Monday, 28 September 2020

The Light Is Flickering

 The light is flickering, wavering, and wandering

And I wonder, as I sit here pissed and wondering

What is the light? A dream, a flicker

A cream, that rises, or a reason to bicker?

Love is easy, an instinct to blossom

Hate is its lazy, a way to say toss 'em

So easy to see the way to the end

So hard to seek the way to amend

A maelstrom of colour

With men of no honour

The lies fall from their lips

As they scuttle their ships

All elevated, by we, by the power of vote

We stand proud and salute, and go down with our boat.

Sunday, 13 September 2020


 Silent for the last six months. Locked down, locked up, got nothing to report

The worst is yet to come.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Roaming The Rolling Ribble

'Loki' (c) Emily McManus

The sun rises on a cool, crisp morning. Birds chirrup. The nascent leaves rustle on their boughs, and there is not a human in sight. That's the view from my window, a week into Lockdown. No day trips planned at the moment, no new explorations to undertake, because the countryside is effectively closed, and we have no idea at present when it is likely to re-open.

Team Vulpine's last proper trip out took place a few weeks ago, on Wednesday 26th February. Eldest and I were staying with Middle at her pad in Clayton Le Moor, a small Lancashire town just north of Accrington. On the penultimate day of our stay, something curious happened...

The rain stopped. Late February in Lancashire, and the rain... it just stopped! All precipitation ceased, and the sun rose on a cool, crisp morning*. The nascent buds shone on their boughs, and we jumped into the Vulpine-mobile, currently a Ford Focus named Silver Vixen, and decided to head for an area where, in a taste of things to come, there was hardly a human in sight. It is Ribblesdale, nestling in the western region of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the journey between the four sites we had earmarked would be along the banks of the rolling Ribble itself. Swollen after weeks of rain and storms, assisted by the snow thawing gradually from the surrounding hills and pouring into its perpetual flow toward the Irish Sea, the Upper Ribble passes through an area of beautiful, eye-catching scenery.

We drive north, through the popular village of Whalley, passing Clitheroe, with the Forest of Pendle and the historically infamous Pendle Hill to our right. This region is an Area Of Outstanding Beauty called the Forest of Bowland, although not a Forest in the conventional, arboreal sense... it is more like the Radnor Forest in mid-Wales, high, bleakly beautiful, snow-capped hills with a magnificent sense of openness.

Shortly after Clitheroe, and shortly after entering the West Riding of Yorkshire, we leave the A-road and enter a small village called Sawley. This is our first stop, because Sawley has a ruined Abbey which we have not yet encountered.

Sawley Abbey Gate

The remains of Sawley are not particularly extensive, so entry is free, but the ruins are handsome enough and are strikingly enhanced by the backdrop of Pendle Hill.

Pendle Hill overlooks the Abbey

In the year 1147, local landowner Thomas de Percy granted land at what was then known as 'Sallia' to the monastic order known as the Cistercians, the White Monks, whose mother house was Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.  The original residents, sent from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland, were Abbot Benedict, twelve monks, and ten lay-brothers. The first few decades of the Abbey's existence were fragile, as the land they had been granted turned out to be rather poor and crops would not easily grow. The Cistercians even considered the possibility of closing or moving the Abbey. However, Matilda Countess of Warwick (daughter of the founder), gifted them with more fertile land as well as the income from two churches elsewhere in Yorkshire. Further grants were made by her sister Agnes, and Sawley's financial problems eased... although they later suffered a dispute with Whalley Abbey, which they claimed was using resources to the detriment of their own foundation, and they also had to deal with some of their holdings being raided by the Scots.

Abbey buildings, photo-bombed by Middle's puppy.

Upstanding remains

In 1536 came the Dissolution Of The Monasteries. Sawley was valued at £137 3s 10d but, before it was even suppressed, a local magnate named Arthur Darcy agreed an underhand deal with the King to acquire the property. However, the Abbey did not close down quietly. In 1537 came the 'Pilgrimage Of Grace', a major Northern uprising which aimed to restore the monastic lands to the Church. Local rebels 're-instated' the monastic community, including its Abbot, Thomas Bolton. It took four months before the beleaguered Duke Of Norfolk, acting for the King, had dealt with enough of the Pilgrimage to be able to roll up to Sawley and demand its surrender. The occupants complied, and were evicted... although Abbot Bolton and his chaplain were executed. The lands were returned to Arthur Darcy, who retained them even when his father Sir Thomas Darcy - who had unwisely got himself mixed up with the Pilgrimage - lost his head the following year at Tower Hill**.

