Queenborough and Ladies Hole Point, walking an old rail line towards a saltmarsh spit

by Ian Tokelove
disused boats await breaking at Ladies Hole Point, Queenborough

At Queenborough, on the Isle of Sheppey, the channel of the Swale curves sharply around a spit, which is tipped with saltmarsh. This promontory is marked on maps as Ladies Hole Point, a mat of low-lying saltmarsh which has been half-swallowed by landfill. The point is bordered by an old wharf and apparently abandoned boats.  

Walking out from the village of Rushenden, the upper foreshore is carpeted with broken tile, providing grip against the slippery Medway mud. Bladderwrack pops underfoot, and oyster catcher & curlew call from the tideline.

Mudflats at Queenborough are dotted with occasional boats. In the distance, other boats are moored in the channel. In the far distance, tall chimneys and gas tanks rise on the horizon.
The Swale at Queenborough, on the Medway Estuary

Coal Washer Wharf at Queenborough

A public footpath follows the line of an old railway, the tracks only recently lifted. This line served Coal Washer Wharf and an adjacent works, located out on Ladies Hole Point. The buildings have been demolished, their foundations now swamped in landfill, but much of the wharf survives. Coal once arrived from north-east England to be cleaned and graded here, before being sold in local towns.

A small, broken pier supports a large, broken pipe which leads out to a jetty at which old boats are moored, at Queenborough
A disused pier on the path out to Ladies Hole Point

At some stage, Coal Washers Wharf’s use changed from coal to shipbreaking. The wharf then served as a landing stage for old British Rail wagons and scrap rail, transported by boat. These were unloaded onto the wharf by crane, and then transported along the railway to a steel mill in Queenborough.

At the mill, the scrap was converted into reinforcing rods and wire for the construction industry. The Queenborough mill was itself scrapped and demolished in 2013, and now lies empty, awaiting redevelopment for housing.

A dirt road curves around piles of broken concrete towards Coal Washer Wharf, a concrete wharf which sticks out and runs parallel with the shoreline, at Queenborough
Coal Washer Wharf and landfill

Landfill and wildlife

Aside from the battered wharf, only a few metal gates and posts still stand on the peninsula, portals to a lost industrial past. Wildlife has reclaimed the land, adapting to the landfill. Rabbit holes puncture the hard soil, their warrens twisting between broken slabs of reenforced concrete and chunks of old brick.

A tall metal gate stands slightly open, silhouetted against the sky. There is nothing around the doorway, other than wildflowers and scrub, at Queenborough
A doorway to a lost industrial past of coal, shipbreaking and rail recycling

The undulating layers of landfill are criss-crossed with unofficial biker trails. The dirt tracks carve looping paths though the wildflowers and scrub, culminating at the top of a large, do-or-die mound which stands proud of the surrounding landscape.

Tumbled blocks of overgrown concrete resemble a natural coastline clifftop.
Landfill at Ladies Hole Point on the Medway Estuary

Across the Medway Estuary, on the Isle of Grain,  power station chimneys and gas tanks lie low on the horizon. Leisure boats line up along the Swale, their flanks clean and white, contrasting with the rusty carcasses that lie closer to the shore.

Saltmarsh at the tip of Ladies Hole Point on the Swale

I watched the sun drawing low, reflected in the Swale, and then slowly retraced my steps, sampling ripening blackberries from along the trail.

A rusting, sixty foot long barge with a crane rests at an angle on the mud at Queenborough
An apparently abandoned boat at Queenborough, awaiting an unknown fate

More information

From London, the rail station at Queenborough can be reached in about one and a half hours, with one change at Sittingbourne. From Queenborough, other footpaths can lead out to the Elmley Marshes and along the Swale, or up to the small town of Sheerness. 

For walks on the Hoo Peninsula, across the Medway Estuary, see remotelondon.com/?s=hoo+peninsula

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