Inshore Coast – Part Two
Many of the idyllic creeks I just love to explore are inaccessible to an extent that one finds he can only venture into them in a small boat of shoal draft. If we add to this relative inaccessibility the fact that many of them are geographically isolated as well we find that perhaps inadvertently we have helped preserve these wild spaces from the sprawl of contemporary living - yet still other threats arrive all too frequently. We now have giant wind farms such as the Gunfleet and London Array growing ever larger, and for the foreseeable future at least, blighting our beautiful seascapes. This is a two edged sword as we sure need to find a safe and sustainable energy source. As the years pass will we come to admire these as we do the windmills on the Norfolk Broads perhaps? Only time will tell. The threat of London’s newest airport being built in the Thames Estuary is still worryingly very real – this would crowd the escape routes of our “swatchways to solitude” for thousands of mariners and bring with it the blunder of aircraft noise and forever restless skies. Thankfully at present one can still find respite in the peaceful creeks and rivers, “water-gardens” of the sea as I like to call them, some which are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which indent our coast therefore these, should remain protected from our more contrived habits.
Large scale side effects from heavy industry are not a new phenomenon, far from it, we only have to take a peek at Mucking Creek which finds its way inland on the north shore of the Lower Thames. For many years Mucking had taken all the crap that London could throw along its banks but a closer look shows us that thousands of years earlier Iron Age salt gatherers settled the area in a time when it was likely to be prime real estate on the banks of the Thames and discarded mountains of fired red pottery vessels, and yet somehow this area has managed to absorb it all and with time has regained its identity as a serene little creek where sea birds hover over smooth mudflats, and saltmarsh now hides the broken pieces of glass and Bone China stories of family life and everything else that would have been in the Victorian London household.
Just across the estuary, to the south, riverside towns continue to grow along the River Medway. This once thriving and pivotal Naval river has become a leisure haven that is fed by excellent road links to London (The Medway Cruising Club at Gillingham is a model for any club to strive to for it has fantastic facilities for cruisers). The Medway carves into Kentish hop country which yielded the annual Exodus of East London families (mine included) in the 50s. They came on the backs of their Lorries or in special trains which were laid on to freight these good time holiday workers in. My wonderful mother still recites with fondness warm fireside memories gleaned after a hard days hop picking that were ingrained forever in all the kids present, but a couple of local hostillieries were a little less inviting to the one or two unsavoury characters that would come along for the ride and placed “No Hop Pickers” signs above doorways. But today the great escape of the lonely marshes still exists just around the corner at places like Lower Halstow and remains largely unspoilt.
As is often the case nothing lasts forever so with those flat caps, braces and white shirts of the old ways hop picking had stepped into the 20th century and into a quicker pace of life... it couldn’t last and with the introduction of machinery, as happened years earlier with ‘sail’, hop pickers were no longer needed spelling the end of an era for many Londoners, but also a new beginning too.
Back across the estuary and one can enter into calm waters through a lifting gateway that is Havengore Bridge, and into an enlightening backwater world of shimmering sea lanes that are shaken raggedly by missile firing testing stations in operation from 9am to 5pm most weekdays. The weekend calm sees birds land along the lost fringes of dammed waterways, and a magic aura settle over the delightful Barling Creek, for me one of the most atmospheric little creeks in the whole of England.
One East Coast river in particular has had its fair share of blight in the form of Bradwell Nuclear Power Station. Do not be deterred by the presence of this former industrial might as it is now in decommission, instead be charmed by the saltiest of seaways that flows passed it for this is the River Blackwater, at up to three miles in width at its widest point and over ten miles in length it is studded with islands galore. No other East Coast river has such an infestation of low ways and such lengthy tributaries wildly branching of it in all directions - a true arm of the sea in every sense of the word and quite possibly the most exciting river to sail a small boat on the whole East Coast. In fact the Blackwater is so vast it is still possible to find the odd inhabitant of its banks at one end of the river who has still not worked out that life does exist at the other end of it!
Across the estuary is the River Colne, now long since ceased to be a working port it has become one of the largest Brownfield sites in all of rural Essex and even though house building has run freely in a few places along the river bank it still has that certain magic for the adventurous types who are willing to reach the heads of its pretty, tranquil offshoots such as the Roman River or Arlesford Creek where one is greeted by a timeless country scene of watermills and green hillsides where acorns drop from mature oak trees and all that is missing from the picture is a bale of hay and horse drawn cart.