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The Kentish Thames 4, Cliffe to High Halstow

Summary

A lonely walk away from civilisation, between the majestic Thames and the brooding marshes with a climax at Egypt bay, famous as the home of the convict hulks in Dicken’s “Great Expectations”  Two major bird reserves.

Distance and Time

16.5 km/10 miles  3 – 4 hours.

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.  There can be fewer more lonely and dramatic walks in the South East.  Bring your imagination.

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 bus terminus  in Cliffe, by the 6 Bells pub.  Finish at High Halstow at the Longfield Avenue bus stop.

Getting there

Buses run roughly hourly to and From Rochester, Chatham and Strood on Mondays to Saturdays to both Cliffe and High Halstow, but these are separate routes.  There is no bus between the start and the finish. Full details here

Refreshments

According to its web site the 6 Bells pub at Cliffe now does food and accommodation.  There is a shop in Cliffe about 400 metres south of the start point and a further pub 100 metres south of the start point.  In High Halstow there is a pub about 500 metres to the west of the finish point.  About 200 metres south of the pub is a shop.

Public toilets

At Cliffe by the bus stop. At High Halstow at the  Community Centre, between the walk end and the pub.

Route instructions

(A) Cliffe has an extensive medieval and industrial history. The Cliffe Historical Society website has lots of useful information. You might want to explore the village before setting off.

From the bus stop walk east about 5 metres to the 6 Bells.  Turn left and head north.  The lane heads through the village, then downhill, bearing left at the bottom.  Follow the route round to the left.  You will notice that there are large wooden posts with small signs on them.  You will follow these posts (signed for the Saxon Shore Way) almost to the Thames.

(1). At the first junction after this turn left, following the Saxon Shore Way sign

(B)You are now in the Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve The site is maintained by the RSPB.

(2).  At the next junction turn right along Nightingale Lane, again following the Saxon Shore Way.

(3). At the end of the lane the Saxon Shore Way turns left, but you bear right along the north side of Cliffe Creek.

(4). When you meet the Thames you have no choice but to turn right. You follow the Thames all the way to Egypt Bay.  The right of way runs across the top of the flood defence bund, but unfortunately, at some points it is quite narrow, topped with a concrete wall and obstructed by bushes.  This means that you will find it much easier at these points to walk underneath the bund, missing the Thames views.

However this does focus your attention on the marshes. According to Tony Watson’s web site the buildings that you can see to your right are the remains of  Curtis & Harvey Explosives works which closed in the 1920s. Nic and Family’s walking blog has some interesting photos.

It appears that the marshes were used as to film many of the paddy field scenes in the Film “Full Metal Jacket”.

The Thames along most of this route is being suggested as the site of a huge London airport.  This is being opposed by the Friends of the North Kent Marshes

In Dickens’ time the marshes were un-drained and Malaria was common.  In “Great Expectations”  Pip has lost most of his family because of this.

Just before you reach Egypt bay you will see a building to the south. This is the Shade House.  According to Smugglers’ Britain this building was built with all its windows on the landward side so that smugglers could see if anyone was coming from inland.  The same page of the site has a story about smuggling at High Halstow.

(5).Reach Egypt Bay.  You can’t miss it.  The path turns south around the bay.

(C)This is the supposed site of the prison ship from which the convict Abel Magwitch had escaped in “Great Expectations” . The marshes were less developed at the time and you can imagine what a desperate life it would have been to be imprisoned here.

If you are walking the whole of this set of  these walks you now have a decision to make.  You could continue along the Thames.  To do this you follow the sea defence round to the left, go over a stile and then turn left following the river.  You will now be following walk “Kentish Thames 5” to All Hallows.  But this makes a long walk.  The length is over 14 miles if you just walk to All Hallows and over 16 miles if you go to the end of the route.  The route you follow for about 3 miles to High Halstow is more or less the same route as you will follow in the opposite direction on Kentish Thames 5.

If you are aiming for High Halstow do not continue along the river defences from point 5 at the point at which it turns east along the bottom of Egypt bay.  Instead look for a lower bund that is not joined to the river embankment, but which sets off in a south easterly direction, starting the other side of the track under the embankment.  (If you reach a gate and stile on the river embankment you have gone too far.)

Walk along the top of this bund for about 500 metres.  At two points you will have to make a diversion round some hawthorn thickets.

(6).Just after the second diversion, at a point where the bund is heading east, look for a very small path on your right which leads down to a stile next to a gate. Although this is a path junction there are no signs.  Beyond the stile you will see a pair of stiles ahead of you.  Make for these and cross them.

(7) Straight away you come to a track.  Turn right and follow the track south towards High Halstow.  Follow the track past Swingshole and Decoy Farm.

(8). After Decoy Farm the track turns south.  At the next turn it veers south east.  At this point look for a footpath sign on your right.  Here a path heads generally south through some woods, emerging at a field.  On reaching the field cut right across the field at 45 degrees.  (The path here may have been ploughed over.  If it has been please report this to Medway Rights of Way prow@medway.gov.uk)  When you reach the field edge turn left along the hedge line.

(10) At the end of the field come to a track.  Turn right here and walk to the beginning of the next field.  Turn 45% left here across the field.  There is a small gap in the line of shrubs or trees which leads to a hidden and disused stile.  Carry straight on to emerge in a park-like field. Turn left along the hedge line and then, in the field corner, bear left down a path which runs under the trees and then turns right to emerge in a road.  This is Longfield Road.  Follow it as it bears left.  At the end of the road, on the main road, you will see the bus stop for Chatham on the opposite side slightly to the left.  The stop for All Hallows and Grain is immediately in front of you.

If you have time to wait for the bus you may want to walk down the road to your right for about 500 metres to reach the church and the Red Dog pub

(D)High Halstow is also the home of the RSPB Northward Hill reserve