Tunnels at Ingress Abbey

 

Ingress Abbey in Greenhithe, Kent, is a Grade II listed building, now a private residence. Its story goes back to 1363, when Edward III gave it to the Bevis family. The current building is a Neo-Gothic, Jacobean style country House, built around 1833 for Alderman James Harmer by Viscount Duncannon. The architect for the project was Charles Moreing. His work on the house followed on from the previous design of the estate grounds by Capability Brown. There is an entry in Moreing’s notes adding an additional £120,000 on to the original budget, ingress mapto pay for ‘the construction of follies, grottoes, and hermit’s caves’. Ingress Abbey abounds with tunnels and caves. The geology of the area being largely chalk, lends itself well to tunnelling.

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  1. The Monkswell Tunnel is allegedly haunted and leads to a semi-circular vaulted chamber, where is located a well, previously used by monks (hence ‘Monkswell’).
  2. The Cave of Seven Heads is under the Fastrack bus road, and lies close to the former gatehouse to the estate.
  3. Set into the chalk cliffs, is the bricked-up entrance to the Georgian Wall Tunnel.
  4. The Coach House  Tunnel runs from the main house to the Coach House.
  5. The Grange Tunnel emerges 200 metres south of the main house.

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The Grange

Legend has it that there is a tunnel leading from the main house all the way to the River Thames, a distance of at least 300 metres.

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The house in about 1900

This blog on Ingress Abbey is still very much ‘work in progress’ and I have more research to do. Watch this space 🙂

 

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Plessey’s Ilford Factory

In September 1940, the Plessey works in Vicarage Lane, Ilford was manufacturing component parts for for Rolls Royce Merlin aero engines. On the night of the 18th, the Luftwaffe did terrible bombing damage to the machine shops. A further attack on 9th October sealed the fate of the factory. Major work would have been needed to get the factory up and running again which would cause unacceptable delays in production. The directors of Plessey looked for an alternative solution.

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Before the war, London Underground had extended the Central Line in East London from Leytonstone via Redbridge, Ilford and Wanstead to Gants Hill. The tunnels had been dug and lined but the contractors stopped work before the tracks were installed as finances were diverted to the war effort. Plessey came to an arrangement with London Underground and the empty Central Line tunnels became a factory 13 feet 6 inches wide and five miles long. This secret ‘factory’ was known as Cambridge Park.

2,000 operatives worked here at any one time (2,000 per shift). This 300,000 sq ft production facility, made all manner of technical parts including: wiring harnesses, starter motors, gear levers and field telephones. The shift system ensured that the facility was in operation 24/7. Conditions were dirty and grim, very cold in winter and it was a trial to get so many people and materials in and out every day. The tunnels were however relatively safe from air raids. Former workers have commented that it was like working in a mine.

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There was apparently an excellent canteen facility at Redbridge. Additional ventilation shafts were installed to the surface. Extra loading and entry points were added at Danehurst Gardens and Cambridge Park and bicycles were used below ground so that workers didn’t have to walk so far underground to get to their places.

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The existence of the factory and its purpose was kept a closely guarded secret throughout the war. The factory closed in 1945 and after 12 months work decommissioning and removing the concrete floor, the tunnels were handed back to London Underground. 12,000 tons of equipment and broken up concrete had to be removed before track  could be laid in the the tube tunnels. The former factory reverted to the Central Line and opened for business in December 1947.

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Plessey workers further contributed to the war effort by collectively donating a  proportion of their wages to a Spitfire Fund. In 1941 they funded the manufacture of Spitfire AD381 which flew from RAF Digby in Leicestershire throughout the war until June 1945. It was ultimately brought down due to a flying accident, not enemy action.

Two Bexleyheath Pubs

I’m trying to research and understand the relationship between two specific boozers in Bexleyheath: the Drayman and the Camden.

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On the corner of Pickford Road, The Drayman, or Jolly Drayman, No. 2 Broadway, Bexleyheath, opened in 1871. It was originally called the Upton Hotel but is no more. It is no longer licensed premises at all but the building has now been converted to apartments for residential use. In its final few years the sign outside said the Polo Bar or Bar2 but I think that most people of my generation remember it as ‘The Drayman’.

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The William Camden is just around the corner at 91 Avenue Road, almost opposite Bexleyheath train station. It is alive and well, a popular pub currently operated by Greene King. The pub is much younger than the Drayman and first opened its doors in 1956. Today the theme of the Camden is strongly influenced by sport, particularly football.

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The two pubs are 550 metres apart, as the crow flies. I believe that in the 1990s both pubs were owned by the same operator. Rumour has it that there is (or was) a secret tunnel between them. I’d really like to hear from anybody who knows anything about this?

I have searched the web but I can find no reference to the tunnel. In the process, I did however stumble across this article on the Tyrone Tribulations website. Well worth a read, it made me smile 🙂

 

Wealdway – Day 4

Stone Cross to Buxted

Distance: 32.0 km

Steps: 46,573

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Manor Court Farm B&B at Stone Cross, Ashurst is a first class, spick and span, nice establishment. Comfy bed, powerful shower and hearty breakfast. Sue collects the breakfast eggs fresh each morning from their own chickens. Yes, I would recommend it to my friends.

I was back on the trail by 08:30 and headed south to cross under the railway via the bridge by Ashurst station.

 

Here, just by the bridge, I found a candlelit memorial to 25 year old soldier Toby Crundwell, who was sadly struck by a train and killed. He had returned to see his family on leave from a tour of duty in Iraq.

The Wealdway meanders here across a flood plain. I crossed many footbridges and passed Summerford Farm to reach the Forest Way Cycle Path, which runs dead straight east-west towards Hartfield. Not part of the Wealdway, in fact it is at 90 degrees to it, but I turned right in search of a shop or similar.

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The Forest Way carries on west, but I left it after 2 km at Hartfield and went in search of something to put in my pack for lunch. I found a proper farm shop and stocked up with cheese and biscuits.

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Now, I could have backtracked and rejoined the Wealdway but that always seems a bit negative to me so I found a more interesting route on the map, via Withyham, across the fields of the Buckhurst Estate. By the map it looked about the same distance but I missed a turning and ended up a long way up a private farm road, definitely off course.

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I was grateful to a farmer on a quad bike with his dog, who came to my aid with local directions. In my defence, the turning I had missed was hugely overgrown and not marked in any way. Once back on track I made good time heading generally south for about 6 km through High Weald and the Ashdown Forest. I passed through the Five Hundred Acre Wood (of Winnie the Pooh fame). I never did find the Poohsticks Bridge but emerged onto heathland just after midday.

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A concrete road crossed my track and curiosity got the better of me. I reckoned it had to lead to something interesting, otherwise why put it there. These metal lid things, each about a metre square were set into the ground and quietly humming. When kicked they resonated with a deep ‘boing’ sound. Under the heathland here there must be a cavernous space. A discrete notice explained that this is a Reservoir Transducer Check Manual Measurement Point. It’s not on the map.

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It was approaching lunchtime and ahead I could see Camp Hill on the skyline. The most elevated spot for miles around, at 198 metres, this seemed like a good prospective venue for my packed lunch.

 

Camp Hill Clump has a couple of dozen trees, three benches, nice views over East Sussex and curious cattle wandering about. I had company for lunch but they moved on before I did.

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Still heading south, I set off for the village of Fairwarp. This section of the Wealdway has intermittent waymarking and one critical waymark disc has been removed from its post. I followed a variety of tracks and roads which led me to the grand gates of Oldlands Hall near Fairwarp. I investigated the village amenities then carried on towards Buxted. The trail here takes many turns and after about 1 km enters Furnace Wood. This is a spooky, wierd, dark woods. Lots of dead trees and gnarly old roots.

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On the far side of the woods is Hendall Manor Farm. Then at Wood Cottage I was confronted by a dog, enthusiastically protecting his territory. He was not interested in making friends so I carried on walking. From here on it was mostly (busy) road walking to Buxted, from where I caught a train back to London and home. Proper in the country, Buxted, only a single, reversible track. And the train pulled by a burbling diesel loco 🙂

 

 

 

 

Wealdway – Day 3

Tonbridge to Stone Cross

Distance: 28.3 km

Steps: 39,809

First I must say that it’s not 28 km from Tonbridge to Stone Cross. That is however the total distance I’ve walked today. I’ve given up on the pedometer thingy on account of it not counting my shuffling steps. On Jack’s advice I’m now using the ‘Health’ app on my iPhone. It gives a far more accurate figure.

Got up at 06:30 and fed the cat 🐈. He’s in cahoots with Dexter next door 🐕 about something. He has Free Yard for a couple of days while the girls are in Ibiza, so who knows what might happen.

The 08:12 from Bexley, via London Bridge, got me to Tonbridge before 09:30am.

Tonbridge railway station was opened in 1842. It was initially called ‘Tunbridge’ and it took 50 years of haggling before the railway company swapped the ‘u’ for an ‘o’ so the name of the station matched the name of the town.

I walked through a riverside district called Barden (takeaways and a Turkish barber) to cross the Medway via Lucifer’s Bridge.

Here, legend has it, the Devil instructed cyclists to dismount but as yet, none ever has.

I turned left and followed the path beside the Medway. Crossed again further upstream and again observed an abundance of fish in the river here. Must return another day with rod & line 🎣

The Wealdway waymarking gets a bit thin around Haysden Park. I was glad to have my map and compass to get me back on the trail.

The map shows the Wealdway passing under the A21 via a subway. It doesn’t. The subway is fenced off with a council notice saying it’s temporarily closed for repairs for 6 months from June 2017. So I checked my calendar and today being June 2018 I surmised they must be finished by now, so I climbed the fence. But the subway is blocked off halfway through by a wall of sandbags. So I tutted loudly in the council’s direction and detoured east to the next bridge. Met a very fed up gentleman coming the other way who was trying to walk the same detour but without a map. He simply did not see the positive side of the situation.

I stopped for elevenses and watched Bidborough play cricket. Not sure who was winning.

Emerged via the churchyard of St Lawrence’s church and walked down beside the school.

Bidborough is a pretty Kentish village with a population of about 1,000.

At the base of Speldhurst Hill I found an abandoned mill and derelict farm buildings just waiting to become a prestige development of luxury apartments.

Today has been the hottest day of the year so far. Whilst resting my weary legs outside the George & Dragon in Speldhurst, a car crashed into the pub wall and I stole a baked potato off the plate of the lady opposite whilst she wasn’t looking 😲

Walked on through Avery’s Wood to Fordcombe, where I watched another game of cricket 🏏 . Very friendly locals.

I arrived at Stone Cross at 4:00pm, two and a half ahead of schedule. So I decided to go for a wander. I crossed the fields to Ashurst and glad I did.

Today was the day of the Ashurst village fête and raft race. There was a Commitments style covers band playing and a welly throwing competition. It was very well attended. For a village with only a dozen houses and an unmanned railway station, the people of Ashurst put on a very good show.

Returned to Manor Court Farm where I’m booked in for B&B at 6:30pm. Updated blog and turned in for an early night 🛌. No blisters. Heading for Buxted tomorrow.

Gravesham Civil Defence Bunker

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Hats off to the team of volunteers from Thames Defence Heritage, who have rescued this chilling piece of modern history and restored it to how it might have been, back in the days of the Cold War. This 13-room Civil Defence command centre was built in 1954 in Woodlands Park, Gravesend and remained in service until 1968. I visited the bunker today with Ruth. We were given a really well-informed guided tour, followed by plenty of time to explore and look at the individual exhibits in more detail. We sat beside a WE177 air-dropped bomb whilst our guides described aspects of the bunker.

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These 3 metre long, versatile monsters, destined to be dropped from Vulcan bombers, formed the basis of Britain’s early nuclear deterrent capability. The WE177 itself is a delivery vehicle, capable of transporting a variety of payloads. In ICBM mode it can carry a 10 kiloton thermonuclear warhead to devastate an area 3.4 km in diameter. In Piñata mode it can distribute up to 550 kg of Spangles and Opal Fruits over a similar area. Sadly, the latter option was never put to the test.

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Following our introductory presentation, we visited the ‘Message Room’ where, back in the day, if the bomb had gone off, cyclists would have delivered urgent messages from around the borough.

 

Directly opposite, across the spine corridor, is the plant room. The original generator is long gone but the fresh air system still works just fine off the mains. We were shown a genuine 1954 asbestos based filter, intended to remove harmful (radioactive) particles from the air. The rooms on the left of the corridor comprise the female dormitory and male and female Elsan based toilets.

It’s a peculiarly British thing that with hell on Earth going on outside, with friends and relations literally left dying on the streets, the authorities still felt the need to have segregated toilets. Yet there was insufficient space for a guardroom or any form of dedicated military presence.

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The female dormitory has just four bunks. When the facility was operational, these would have served 16 female staff. The arithmetic for the men’s dormitory, across the corridor is similar: six beds for 24 male staff. The final small room, next to the emergency exit, was the home of the Clerk of the Works.

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The Clerk of the Works was ultimately in charge of the bunker and it was he who had to set priorities or decide where to send the last fire engine. Three individuals filled the rôle, working a shift system to maintain 24 hour cover. The bunker at Gravesend was cast to represent the Cabinet War Room in a film, Age of Heroes, in 2011. James D’arcy played the part of the officer in charge. Across the spine corridor are the operations rooms and communications facilities.

Orders and observations were expected to arrive by telephone (as well as by bicycle) and here they would have been decoded and interpreted, then written onto notes and passed through a hatch to the control room. The Control Room is the heart of the facility, where following a nuclear strike, difficult decisions would have to be made. Representatives of the local authority, Police, Fire Brigade, NHS, utilities companies and Army would have all been based in this room. To get an idea what it might have been like, watch Threads (1984), probably the scariest and most realistic ‘after the bomb’ movie ever made.

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The Control Room has been set up by members of Thames Defence Heritage to recreate the environment as it would have been in the Cold War, just add a couple of dozen stressed people and remember that 80% of them would have been smoking. The volunteers have managed to bring together a truly unique collection of contemporary period stuff to help us understand what it might have been like. There are two blast calculator devices which I have never seen on display anywhere else. Does anybody know how to use these?

Everywhere there are books giving instructions and government advice. All of which are freely available for the visitor to pick up and read.

This facility is the most informative and best presented example of the local government aspect of ‘after the bomb’ Cold War Britain that I have yet seen. It is open once a month and you have to book in advance with the local tourist office to buy tickets. Not to be missed if you like this kind of thing.

 

 

The Tower Subway

Well I like to think I know my way around London but I was totally unaware of this particular feat of Victorian engineering. About 200 metres upstream from Tower Bridge, there’s a tunnel under the Thames. Built as a pedestrian walkway in 1869, this 410 metre long tunnel has a diameter of just 2 metres. It was dug by hand, behind a small tunnelling shield. Digging progressed quickly, with the shield advancing an average of  11 metres each week, the tunnel being completed in under a year.

The whole project never came close to being a financial success and was totally scuppered by the building of Tower Bridge. 220px-Tower_Subway_1870

After a series of financial difficulties, the owners closed the tunnel to the public and sold it to the London Hydraulic (water) Company, to route their pipes through. It is still used for the same purpose today.

There is no public access to the Tower Subway tunnel but I did find both ends:

The northern shaft breaks the surface on Tower Hill, just south of the tourist shop/toilets and is easily identified by this fine, circular brick structure at street level.

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The shaft at the southern end of the tunnel is less obvious. In fact I don’t know for certain that I have found it! I know that the southern shaft emerges in Vine Lane but Vine Lane has been absorbed into the smart, modern ‘More London’ development. All of the buildings in the area are in exactly the same style: glass, metal and textured black stone Except this one …

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I’m 99% certain that the above structure sits on top of the southern shaft of the Tower Subway. A rather bland and disappointing end to a small marvel of Victorian engineering.

If you’re interested in the Tower Subway, Wikipedia has a very good page here.

Brunel’s Thames Tunnel

Between  Rotherhithe and Wapping runs a 400 metres long, straight tunnel, now accommodating the London Overground railway (formerly the East London line).  This was the first tunnel to be put under a river, anywhere in the world. It was the brainchild of French (via USA) engineer, Marc Brunel, who was IKB’s father. Work commenced in 1825 but after just three months, the chief engineer for the project resigned. Marc Brunel appointed his nineteen year old son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (IKB) to complete the job. What a great opportunity for a young man. It took eighteen years.

Thames_tunnel_shieldBrunel invented the tunnelling shield, a heavy, rectangular  wrought iron frame. In this case, three compartments tall and twelve compartments wide, each compartment containing a single miner with a short handled spade (36 men digging through London Clay). These miners were assisted by an army of Irish labourers, who would barrow the spoil away.

When enough spoil (London Clay) had been carted away, the tunnelling shield would be jacked forward 4 inches (10 cm) and the bricklayers would move in to lay one more course of bricks, slowly creating two tunnels out of the one large rectangular bore.

This system was not without its problems. The river bed was just 5 metres above the brick ceiling of the tunnels and on five occasions during the 18 year construction, the river broke through.flld

Several  lives were lost but in 1843 the tunnel opened. On the first day 50,000 visitors paid 1d each to walk it’s length and experience this ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. It remained a pedestrian tunnel and a spectacle until 1865, when it was converted to railway use. In the later years before the railway took it over, the tunnels were used by prostitutes and as a refuge for homeless people. It remains a railway tunnel today and is a testament to the quality of the original Victorian brickwork.

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There is no longer any pedestrian access to the tunnel. Its twin tubes are now entirely the province of the London Overground railway. The best view you’re going to get is looking back from the northbound platform of Wapping Station (above).

The 15 meter diameter access shafts have both been capped off with steel and concrete but the shaft at Rotherhithe can be hired as a party/meetings venue or as a theatre space. There is a small but interesting Brunel Museum in the former pumping engine house at Rotherhithe.

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Wealdway – Hartlake to Leigh

Distance: 14.7 km

Steps: 27,734

Maps: OS Explorer 136, 147

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The wood to the west of Hartlake Bridge is tiny. Maybe 200 metres x 50 metres. I selected the most covert, dry, sheltered spot and began to set up my basher at 8:30pm last night, just as the light began to fade. By 9:00pm it was full dark and my bivouac was complete. I got into bed and I was sound asleep within minutes. I awoke briefly around midnight to find that I had neighbours. One male and one female, two voices, talking very quietly, about 30 metres away I guess. I went back to sleep.

I was up soon after 06:00am and back on the trail before 07:00am. Walking west and eating the remains of my food as I went along, I soon reached Eldridge’s Lock.

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There are dozens of dog walkers about at this time of day. I got to Tonbridge just after 08:00am. The town is now much developed beside the river from the days we used to moor Kajani here (1989?). Luxury apartments now extend to just beyond Town Lock on the south bank and all the way to Cannon Bridge on the north bank. There are signs saying that you can still moor here at £5.00 per night but nobody was.

I carried on along the south bank and reached the town bridge. This was our highest navigable point on the Medway as our tiny mast wouldn’t go under the bridge. There’s a pub just here on the river where Matt Sankey used to DJ with vinyl.

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I paused for a breakfast bap in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle. I’ve got a blister on my left heel. That’s never happened before! I’ve been wearing these Meindl boots for two years now. I must be walking funny. I blame the Parkinson’s 😦

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Was tempted to ride the model railway but it seemed to bring me back to where I started from so I declined and carried on walking west past the rugby pitches.

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The Wealdway passes under the Tonbridge-London railway line and continues beside the Medway. There’s plenty of fish in the river along here. I’ll return for a day out. I walked another 4 km beside the river, lakes and flood defence measures, passing under the A21 dual carriageway. Then I reached Leigh where I got the train home to change my socks etc.

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Wealdway – Wrotham Heath to Hartlake

Distance: 24.1 km

Steps: 45,672

Maps: OS Explorer 148, 136

Weather

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Did you know that you can save 10% on the room rate at Premier Inn, just by booking a ‘saver’ reservation on your phone whilst standing at reception. They don’t tell you this unless you ask! Declined their kind offer of hot food for breakfast and departed the Premier Inn at 09:00am. I turned immediately left towards Platt. It’s a steady gentle gradient rising 50 metres over 1 km. A good start to warm up.

Laurel hedges abound in Platt as local residents attempt to distance themselves from Wealdway Walkers

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Before I succumbed to the temptations of a comfy bed and a hot bath last night, my wildcamping destination had been planned to be Shipbourne Forest in Crouch. I breakfasted there today. It’s not pretty: recently coppiced hazel and beech, some birch. Bit boggy here and there. I definitely had the most comfortable option.

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I walked south 3 km through Shipbourne Forest/Mereworth Woods. It’s a long, dry, pot-holed road and I met only two dog walkers. No other hikers. This brought me to Gower Hill, a pretty site maintained by the National Trust with outstanding views to the west and south on a clear day (which it was). The weather brought a few fluffy clouds but an otherwise clear sky.

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Another 2 km brought me to West Peckham, where Blake never saw an angel but there was a lone lawnmower man lovingly tending the tiny cricket green. I enjoyed an excellent cheese ploughman’s lunch sitting outside the ‘Swan on the Green’. There was no cricket today but the pub was very busy with lunchtime trade; locals and ramblers.

 

The signage and waymarking for the Wealdway has so far been excellent. With a keen eye for the signs you could walk the trail without a map/compass. I wouldn’t because for me, the map work is part of the fun. But that’s me.

There has been just one exception to this confident statement. Barnes Street. Here the sign points south down a drive and through a farmyard. The walker is directed through a field of sheep (with dire warnings for dog owners). The path fizzles out. I found myself on the wrong side of an irrigation ditch and had to back track. I had to walk round a ploughed field to reach a gate I’d identified on the map as leading down to the River Medway. Probably my error but I would have been in trouble without a map/compass.

I walked west for 1/2 km on the south bank to East Lock.

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Then crossed the river at the lock, where there are a pair of WW2 pillboxes, and walked another km to the west where the path ducks under Hartlake Bridge. There once was a tragedy on Hartlake Bridge. The modern bridge is made of concrete and steel and is of sturdy construction but it wasn’t always so. In 1853 the bridge was a rickety old wooden structure, much in need of maintenance. It collapsed while a cart of hop pickers was passing over it. 30 people sadly drowned in the river below. They were aged 2 to 59 and were all Romanis from one extended family.

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I made my camp in the woods 200 metres or so beyond the bridge. The overnight weather promised to be dry and there was no wind. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

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