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The Kentish Thames 3, Gravesend - Cliffe


Map of the first part of the walk

 

Map of the second part of the walk

 

Distance and Time

13km/8miles  Allow  at least 4 hours to enable you to explore the attractions en route.

GPX file

Ordnance Survey maps

Explorer 163, Landranger 178

Introduction

Much of this walk is on the wild and strange Thames shoreline.  But there is also the opportunity to explore history and wildlife. The route largely follows the first part of the Saxon Shore Way so is mostly well signed, although sometimes signs are not there when you need them.

Obstacles

This is a largely flat route but there are some stiles.  As much of the route is on a bund it may be dry even in winter.

Start and finish points

Start at the exit from Gravesend Railway Station.  Finish at the bus stop at Cliffe next to the Six Bells pub.

Getting there

A ferry runs from Tilbury riverside to Gravesend.  Trains run to Gravesend run from London and Rochester.  Buses run to central Gravesend from local towns and villages.  Buses from Cliffe run to Rochester at roughly hourly intervals Monday to Saturday. For full details see here The finish is a couple of miles from Higham railway station and it would be possible to use a map to extend the walk to the station.

Refreshments

A large number of shops, cafes and pubs in Gravesend, some of which are listed in the description.  2 pubs at Cliffe and a general store about 400 metres south of the walk end.

Public toilets

In Gravesend and at Cliffe by the bus stop.

Route instructions

Turn right out of the railway station and walk up Clive Road. (1) Take the first major turn left into Stone Street.  Pass the walls of the shopping precinct on your left.  At the end of the precinct turn left into the grounds of St Georges Church.

On your left is the tourist office.  If you are not familiar with Gravesend it is worth dropping in to learn more about the history of the area and things worth seeing.  You can see information on line before you go here It is worth allowing extra time before the walk to explore the town. (A) On the west side of the churchyard you will find the statue of Pochohontas There is more information about her in the Church.  St Georges Church dates from 1731.

  1. Although most of the pier has been turned into a restaurant, it can still be explored.

(B) The town pier is the oldest cast iron pier in the world.

(2) Immediately to the right of the pier is an alley that runs between the pub and the river. This emerges into a promenade.  Walk along the promenade as far as you can and then join the road on your right.  Turn left on the road. Pass the Mission House and the Grand Clarendon Royal Hotel. Come to the Royal Terrace Pier. Turn right up the road here to reach a main road.

(C) You cannot get onto the pier, but have a look at it through the spy hole.  As you walk up the road away from the pier have a look at the grand vista towards the clock tower.

(4) Turn left at the main road. Reach a grand building on your left, the Customs House. Cross straight ahead to New Tavern Fort park.  Walk anticlockwise round the circle of guns on display to emerge back in the street at Milton Chantry.

(D) The Customs House was once the headquarters of HM Customs in the area.  Gravesend has a long history with the Customs as one of the first places where incoming ships could effectively be monitored. It has a lookout room at the top giving a view of the Thames. The New Tavern Fort was built in the 18th Century to defend against a threatened French invasion.  The Guns now point towards Essex and are used to by local women to ward off Essex girls who may wish to steal their men.  The Chantry is the oldest building in Gravesend and was a charity chapel.  It now houses the Gravesham Heritage Centre

Turn right at the Chantry and then right again to walk along the shoreline park as far as you can. Pass a café on your right.  You now come to a bridge over the canal.

(E) The Thames and Medway Canal ran from Gravesend to Rochester.  Like many canals in the south east it was built partly as a way of moving goods inland if Britain lost control of the seas in wars against the French.  However by the time it was finished the threat had passed.  It was never a great success and became disused quickly.  Part of its route was used for the Gravesend to Strood railway.

(5) The route across the bridge at first appears unpromising.  From points (5) to (6) you generally run parallel to the river, with a few twists and turns.  However you can follow signs for both the Saxon Shore way and national cycle route 1, which takes the same route.

This part of the route is fascinating if you look carefully.  You can see some dramatic, if unintended, industrial sculpture, a disembodied head and an unconventional war memorial.

You initially walk straight ahead between old industrial buildings.  You are then forced to turn right down a footpath behind a galvanised fence (not through the gates). You then turn left.  The path turns into an industrial road.  Keep straight ahead.  Come to a four way junction.

At the junction there is a mobile café which is open roughly 8-3 on working days.  Behind this are the remains of the old canal.

(5)Turn left here following the Saxon Shore way signs. (Do not follow the cycle route which continues straight ahead.)

(6) After about 100 metres turn right following signs. The way is not obvious here.  Do not turn along the road.  Instead go straight ahead until you can go no further.  On your right you will see a narrow path next to the Thames between two sets of galvanised fencing.  Take this.

Pass the Ship and Lobster pub.

This is your last chance for refreshment before Cliffe. It is supposedly the pub known as the Ship in Dickens’ Great Expectations.

(7) Come to some concrete steps on the left of the path. Go up these and down the other side.  Keep straight ahead with the Thames on your left.  The character of the route changes.  From now on for the next 3 kilometres all you need to do is to follow the Thames.  For most of the route there are two raised bunds.  Follow the lower of these, the one nearer to the Thames.

(G) After about 1.5 kilometres you pass Shornmead Fort. This is worth exploring. The fort was built to defend the Thames, but was later used for target practice.  Its remains are like some dramatic sculpture, although it has been the victim of graffiti.

(8) By the time you reach Higham Saltings you are on a higher bund.  You will see a lower one which comes out of the left hand side of the one you are on.  Descend to this and follow it to a point at which the riverside turns sharp left.

The views of the Thames here are some of the most dramatic on the walk.  It is hard not to feel dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape.

 

(9)  Turn left following the riverside with a large lagoon on your right. Walk ahead towards the remains of Cliffe Fort.

On your left you will see the wreck of the The Hans Egede a wooden three masted vessel built in 1922 and wrecked in the 1960s

The path passes between the fort and the dock, curving round to the right.

The site of the fort is extensive but inaccessible.  You can find out more about it and see some pictures here but please do not attempt to explore yourself.  It is in poor condition.

The path also passes the site the launching place of the Brennan torpedo, the world’s first wire guided missile.

(10) The path crosses a track to the jetty and then passes under a conveyer belt before continuing around the Thames side.  It then curves round to the east following the side of Cliffe Creek.  At the end of the creek you go up some steps and then down again, to meet a cross track.

(11) Turn left here.  After about 20 metres you will see a large wooden post.  This is the first of a number of posts that will guide you to Cliffe.  Follow the signs for the Saxon Shore Way.  Turn right at the first of these posts. Walk down a track between two lagoons.

(I)You are now in the Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve The site is maintained by the RSPB and is, I’m told, one of their best sites in the region.  The lane you are walking down is called Nightingale Lane and we heard at least one nightingale on our walk.

(12) Turn left at the end of the lane, following the Saxon Shore Way signs if they are still there. Some have been reported as missing. Ignore a path turning off to the right shortly after.

(13) At the next junction of tracks again turn right, following Saxon Shore Way sign

(14) After about 500 metres follow the Saxon Shore Way sign uphill to your right, into the attractive old part of the village.  Pass the 6 Bells pub on your right.  Turn right here to find the bus stop which ends the walk.

(J) Cliffe has an extensive medieval and industrial history. The Cliffe Historical Society website has lots of useful information.

Acknowledgements

Much of the information about Gravesend it taken from the Tourist Office’s leaflet “The Riverside”

Bob Gilbert accompanied me on the walk and explained much of the rare plants and the birds we saw and heard. While I did not retain all this knowledge I discovered enough to understand that botanists and birders will enjoy this walk.