Downstream

For years we have had a bolt hole down the A2 to the North Kent coast overlooking the extensive marshes twixt Faversham and The Swale where it meets the sea.  The simple two-up two-down end of terrace cottage was built for gunpowder workers who were part of the vast ammunition works which were tucked out of the way from environs of this historic Cinque Port.

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Well it’s ‘blog’ time and I had a notion to write about Thames Sprit sail barges which happily still frequent these creeks as well as the refined St Katherine Docks – often chartered for eveing supper trips past our Greenwich home.

Invited to lunch on higher ground near Seasalter where we not only enjoyed a lively party but also were able to survey the extensive oyster beds for which Whitstable is so renowned.  The unusually low tide provided a stunning panorama up the Swale and across the Thames estuary to distant Essex – the low lying distant shoreline punctured by Southend’s lofty office buildings.  The incoming tide also provided a steady stream of shipping including a recognisable newsprint ship, which used to dock down at Convoys Deptford Wharf – how I miss the comings and goings of these handsome, gleaming white vessels!

Having negotiated the steep cottage stairs and surveyed Oare Creek, I realised that two familiar Thames barges were moored further up the creek – their burgees streaming out in a stiff breeze in the failing light indicated they belonged to the Thames Barge Sailing Club.  Before the Dutch reclaimed much of the extensive salt water marshes, it is said that the bottom of our steep garden was once the sea shoreline.   Close by, the high-pitched whine of an electric saw down in the builders’ yard at the foot of the garden suddenly reminded me of the old saw pit once there.  The adjacent blacksmiths and builders’ yard with a deep saw pit would have been very useful to maintain the fleets of tan-sailed barges which conveyed the local made gunpowder up to the Arsenal in Woolwich and up the Lea Navigation to Enfield.

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Our local marshes at Oare are now a renowned bird sanctuary breeding ground, but were once covered in low-lying sheds where locals filled shells for the Great War.  A light railway conveyed the girls to and fro from the town to these lonely, isolated factories.  Alas, in 1916, a summer grass fire got out of control and blew up 108 of the returning work force.  A trail around the historic works close to the new Sainsbury’s will fascinate young and old – our children used to play around these ‘jingly’ structures not dissimilar to Burma!  The remains of this Tudor industry can still be viewed in Faversham’s Tourist Information Centre and along the Swale, where the purpose-built wharves and vessels can still be seen, providing a fascinating excursion.

If you need a beer and enjoy excellent food, pop into our local owned by Shepherd Neame – The Three Mariners is a favourite with creek walkers as well!

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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