Friday, 23 January 2009

Saxon Shore Way Day 3 Sittingbourne - Faversham

Murston Church
Officially I should have started this section at Swale Halt where I left off, but I couldn’t face the five miles weaving around paper mills and the other factories based alongside this section of the Swale so I started instead at Sittingbourne Station, where you can park all day for a reasonably low fee.
Swale Paper Mills

The weather forecast had promised that it would be a fine day, but I must admit to having my doubts when I started out since it was very gloomy and overcast on this mid-October day. It was one of those days where the weather could go either way, so being the optimist I decided to press on.

Bleak Shores
The section through Sittingbourne was rather uninspiring, passing through a very large and busy industrial estate. There were a couple of notable points of interest however. The first was the rather impressive football and speedway stadium that had been built on the outskirts of town. It looked slightly incongruous in this location, with facilities that probably far outweighed the likely need for a town of this size. Just past the stadium were the remains of Murston church, an unlikely historical site in the middle of this industrialised area.

New Builds
After leaving the industrial estate, the path then passed through some industrial wasteland dominated by views of Kemsley Paper Mill on the opposite bank belching out steam into the atmosphere already heavily laden with moisture. Soon the path entered open countryside and the atmosphere became lighter and breezier as I resumed my course alongside the Swale. On my right side were extensive bodies of water that were apparently used as oyster beds.
Elmley Ferry

Ahead was a section of wide open spaces with numerous seabirds wading, feeding and flying across the Swale between the mainland and the Isle of Sheppey. Half a mile or so along the coast the Elmley Ferry, once the main link between the Island and the mainland, lay rotting at the dock it once used. Across the water, a second vessel in even poorer state of repair lay half submerged. The service has been closed for over a century with the advent of the bridge, so to see the infrastructure still in place was a little eerie. Just to prove that abandoned vehicles (albeit boats in this case) attract other abandoned vehicles there were also a number of vehicles that had been left to rot over a period of many years.
Grand Houseboat

Shortly after passing the ferry, my worst fears were realised when the weather decided to deteriorate and start raining quite hard. Luckily for the next half an hour or so the rain was at my back so it didn’t affect me too badly, but by the time I got to Conyer Quay, I had to face right into the weather and got very wet.
Harty Ferry

Fortunately the rain stopped after about an hour and the weather improved a bit, although it never got better than completely overcast. Conyer Quay was a surprise, with a large marina and a large new development of flats in an otherwise desolate part of the Swale coast well away from other residential or developed areas. There was little activity on such a miserable day however and I was soon on my way along the coast once again after this brief encounter with civilisation.
Mud Flat Palette

The next section of coast was longer and lonelier than the last. All I had for company were seabirds including various species of duck, geese, seagulls, wading birds, coots and moorhens. Although not much of a birdwatcher myself, I really enjoyed the variety of birds on this narrow stretch of water. On my side of the Swale was evidence of various industries that have now long ceased to exist including an explosives works. On the Sheppey side, the terrain had changed and was no longer the flat area it once was but more hilly.
Follow The Tracks
At Harty Ferry was yet another old site of a crossing to Sheppey. This no longer had any old boats in evidence although the length of causeway to the water at low tide suggests a possible reason why this ferry no longer operates. Presumably the mud got the better of the ferry operator, and keeping the causeway open proved to be very expensive to maintain.
Oare Creek
Just beyond Harty Ferry, the Swale opens out as you reach the end of the island. The path takes a sharp turn to the right inland to Oare and at the apex of the corner is a bird hide, which proved a useful place to have lunch. The view out the front was spectacular, all the way along the coast towards the seaside resorts that would be reached on the next stretch of the walk. The opposite bank lay only a couple of hundred metres away, yet to get there along the Saxon Shore Way would require nearly seven miles of walking! Oh, the joys of a meandering coastline! 

Faversham Streets
The next seven miles are a little frustrating as the path winds its way around firstly Oare Creek and then Faversham Creek, inlets that are alive with yachts and various pleasure craft. By now the tide was so low that very few of them would have been able to escape from Oare Creek.
Faversham Town Hall
Eventually I got all the way around to Faversham after following my way around the boatyards and salt marshes. I was relieved that the path out of the creek could wait for another day, as by now I was pretty tired after dealing with the worst weather conditions on the whole walk. I wandered through the old streets of Faversham and caught the train back to Sittingbourne without having to wait at all, which was quite a bonus.

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