Published: 00:01, 12 January 2022
| Updated: 09:26, 12 January 2022
A new stretch of the England Coast Path has been officially opened between Grain and London.
The 47-mile trail from the north Kent coast passes through wild reaches of the Thames Estuary which support a wealth of wildlife, and has been opened by Natural England today.
Marian Spain, Natural England Chief Executive said the 2,700-mile-long England Coast Path - England’s newest National Trail - will be the longest coastal walking route in the world.
"It follows the whole coast," she said, "passing through some of our finest coast and countryside as well as iconic seaside towns and places of marine industry, past and present.
"At a time when the benefits of connecting with nature are clearer than ever, it’s fabulous that we are opening up this 47 mile-long section of footpath from the capital to the Kent coast. Easily walkable in all weathers and readily accessible by public transport, it is a wonderful new recreational resource for the hundreds of thousands of people who live nearby, as well as a tourist attraction for those who will come from around the world to walk the whole path."
The new trail covers a wealth of unique environments. From Grain on the Hoo Peninsula, walkers can enjoy views across to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, to Southend-on-Sea, and the confluence of the Medway and Thames.
The path runs by some of the remotest grazing marshes in the south east, and between Allhallows and Cliffe you can walk more than 12 miles without passing another coastal village or car park.
So called 'pocket beaches' can be found as well as extensive mudflats full of wintering wading birds, while the occasional grey seal might be seen on one of the many small beaches.
The creeks, mudflats, saltmarsh and grazing marshes support a wealth of wildlife, and in winter flocks of waterbirds such as avocet, knot and dunlin can be seen - particularly at the nature reserve at Cliffe Pools.
Cllr Phil Filmer, Medway Council’s portfolio holder for frontline services, said: “Medway is proud to have two National Trails in our area including the England Coast Path, which is the longest, continuous, coastal trail in the world. Medway is also home to the Thames Path extension from Greenwich to Grain, making this trail a ‘source to sea’ walking route.
"We are delighted to have been part of this historic project that gives people even more opportunities to connect with nature and explore news pathways and views. As well as giving Medway residents access to new trails, we look forward to welcoming new visitors to Medway where they can enjoy 1,900 hectares of rich and varied green spaces."
The walk will also offer glimpses of the Thames' rich military and industrial history, including the forts as Shornemead, near Gravesend, which were installed to protect London in the 1860s. Walkers can also pass under the largest pylon in the UK and look up at the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which is the busiest estuarial crossing in Europe.
A new section of the path will also take visitors through the recently-designated Site of Special Scientific Interest at Swanscombe Peninsula, where an industrial history has resulted in habitats that provide ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife.
In London, the route passes the Thames Barrier, and the committed long-distance hikers can even walk along the Thames to its source in the Cotswolds.
Natural England has worked with a number of partners to develop this trail, especially the four access authorities – Kent County Council, Medway Council, London Borough of Bexley and Royal Borough of Greenwich, which have worked on this project from the start and will be taking on management of the path now that it is open.