Stage 33. Allhallows-on-Sea to Hoo St Werburgh

The British Pilot, pubFinally, a Saturday with no rain forecast and the temperature above freezing. Here we are, in the car park of “The British Pilot” pub in Allhallows. It is 5 months since I last walked the coast and I am dying to get on with my trek.

It is a grey day with low cloud. I take the footpath across the field towards the bank. Here I stop to admire the view – scenes of where-I-have-been-before are spread out on the other side of the Thames estuary. Looking left, past Allhallows itself, I see the refineries of Canvey Island. Across the water is Southend-on-Sea. To my right, my path for today extends Eastwards along the deserted bank.

I set off with water on my left-hand side and small waves lapping against the bank. Is it a sea bank or a river bank? I am not sure. This is the junction between river and sea, the in-between area.

Beacon and London Stone beyondI have not gone far before I turn southward, following the bank as it follows the course of Yantlet Creek. On the other side of the Creek is the Isle of Grain (misnamed now, as no longer an island, just a peninsular – the gap between has silted up – although there was a time when you could sail a ship through here, avoiding open sea).

I notice a beacon out in the water and beyond that a stone monument. Later I learn this is one of the ‘London Stones’, marking the boundary of the jurisdiction of the City of London.

The Crow Stone, Southend (Yantlet Line)Across the water in Southend is another London Stone, the Crow Stone. (I photographed it in September, when I walked through Southend, not knowing what it was.) The line between the two stones, running across the mouth of the River Thames, is called the Yantlet Line and defines the limit of jurisdiction of the Port of London Authority. I suppose this is the line beyond which the River Thames officially becomes the North Sea.

The sun comes out. There is nobody around. Across the fields I see the distant industrial structures of the Isle of Grain.

There is nobody around. I wonder why. Allhallows-on-Sea hosts a large holiday camp and I would expect people to be out, walking dogs, etc.

View across Allhallows Marshes to Isle of Grain, Ruth's coastal walk.

I have done my research today. The footpath follows the bank ahead but ends abruptly. I couldn’t find any ‘right of way’ connecting the path to a track or road. So, I have decided to strike off inland, following a footpath to Binney Farm and then into Allhallows itself.

I nearly miss the footpath, the signs are destroyed. And the path is very muddy. Obviously hordes of cattle have travelled this way. The bank is covered in cow pats but, worse still, the footpath itself is churned up by hundreds of deep footprints. I make my way, with great difficulty, across the marshy field. I wish I had my poles, I think, as I leap from one muddy area to another

Allhallows Marshes, Ruth's coastal Walk Then I reach a section where I must cross a narrow spit of land, surrounded by water on either side. I know this is the footpath – I can see Binney Farm ahead. But the crossing consists of deep, sticky mud. Worse still, it is pockmarked with huge, water-filled, cow footprints. I can’t go forward. On either side are watercourses. There is no way around. Mud has reached past my laces to the tops of my boots. With each step, I feel my boots being tugged downwards. I am in danger of sinking to my knees – or ending up barefoot.

I crisscross the muddy field, trying to find an alternative route, but water ditches impede my progress, too wide to jump.

Eventually, with considerable frustration and a heavy heart, I admit defeat. There is nothing else to do. I turn round and retrace my steps back to Allhallows-on-Sea, back to The British Pilot pub.

Monument marking completion of Thames Flood Defences, Ruth's coastal Walk On my way back, I pass a monument that I failed to take much notice of first time. This is a grand monument, erected by the Southern Water Authority, Kent, to commemorate the completion of the Thames flood defences (1975 to 1985).

The monument is leaning at a rakish angle. The river refuses to be tamed and is already claiming victory. Nature is having the last laugh.

From the pub in Allhallows-on-sea, I follow the road to Lower Stoke, where I am meeting my husband for lunch. I leave a trail of muddy footprints along the pavement.

Isle of Grain, across fields, Ruths coastal walk.Luckily, the road is quiet with very little traffic. It follows a slight rise to the land, and I have a good view of the Isle of Grain across the fields.

I worry about lunch. It is too cold to sit outside, but my boots are very muddy. I needn’t have worried. The pub is run down, unloved and uncared for. There are a couple of old boys at the bar, otherwise the place is empty. It is Saturday lunchtime but they don’t do food. However, the bartender is happy for us to buy food from elsewhere and eat it in his pub. A nearby convenience store is staffed by a Chinese Lady who cooks hot food to order! How wonderfully convenient.

Kingsnorth Power Station from 'North Street', Ruth's coastal walk.From here onwards, I stick to footpaths, crossing fields to pass by the small village of Stoke, on to Tudor Farm and continue via a bridleway, grandly called North Street on the map. In the distance, Kingsnorth Power Station comes into view and grows steadily larger as I walk southwards.

Now I cross over railway lines. As I hesitate (stopping, looking and listening – as instructed by the signs), I see ahead of me a path with a tall hedge on one side and just get a glimpse of a figure; a man appears to leap into the hedge, just out of sight.

I feel a momentary flash of anxiety. Why is a man hiding in the hedge?

But I have braved cows, snakes and mud. And, I have no choice but to continue. So I do.

