At the water’s edge stands a second world conflict pillbox, a magnet for a whole bunch of roosting birds. A flock takes to the wing and, via my binoculars, I make out curlew and brent geese; within the distance a pink container ship slinks slowly alongside the horizon. There’s nobody around, the readability of the chilly morning gentle on the Thames including to the sense of remoteness.
I’m on the Isle of Grain, on the tip of the Hoo peninsula in north Kent, being launched to the most recent part of the England Coast Path, formally open right this moment (12 January). This 47-mile stretch runs west from the village of Grain to Woolwich and types a part of, finally, a 2,800-mile nationwide trail around the coast.
“It’s exciting because it opens up parts of the Isle of Grain that the public couldn’t access before,” says my information, Jenny Bowen from Natural England. “It also links with the existing Thames Path, which runs from the Cotswolds to central London, meaning there’s a ‘source to sea’ walking route along our most-famous river for the first time.”
A reed-fringed shingle seaside at Grain. Photograph: Ian Goodrick/Alamy
Our stroll begins on the tiny hamlet of Grain, the place the views stretch throughout the confluence of the Thames and Medway to Southend, glowing within the winter solar, and Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. As we comply with the route barely inland, we move a smattering of homes, a church and a pub earlier than a new path leads up on to the ocean wall.
The Isle of Grain isn’t an island in any respect, however a huge, open expanse of pancake-flat saltmarsh, peppered with indicators of business and a defensive maritime historical past. Yantlet Creek meanders to our proper, edged by reeds; ponies and sheep wander a number of the most distant grazing land within the south-east; low tide reveals glistening mudflats stretching to the horizon. To the left, pylons and silhouetted fuel works add a grittiness to the scene.
We cease to picnic on one of many tiny seashores dotted alongside the river, a boundary stone close by marking the top of the Thames estuary. Opening the new trail has been a lengthy course of, Jenny and her colleague Francesca Sanchez inform me, involving environmental assessments and numerous conferences with landowners and native councils. While a number of the route follows present paths, entry to some non-public land has been granted for the primary time, eroded footpaths have been rebuilt and culverts added to empty waterlogged land.
Remains of previous docks and seafarers indicators are sometimes seen on the mudflats. Photograph: Ian Tokelove
“It’s a complicated process, weighing up different interests – but the goal is to always keep as close to the coast as possible, without disturbing wildlife,” says Francesca.
As we wander on we meet a native couple out for a stroll – eager birders excitedly stating a hardly ever seen shiny ibis. The entire space is necessary for winter birdlife and pockets are protected. New indicators inform walkers what to look out for, and our sightings embody black-tailed godwit, ringed plover and dunlins, although marsh harriers stay elusive.
The path sweeps near the water as soon as extra as we move the abandoned Allhallows Holiday Camp. From right here it’s a wild 12-mile stretch to the RSPB’s Cliffe Pools reserve, with no villages, automobile parks or connecting footpaths on the best way.
Further west the trail takes walkers to Gravesend, with close by Shornemead fort, put in to guard London within the 1860s, and the choice of a ferry throughout to Tilbury and the Essex coastal path. Highlights for individuals who proceed to Woolwich embody the Swanscombe peninsula – newly designated a website of particular scientific curiosity – and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge (the busiest estuarial crossing in Europe). From Woolwich, the Thames Path continues to the Cotswolds – that means a 232-mile path now runs from its supply to the North Sea.
Francesca Sanchez (left) from Natural England and Jane Dunford close to Grain
The England Coast Path itself will finally be the longest coastal strolling route on this planet. Of the 67 sections, 16 at the moment are open, with extra to comply with this yr, and proposals for 65 stretches have been submitted to authorities for approval (simply over 99.4% of the route).
Our restricted time means additional exploration should wait for one more day and we flip again in direction of Allhallows. The cries of seabirds fill the air, the incoming tide laps the shore – and this wild, forgotten fringe of the nation quietly bewitches with a peculiar magnificence all of its personal.
This article was amended on 12 January 2022. The new part of the trail runs west from Grain to Woolwich, not east as acknowledged in an earlier model.
The Grain-Woolwich stretch of the England Coast Path is definitely accessed through public transport. Stations alongside the route embody Woolwich Arsenal, Erith, Slade Green, Greenhithe and Gravesend. Buses join Grain and Allhallows to Rochester. For moreon the strolling route, go to nationaltrail.co.uk