|15/04/2009||Filled under England east coast|
The last four nights we have spent quietly at anchor at Harty Ferry, which many years ago would have been a crossing point to the eastern end of Sheppey as well as a place to fill a ship with fresh water from the natural spring on the mainland side of the crossing.
Here is Cirrus with her anchoring equipment – the round shape for daylight and the solar-recharging garden light for the night.
Many years ago, maybe about the time that Henry the Eighth took Anne Boleyn here for her honeymoon, we would have been anchored behind the Isles of Sheppey because there is actually a main island and two others, Elmley and Harty, although silting up of the channels and man’s interventions have now blurred the distinctions between them. Sheppey itself is a corruption of Sheepy which tells us what a large part of the island might have been known for. At the western end, however, close to the Port of Sheerness there is now a car park of stupendous dimensions where imported cars are stored in their thousands before being distributed across Britain. Even Googlemaps struggles with the size of this feature.
Fortunately most of the rest of Sheppey is rural and to the east and all along the southern shore there are natural saltings and marshland which have status as wildlife reserves and provide homes for thousands of birds and plenty of other creatures too. During a short walk yesterday I came close to infanticide when I just missed stepping on this little clutch. Mum and Dad had been flying above us for some time making all sorts of strange noises to lure us away but since neither of us speak Lapwing I’m afraid the message wasn’t getting through. This whole area is a birdwatcher’s bonanza and at this time of year one regularly sees hawks over-flying looking for easy pickings of young fledglings – a nerve-wracking time for their parents. Whilst out on a nearby sandbank members of the permanent seal colony loll about taking a much more relaxed approach to life.
One feature about Sheppey that has always struck me is that it is insular and unwelcoming. Everywhere you look there are scores of ‘Private – no entry’ or ‘No footpath’ signs, don’t go here or there, always emphasising the negative, never the positive. But fortunately Sheppey has at least one haven of sanity on the ‘Isle’ of Harty where, just a short walk from the ancient and broken slipway leading into the water from the Harty Ferry Inn, lies St Thomas’ church, a place renowned for being the most remote church in Kent. Built in the 11th or 12th century then hacked about or added to many times since, it welcomes visitors through its always open door into the sanctuary of its dark, cool interior. Here a stained glass depiction of St Thomas, for the spiritual, gazes across at a rather beautiful owl, for the secular, and at the rear of the church one can pick up a good novel or a toy racing car as well as an ornamental china pig tattooed with church logo represented here, all sale proceeds trustfully posted through a slot in the wall.
Far and away the best feature at St Thomas’, however, is the jam table. This is not just any jam nor is it jam for the faint-hearted or the narrow-minded. Here, if you come on the right day, you’ll find such exotics as banana and date, strawberry and apple, marrow and blackcurrant or if you’re a real risk taker you may be tempted by the ‘Mixed Fruit’. It all stands quietly just inside the door, plain little jars tempting all comers, with an apologetic sign explaining how the price has had to rise to £1.75 to cover the cost of the jars customers never think to bring back. In this place the negativity expressed elsewhere on Sheppey is replaced with trust. For me this place is worth a return visit any day.
This morning we pulled up our mud laden anchor and sailed east to Gillingham on the River Medway where we’ll leave Cirrus to carry out some domestic removals – re-locating our stored effects to somewhere less expensive than London. Looking ahead for the next five to seven days we can see a run of northeasterly winds forecast, these coming straight off the cold North Sea and from exactly the direction we want to travel, a perfect justification for pausing here until something better comes along.
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