The Abbey Church, seen from the Cloisters

The Main Drain, running below the Refectory

The Abbey ruins and its lands remained with the Darcy family until the early 1600's, when they were owned by Sir James Hays, Baron Sawley and later Earl of Carlisle. His grandaughter Margaret, Countess of Warwick, later inherited the lands... an interesting historical quirk, as it was a Countess of Warwick who had provided much needed lands to the Abbey in its earlier years.

By the early nineteenth century, Sawley was in the hands of the Wendell family of Waddow Hall near Clitheroe, and later was owned by Earl Grey and his nephew, the Marquis of Ripon. J E Fattorini of Bradford acquired the estate in 1934 and this gentleman entrusted it to the Office Of Works in 1951. The site today is maintained by the Heritage Trust for the North West, although overall responsibility rests with English Heritage.

Fireplace in the Abbey kitchen

Collection of dressed stones from the ruins

Today, the site of Sawley Abbey rests quietly enough in the Ribble Valley, its serenity a far cry from the days of rebellion and monastic rivalries with Whalley. The fields to the east and south, interestingly, contain significant 'lumps and bumps', many of which archaeological features would have been connected to the Abbey in its heyday.

Features in the East Field include the bank covering the Main Drain, as well as possible post- medievel field boundaries. And sheep.

South Field, location of the Abbey fishponds and a spectacular view of Pendle Hill

The Ribble is not visible from the Abbey ruins, obscured by the houses in the village street as it passses to the West of us... but we'd certainly be getting closer to it on our next stop.

We return to the car, drive north through the village and follow the course of the river as it returns us to the A59, then we head onward and upwards into the Yorkshire Dales. As well as the river, we are now joined by the Settle-Carlisle railway line, widely regarded as one of the most scenic railway lines in England. Our next stop is Stainforth, a picture-postcard Dales village with an important historic connection to the very Abbey that we so very recently explored.

Stainforth (c) Ben Gamble

In medieval times, the manor of Stainforth was owned by Sawley Abbey, and the monks successfully developed the settlement. It was named after the 'stony ford' that crossed the Ribble, although the ford was replaced in 1675 by a packhorse bridge. The bridge was provided by a prominent local Quaker, Samuel Watson, who lived at Knights Stainforth Hall in the parish ( a building which still stands). In modern times, the bridge is owned by the National Trust

We parked in the village car park and crossed the road, following the railway line for a short distance until we crossed it at a bridge. Down a short incline and a curve to the right, and we cross the Ribble over the packhorse bridge, then stroll another short distance to a local beauty spot, known as Stainforth Falls/Force/Foss.

Eldest (with puppy) and Middle explore Stainforth Falls

The 1670's packhorse bridge on the site of the 'stony ford'

Stainforth Falls are a series of cascades pouring relentlessly into a large plunge pool. Its geological development is due to the North Craven Fault, a tear in the earth's crust that runs through the village. It is a popular spot, well-known locally for the salmon that can often be seen leaping the cascades on their way to their spawning grounds. The river is swollen and roaring today following the recent heavy rains that saw disastrous flooding elsewhere in Yorkshire, and -alas!  - there were no salmon to be seen.

The Ribble cascading over the Falls

Middle providing some scale!

We return to Stainforth along a bridle path, and stroll through the village. It is bisected by Stainforth Beck, a Ribble tributary, with a village green on either side. The greens are connected by a rather striking line of stepping stones.

One step at a time...

From the village, a track called Goats Scar Lane heads up to the higher ground. We plod upward, enclosed by drystone walling, every step improving the views. We leave Stainforth behind, and enter a serene world of limestone outcrops, bleating sheep, and ever- improving views. At the peak of the path we can scan the horizon and pick out the three major peaks of Yorkshire - Pen Y Ghent, Ingleborough, and Whernside. We are following the footsteps of the composer Edward Elgar. A lover of waterfalls, he would travel from his home in the Welsh Marches to stay with a friend in Settle, and he strolled this same path, on the same quest. What he found up here, apparently provided inspiration for his greatest works, the 'Pomp And Circumstance' sequence and the 'Enigma Variations'.

What he found is what we have now found. A hidden gem in the high ground above Stainforth. A truly gorgeous waterfall called Catrigg Force.

The gorge was created by the same North Craven Fault that gifted us Stainforth Falls, but this feels different. Enclosed by rich, fertile greenery, Catrigg feels intimate and majestic, its power giving life to this oasis high in the austere Dales. The constant, unremitting roar of falling water is an echo of eternity, a sound that never ceases.
It is not difficult to believe that a lonely, magnificent and slightly haunting spot like this, with the sheer rocky walls of permanence divided by the patient power of transience, could inspire equally dramatic art.

