This was a tough day at around 19+ miles and I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to write a post tonight, plus I was very compromised by technology playing up, which meant some big delays. However, I this it’s important to keep up the momentum and I will remember more tonight (I hope), than tomorrow, when I would be playing catch up, so here goes..
The day didn’t look too bad weather-wise to begin with: it was cloudy, almost overcast, with a light breeze. It was not set to hit 25 degrees until later in the afternoon. This was a good start- I knew I had far to go and although the route was more uncertain, particularly further out on the estuary, I had worked out where I thought there might be difficulties or detours (or so I thought). The first of these was not long after I had started, where the road I would be taking was going round industrial sites and works. I hadn’t quite realised the extent of this and what I thought would be a short detour to get to Gravesend, turned out to be much longer. I found myself heading towards a works no go area and had started to turn back to find another route, when I man approached me to say i shouldn’t be there. I told him that I realised that and that’s why i had turned back. I added that I had not gone anywhere I shouldn’t have and that I had lost the footpath, partly due to the fact that it was being taken away by the construction of the development. I don’t think he liked that but it needed saying. Anyway, this was not a good start, as I tried to work out a route into Gravesend that I had not planned. I saw a couple of guys ahead of me who sent me in the right direction and I was on my way, up some steps to the top of a hill, past an estate, down and a left round; it seemed quite a detour.
When I finally got the the riverside again, there was an interesting wooden walkway past some flats, that led into the town and kept to the riverfront. As I carried on , I passed the ferry terminal, where you can take a ferry to Tilbury on the otherside of the river, the statue of Pochahontas and the distinctive bright red LV21, which is an old lighthouse vessel, converted into an art space. I had to detour slighty down the Royal Pier Road that winds its way round the back of the Port of London Authority building, up and down another road, but it wasn’t too long before l wound down past the rowing club and onto the Promenade. However, this didn’t last too long before I had to weave my way through some industrial units, where I got a little disoriented, before finding a narrow path that would lead back to the riverside via the Ship and Lobster pub. I couldn’t see too much for a while due to the river wall, but soon I was out on the grassy ridge by the Eastcourt marshes, looking out at the Estuary. This section is beautifully green and rugged for about 2 or 3 miles and passes some interesting sites, including a rifle range (part of a former police training centre) and an old ruined fort. Further on I ran into some beautiful piebald ponies and their foals, who were grazing on the land (actually I didn’t run this bit as i didn’t want to startle them).
This path, which is the Saxon Shore Way and Hoo Peninsula Path carried on fairly straight forwardly and it felt privilege to be out, more or less on my own in this vast green and rugged landscape. It was amazingly quiet, except for the wildlife. The path was a little uneven at times, but not too bad for running on. I tried to keep as close to the river, where I could for a while and at one point found myself very close to what I thought was still the river, on slightly more precarious land, but which must have been one of the larger Pools at Cliffe. It was here that I must have taken a wrong turning and instead of continuing on the path around the edge of the river towards Cliffe Fort, I somehow followed another path inland past an aggregates site and then onto a roadwith afew houses. I realised I had made an error, but it was too far to turn back and for a moment I thought I was lost. I don’t know how, but I found my way to another part of the Cliffe pools, but had to work out how to find the path back to the river. Luckily there were people about and it was a mixture of asking different people and instinct that put me on the right track. I regretted making this mistake as although these pools at Cliffe are worth a visit, I had missed out a whole section of the Thames Coastal path. I decided against turning back as I needed to press on as there were still quite some miles to go.
Once I had finally found my way again, I started to follow a path next to quite a high river wall. This was presumably a flood defence, since the landscape is marshy. Although this followed the edge of the river very closely, the wall was high and the footpath much lower, so I couldn’t look over at the view of the estuary for much of the time. There was a grass verge, but it was quite steep and overgrown, so impossible to run or even walk on easily. There were occassional metal ladders that I could climb to take a look at the view over, but that wasn’t the same. At some point, a narrow path did appear in the grass at the top for a while right next to the wall, but then dropped further below. Eventually, there was a more consistent path on a kind of ridge that gave a more open view, which was much more satisfactory.
It was an amazing view on both sides, with the estuary on one side and the marshy landscape on the other, with its network of rivulets and open farmland. Although it wasn’t too hard to run on and was beautifully barren, it was also relentless. It was great to be alone within this, but after a while, in the heat of the sun and with only a slight breeze, it felt endless. I wasn’t lost, but I somehow lost all sense of place. Also, being alone out here, there were almost no other passers by. Anything could happen to me and no-one would know.
I started to get very eager to reach my destination, but there were no real landmarks to work out how far I really had to go, other than what the tracking app on my mobile phone was telling me. I expected to continue on the edge of the river, but at some point, around mile 13, the coastal path diverted inland onto a dry stony path where there was even less breeze. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but looking at this section on ‘Google earth’ subsequently, it looks like the terrain on the edge of the river might have been too precarious underfoot. At the time, without knowing this, it felt harsh, but it was probably necessary.
Once back up at the river’s edge, the last five miles were more consistent and worth the pain. The view out to the estuary was spectacular and starting to look more sea and less river-like, with the odd sandy beach appearing every now and then, wooden groynes and collections of seaweed. There were other interesting plants, including a kind of rose, that I think could only grow in this landscape. The ground was mainly soft and grassy, so not too hard-going, but still a struggle, as I was starting to fatigue and reach my limit. This section seemed more popular as a few more people started appearing, making the most of the weather.
Eventually, I saw my destination, which was the caravan park at Allhallows, appear in the distance. However, I could tell that this distance was still another 2 or 3 miles. It seemed as if I was never going to get there, but it was worth the agony for the experience of being right on the edge of this everwidening river, as it really starts to meet the sea- a hybrid of both. Just as I was nearing, the route diverted in again, due to some marshland, but it wasn’t long before I started to pass row upon row of static caravans on my right, before reaching the entrance of the caravan park, where there were tables and an outside bar. I was a bit distoriented, as I looked to see where I should go and realised I had missed the small path to the river-front. I spotted my partner Richard, in the distance, waiting for me and turned back to take the small path to meet him on the corner.
This was the stopping point I had planned and where I would resume my journey tomorrow. What I hadn’t realised was that this was not the campsite I thought I had booked, which was about another mile and half away.