West into the desolate marshes (Dotted green line on Map)
Step onto the beach at the end of the garden at the Beach House on Whitstable's West Beach and straight into a SSSI, designated as a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR Convention. The footpath over the garden wall is also part of the Saxon Shoreway, which runs 163 miles from Gravesend to Hastings.
The beach here is made of vegetated shingle. Many rare plants are repopulating it since the latest sea defences were built in 1989. Here you may see yellow horned poppy, vipers gloss, sea beet, campion, holly, kale, and pea.
Turning west, you first walk past the remaining seafront houses as the built-up area peter out, then several groups of multi-coloured beach huts, ever increasing numbers of which are owned by Londoners, who are driving the prices up beyond what traditional local residents can afford. Grandad’s Grotto fetched a record £12,000 recently.
Inland, behind the sea wall is the Seasalter Golf Course, which was made when the salt pans dating from Roman times were drained, by construction of the sea wall, which is now the dead end road that serves the beach huts. Hence its name Island Wall, which succeeded Middle Wall, the original sea defence on the inland side of the salt pans.
Next you pass a group of million dollar homes at Admiralty Walk, the first of which belongs to media celebrity, Janet Street-Porter. They represent an eclectic collection of styles as more and more rich people built homes along the track that services the original Georgian coastguard station.
A chain of these had been built during and after the Napoleonic era because the wild empty marshes were ideal for smuggling, which had become Kent’s leading industry, as brandy, gin, perfume, rum and tobacco came in duty free, while tea and gold guineas went the other way. At its peak smuggling grew to account for a quarter of England’s foreign trade in reaction to the high customs duties imposed to pay for the Napoleonic wars. This was where the notorious Seasalter Company operated.
Here there is a sculptured bench made to commemorate the latest sea defences. The original groynes were built by Dutch engineers in the eighteenth centry, but post-war planners felt that the higgly-piggly arrangement should be streamlined so replaced them in after WWII. That proved a mistake so a grandiose concrete wall was proposed in the Seventies, but fortunately local opposition killed that off, as well as a revised smaller scheme.
By the Eighties a more environmentally-sensitive alternative had been devised. The theory developed for beaches around the English Channel is now that gales should expend their energy on steep shingle, held in place by groynes individually aligned to the angle of attack, just as the Dutch did. Behind these should be a level section so that the earlier concrete sea defences now only need to act as a retaining wall for a shallow lake, if the water ever rises that high.
Continuing along the beach, you pass a private estate along the top of the slopes before reaching Seasalter Cross, where the old Faversham Road comes back to the seafront at the Blue Anchor pub. Before the first sea wall was built in 1325, the marshes ahead of you were tidal and Seasalter was a thriving community trading in fish, salt and wool with a population of 250 recorded in the Domesday Book.
The Seasalter Marshes ahead of you were invaded by the sea during the great floods of 1953, which swamped everything for miles inland and cut the railway. That was caused by an unusual combination of spring tides, north easterly gale force winds and a depression moving down the North Sea.
Here you pass a motley collection of homes on the wrong side of the sea defences. These were originally large beach huts, but they have fallen prey to development creep and many are now solid brick buildings. The original beach huts survived because they were built on stilts, but the fate of these new houses is uncertain, because the area has now been designated for managed retreat.
Looking out to sea at low tide, the flats stretch out a mile, which is why this part of the Swale estuary was once a vast prison camp. Captured French soldiers and sailors were kept in appalling conditions on the bulks of old battleships here because of the combination of flat water and the long distances escapees would have to swim.
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Copyright (c) Ordnance Survey
Those same conditions also make this ideal racing waters for both the Whitstable Yacht Club and Seasalter Sailing Club, which you pass just behind the seawall. It is also why the area has for centuries been ideal for growing oysters and why for millennia it has been a favourite feeding ground for migrating birds.
At the Sportsman Pub the road turns inland. Here there is also a final colony of beach huts, before you leave civilisation behind and enter the isolated Graveney Marshes. If driving to do a circular walk, park your car here.
Cross over the style on the top of the dyke to continue along the shoreline, which is the route of the Saxon Shoreway. Then you will see a nature reserve to seaward. This is the South Bank, Swale Nature Reserve. While seagulls, Brent geese and the occasional cormorant may be seen at Daniels Court, here there are many rare varieties that stay away from people, so this is a twitcher’s paradise.
The Saxon Shoreway now bends inland following the east bank of Faversham Creek. On the other side you will see the Shipwright’s Inn, widely thought to have been used by smugglers until recent times, because of its extremely isolated position.
Somewhere secret you will also pass the site of a Roman fort, only recently discovered by archeologists. This was a staging post where the invading legions marching across country met their supply ships as far upstream as they could navigate, so enabling Caesar to conquer the Britons by river-hopping.
As you approach the town of Faversham, you pass Iron Wharf, the picturesque last resting place of many a yacht and home of dreams for many restorers. The tall old building is a grain elevator, where corn harvested inland was sent by barge to London. Wool and bricks were other important exports.
Here you have the opportunity to end your walk if you want to stop for a meal in the town or catch one of the two trains an hour back to Whitstable.
Alternatively, if you want to go on, retrace your route to the bend where the Creek turns north and take the footpath / cycle route due east at the Nadgen farm. This leads you through orchards and farmyards towards Graveney, a small old village along the Faversham Road.Here you have a choice of walking along the road that meanders round dykes at the edge of the marsh north towards the sportsman’s pub, or take a public footpath through the fields further west starting at the Old Vicarage before reaching Graveney.
For the official KCC guidebook to the Saxon Shoreway visit www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/explore-kent/new-guide-for-saxon-shore-way.htm