The walk from Gravesend to Cliffe is on the Hoo Peninsula, at times a wild and rugged landscape that has a long history. The peninsula juts out into the North Sea and has the Thames River to the north and the River Medway to the south. Charles Dickens used his memories of the pensinsula for the opening scenes of his book 'Great Expectations' when the escaped convict, Magwitch, starts on his journey to freedom. There was a tradition of convict ships tying up off the Hoo. It was my good fortune to walk it on a day when the sun glinted off the waters of river and marshes, when the grass was green and the wild flowers abundant. In winter, or on a wet and stormy day, the experience would be quite different. Gravesend where my walking began is also the burialplace of the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, who died, probably of the plague, in March 1617. She was buried in the chancell of St George's Church, which was itself sadly destroyed by fire in 1727.
I crossed a bridge over the boat entry to the marina to make my way through an area of little factories and workshops that line the banks of the river. At one point I was walking along a little lane fully enclosed by fence on one side with factories and services, herbage on the other and a little used road the other side of that. The route I was walking initially was the Saxon Shore Way which just after the factory area takes a turn to the left go on to the riverside to pass in front of the Metropolitan Police Pistol Shooting Range. The range is home to the Metropolitan Police Specialist Training Centre and, as well as the ranges (indoor and outdoor), the facility includes an assault house for practising entries, search houses and various scenarios for simulated exercises. It has accommodation for over three hundred officers with leisure faciltiies.
There is an alternative route to the Saxon Way that avoids the front of the range by following the road I was on and going up the other side of the range, which then re-joins the Saxon Way at the end of the range land. As I did not know the firing status of the range on the day I was walking, rather than take the risk of having to turn back if there were firing, I decided to take the inside route and join the riverside walk a little bit later . As I walked, I could hear the sound of shooting on the range but had no way of knowing whether it was the outdoor or indoor range.
I enjoyed wonderfully clear vistas up and down the Thames and colourful scenes with the emerald green grass and contrasting yellow wild flowers. Butterflies dotted about but would never sit still long enough for me to photograph them with my phone. In the distance, I could see the monolith cranes on Canvey Island. The sun was out and while it was warm, it was not too uncomfortable. My route passed along the front of the desolate but lovely Shorne Marshes, which is a bird reserve in the care of the RSPB and consists of coastal grazing marsh, saltmarsh and mudflats. Because of the nature of the landscape, access is slightly limited to the reserve (small groups only) and people are encouraged to view the birds from the pathway of the Saxon Shore. The reserve is plagued by moto-cross cyclists taking their bikes on to the reserve upsetting the wildlife.
The new route took me through a huge gravel yard where there were enormously long conveyor belts passing over my head, moving the aggregate from the water's side in to the yard. Cliffe, which is located atop a local chalk escarpment, was once the location of substantial cement works but most of this activity ceased in the 1970's. A number of the chalk quarries which flooded when they extended beyond the water table are still flooded today and provide habitats for wildfowl and waders and now function as nature reserves. Many fine species can be seen here including Avocet, Little Egrets and my personal favourite, the Peewit. The Marinex Gravel Company continues to extract gravel from the Thames, which then travels along various lengthy conveyor belts to be sorted and graded on site before being moved on to other yards.