We lingered a while at the waterfall, before making our descent back to Stainforth, all the way soaking up the views from our elevated position.

Back at the car, we continue our journey, with the railway line and the river to our left, all of us ploughing through Ribblesdale. The hulk of Ingleborough, second highest point in the Dales and one of the Three Peaks, glowers down on us as we pass. The road doglegs through the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, a favourite with walkers. The Three Peaks Walk traditionally starts here, a 26-mile challenge meant to be completed in 12 hours. Also passing through the village are the Ribble Way and the Pennine Way.


Leaving Horton and the Three Peaks behind us, we eventually encounter a T-junction at the head of Ribblesdale and there, stretching out in front of us, as rigid as a ramrod and cutting across the valley like a gargantuan centipede, the Ribblehead Viaduct carries the railway line into the distance.

Ribblehead Viaduct, with Whernside beyond

It was designed by John Sydney Mosley and constructed between 1869-74. It's workforce of 2,300 men, many with their families, lived in shanty towns clustered around the site, and over 100 of them lost their lives. Things have certainly improved on the Health and Safety front since then. The towns had names like Sebastapol, Belgravia and Batty Wife Hole(!), and the Viaduct and the sites of the towns are now a Scheduled Monument. The construction of the Viaduct also inspired the 2016 TV period drama Jericho.

 Gazing upon this structure on a calm February afternoon, not another soul in sight, it is difficult to imagine the noise and bustle of heavy construction resonating through the Ribble Valley. Not far from here, the Ribble itself rises from the confluence of the Gam Beck and the Gayle Beck. Another of the Three Peaks, Whernside, gazes down with imperious indifference.

And this is far as our journey takes us. We now head south, back to Lancashire, passing on the way the White Scar Cavern... a tourist attraction which will have to wait for another occasion. We have barely seen another soul all day, just a woman walking her dog at Sawley Abbey and a fellwalker we passed on his way up to Catrigg Force.

Before even being obliged to, and completely inadvertently, we self-isolated like bosses!

A view from Goats Scar Lane

* 'cool, crisp morning'. It was damn near freezing, but in Lancashire that's a 'cool, crisp morning'.
**  Sir Thomas Darcy. I came across this ill-fated Tudor courtier before, while exploring the London Churches. After his execution on Tower Hill he was buried in St Botolph Aldgate, where a monument to his memory remains.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Forts And Foreshores: The Crossing

Four years have passed since I parked my car at a redundant church in a lonely Kentish hamlet and traipsed across a marsh, the purpose being to look for the remnants of a Victorian fortress. On that occasion, I failed to find it, but instead found a different, more intact Victorian fortress! I wrote about it in the article Forts And Foreshores and, appetite whetted, returned several more times to explore other military defences protecting the Thames Estuary.

It's been quite the quest. I have sidled through undergrowth to find hidden gun emplacements at East Tilbury, dragged a daughter to a derelict gunpowder factory at the kink in the Thames known as Lower Hope Point, almost tumbled into the Medway while locating a Restoration-era ruin, outrun porpoises, seen a shipwreck containing enough ordnance to blow a large hole in the Estuary, and undertaken some light trespassing  engaged in some 'Urban Exploration'.

I could not reach all of them. Fort Darnet and Fort Hoo are stranded on islets in the Medway, and unfortunately I don't possess a boat. Garrison Point is sitting in the middle of Sheerness Docks, and the tunnels below the demolished Grain Fort can only be accessed by squeezing into a hole in a ditch that a rabbit would balk at. With these, I had to content myself with observing from a comfortable but slightly frustrating distance.

After all of this, after four years, only two forts remained to explore... the forts that formed the last line of defence before the Tower Of London. My quest began with a fort on a marsh, and will end with a fort on a marsh.

The Stuart Gatehouse

We arrive at the rough, pitted carpark of a pub called The World's End, three hundred years old and listed Grade II. Although the pub seems to have a good reputation for dining, its surroundings are somewhat bleak. To the west is a good deal of ugly industrialisation, to the north a scrappy-looking marsh dotted with stray ponies, and to the east our destination... Tilbury Fort.

Tilbury Fort from above (c) Mervyn Rands

The present Fort stands on the site of a Tudor blockhouse, one of five erected on the orders of Henry VIII following his break with Rome, as he feared invasion from the Catholic countries of France and Spain. The remains of only one of these blockhouses can be seen today, and more on that later.

