Asleep by 9.00pm last night, I wakened reasonably early to a promise of a day of sunshine. Up and about fairly quickly, I wanted to be cleared up by the time the dog walkers or early-bird farmers were about. After using the last of my rations of porridge and energy bar, I realised I would need to hang about until the local shop opened to provision for lunch. In particular, I need to source painkillers having put my back out yesterday while swinging up the rucksack. Sheer stupidity! Carrying a rucksack of this weight it is important to lift it on to your back in stages: ground - hip - back. Knowing it only makes my actions more stupid.
Pitched last night on the northern part of the Hoo Penisula, just slightly to the east of the village of Allhallows, the task for today was to strike south heading for the River Medway and then to walk up the river to the old navy city of Chatham. To the east of my current location is the Isle of Grain, bounded to the north by the River Thames; to the south by the River Medway; to the west by Yantlet Creek and to the east by the North Sea. On the mainland by the creek, various other water features made it almost impossible for me to find a coastal north / south route on to the River Medway. Given that I needed supplies, including replenishing my water supplies, I decided to take the inland route followed by John Merrill on his coastal adventure which goes through Allhallows and the small villages of Lower Stoke, Middle Stoke, Stoke and North Street, before emerging on to the River Medway by the Kingsnorth Power Station. It would be a mixture of road, arable land and seawall walking, becoming increasingly urban as the day goes on.
First things first, I headed for the small local shop where I stocked up on medication, snacks, wraps and fillings and was able to fill up my water bottles. Dropping back down the hill I tried to find a path through a private caravan park but was stopped by a security guard who told me there was no way through, despite my pointing out a path to him on the map. No option but to trek back up the hill and to head out of the village on the main road to Lower Stoke. This is one of those parts of the coastal adventure that just needs to be done. While the villages that you go through have a long, historical tradition, I saw little evidence of it as I literally just passed through on the main road.
Zig-zagging through Lower Stoke to Middle Stoke, there is a short cross-country route just at the back of the main road, where the road goes off to access a small airfield. Taking that route I was able to go off the main road and enjoy a slightly more attractive, arable landscape and to come in to the village of Stoke on the corner close to the church of Sts Peter & Paul.
Instead of taking the road which runs parallel to the coast at this point, to avoid the road I went slightly west through the village to take another public footpath that ran cross-country via Tudor Farm, to exit at the back of the village of North Street, only to continue on the other side of the road to run down to the huge industrial estate of Kingsnorth. Through Eshcol Road and back on to another public footpath and I was able to make my on to the banks of the River Medway. Coming down through the farmland there was another farming first for me as I walked through a field of cardooms, which I have never seen planted as a mainsteam crop before. Its easy to tell I am in Kent, the garden of England!
The nature of the walk changed as I came on to the River Medway and was back on the seawall in a beautiful river setting. As I emerged on to the river I could see the huge cranes at work on the jetty of the decommissioned Kingsnorth power station. In the middle of the river the outlines of Darnet Fort on Darnet Ness stood out against the sky. The fort is one of two built on the River Medway in the 19th C. Further on I would see the other one, Hoo Fort in the distance, also located on an island. The forts were in use from 1872 until the early 1900s, being disarmed before the outbreak of WWII. Numerous boats and ships moved up and down the river and I was thrilled to watch a red-sailed Thames barge go by in full sail. It was a pleasant walk on a hot summer's day and the only thing missing was someone to share it with.
Approaching the Hoo Marina Park, from the sewall I lost count of the number of wrecks I could see lying in the mud, exposed by the low tide. Either this is one stormy river or this is where 'elephants' come to die. As well as the wrecks there are any number of sailing boats on this stretch of the river from sailing barges and boats to larger diesel-driven affairs. They seemed to be tied up everywhere. My route took me along the front of the marina and it was obviously a very busy place. Through the marina I passed slipways and pontoons with layers of boats tied up, one against another. They just seemed to go on forever. I was eventually walking on a wee road one back from the river and passed by a wee cafe where the smell of chips was just too good to pass up. Despite having eaten lunch only an hour or so beforehand I still had room for a good feed of fish and chips and gallons of tea. Inevitably, I spent a good hour in here after I got in to conversation with the other diners, all keen to here of my adventures. Of course, a storyteller doesn't need much encouragement.
With the river on one side and arable land on the other, it was back to big sky country with a great sense of space and a feel of endless time. The tide was out exposiing the mudflats, which at places had small flocks of birds feeding at the water's edge. I meandered slowly along this section, just enjoying the solitude and pleased to be away from the noise of traffic. From where I came on to the seawall to the start of Hoo Marina Park, which was fairly busy area, was about two kilometres but I managed to make it last over an hour, taking a break for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and a wee contemplation half way along.
Leaving the marina behind, the outlook of the route changed as I passed in to the woods (Gull Down Plantation & Cockham Wood) that line the river between the marina and Lower Upnor. Moving in and out of the shade and on and off the beach, it was nice to get a wee break from the sun and to have the chance to cool down a bit. The woods made for some interesting perspectives over the river with occasional view points through the trees. While I managed to get one or two final photographs on my 'phone camera, I finally ran out of juice just at Lower Upnor. All along this line of the river there were rows of sailing boats tied up in the middle of the river, looking forlorn and abandoned.
At Lower Upnor I started my move inland to go round first the docks and Upnor Castle and later the dock areas on Chatham Ness, before eventually going through the town of Rochester to cross the River Meday via the Rochester Bridge. In the heat of the day I was quite tired by this point and, to be honest, once away from the river, stopped paying attention to my surroundings. Once across the bridge I made my only mistake of the day in thinking that was me nearly done. I was staying in Airbnb that night and had a specific time to arrive. Thinking I had made good time I decided to go in to another cafe to have a cold drink. Of course, what is a drink without recourse to a wee cream cake? My mistake was in thinking I was nearly finished and psychologically I had my feet up thinking that was me for the day. However, the walk from the Rochester Bridge to my accommodation in the area of the historic Chatham Dockyard was still another couple of miles away and it was a right trudge; a wee shock to the system, as I found out when I started walking.
I followed a route up the high street and was quite taken by the range of shops that there were. Such a wide range of eateries, I suspect you could go to a different place every night for months. The shopping precinct was heaving and it was a wee bit of a shock after the quiet of the riverside walk. The last part of the route was uphill and I was pleased to get to the top and to stop at a garage for another cold drink. It was a really hot day and I had already consumed about three litres of water, as well as numerous cups of tea and coffee and other soft drinks. Unbeknownst to me, the garage was literally next door to where I would be staying and I was able to sit at the coffee stand until it was time to 'move in'. I had a day off to look forward to, during which I would be having lunch with my brother's son's family and that night going to visit with my sister-in-law. Before then, bath, food and sleep!