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Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle

The path to Hadleigh Castle is uphill but well worth the slog as the view always take you by surprise and is heart stirring. Without doubt this is the best view on the estuary. The sky is big with the river and marsh land below stretching out along the horizon. The sun’s rays pierce the clouds and gild the river. The marshland still showing evidence of the heavy winter rainfall with swollen ponds. Look carefully and the river’s long history is revealed.

Hadleigh Castle Essex

From this vantage point invaders can be spotted from a long way. The remains of the ancient castle built in C13th a reminder of the strategic importance of high ground along the Thames’ banks. Built on unstable clay the signs of subsidy can still be detected on the ruins.

Danger sign Hadleigh Castle

To the east Southend’s pier extends far into the sea. In the C19th this was a favourite destination for day trippers from London, well for East Enders and became known as “Whitechapel-on-Sea”. The bulk of the excurtionists, according to Dickens (1880), would be children brought by their parson or Sunday school teacher. Their journey would be a steamboat from Fenchurch Street costing two old pence.

Over to the south you can see the North Kent Coast. Not the “Garden of England” landscape you normally associate with Kent but a place of river fogs, atmospheric marshland described so well by Dickens in Great Expectations. It’s also a place with a manufacturing past; gunpowder, cement and paper.

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A large skeletal pagoda dominates the riverscape to the east; LondonThames Gateway the new deep water port. It promises to restore London’s past glory as the centre of World Trade welcoming some of the biggest ships and creating new jobs in this part of Essex. Funded through investment from Dubai the project is set to de-stabalise industry in other parts of the country. The planned logistics park is dependent upon hauliers and distributors shifting their businesses from the Midlands. Felixstowe a deep water port on the East coast is set to lose out as is Thamesport. Readers may scratch their heads trying to remember the name Thamesport but back in the 1990s this was the new port on the block. It’s not visible from Hadleigh but on the Isle of Grain on the Kent side of the Thames. It’s so close it does make you question why another deep water port is needed.

Reference

Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames from Oxford to The Nore, 1880: An unconventional Handbook Issue 2

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Darent Path in Dartford

Darent Path in Dartford

A walk along the Darent to the Thames isn’t everyone’s idea of an idyllic landscape but will take you through an historic market town in transition, wetlands now teeming with wildlife and remnants of both war and industry. This is a marginal place not only topographically but socially as it was here that hospitals were built to exclude, from the London metropolis, the infectious sick, the insane and “imbecile children”.

Darent Path

Darent Path

Dartford is an historic market town and was on the original London to Dover Road. The Darent Path can be picked up close to the railway station. The town’s historic high street is struggling against the competition from its own town centre mall and the nearby mother of all malls, Bluewater. If that wasn’t sufficient there are plans for a new Tesco. The heritage buildings in Lowfield Street have been blighted by that behmoth and their plans that have taken, so far, eleven years.

Anti aircraft array

Anti aircraft array

The river flows through the town and is flanked by reeds and marshland eventually leading to open country. The wetland area sustains a small farm with cultivated fields and cattle roaming freely. An array of anti-aircraft structures still stand but now with vegetation rising look like hidden walled gardens. From the raised path there is a 360 degree panorama. The view north is to the river and the massive structure of Littlebrook Power Station.

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The bright yellow ship’s funnels skimming across the horizon between the trees let’s you know that you are close to the Thames. The rivers Cray and Darent merge here before flowing into the Thames.

QEll Bridge

QEll Bridge

Turn east at the Thames and walk under the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. At this point the river is still a working area and was fascinating watching the German tanker Seacod of Bremen being pushed, pulled and turned by a couple of tough tugs. On the northern bank there is still the industrial presence of Proctor and Gamble. The conversion of brownfield land is never far away and once through the shadow of the bridge the uninspiring riverside apartments at Greenhithe can be seen.

The bridge is the easternmost road bridge crossing the River Thames and was opened 30th October 1991. There are few bridges east of the City of London because they prohibited tall ships entering the Pool of London. It was only the second bridge to be constructed downstream of London Bridge in over a thousand years. It is the second longest cable-stayed bridge, 812 metres, in the UK.

It is an imposing sight and marks the flow of the Thames into the estuary. Once only an area of industry there are now marshlands beneath its span.

