Hidden Gems of Lower Thames

We paddled down the Thames countless times, day time or night time, we would go with the tide marvelling at how wide, fast, and exciting the river is. 

This time however, we set to do something different. We joint our friend Ian, who has done this trip before, and relying on his local knowledge we approached the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide with good faith. 

We started by the Diver. We’ve seen him many times before when returning upstream from Gravesend, always handing there, partially submerged in the water or mud. The concrete barges have been here even longer, since 1953, as an extra protection during floods. Amazing structures, once floated, used during WW2. 

We launched and crossed to the other side, the south side. This time we decided to stay very close to the shoreline to explore. We didn’t need to wait for long, as we passed the yacht club in Erith, strange heaps of mud came into view. But of course, it wasn’t mud, it was what the heard about some time ago, the petrified forest, thousands of years old. We could see few tree trunks  and many root balls. We will definitely be back at even lower tide for closer inspection. 

Our next stop was the mouth of the river Darent, tributary to the Thames, we paddled as far as the tidal gate surrounded by walls of shiny mud, supervised by a turnstone (according to Ian). Sadly time was pushing us, and if we wanted to get to our planned destination, we had to turn and continue downstream. 

We wanted to visit Broadness Harbour, a little tidal harbour on the tip of Swanscombe peninsula. I never heard of it, but few times while going past Broadness Point to Gravesend I glimpsed some boats stationed there. The creek leading into the harbour was dry but mud was firm enough to let us land and go on shore. What an amazing place: highest pylons in the UK, Met Office weather station. The wind moving through long grass with ramshackle houseboats and huts behind reminded us of Aleutian Alaska. 

We crossed the Thames here and turned to go upstream with the tide. At Purfleet we briefly peeked into the mouth of river Mar Dyke, but the flood gate threatened to open any time, so we decided to proceed. However we spent some time admiring the remains of the old quay. In the late 18th century this place was used as a natural harbour, and a quay was built to land gunpowder for the magazines in Purfleet.

From here the wind and tide pushed us back past the Coldharbour Lighthouse back to our launching place.

Wipe out memory

There are times when facebook can be quite useful. Like now, it just reminded me about our last year trip to Cornwall, I realised I never posted anything about it on our blog.

I like to take seakayak into surf and that Saturday the forecast for Sennen was looking amazing, I just couldn’t resist. As it was the beginning of half term holiday, we decided there was no point to try and leave London on Friday afternoon. The following morning the alarm went on incredibly early, luckily the drive although long went smoothly and we were at Sennen carpark just before 10am.

Surf was looking great with clean barrels rolling towards the beach. Natalie looked at them and said that I had one hour. Then we were to go for paddle…

I quickly changed and ran with my new Pace Action to the water. This was the perfect opportunity to try how well it surfs.

After a quick warm up I started to look for bigger waves. I was running out of time, one hour slot was almost gone and I was convinced I could see clean exit on main wave. So I went for it! Well, I went for it twice…

Shangri-La of the Atlantic

One long winter evening few of us were siting in cosy London pub talking about paddling. Somehow we ventured to trips we went on and what we liked and enjoyed and what might be the next. I have mentioned my memories from Iceland when I was sitting in the rain being cold and wet thinking, “why am I doing this? My next paddling holiday is going to be in France, somewhere in the sun, drinking wine every evening!” Toby said, sounds perfect. Would you join me in Brittany next summer? We started to look at possible places straight away, flipping through charts and websites on our phones. I have seen this French guy, paddling some big stuff said Toby and went on kayak tinder. Next minute he sent a message out, “Hi Nico, we like your pictures, it would be cool to paddle together when we come to Brittany.”

Now we were about to meet Nico, he said everything is good for tomorrow. We are all invited to my friend’s party, we can plan where to go while we are there. BBQ, beer, wine and cognac is a great combo for kayak planning. There is an offshore island here suggested Nico, we will have downwind conditions and we could go there. Next morning we were more serious. There is F7 in the forecast but we felt like we could still go, while we were checking our numbers and timings when Nico causally mentioned, the forecast says 5 meters waves but that never happens with a northerly wind…

We pack our kayaks on the beach and enjoyed coffee in the sun. There was almost no wind, the bay was flat like a pancake and we were off. Just as we were passed the lighthouse and entered deep, open water, the wind picked up. Now we were surfing downwind in F6, deep into the fog following a compass bearing. Waves were getting steeper and bigger, gusts of wind were hitting us hard and it was almost impossible to take one hand off the paddle. Now we were trying hard not to loose sight of each other in big waves. We were not surfing anymore, we were trying hard to let the steep, big waves just pass under our hull and brace for the impact of the crest.

Suddenly big dark cliffs emerged just ahead of us framed in big white spray of the wild sea crashing against the rocks “He who sees Ushant sees his own blood!” Is an old Breton proverb.

Now we were paddling hard across the wind to avoid the lee shore and get behind the reefs. We could still see each other between waves but nobody was waiting. With a few last big waves, we surfed behind the reef. We slowly paddled to the beach, the sun came out, the water was flat. We have made it!

As we walked around the island, orange cliffs were lit by the sun. Heavy seas were crashing into the rocky shore. White houses with blue window shutters were scattered around in deep green grass. There were bars and beer on every corner. We walked inside, with “we are the champions” playing loud and ordered our drinks with church bells ringing in the background. We were in a magical place!

It was time to leave. We packed our boats on the beach overlooking the chain of neighbouring islands and lighthouse in the middle. This would be pleasant paddle back we thought. Just as we did the first few paddle strokes into Passage du Fromveur, fog descended on us and we were finding our way between ghost ships briefly emerging and following our compasses. A few hours later we landed back on the beach. The sun came out, the fog lifted. We drank our coffee, thinking we must go back. We know, there is an Island out there. We just have to wait for another storm to find our way to this place again.