As I find the estuary, I am disappointed. I can’t walk alongside the water because of the new houses built along the bank. Through gaps in the houses, I see there is a nice walk along the water – a paved promenade – but access for walkers is forbidden.
Finally, I am allowed access to the bank, walking through a ramshackle boatyard and shipyard, where people are preparing boats for the forthcoming summer season. The path through the yard (part of the official Saxon Shore Way) is not marked. I keep walking and trust that I am (a) heading the right way and (b) not trespassing.
The yard is full of interesting ships – oyster smacks, pleasure craft, old catamarans, decrepid barges. Later I find out this is the Iron Wharf Boatyard, essentially a place for DIY boat owners.
At the end of the boatyard, a narrow walkway takes me over a watercourse and along a path. I leave the buildings and boats of the marina behind and I am on my own. A family on bicycles pass me, heading back to Faversham. I pass the obligatory sewage works and continue on the narrow path, following the bank.
As I reach open fields, I realise I am walking within 50 feet of the path I took the other day, tracing a parallel route along the bank with the water between. This is an area called Nagden Marshes.
I must confess, I found this section of the walk somewhat boring. There are smelly fields of yellow, oilseed rape flowering to my right, a featureless waterway to my left, beyond which are the flat fields of Ham Marshes with Faversham behind, lost in the distant haze. It is midday but the sun is obscured and the light is dull.
I saw this all before, last time I was here. The tide is out and the creek consists mainly of mud.
The smell of the rape flowers irritates my nose and throat. I stop and take a hay fever tablet, swallowing it with a gulp of water from one of my bottles.
Over the water, I see a pub I passed on my last walk, looking inviting but tantalisingly out of reach.
Suddenly, figures appear on the path ahead. As they draw closer, I see it is a man cycling on an adult-child tandem bike. The kid on the back has given up pedalling and is bumping up and down, looking uncomfortable and grumpy. The man is struggling to pedal and control the bike as it bumps over hard-packed earth. We have had little or no rainfall for six weeks and the ground is unforgiving.
“It’s bumpy,” the man says, sweating and grimacing as he passes me.
I wonder why they are here. This is a footpath, not a cycle way, although the path and cycleway merge further along.
Now I see the sea ahead of me and, as I come to the mouth of the creek, across the water is the hide where I sat and ate a snack on my previous walk. From this distance, the hide look bleak and somewhat threatening in the dim light – like an oversized pill-box.
I enjoy being close to the sea again and stop for a snack and a drink. Ahead of me, across mud and water, is the Isle of Sheppey. Looking to my left, past the lonely hide, I can just make out, in the hazy distance, the arc of the Sheppey Crossing bridge; the industrial structures of that area lost in the misty distance. To my right, stretches the sea wall (a proper wall now, with concrete protection against high tide and waves) and a grassy path that runs just to the landward side of the wall and vanishes into the distant horizon.
Turning to my right (eastwards) I walk along this raised bank. To my left, The Swale is a shining expanse of water and mud, with – as I near the open sea – increasingly more water and less mud.
The sky grows increasingly overcast and threatens rains. I have a view across flat fields of bright rape and grass to my right. Nagden Marshes become Graveney Marshes and then Cleve Marshes. This is lonely, empty countryside.
After some time I see, walking over the fields ahead of me, a figure. As the figure draws nearer to the sea wall, our paths look set to intersect. I realise this is a girl. She is walking quickly and is alone with no rucksack and with no dog. I wonder what she is doing, in such a lonely place. And, I realise, she is wearing shorts with thick dark tights – a fashionable look this winter. Obviously, whatever her reason for being here, she is not dressed for walking.
I stop to take photos. The girl in shorts and black tights, who has joined the wall behind me, and is walking with quick, purposeful strides, overtakes me at this point.
Over the wall, flapping lazily, flies a large bird – pale in colour I think, but hard to tell against the bright sky. Is it a heron? Around me are smaller birds; darting sparrows, a few wading birds on the muddy sands, and the ubiquitous sea gulls.
Finally, I see a building ahead and, on consulting my map, realise I am approaching a pub. Maybe this is where the girl is heading Perhaps she works here? There is a car park and people are out, walking on the bank with dogs or standing (not far from their cars) taking photographs. I see a serious photographer with a huge camera mounted on a tripod, looking out to sea – on the hunt for interesting birds.
Although I wasn’t planning on eating lunch here (I had a huge breakfast and several snack stops already!) the fact that I can’t have lunch is strangely irritating. I order a coke and crisps, enjoying a rest in a comfortable chair. I look around, but don’t see the girl with the shorts.
Refreshed with junk food, I continue, walking now with beach huts lining the sea-shore. The path is concreted – a promenade now, no longer a rural walk. I meet a man who is walking along the narrow top of the wall, hands outstretched for balance.
“I think you are forty years too old for that,” I say, smiling.
“I am letting my inner child out,” he replies.
And why not?
Fields give way to caravan parks, as I continue.