The West Tilbury blockhouse may have been the rallying point for the militia of Elizabeth I during the Armada crisis of 1588, when she rode among her troops in full armour and gave what is arguably her most famous speech:

'...I am come among you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King... and of a King of England, too!... and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms.'

Ultimately, Elizabeth and her militia had no need to take up arms; the weather in the English Channel and the North Sea was ample enough to do for the Armada!

Liz rallies the troops

Eldest and I abandon the car and walk a short distance along the riverfront until we arrive at the marvellous Portland stone gatehouse that welcomes visitors to Tilbury Fort. Known as the Water Gate (as it faces the river), it dates to 1682 and carries an inscription commemorating Charles II. An empty niche, directly below the royal coat of arms, may have once held his statue, and the fa├žade is embellished with carvings of cannons.

Rear of Water Gate and Guard House, seen from across the parade ground

Through the Water Gate, the visitor enters the parade ground. Although it seems spacious today, the ground was more cluttered in the past, with storage buildings erected during the 1880's. The ground was originally grassed, not being paved until the movement of heavy vehicles during the First World War made it necessary.

The Tudor blockhouse served, often through periods of neglect, until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. He ordered a review of the coastal defences under the guidance of an engineer named Sir Bernard de Gomme, who had originally been Engineer and Quartermaster General for the King's late father.

Sir Bernard de Gomme

De Gomme originally drew up his designs for Tilbury Fort in 1661, but no work was carried out until the Dutch Raid on the Medway in 1667 ( which I covered in Forts And Foreshores: The Confluence ). A new design for the Fort was drawn up by De Gomme, and it was built between 1670 and 1685, the year during which both de Gomme and Charles II passed away. The result has been described by the Fort's current custodians, English Heritage, as ' Gomme's most accomplished design, and is the most complete example in Britain of a 17th-century bastioned artillery fort with elaborate outer defences.' The Tudor blockhouse, at the time, was incorporated into the Fort's defences.

Of de Gomme's original work, plenty remains... the 'elaborate outer defences', consisting of an inner moat with a fortified islet called a ravelin, and an outer moat with a fortified islet known as a redan. The West Gun Line and East Gun Line, between the Fort and the Thames, is Stuart, as are the Guard House and the Officer's Quarters. The Fort's walls are from the same period, although they were removed on the south-eastern side by later Victorian works.

View across the eastern defences. The area between the moat and the low wall beyond is known as a 'place of arms', where soldiers would muster to repel attackers.

The Officers' Quarters

On the opposite side of the parade ground from the Officers' Quarters can be seen the foundations of the Soldiers' Barracks and an adjoining ball court, also Stuart and not demolished until the 1950's.

Soldiers' Barracks. Judging by their condition, shortly before demolition.

Early in the 18th century, the Board of Ordnance decided to use Tilbury Fort as a storage facility for gunpowder, and in 1716 two large powder magazines were constructed on the north of the parade ground, between the ground and the Landport Gate which led to the outer defences. The Tudor Blockhouse, a short distance to the east of the Water Gate, was also used as a magazine.

Foundations of the ball court on the left (next to the gun), Powder magazines upper left, Officers' Barracks upper right

Gunpowder barrels in the magazine. At the time the magazines were constructed in 1716, a Cooperage was also established.

In 1746, the Fort briefly became a Prisoner Of War camp. On 11th August, a ship containing 268 Jacobite prisoners, captured after the Battle of Culloden, docked at Tilbury, and the unfortunate supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie were imprisoned in the Gunpowder Magazines. Conditions were appalling, and 45 of them died of typhus in the first month of their incarceration. Those who survived were tried in London early in 1747, and most of them were transported to the West Indies.

Following the departure of the Jacobites, the Fort led a peaceful exisence for a few decades, until another invasion scare in 1778. However, the Engineer responsible for the defences, Thomas Hyde Page, seemed to think that Tilbury was adequately defended, and his only change was to re-organise a section of the outer defences facing directly downstream. Page's real interests lay on the other side of the Thames, and we shall explore that later!

The Napoleonic Wars saw only a few updates to the Fort's artillery, while small batteries were established downstream at Coalhouse, Shornemead and Lower Hope Point. After Waterloo, more decades of peace ensued until the 1850's, when an arms race began, sparked off by the new generation of ironclad warships being constructed by Britain and France. Yet another defence review was held, and this led - during the 1860's - to the construction along the Estuary of the so-called 'Palmerston Follies', named after the Prime Minister of the day, a series of new Forts that never saw combat. Shornemead, Coalhouse, Cliffe, Slough, Grain, Garrison Point, Hoo and Darnet all came into being during this arms race.