As I walk along the path, he comes into view, standing on the side of the track, almost in the hedge. He is youngish, and he has a shot-gun slung over his arm. After another flash of anxiety, I realise he also has a sheepish look on his face. He doesn’t look menacing – he looks guilty.

I nod and say ‘hello’ and he returns my greeting. I feel slightly uneasy as I pass and walk onwards. With my back towards him, I can no longer see him or the gun. But I notice the ground on either side of the path is full of rabbit holes and I am pretty sure that explains his purpose today.

There is a line of pylons on my right. I can hear electricity crackling in the air around them.

Approaching the power station and surrounding industrial estate, the footpath becomes littered with the debris of untidy humans – crisp packets, tissues, empty bottles, cigarette butts, etc. But, apart from the man with the gun, I meet nobody. It is Saturday and the place is a ghost town.

I walk past one entrance to the power station, manned by a bored looking guard. The footpath continues onwards across fields, under another line of marching pylons and towards Hoo St Werburgh.

Church at Hoo St Werburgh, Ruths coastal walkThe light, already dull, is fading further. I am tiring and looking forward to the end of this walk. I can see the church spire ahead of me.

Looking at the map, I realise I am on the official Saxon Shore Way, one of our long-distance footpaths. Now I meet more people, walking dogs and riding horses. I cross a road and walk through the church yard to the front of the church.

I am early and my husband is late. It has been too muddy to stop anywhere for a snack. Now I sit on a wall and drink my water and eat all my chocolate bars.

This has been a day of ups and down. For the first time, I have been defeated by mud. Walking along rivers and estuaries can be very frustrating, with constant detours inland. Having started off so close, I am now, it seems, some way away from the sea.

But at least I am making progress. And tomorrow is another day ….

Vital stats:
Miles walked = 10 miles
Interesting sights seen = The London Stone, man with a gun, Kingsnorth Power Station, industrial landscape, tons and tons of mud.

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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8 Responses to Stage 33. Allhallows-on-Sea to Hoo St Werburgh

  1. ldtreherne says:

    Love your blog Ruth , you are an source of invaluable information for myself. Just one question I want to ask : how do you finance such an undertaking ?

    • It costs money, for transport and accommodation mainly. I’ve done it over 4 years now, instead of taking foreign holidays. When on my own, I stay in cheap hotels or basic B&Bs – although my husband prefers more luxury when he comes with me!

      • ldtreherne says:

        I would love to do what you are doing currently sometime in the future , I hope to start the London Loop during the generous six week holidays as I am currently in the first year of my A-levels. Love the blog !

        • Good luck with your A-levels! Glad I don’t have to sit exams anymore :/
          The London Loop looks interesting. I had never heard of it before but at 150 miles it seems an excellent project during the holidays. The Thames Path looks interesting too.

  2. paul sennett says:

    Ruth, thank god for your notes on the walk towards Grain.. you literally saved me 5 miles of fruitless walking in a circle last Sunday…. the signage has improved I think since you did this walk,. so your nagging may have come to some good!… Thank you

  3. David L says:

    There’s another route. Easy, but not quite legit.

    Going the opposite direction to you, I dropped to the Medway coast from Tudor Farm then followed the sea bank, which managed two good sweeps away from the main road with the tide on the right and flooded marshes on the left. The Medway is full of tiny salt marsh islets here. If it weren’t for industrial horizons it’d be magical. From 856756 I was forced onto the Grain road, but there’s a pavement after the first quarter mile, so not so bad. And, just before the village, it’s possible to cut down Power Stn Road to join the coast, with views of Sheppey and an old sea fort out in the channel. So far so good, and all on rights of way.

    Next comes the unofficial bit…. I left Grain down West Lane, passed Rose Court Fm and started hitting notices about military ranges. But, since I gather these are closed and up for sale, I just ignored the signs. In any event one said that access to cottages at the end of the lane was ‘At your own risk’ and, if people live there, they and the lane can hardly be under regular gunfire. Another showed the [previous] shooting area as half a mile north of the lane. Only one car passed me and the driver gave a friendly wave.

    Even so, I thought it be brazen to go past the cottages themselves and, instead, slipped southward where the lane splits at 875770. This kept me on a rough but improving track in the lee of a raised bank, first S then W, visible only to someone working the field to the S. After half a mile and climbing two gates this brought me to a bank-top dirt road, running from the cottages, about 200 yards short of the Yantlet Creek crossing at 868769…. Crossing isn’t quite the right word; its a hug bank that splits the Creek in half. This last section was exposed to view from the cottages but no one emerged to shout at me. There was one more gate on the crossing itself then, on the far side, the public footpath that you walked, 6 feet wide all the way to Allhallows.

    Coming the direction you did, the first sign you’d have met would be on the gate at the Yantlet crossing, and that just says ‘No access to the sea defences’. You could reasonably say that you weren’t interested in the defences and were just trying to walk to Grain….

    • Great information, thank you David. I confess this section of the coast made for challenging walking due to difficulties in finding a clear route. Maybe the proposed English Coast Path will solve all our problems! Meanwhile, this is an excellent suggestion.

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