Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Walk 54 -- Gravesend to Tilbury Fort

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 98 days. Rosemary was 57 years and 240 days.
Weather: Very hot!
Location: Gravesend to Tilbury Fort.
Distance: 1½ miles.
Total distance: 337 miles.
Terrain: Ferry boat, then concrete prom.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers to cross: No.13, the River Thames.
Ferries: No.2 across the Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury; cost £2 each.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.17, Tilbury Fort.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camp near Rochester and drove to Gravesend where we managed to park right by the waterfront – 4 hours for free! We walked a few yards along to the ferry.
At the end, we walked back to the ferry terminal and crossed back over to Gravesend. After a couple of cups of tea from our flask, we drove home to Bognor.

We started today’s walk by crossing the River Thames on the ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury. At last we are in a new county, our fourth – two thirds of our Round-Britain-Walk so far has been in the county of Kent, the other third in West and East Sussex.As we boarded the boat, Colin remarked that if it was supposed to take motor bikes as well as cyclists and foot passengers, he couldn’t see how they got the motor cycles on board. He asked the ticket collector, who told him that they had ‘only just got these boats’ and that they were ‘working on it’. Later that day we discovered, by talking to people we met, that the ferry had been closed for some months because the previous Company had gone bankrupt! It had only just reopened, and the boats they were using were old ones from the Gosport/Portsmouth ferry – originally green but now painted blue. Looking at the shape of the ferry-boats, we could see that it was true – for we know the Portsmouth Harbour ferry well. It seems we have been very lucky, we had enough of redundant ferries adding to our mileage on the Isle of Sheppey!
At last we were crossing the River Thames! As we stepped off in the county of Essex and turned right at the shore end of the wooden jetty, it was with a spring in our step that we started walking away from London! Having said that, Tilbury didn’t look much of a place. We climbed some steps and found a footpath along the river side of a high wall – that’s better! Then we saw a fully restored Thames barge sailing past towards London – it was a beautiful sight!
We came to Tilbury Fort, and found, to our delight, that there was a path alongside it on the river side so we didn’t have to divert round it. (That wasn’t clear on either of our maps.) We turned inland down some steps to visit the fort, because it is an ‘English Heritage’ property, and it was actually open! We took the tape tour which was quite interesting – but we much prefer ruined castles and monasteries. This is what the ‘English Heritage’ handbook says about Tilbury Fort:
“Tilbury Fort is the finest example of 17th century military engineering in England. It is largely unaltered even after the latest reconstructions carried out in the 1860s. Designed by Charles II’s chief engineer, it was built as a low-lying and largely earthen construction, designed to withstand bombardment at a time when artillery was the dominant weapon. Today, exhibitions, the powder magazine and bunker-like ‘casemates’ demonstrate how the fort protected the City. You can even fire an anti-aircraft gun.”
Well, the carved entrance that we were told (on the tape) is a ‘must-see’ was covered in scaffold and you had to pay extra to fire the gun, but it was quite exciting going into the powder magazine and the ‘casemates’ – underground passages dug into the earth. When we climbed up on to the ramparts to look at the guns, the view over the river was indeed magnificent. Then we found a swallows’ nest which was a lot more interesting than all this history because we could just see the babies’ heads peeping over the edge! To tell the truth, it was too hot and we were tired, so we called it a day.
We decided to walk an extra quarter of a mile to the edge of the power station. We passed some wasteland which seemed to be the local dumping ground for stolen cars because a number of them had been abandoned there. All but one had been burnt out. Later, as we left Tilbury Fort to return home, the police and fire brigade had been called because some louts had just set fire to the one! Tilbury isn’t much of a place.
We reached a high stile by the power station just as a group of children and their father cycled up with fishing gear. We asked them what they hoped to catch, and they replied, “Mullet, and loads of crabs!” They seemed pretty excited as they hauled their bikes over the stile and pedalled off to fish by Tilbury Power Station – perhaps it’s the warm outlet water that is the attraction!
We climbed to the top of the stile.

That ended Walk no.54, we shall pick up Walk no.55 next time at the stile on the western side of Tilbury Power Station. We returned to the ferry point and crossed back to Gravesend along with an elderly Belgian couple who were riding very odd-looking bikes – they were leaning back on them with the pedals in the air! After drinking tea from our flasks, we drove home to Bognor mostly along motorways. (When we stopped at Clackett Lane ‘Services’ we saw a huge rat in the car park – it was as big as a cat!!)

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