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.