This short walk takes us from Allhallows and the remote London Stone to the Grain Tower and the Medway Estuary.
Allhallows lies on the eastern edges of the Hoo Peninsula. It’s a small, remote village twinned with a larger holiday park, where white, static caravans reflect the ever-changing moods of the Thames Estuary.
Once there were big plans for Allhallows. It was to be a resort town, Allhallows-on-Sea, with an amusement park and swimming pool, dwarfing all other English resorts. A rail line was extended to the village, and a railway station opened in 1932. And then came the Second World War.
The resort development stalled, and now only the incongruous bulk of the British Pilot pub hints at what might have been. Recently closed, the Pilot still marks the starting spot for this walk, to explore a newly opened section of the English Coast Path.
The coast path and Thames Estuary
From the pub, a track heads east across rough pasture, then up and onto the sea wall. Across the estuary, on a good day, the windows of Southend-on Sea glint and glimmer, exchanging random semaphore signals with the marshalled ranks of holiday homes.
The Thames Estuary is four and a half miles wide here, but at low tide it seems one could walk across the wide, muddy flats all the way to Essex.
The path quickly reaches Yantlet Creek and turns inland. This creek once bisected the Hoo Peninsula, separating the Isle of Grain from the mainland. Since at least medieval times the creek was a marine thoroughfare, allowing smaller vessels to cut between the Medway and Thames. However, the sinuous creek was subject to silting, and the channel required regular dredging. Yantlet Creek has long been lost to navigation, it’s tidal limit now stifled by sea walls and sluices.
Due to its importance as a waterway, a coastguard station once stood close to the mouth of the creek. Smuggling of untaxed goods was rife along the estuary, and it was the luckless coastguards’ job to stop the illicit trade. Their home was often a moored hulk, often shared with their families.
The hulk at Yantlet Creek was swept away in 1897 and the coastguard station moved further inland to Avery, on the edge of Allhallows. Weathered bricks and foundations can still be seen beside the creek, testimony to the lost station.
The Black Widow beacon
Since at least 1905 a maritime beacon has also guarded Yantlet Creek. This was known locally as the Black Widow, as the uppermost body resembled a round head above a long cape or skirt.
The Black Widow beacon has recently fallen, toppled by wind, erosion and age. A foundation of four stout wooden legs remain, but the Widow’s rusting metal figure now lies twisted and broken in the mud below.
The London Stone
Beyond the beacon, a remote monument rises like a phantom, a curious, weather-beaten obelisk marking a forgotten border. This is the London Stone, raised in 1856 to briefly mark the eastern boundary of the City of London Corporation’s jurisdiction over the lucrative waters of the Thames.
The London Stone is twinned with the more accessible Crow Stone at Leigh-on-Sea, across the estuary. The City lost control of these disputed waters to the Crown in 1857, but in its time, this granite pillar would have been visited and toasted by the Lord Mayor of London and his dignitaries, as they formally marked and celebrated their territorial claim over the Thames.
When the tide is low the Creek can be reduced to a jumpable stream, allowing access to the Stone. There is mud, but also firmer shell and sand. There is no official public access, but we generally have the right to roam below the high tide mark. However, it’s best not to venture too far beyond, as the area is as an active Danger Zone with a risk of unexploded ordnance.
Yantlet Creek Memorials
Look for two much smaller monuments beside the path. One commemorates a man named Geoffrey John Hammond, who drowned here in 1975. The handcrafted bronze plaque, and a later addition in honour of his wife, have both been stolen, almost erasing their memory. I’ve written more about this memorial when describing another Allhallows walk. The other stone commemorates the construction of the Thames Flood Defences, raised after the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953.
In summer, the path here is a frenzy of colourful wildflowers. On a grey winter’s day, all tones are muted, lifted only by the sight of little egret, their pure white plumage contrasting with the dull landscape and brooding sky.
The path follows the curve of the creek. A few buildings on the other side of the Creek hug the landscape. An old, unused quayside is melting back into the land and the water. Oil storage tanks squat low on the horizon.
The tidal creek is cut short by a sea wall, separating saltwater from freshwater. The new public footpath cuts across this wall, away from Allhallows Marshes and onto the Isle of Grain. Previously, the only right of way was on and into the marshes, following tracks which loop and circle around themselves.
Allhallows Marshes are home to the rare remnants of a Second World War Decoy site. During night-time air raids, circular cuts would be flooded with oil and ignited, to imitate burning oil tanks and hopefully draw enemy bombers away from the refinery on Grain. I’ve written more about Allhallows Marshes here.
Once on Grain, the path follows the line of another flood defence wall. To the left is the no-go military Danger Area. To the right, arable fields lead to the island’s industrial heart, much reduced but still impressive. The path joins West Lane which quickly leads into the village of Grain.
A flooded gravel pit is passed on the right. The darkly humorous ‘No Trespassing’ signs make a pleasant change from the usual ‘Keep Out’ notices which confine so many public rights of way.
The Grain Tower and Medway Estuary
Walk past the fire station, following the straight line of Chapel Road. When the houses run out, a bridleway cuts left, the road heads right and a public footpath carries straight on, towards the sea.
Follow this path to the seawall, scramble up, and you’ll find yourself overlooking the old causeway which heads out to the Grain Tower, protecting the mouth of the Medway. At low tide you can walk out to the Tower, at high tide you’d need a boat.
This isn’t a long walk, between Allhallows and the Grain Tower. Maybe 6km, allowing you to step from one estuary to another, enjoying seascapes, wilderness and history, with a distant industrial backdrop.
My thanks to Liza S for joining me on this walk, undertaken in March 2022. We cheated and used cars for this one. There is no public train service to Allhallows or Grain, and Sunday bus services are limited.
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