There are beach huts here and some, misleading, signs telling me this is a private beach. Misleading? Yes, because you can’t designate beach below the high tide mark as your own property – not in the UK – even if you own the land above the high tide mark, because all property below the high tide mark belongs to The Crown (i.e. the Queen), unless it has been officially designated differently, which is very rare.
I reach the beginning of Seasalter, on the outskirts of Whitstable. Here begins a road, stretching ahead of me, with a separate path running along the sea-shore and a patch of sloping grass separating the road from the path. The road is lined, on the landward side, with a row of nice houses. What a lovely situation. The houses have great views of the sea.
Then I realise the road and path ahead are barred with barriers of metal poles. There is a notice saying ‘Private Estate’. I can’t see any signposts indicating the official Saxon Shore Way. I look at my map. The red marks of a ‘Public Right of Way’ are clear on my map and continue along the sea front, following the route of the ‘Private’ path in front of me.
So, I drop down onto the beach and walk on shingle and pebbles, avoiding the barriers. There are steps leading back up to the path, but they are barred with more ‘Private’ signs. Further on – more steps and more private signs. Apparently (according to the notices) the path, the road and the sea defences are owned, built and maintained by the residents. I don’t believe it. There are substantial defensive groynes stretching into the sea. The sea wall is wide, high and made of concrete and has clearly been here for some time. I feel that familiar feeling of anger and irritation – yet more landowners trying to reclaim the sea wall from public access.
Eventually, I climb some steps, swing myself round the barricades at the top and continue my walk along the wall – following what I know is a public right of way – unless my map reading is completely wrong.
There are other people out walking here – with dogs and push-chairs. Are they all residents? Or are they simply ignoring the signs, like me.
At the end of this ‘private’ stretch, I follow the road (and the official Saxon Shore Way, now signed), crossing over the railway and following the road for a short distance, before a footpath heads off to the left and takes me to another footbridge over railway. From the vantage of the bridge, I take some great photos of the golf course and beach huts.
A woman with push-chair, a toddler, an elderly mum and a dog in tow, is struggling up the footbridge. Suddenly, I have vivid recollections of similar outings with my own family. My rucksack feels light in comparison.
I really enjoy this final bit of the walk. The path follows the edge of a pebbly beach. There is a lovely light, coming from the sun in the West. I walk past a golf course, pretty beach huts and another pub. This is the first, proper, seaside resort I have walked through since I left Southend, last September.
Now I am in Whitstable itself. It is a pretty resort; pebbly beach and a nice promenade. I leave the beach, skirting the harbour area, heading along a road and looking for a cafe. I find a bar, overlooking the ocean, with an upstairs pub and balcony. I sit outside, enjoying the view and the cold drink.
But my body is in trouble. For the past few minutes, my right hip has been hurting; not the inner groin area, which would indicate pain coming from the hip-joint itself, but the outer part of my hip. Is it a ligament? A tendon? A trapped fold of synovial lining from the joint itself? Or the dreaded Iliotibial Band syndrome?
When I set off again, the pain intensifies. I have to force myself to walk without a limp. I wonder if I am going to make it back Swalecliffe station, where my car is waiting. My husband is not with me today – so I have no obvious form of rescue, other than calling a taxi. What about my walk tomorrow?
There is a strange spit of shingle, pointing out into the sea, with people walking along it – marked on my map as ‘Whitstable Street’.
My path leads behind a row of beach huts. I dodge dog walkers and people in mobility scooters (oh, how I wish I had one of those!). Limping up a slope, I rejoin the road – Marine Parade – above. There is a great view of the sea from here, across a nice patch of green land I am looking down on beach huts, a pebbly beach, with mud and water beyond. The tide is out. There are plenty of joggers and walkers enjoying this warm evening.
I see the Marine Hotel, where I have a room booked for the night. It is tempting to stop at the Hotel, but I want to collect my car, containing my overnight things.
I carry on, heading down Herne Bay Road, towards Chestfield and Swalecliffe railway station and my waiting car.
As I sit in the car, changing out of my walking boots and into trainers, I notice my hip stops hurting. Magic? Psychological? Change in position responsible for ‘untrapping’ something? Don’t know. And at this stage, I don’t really care – I am just glad to be free of pain.
That evening I stayed at The Marine Hotel, right on the sea front in the Tankerton area of Whitstable. Although I booked a single room at the back, they gave me a huge double room with sea views and a bath (bliss). I ate a huge steak, cooked perfectly, and had a large glass of wine.
I don’t know whether it was the wine or the hay fever tablet, but I fell asleep watching the news in bed and woke up to find an Irish leprechaun had taken over the television. What a nightmare!? Then realised I had slept through the news and was watching Graham Norton.
Vital stats: Miles walked = 12
I became increasingly frustrated with “Private” signs during my walk along this section of the coast. While preparing to write to Kent County Council, I discovered a good document produced by Kent Ramblers’ Association, which documents the problems with access and erroneous attempts by local residents to deter walkers.
I am experimenting with adding Google Maps. My walk is marked on the one below, in blue.