QE Bridge

QE Bridge Dartford

QE 11 Bridge Dartford

QE5 Bridge

Faversham Market Kent

Following the Love your Local Market campaign in May I have been visiting markets along the Thames and its estuary. Faversham is one of the oldest markets in Kent dating back at least 900 years. As I approached the town centre there were bright orange banners celebrating that this was a market day. It is open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

Faversham Market Kent

For hundreds of years the market has been the hub of their community. Faverham’s market is quintessentially English centered around the Guildhall which dates back to 1574. Nevertheless there are signs of diversification as I spotted, for the first time ever, a mobility stall on the market. I have, however, since seen a similar stall on the Thursday market at Dartford. Does this trend reflect the baby bloomers decline? There are stalls selling clothes, hardware, fruit and veg, artisan bread and preserves and some bric-a-brac. The local cherries, strawberries and Kent new potatoes were particularly good.

Faversham Market Kent

The mix of shops and market stalls leads to a lively and vibrant atmosphere. There are several pubs and cafes with many people making the most of the sunshine and dining alfresco. At the other end of the market is the Shepherds Neame brewery. Opposite this I saw a local blue plaque on a house. It was the former home of Michael Greenwood 1731-1812 who was press ganged into the navy 1748. He was wrecked off the coast off Morocco 1758 and enslaved by Moors for 17 months. He was later ransomed and returned to Faversham. Quite a life story and a reminder of the town’s maritime past. Henry Vlll’s fleet, which was made at the Royal Woolwich and Deptford Dockyards, lay anchor in Faversham Creek. So as well as the market, diverse range of shops there is an interesting heritage here.

Faversham Market Kent

Dartford Market

My exploration of ancient markets along the Thames took me to Dartford and what a pleasant surprise that was. The walk from the station is a bit daunting as the road lay-out is designed for cars rather than pedestrians. I visited on a bright sunny Saturday and the market was vibrant and busy. Situated on the High Street it offers both shops and market stalls.

Dartford is an old market town and its charter dates back to James ll. The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel dates back to 1703 and it is still a pub with accommodation. There is a space further down the High Street where the Le Bell public house stood which dated back to 1507 but was sadly demolished in 1962. An information board here titled One Town that Changed the World cites interesting facts such as Dartford was the first town to use gas lights.

Mural at Bell Corner

Mural at Bell Corner

The market stalls extend the full length of the High Street and sell clothes, plants, bags, housewares, fruit and veg. The range of local produce was impressive and the Kent new potatoes I bought was the best I’ve tasted in a long time. Richardson and Son butchers provides an impressive range of locally sourced meat. A French couple was in the queue before me and pleased with the excellent local produce I’d bought; momentarily I thought I was in France.

The town received a lot of publicity when it came to light that they had spent some of their £79,000 of Government cash to revive the High Street on a Peppa Pig character. Now, and then you will see a stall in a blue tent. One of the stallholders explained that these are the Portas’ bursary stalls. He had been a stallholder for over 40 years and was less than complementary about the Portas’ scheme claiming it was gimmicky and not sustainable. His view was that it should have addressed the fundamental problems of parking and business rates. Some of the new stalls were offering different things such as Mexican food and it will be interesting to see if they survive once the bursary runs out. The town that claims to have changed the world still appears to be divided.

St Thomas Apostle Church Harty

I had been invited to visit Saint Thomas the Apostle in Harty by one of the volunteers that maintain and keep the church open. My visit coincided with preparations for the Flower Festival and work was being done both inside and outside of the church. Some of the volunteers are not even church goers but keeping the church open is of great importance to them. There had been plans to close the church back in the 1970s, which were met with severe opposition.

Peacock on the Church Fence

Peacock on the Church Fence


What makes the church so important to the community? It is located in one of the remotest areas of Kent on the Isle of Harty which is now part of Sheppey. There is no mains gas or electricity and in winter the services are carried out by candlelight. Set in tranquil grounds on the banks of the River Swale mainland Faversham and Oare are quite visible. The oldest part of the church is a central wooden structure which could have been a look out platform around which the church developed. The original door, you can still see where it was, faces south to Faversham. The church dates back to 1089. Early settlers will have taken sanctuary in the church as the invading Danes coming along the East Swale.
Very early wooden structure

Very early wooden structure

Detail from the muniment chest

Detail from the muniment chest

The ferry over to mainland Kent was Harty’s most important link and there is still the Ferry House public house close by. The ferry ceased operating at the beginning of the First World War. On the east side of the church is the site of Harty School but this is long gone. Inside the church is its most treasured possession a carved oak muniment chest originally used for storing documents. The chest dates back to the 14th Century. One Friday night in August 1987 it was stolen and by Monday had found its way to an auction house. Fortunately it was recognised and returned to the church. It can be found in the Lady Chapel behind locked metal gates.

