonists and the indigenous people, and Pocahontas is said to have saved the life of the leader of the immigrants, a Captain John Smith. He had been captured by the tribe who wanted to decapitate him – but just as he was laid upon the stone, thirteen year old Pocahontas threw herself upon him embracing his head. She successfully persuaded her father to spare him, and he was released.
For the next two years she managed to keep the warring factions apart, but then Captain Smith returned to England and relations between the Indians and English deteriorated. Captain Samuel Argall, who now led the colonists, kidnapped Pocahontas hoping to use her to negotiate a permanent peace. She was treated with great respect during her months of captivity, and was persuaded to convert to Christianity – the very first North American Indian to do so. She was ransomed by her father, but meanwhile she had fallen in love with one of the colonists, a man named John Rolfe. Surprisingly, both her father and the Governor of Virginia (Sir Thomas Dale) agreed to the union, and they were married in a Christian ceremony. The Indian ‘princess’ charmed everybody she met, so Sir Thomas decided to take her and her husband to England as an advertisement for the London Company of Virginia.
In London she was received at Court, and very quickly became a celebrity. Everyone in ‘society’ wanted to meet her. However, she was homesick for Virginia, and decided to return. She was about to embark on a ship at Gravesend when she became ill – she had contracted smallpox to which she had no immunity. Although she was only twenty-two years old, she died very quickly and was buried in the church just a few yards from the quay. That church was destroyed by fire about a hundred years later, and, although it was later rebuilt, all trace of ‘Princess Pocahontas’ had disappeared.
Her son, Thomas Rolfe, was educated in England, then he returned to Virginia where he became a leading citizen. Jamestown, Virginia, was established in 1657, and, in recognition of her efforts to bring peace between the two communities, a statue of Pocahontas was sculpted to grace an important position in the town. Three hundred years later, the people of Jamestown celebrated their tricentenary by presenting Queen Elizabeth II of England with a Chalice and Paten. About a year later Her Majesty gave these to the church at Gravesend, and at about the same time a replica of the statue of Pocahontas was unveiled in the churchyard by the Governor of Virginia.
We photographed the statue. Then we went down to the wooden quay to find out the times of the ferry to Tilbury in Essex – a mere half a mile away across the River Thames.

That ended Walk no.53, we shall pick up Walk no.54 next time by taking the ferry across to Tilbury. We went back into town to find ‘The Jolly Drover’ (our ‘real ale’ pub!), then we picked up our bikes from Cliffe in the dark and returned to our campsite near Rochester.

No comments: