Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cruising Notes: Grain Tower

Cruising Notes:
If you’ve ever wondered what that stocky little stone tower is that sits out on the ooze at the mouth of the River Medway, in 2013 I took a closer look...

Grain Tower Battery - a solitary sea-building
Grain Tower, mentioned in my book Sea-Country, chapter ‘The Ton’, can be found offshore of the Hoo Peninsular, on Grain Spit, an area where the waters of the River’s Medway and Thames meet and directly opposite Garrison Point which is on the Isle of Sheppey. The tower, which has just recently came on the market and is for sale at £500.000, is privately owned and stands empty with bare window openings and doorways, almost as it was left after WW2. This is also the area earmarked for the Thames Estuary Airport ‘Boris Island’ which at a cost of up to 90billion has just recently been dropped.
Originally built to counter the threat of Napoleon in 1855 the tower was mounted with guns and used in conjunction with Sheerness batteries in Essex, just across the wide mouth of the River Thames. Since then it has been added to and re-armed for use in both World Wars to guard the Mouth of the River Medway and the Thames. For seafarers this interesting relic of 19th century Britain makes a decent object for taking bearings and there are a couple of navigation buoys very close to the tower, one of them Grain Hard, a green starboard lateral mark. In 2013 I re-commissioned the building to serve us as a very useful navigation mark while crossing the potentially hazardous shipping lanes of the estuary between Essex and Kent in Shoal Waters.

The stone causeway - still in good condition despite the wearing sea
A look back from the base of the newer addition to Grain chimney
  A peep inside reveals some very ornate stonework, bomb-proof thick, with some narrow window openings of the 19th century military era, with a more cubist, concrete 20th century addition which stands to the back of the building and is interlinked with concrete a stairway, all presently decorated in ultra-modern graffiti.
The position and height of Grain Tower means it is a fantastic vantage point and anything attempting an advance up the Thames from the open coast would have had the odds stacked against them to survive the encounter. Its position and heritage would be an obvious draw for a potential buyer today who, after spending a fair few quid or more to make it habitable, would be the owner of a unique home.
  If one comes close to the tower by boat there is about ten feet of water at its foot at high-tide but if you could be persuaded it might be best to avoid drying out near to the building as there are rocks, metal pieces and the remains of a hard perilously nearby. All is not lost for the persistent (insistent even) boater as smooth mudflats are just to the west and reach close to the concrete of the seawalls.  A stone causeway about half a mile long spans the mudflats from the seawall out to the tower and though mud is deep for the first fifty feet, and the path has perished in places, perhaps surprisingly what remains is in sound condition where one can find a sure footing. However, in light of the many obstacles surrounding the tower it is much safer to arrive on foot and use this path via the seawall. In this respect, a closer look at Grain Tower is as much a proposition to ramblers as it is boaters. This could be said of many of the places I visit in Sea-Country.
  The tower is presently overlooked by neighbouring Grain power station chimney, one of the tallest in Britain, and further up the Medway, Kingsnorth chimney, built on a former WW1 airship base. The tall chimneys of Grain and Kingsnorth have been useful landmarks in themselves but of the two Grain is a more prominent feature of the whole area, particularly if viewed from the Essex shores, and can be seen from almost everywhere around. Readers take note: Work to demolish the two smoke chimneys began in 2014 therefore when demolished the Kent skyline will be changed forever...  
A concrete stairway links 1850s old and 1940s new

Flood tide begins to cover the footing. Note the obstacles inshore of Grain Hard buoy
  A few other sites that are visible from the tower are Southend to the north and the Mulberry Harbour Phoenix Unit, a portable concrete harbour built for D-Day landings in France, which broke its back after grounding on the sands in a fierce south-westerly blow while being towed in 1944, is clear to see as well as the Red Sand Towers; these can be clearly seen to the east and are another place I have sailed around in Shoal Waters. There are the masts of WW2 ammunitions carrying Liberty ship SS Richard Montgomery to be seen (and avoided) on a clear day.
  A look toward the seaward end of the Thames can awe, inspire and fill a person with wonder. It is a fascinating part of the river, a ‘metropolis water’ busy with international shipping and awash with rewards for those willing to poke at its banks and inlets that are teeming with industry and forgotten history seen in structures like Grain Tower that can keep an enquiring type busy for decades.. Enjoy your cruising, Tony

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