Mass dial - a small stick would be inserted to transform into a sun dial

Mass dial – a small stick would be inserted to transform into a sun dial


With this much history and its unique location it’s no wonder the local community want to keep this remarkable church open.

Taken on the Thames at Gravesend

Taken on the Thames near Gravesend

Greenhithe

It was with some trepidation that I went to lunch last Monday afternoon at the Sun Inn in Faversham. My apprehension was based on previous experience as the last time I went  we were turned away as we were 5 minutes beyond the lunch deadline.  My husband and I were deeply disappointed as the food looked particularly good especially the scotch eggs which many, more fortunate,  customers were eating with relish.

Even though it was a Monday afternoon there was a steady flow of custom.  A very welcome sight in these hard times for local pubs. There is a restaurant or you can get bar meals.  We went for the bar meal option.  The scotch egg formed part of the The Sun Local Board which also included Ashmore cheese and Fidgit Pie.  I subsequently found out that this is a traditional English dish served to workers busy in the fields.

When the waiter brought our food we were surprised at the size, they were exceptionally large.  He explained that they were meant for sharing, but no one had informed us nor was there anything on the menu board to explain this.  The waiter then unhelpfully commented that it wasn’t his fault as he had not taken our order.  It was a remarkable display of disregard for the customer which did reinforce our previous experience of this pub.

The food itself was very good and the bread, which is baked on site, was particularly delicious.  There was just far too much of it for two people.  I could see why the Fidgit pie would have been a staple for the hop pickers in days gone by.  The scotch egg also lived up to our expectations.  It was such a shame that we had to leave so much of this wholesome fare.

The bar staff were talking very enthusiastically about the forthcoming closure of the pub as it is to be used as a film location and the staff will also be working as extras.  I do hope that  they make more successful actors as their skills as hospitality workers falls well below the mark.

Review on Trip advisor here

If you ever want to be reminded that you belong to a  maritime nation make a visit to Faversham.  Even if you don’t it is well worth a visit.  Back in the 16th Century Henry VIII’s fleet were anchored in Faversham as signposted on the site of the Bear Inn.  This pub is the oldest in the town but now sadly, is a hairdressers.  However,  as you would hope in the home of Shepherd Neame brewery there are many thriving pubs in the town and its surrounds.   The buildings both domestic and commercial remind you of the town’s heritage; one of the shops opposite the Guildhall has a plaque dating from 1570.

When visiting Faversham I normally start at the docks.  You get a real sense that this was once an important port on the Thames by the collection of interesting buildings along the southern shore.  Most of these are now used as shops or artisan workshops.   Aladdin’s Loft is well worth a visit if you are interested in antiques and memorabilia.  It is open 7 days a week 10am to 4pm.  There is a monthly Saturday auction with viewing on  Friday.   The classic vehicle restoration workshop is well worth a visit.  There was a NYPD classic car on view the last time which generated much attention from  passing visitors.  There is a small but interesting garden centre that sells very reasonable terracotta pots.  A tea room and a woodturning workshop are also housed in the old black pitched sheds.  The Mitchell Art Gallery is a recent addition at the dock. The most breathtaking aspect of the docks, however, is the opportunity to see Thames barges at close range.  These graceful vessels do give you a glimpse into a past way of life on the Thames and its Estuary.

Thames Barge at the docks

It is a short walk from the docks to the town centre.  The brewery is positioned prominently on the main road that leads to the market square.  Tours of the brewery are available. I last visited  Faversham in September and many of shops and pubs were celebrating the town’s brewing tradition with lavish displays of hops.  What I really like about the town is that its shops are interesting and many are unique and on top of that it also has a market three days a week (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday).  Not many towns can boast this at a time when most high streets are struggling to survive.  The market is centred around and under the Guildhall in Market Place.

I visited Whites of Kent on my last visit.  What a delight.  The staff were so helpful and even introduced me to Mr White the present owner.  The family run store has been there since 1954 when Mrs White, the present owners mother, started the shop for the repair of lisle stockings.  Not everyone will remember these but amazingly you can still buy them on the internet.  These were the only stockings that were available during and after the second world war.  The store continues to sell lingerie and household linens.

Faversham High Stree

I would also recommend a visit to Haselden Hats and General Miscellany another unique shop.  It is the place to go if you are looking for a hat as there is quite a large range of both men’s and women’s hats.  In my opinion the real test of a high street is if there is a butchers and the quality of it.  This prejudice is based upon my personal preference for flavoursome meat that is only really achieved if it has been hung for sometime.  Faversham boasts two butchers shops.  I have only been into Barkaway’s family butchers which was very good and the staff very helpful.

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