Walking the Hoo Peninsula, from Strood to Kingsnorth Power Station & back

by Ian Tokelove
Salt marsh on the Hoo Peninsula, Medway Estuary

The landscape in front of Strood Railway Station has been swept clean, leaving a broad stretch of fenced-off flatlands awaiting redevelopment. This will be Strood Riverside, a mix of residential apartments and public spaces overlooking the Medway. 

Upstream, the old river wharves have been replaced with a concrete play area and a strip of green. At the broken end of Strood Pier, a sunken barge drowns twice a day with the incoming tides. A large, slightly dilapidated submarine is floating offshore. This incongruous vessel is a Soviet Navy submarine from the Cold War, renamed the Black Widow. The submarine is currently in private hands and undergoing restoration.

Soviet Navy submarine on the Medway at Strood
Submarine U-475 Black Widow off Stood

Saxon Shore Way

The Saxon Shore Way follows Riverside Road east along the Medway, before climbing a narrow chalk ridge between two exhausted chalk quarries. Glimpses to the south reveal the Medway City Estate, a congestion of warehouses and light industry. Much of this was unspoilt saltmarsh until around the 1970s, when it was lost to landfill and later development.

The path drops down to the busy Berwick Way then follows the noisy A289, funnelling traffic below the Medway. The narrow footpath then pushes along the edge of a MOD training base, hemmed in by a razor-wire topped fence.

Upnor Castle

At Upper Upnor we finally escape to a quieter, gentler landscape, squeezing past the MOD base and down to the riverside. Upnor Castle blocks progress but the steep, narrow High Street is charming, with a pubs either end.

The footpath follows the castle walls east, before dropping down to the old Ordnance Works. An old rail line appears from under the wall before running into the dark undergrowth. A derelict WW2 shelter can be seen along its lost track, the bricks wrapped in bramble and ivy.

Looking up a stepped and overgrown footpath bordered by a high brick wall
Upnor Castle perimeter wall

Boatyards and yacht clubs follow at Lower Upnor before the Saxon Shore Way really meets the shoreline. It’s good to feel the beach crunch underfoot. This path is tidal, so best avoided on a high spring tide. Another footpath tracks inland, a route which I’ll walk on my return.

The coast here is wooded, with occasional tracks leading up into the trees. In places, low sandy banks catch the sunlight. These are peppered with the tunnels of mining bees, hundreds of small caves, reminiscent of ancient cliff dwellings. In early October, dozens of bees were still attending their nests, too busy to be bothered by my attention.

A Second World War pillbox slants forwards onto the foreshore here, undermined by the Medway tides.

Cockham Wood Fort

The remains of Cockham Wood Fort also guard this stretch of coastline. A rare survivor from the 17th century, the fort was built in 1669 and boasted more than 40 guns, capable of firing from two tiers. The fort was abandoned in 1818 and gradually fell prey to the theft of building materials and coastal erosion. Now, only the brickwork of the lower battery is easily accessible.

A series of low brick arches are supported on a base of red, heavily eroded bricks. A large lump of eroded brickwork lies in front of the structure, on the sloping beach. The scene is backed by trees behind the fort.
Cockham Wood Fort, dating from 1699

More boatyards follow, the path cutting a line through Port Werburgh. This is now a gated community, offering secure accommodation afloat or in identikit ‘luxury’ homes. The older piers at either end of the harbour are made from hulked concrete barges, re-used following the Second World War.

Ship graveyard

Leaving the boat yards behind, the path passes a cluster of wrecks, slowly decaying in the soft Medway mud. There are at least ten abandoned barges here, with other boats decaying alongside them. The saltmarsh around them is now a precious wildlife habitat. The estuary was once lined with such saltings, but only scraps remain.

Tilted wooden wrecks are half submerged by the rising tide under a blue sky
Many working boats have ended their days like this, abandoned at the high tide mark
A decaying wooden barge, viewed from the broken stern, surrounded by saltmarsh. Beyond it, the river wall and path.
An unknown wooden hulk, partially broken, in her final resting place

Out in the Medway, Hoo Island lies long and low on the water. Fort Hoo (1871) sits at the eastern edge, guarding the estuary. There was once a causeway out to the island, of which remnants remain. Most of the island has been used for landfill, layered over lost saltmarsh.

The Hoo Stop Line

Continuing along the trail, a pill box has been partially engulfed by the sea wall. Along with a nearby anti-tank blockhouse, this was port of the Second World War Hoo Stop Line. A deep, wide ditch formed a defensive line which stretched inland. At the shoreline, concrete anti-tank blocks still lead out into the estuary mud.

Three large, square blocks of concrete stand in a row, surrounded by water, under a blue sky
Anti-tank blocks with the cranes of Long Reach Jetty in the distance
A blockhouse, inland of the obstacle blocks, would have housed a powerful anti-tank gun

Another structure, probably dating from the Second World War, can be seen half a kilometre farther on. Four u-shaped concrete brackets (one has fallen) once supported something, but nobody seems sure what.  

Kingsnorth Power Station

The path continues along the river wall. The scenery inland is of reedbeds, wet grazing marsh and pylons. Ahead lies the last standing remains of Kingsnorth Power Station, the bulk of the structure having been razed to the ground. The chimney here was formerly one of the UK’s tallest structures, a fallen landmark which towered 198 metres (650 ft) in height.

Looking inland as the path approaches the site of Kingsnorth Power Station
Looking inland as the path approaches the site of Kingsnorth Power Station
A low wide block, resembling a warehouse, is all that remains of the once much taller power station
Kingsnorth Power Station once rose high above this building, dominating the landscape

The dead power station is guarded by tall, electric fences. On the seaward side, curving concrete defences rebuff storm tides. Kingsnorth Jetty stretches out into the Medway, from where huge quantities of coal were unloaded. EU clean air directives forced closure of the polluting power station, with demolition beginning in 2014. The chimney finally fell in March 2018.

The path is forced inland here, skirting the marsh. A flutter of distinctive wings drew my eye to a peregrine falcon, which rose to a pylon perch. These marvellous predators are making a comeback after years of persecution, a rare success story. At Burnt House Farm I took the path west. I did not stroke the dog.

The public right of way is quickly lost, blocked by a low mound of spoil. Thankfully, I had an OS map and was confident of my direction. As I climbed over the ridge I spotted a Devil’s coach horse beetle scrambling for cover, a bold and fearsome little carnivore.

The overgrown path heads west, between a high ridge of vegetated spoil and excavation pits. After passing the wooded edges of Abbots Pools, the rough track reconnects with the Saxon Shore Trail, which then follows Abbots Court Road. A pillbox by the road is another indicator of the old Hoo Stop Line.

Looking north over the gravel pits
Looking north over the gravel pits

St Werburgh Church

Cutting past St Werburgh Church, once can’t help noticing the massive family vault of Mr Richard Everist, dating from 1830. Everist was a yeoman farmer, a man who owned his own land, and he clearly did well from it.

The path continues along a straight, private road with permissible access. The bare fields on either side would have been boring were it not for a generous band of sunflowers, sown for wildlife rather than profit. The sunflower heads hung dark and heavy, still ripe with seed. When autumn’s migratory birds arrive from the east, these field edges will provide a welcome refuelling stop.  

Sunflowers silhouetted against a blue sky
These dead and dying sunflowers still have much to give

A narrow, fenced path through the edge of Chattenden village leads down to the welcoming, winding paths of Cockham Wood. These lead back to Lower Upnor and the Medway, from where I could retrace my steps in the fading light, back to Stood Railway Station and a return to the other world of London.

Medway Estuary at dusk from Lower Upnor
Medway Estuary at dusk from Lower Upnor

More information

 The Thameslink service from London Bridge to Strood takes just over an hour. If visiting from London, note that Strood station is outside of the Oyster Card fare zone.

For a Peninsula walk on the far side of Kingsnorth Power Station see Walking the Stoke Saltings on Kent’s Hoo Peninsula

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