Landranger 178 – Thames Estuary.
Explorer 163 – Gravesend and Rochester
|Toughness||3 out of 10. The walk is almost entirely flat with very gentle up-hill slopes on the morning route up to Cliffe village. Walking boots are recommended for the tracks and grassy paths.|
This is a flat walk on the periphery of the Hoo peninsula in northern Kent that visits the RSPB reserve at Cliffe Pools, one of the most important wildlife habitats in the UK. You also take lunch in the interesting village of Cliffe whose history can be traced back to Norman times and possibly earlier. The walk is best done at low tide when the extensive estuary mud flats are exposed and there more opportunities to view the bird life.
This walk is best done in autumn or spring to get the best out of the bird-watching opportunities as you go round the path bordering the huge lakes and mud-flats of Cliffe Pools and by the river Thames. However it can be done at any time of the year and in the summer you are likely to be serenaded by the nightingales that inhabit the bushes and scrub of the reserve.
This is not a typical countryside walk and you are aware of the industrial heritage of the area but the spectacular landscape of open water, marshes and big skies is evocative and atmospheric with a rich sense of history. There are gravel working operations at Cliffe Fort but this does not detract too much from the walk.
Authors Note: This walk used to be a short circular walk to Higham but with the closure of the pub in Higham there is now no refreshments option so the walk has been developed into a longer walk along the Saxon Shore Way all the way to Gravesend where you can pick up a fast HS1 train back to London.
Cliffe may have been the location of the ancient Saxon town of Cloveshoo that dates back to the 8th century. The lovely church at Cliffe is dedicated to St Helen the only one in Kent dedicated to that saint. It has commanding views over the marshes to the river Thames. A church at the site was mentioned in the Domesday Survey but there have been considerable additions to the building over the centuries. See here for an interesting history of the Church. In the corner of the church graveyard is a Charnel House, thought to have been erected in the mid 19th century that was used to store bodies dragged out of the river Thames estuary.
Cliffe Ponds Nature Reserve
The reserve is one of the most important places for wildlife in the UK with huge flocks of wading birds and waterfowl. A number of nature trails cross the reserve, affording great views of the pools, wildlife and the River Thames which runs alongside.
During spring and autumn migration periods, there is an excellent chance to see some unusual species, such as sandpipers and stints. Big flocks of ducks and grebes also gather at this time, and hen harriers and other birds of prey are regular visitors. In summer, breeding redshanks, avocets and common terns may be seen, with nightingales and turtle doves singing from the bushes.
The RSPB has an extensive and informative web-site where you can find information on recent sightings. See Cliffe Pools Nature reserve
The fort was built in the 1850s as a defence against the invasion of London via the River Thames. Sadly the fort is now fenced off and falling into dereliction with parts of its now inaccessible courtyard flooded due to coastal erosion.
Along the path near the fort you cross the remnants of the Brennan torpedo tracks a 100 year old, but then state-of- the–art, guided missile system and you also see the remains of the Hans Egarde a wooden 3 masted ship built in 1922 which was eventually beached at Cliffe after her weakened structure began to take on water .
St Marys Church, Lower Higham
This Anglican church is now redundant but is lovingly maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust and is a Grade 1 listed building. There has been a church on this site since Saxon times and the present church was rebuilt after the Norman conquest and still maintains some Norman features despite many alterations and additions. Adjacent to the church is the site of a former Benedictine nunnery which closed in the 16th century.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk