First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The dead flat North Kent coast is a psychogeographical kind of a place. It has little in the way of chocolate box appeal, but is packed with wildlife, rumbustious local history and quirky corners.
Wandering down Preston Road in Faversham on a nippy spring morning, it seemed a place that Charles Dickens would recognise with its Assembly Rooms, weather-boarded shops (‘Baldy the Butcher’) with jutting upper storeys, curly Dutch gables and ornamental clock brackets over the pavements.
A handsome wooden-legged Guildhall straddled the Market Place. Half-timbered medieval houses along Court Street led down to the quays on Faversham Creek. Oyster smacks, sailing barges, a yacht hoisted in a sling while a whistling man in blue overalls scrubbed her bottom clean after the long mucky winter.
Black headed gulls already in chocolate summer hoods screeched like urchins on the muddy banks of Faversham Creek. It was this winding tidal inlet that brought prosperity to the town in Tudor times. Cherries, corn, bricks and beer went out to the Thames on flat-bottomed barges, thence to London and the continent, while exotic items such as French wine and Scandinavian softwood made their way inland via Faversham.
The Saxon Shore Way led us along the creek, then across the sticky, fertile beanfields of Nagden and Graveney Marshes. Big clouds pushed eastwards, a rain shower came and went, and skylarks uplifted body and voice over the fields. There was a sense of space, freedom and one’s own smallness.
A picture of a marsh harrier hung on a fence. ‘I live here,’ it proclaimed, ‘but how much longer?’ A solar park the size of Faversham is planned to cover these marshes. Meanwhile, birdwatchers and walkers savour the solitude.
At the concrete bar of the sea wall, a revelation – a ten-mile view opening over cockleshell beaches, the Isle of Sheppey opposite, Whitstable on its shallow hill to the east, and a scattered mass of birds harvesting the muddy shores of the Swale, a silver-blue backwater of the distant Thames.
Skylarks rose singing against silver and grey clouds inland, while from the tideline came the chuckling bark and bubble of brent geese feeding.
We turned eastward and followed the sea wall past brightly painted shore shacks and the blackened stakes of old oyster beds, ranks of wooden groynes and scampering dogs, all the way to the tall boarded shapes of the fishermen’s huts by Whitstable harbour.
Start: Faversham railway station, Kent, ME13 8EB (OS ref TR 016609)
Getting there: Rail to Faversham. Bus 3 (Canterbury-Sittingbourne). Road – M2, Jct 6
Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorers 149, 150): From north side of station, walk down Preston Road. Left along Market Street, right down Market Place and Court Street. Left by Anchor Inn (019619); right along quay. Follow Saxon Shore Way/SSW for 1¾ miles. Just past Nagden cottages, SSW turns left (031632), but keep ahead here (‘public footpath’, yellow arrow/YA). In 600m, right (031638, YA) under power lines on field path across Nagden Marshes. In 450m, left (035640, YA); in 500m, right along seawall (034645) to Sportsman Inn (062647). Continue along shore path for 5¼ miles past Seasalter to Whitstable Harbour (109670). Right down Cromwell Road; in 600m, left (111664) along Railway Avenue to Whitstable station. Return to Faversham by train.
Conditions: Path can be muddy and wet in places
Lunch: SportsmAn Inn, Faversham Rd, Seasalter CT5 4BP (01227-273370, thesportsmanseasalter.co.uk)
Accommodation: Swan Quay Inn, Conduit St, Faversham ME13 7DF (07538-106465, swanquayinn.com)
Info: Faversham TIC (01795-534542)
Wales Coast Path Walking Festival, 4-19 May – ramblers.org.uk/go-walking/wales-coast-path