A new walking route linking Woolwich to the coast of Kent officially opens today.
It's the latest section of the England Coast Path to open, and offers an unbroken, 47.12 mile (75.85km) route out to Grain, an area on the Kent coast where the Thames Estuary meets River Medway and the sea.
On exiting the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, the route clings to the south bank of the Thames, passing through saltmarshes, mudflats, creeks and beaches as it gets closer to the sea. You'll pass underneath the gargantuan Queen Elizabeth II road bridge at Dartford, the busiest estuary crossing in Europe — and a symbol that you've left London for calmer climes.
Wildlife on the coastal path
Keep your eyes peeled for all manner of wildlife at the Swanscombe Peninsula, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to 1,700 invertebrate species, including over a quarter of the UK’s water beetle species. It's one of just two places in the UK where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider is found. It's also where there are hotly-debated plans to build a whomping great theme park.
The Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve is a popular bird-watching spot, with avocet, knot and dunlin visible in the winter months. Grey seals are occasionally spotted along this stretch of coast too. Between Cliffe and Allhallows, the route stretches more than 12 miles without passing another village or car park — how's that for solitude?
There's plenty for history buffs to ogle too. Pillboxes and anti-tank obstacles left from both world wars litter the shoreline, and forts are plentiful — the 1860s Shornemead Fort sits east of Gravesend, and the town's New Tavern Fort opens to visitors on occasional summer weekends. Further east, the impressive Cliffe Fort is sadly not open to the public, though you can wander around the outside walls.
Once you reach Grain itself, you're rewarded with views of the confluences of the Thames and the Medway, across to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, and Southend across the Thames in Essex. Turn your eyes to the water and look out for the masts of the SS Richard Montgomery, a second world war cargo shipwreck that's still laden with tons of explosives — its masts are due to be dismantled this summer to (hopefully) prevent a potentially disastrous explosion. It sits off the coast of Grain and Sheerness.
Though not quite as historical, the UK's largest pylon can also be seen along the route, located at Swanscombe Marshes, and partnered with an equally towering pylon across the Thames in West Thurrock.
Getting there (or, more importantly, back)
Knackered after that 47 mile walk? There's no station at Grain, but you can hop on a local bus to Strood station for trains back to London. Or if you don't fancy walking the whole thing in one go, Woolwich Arsenal, Erith, Slade Green, Greenhithe and Gravesend stations are all along the route, so you can tick off a section at a time. Soon, you may also be able to travel by riverboat between Gravesend and central London.
Alternatively, board the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry, and continue your adventures on the other side of the Thames, in Essex.
Beyond Woolwich in the other direction, the route joins up with the Thames Path National Trail, which carries on through London and out west, to the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds. Walking both trails enables you to follow the Thames in its entirety, from source to sea.
Find out more, see the route and plan your walk on the National Trail website.