I KNEW my plan to get up at silly o’clock this morning was doomed before I’d even gone to bed—I’d gotten engrossed in something and was still up and awake at 3 am. So, I decided there and then that today was obviously not going to be another walking day.
I was, of course, wrong.
A Cunning Plan
When I got up (quite late) this morning, I found that I was still keen to do at least some walking, though not the mad race against sunset that trying to follow the original plan would have likely entailed. So, rather than walking from Faversham to Herne Bay, I decided instead to stop short at Whitstable and see what opportunities that offered for idle wastage of time.
The necessary trains whisked me away into Kent and I was soon pleased to arrive quite unmolested by the Medway train gang that has been violently mugging single male passengers on that very line of late.
The Town Centre
It was about half twelve when I got to Faversham and I made my way through its touristy, semi-pedestrianised centre to find someone in its street market who could sell me a bacon and mushroom roll.
Suitably fortified, I struck out towards the edge of town, passing the slightly bizarre-looking spire of the Parish Church of St Mary of Charity (which I now find I failed to take a recognisable picture of) and picking my way through the marinas and boatyards that sit upon the side of Faversham Creek.
In no time at all, I was out amid fields and marshes heading towards the tiny hamlet of Nagden and several fields full of fairly incurious horses.
‘You’re nothing special,’ they seemed to say with their body language, ‘I’ve seen much better.’
Near to Nagden, which is basically a farmstead that looks to have acquired a couple of extra houses, used to be the Nagden Bump—a large artificial mound. But not a burial mound, for it was nothing but solid piled clay, or so it was discovered in 1953 when it was quarried away to provide (some of the) earth to repair and extend the flood defences after that year’s North Sea Flood.
North Sea Flood
The flood, which was caused by an unfortunate combination of high spring tide and a storm surge, inundated large parts of the coasts of East Anglia, Essex, Kent and the Netherlands. For about four days the Isle of Thanet, long adhered to the mainland through the silting of the Wantsum Channel, became an island again.
The total British death toll was 307, on the continent about two thousand died. The Nagden Bump was just an incidental casualty.
After Nagden, the path, which was running alongside Faversham Creek, took on a very particular character, such as can only be created by a large number of cows with active digestive systems. Never have I been so glad of sturdy and waterproof boots.
A short distance further on I espied the culprits, clustered tightly together as though trying to achieve some sort of bovine critical mass.
‘Moo,’ I said. They didn’t moo back.
The Kentish Coast
Fields and Marshes
I soon reached the mouth of the creek and paused to sit on a concrete sea wall, looking out to the Isle of Sheppey and the open sea. Far off to my left, at the end of the length of the Swale, I could see the Sheppey Crossing arching its way from mainland to isle. It somehow didn’t look quite as far away as I thought it should.
With the grey clouds that filled the sky threatening to lightly spit rain, I picked up my feet and headed eastwards following the low sea wall (which sat atop the usual raised earth bank). A calm sea spread out to my left and Kent’s flat fields did likewise to my right, although these soon gave way to a series of marshes.
A curious thing I encountered en route was close to a construction site which seemed to be building something on the edge of Cleve Marshes. The site itself was unremarkable but associated with it was some work on the seaward side of the sea defences. A JCB was parked on the stone-clad part of the bank, listing at a bizarre angle while its driver read a paper and drank from a thermos flask. Certainly, he wasn’t doing any digging for some hours as the tide was almost fully in and lapping at his caterpillar tracks. A sign beside the JCB warned of deep excavations. And what is so curious about that, you might wonder?
Well, protruding from the surface of the sea were the top angles of the arm joints of two more JCBs.
As I approached, a second builder was looking at them but turned and walked away. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure they hadn’t actually meant to almost fully submerge two pieces of plant machinery—I mean, those things are tough but salt water is bad for steel and electrics alike.
I was going to take a picture but they didn’t look like they’d appreciate visual evidence, so I strode briskly past. The curvature of the coast at this point then gave me my first view of North Kent’s seaside towns – Whitstable, Herne Bay and surrounding villages:
The path hugged the coastline and I soon came to the Sportsman pub, outlying the western end of the village of Seasalter. For a moment I toyed with the idea of going in but I wasn’t quite ready for a drink yet and so continued past this historic drinking hole.
There has been a pub on the site of the Sportsman since 1642. Later this month, it will receive a commemorative plaque on behalf of the regimental association of the London Irish Rifles to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Graveney Marsh.
Battle of Graveney Marsh
This almost unknown confrontation was between soldiers of the London Irish Rifles, billeted in the Sportsman in 1940, and the crew of a new type of Junkers bomber which had been shot down by the RAF. The soldiers were sent to see if it could be taken intact for study and to seize any survivors from the aircrew. What they didn’t expect was that the four German airmen had salvaged their aeroplane’s machine guns and put up a stiff resistance against a whole company of London Irish.
The resultant battle (one casualty only—a Luftwaffe airman was shot in the foot) was the last occasion in which armed invaders were fought in Great Britain.
The approach to Seasalter proper, between the village and the pub, was characterised by a series of holiday homes and caravan parks. Seasalter itself is ancient, having been a centre for salt production since the Iron Age. By Domesday it belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury and a (Roman) road runs directly south to that city. Away from the caravans, Seasalter evinces typical English suburbia before merging almost seamlessly into Whitstable.
Oysters and Alcohol
Administratively, Whitstable (‘Whitenestaple’ in Domesday) is part of the City of Canterbury but is famous in its own right as a holiday resort and a producer of oysters. Oyster harvesting in Whitstable dates back to Roman times and continues today with an annual oyster festival just to hammer it home and boost those tourism pounds.
It is indeed a very seaside-y town and I stopped in a pub called the Old Neptune—the bar of which listed at a peculiar angle, the danger I suspect of building on shingle—and secured myself a pint and a seat outside, watching the sea. I may have remained there for some time; there are certainly worse ways to while away the last few hours of daylight.
It was then that I found that my phone had died on me again.
From Whitstable I could see an offshore wind farm on the horizon, along with the far-off dots of a Maunsell Fort. Maunsell Forts were a frankly ingenious design of linked offshore towers that helped protect Britain in WW2. In post war years they mouldered, forgotten by all except pirate radio broadcasters, and now they are too corroded and unstable to board safely.
Crab and Winkle Line
Eventually, I tore myself away from the pub and continued up the shore to Whitstable’s harbour before turning inland to the station. Whitstable has a long association with railways having hosted one of the earliest passenger railways, the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway of 1830, more popularly known as the Crab and Winkle Line.
The line once boasted the oldest railway bridge in the world (torn down in 1969) and introduced the first ever season ticket in 1834 but enjoyed little economic success thanks to competition from the London, Chatham & Dover Railway and better-quality roads. It was merged into the South Eastern Railway in 1844, which in turn merged into Southern Railway in 1922 and British Railways in 1949. BR finally closed it down in 1952 and nothing now remains of it, although a heritage foot & cycle path runs along part of its track bed.
Mindful of the ghost of railways past, I boarded a modern Southeastern service—smiling to myself how the names of today’s train companies consciously echo those of the heyday of steam—and merrily made my way home again.
This time: 10 miles
Total since Gravesend: 59½ miles