Walking in Cliffe Marshes with low winter sun it’s difficult to imagine that Stanley Kubrick used this landscape to shoot the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. He did import palm trees and tropical plants to make it look like the paddy fields of Vietnam. Quite a transformation but now there is evidence of much subtler changes in the landscape.
The high sea walls define the river’s edge but in the channels man’s attempts to hold back nature are slowly slipping into the mud-banks. A couple of centuries ago ships heading for London had to navigate their way through these dangerous channels making frequent stops in the dense mud but sometimes to unload contraband to waiting small boats.
At low tide the wreck of the Hans Egede is visible from the Saxon Shore pathway ( itself falling into the river in places). You could be forgiven for thinking this is an old cargo ship or a prison hulk but it was only sunk in the 1950s. A Norwegian vessel built in 1922 it sprung a leak and sank in Egypt Bay. It was towed to Higham Creek to prevent it becoming a hazard for shipping. The rusty iron girders and thick slabs of concrete next to the wreck are reportedly the remains of a Maunsell Fort which was towed here and blown up by Royal Engineers after the 2nd World War.
The wreck is close of Cliffe Fort which is slowly sinking into the mud. In private ownership it is fenced off but visible from the path. The outer walls now overgrown and thick with moss and lichen are accessible from the public pathway. The thick stone walls are being consumed by vegetation and rising water levels. It was a Royal Commission fort built in the 1860s as part of the defenses against a French Invasion. Once the proud home of the first guided missile, The Brennan Torpedo, it’s future looks bleak.
This area once crucial for the defence of the nation and littered with the architecture of war is slowly reverting and whilst doing so supporting a fine range of coastal birds and small mammals. The highlight of my walk was the sight of a magnificent Peregrine Falcon.