Tilbury underwent conversion. The NW bastion was ignored ( French warships were unlikely to attack from the marsh!), but the bastions on the NE, E, SE and W were heavily re-modelled and provided with underground magazines for the storage of shells and cartridges.

Entrance to the underground magazine in the NE bastion

A magazine lamp, sealed within its recess by a glass pane

Shells in the NE magazine

Inside the NE magazine

The last major addition to the Fort was the addition of a new generation of very large guns to the East Bastion and the SouthEast Curtain, and this took place in the opening years of the 20th century. However, it was soon decided that the Thames no longer needed landborne defences, as the Royal Navy was deemed powerful enough to deal with any threats to the estuarine approach to London.

Very Large Guns on the SE curtain

When the First World War broke out, Tilbury became barracks for soldiers on their way to France and, in 1915, was officially designated as an Ordnance Depot. Electric lights, motorised transport and a series of tramways were introduced. After the War, the Fort was deemed obsolete and was given over to basic care and maintenance, which was just as well as it was called back into service when the Second World War broke out, briefly being used to guide anti-aircraft activities before being superceded by a new anti-aircraft base at Vange, several miles west. The remains of this base can be found on Basildon Golf Course!

The Army transferred ownership of the Fort to the Ministry of Works in 1950. It opened to the public following restoration in 1982, and since 1983 has been in the care of English Heritage.

One down, one to go. Eldest and I treat ourselves to a couple of bottles of mead from the gift shop then depart, hiding our acquisitions in the car before walking a short distance west to the embarkation point of the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry.

The embarkation point is directly adjacent to the London International Cruise Terminal, and we are treated to a surprise visitor. Docked at the Terminal is the cruise ship 'Europa 2' which, according to the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships, is the highest rated cruise ship in the world.

MS Europa 2, launched in 2013, can hold 516 passengers and 370+ crew. She is 740ft long and has 7 passenger decks!

Our own transport is a tad more modest.

£4 for a return ticket. Bit cheaper than the boat behind us.

The trip across the Thames is short and uneventful, although there is an interesting view downriver, where we can see the Radar Tower at Coalhouse Point as well as the remains of Shornemead Fort and the distant WW2 watchtower at Cliffe Fort... all of which were explored on previous quests.

Approaching the jetty at Gravesend, we get a good view of another moored boat.


Light Vessel 21 was constructed in 1963, and spent most of her service at various points of the Kent coast. In 1981 it was involved in a collision with another ship in the Dover Straits and, while sustaining serious damage to her superstructure, was able to be repaired and returned to service. She was retired in 2008 and found her way to Gravesend, where she is now 'a floating art space and performance facility' (

Before commencing with the eastward walk to the last site of our four-year quest, we take a small stroll inland  to the parish church of St George.

St George's Church, Gravesend (c) Pam Connell

In the burial register, dated March 21st 1617, is the following entry: 'Rebecca Wrolfe, wyffe of John Rolfe gent. A Virginian lady borne, was buried in ye chancell.'

It comes as a surprise to many to discover that this maritime church, in the urban trappings of a Kentish town on the Thames foreshore, is the resting place of the woman who, before she adopted a Christian name, was better known as the American Indian princess Pocahontas.

Born c.1596, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, she came to attention in 1607 when she intervened to prevent the colonist John Smith from having his brains knocked out by hostile members of her tribe. In 1613 - some years after Smith had returned to England after being injured in a gunpowder explosion - Pocahontas was captured by the colonists during a period of unrest and held for ransom. During her year of captivity, she converted to Christianity.

A portrait from 1616

'Rebecca' married the colonist John Rolfe in 1614, and gave him a son Thomas. The Virginia Company, which had sponsored the settlers, considered the conversion and marriage of Mrs Rolfe to be something of a propaganda coup which highlighted the success of the colonies, so the Rolfes set off for London so that Jacobean society could marvel at the 'noble savage'. They attended many social gatherings and met King James and Anne, his Queen. The travel writer Samuel Purchas made her acquaintance, and she once again met John Smith.

The Rolfes boarded a ship for their return journey in March 1617, but did not get far as Rebecca became seriously ill with an unrecorded malady. She was taken ashore at Gravesend where she died at the young age of about 21. John Rolfe returned to Virginia and, through her son Thomas, the descendants of Pocahontas thrive today.

Her statue, a replica of one that stands in Jamestown, was erected in the churchyard in 1975, a reminder to the residents of the parish of their connection to a scion of pioneer history.

An American legend in Kent

We return to the riverside and stroll east. Before too long, we encounter some more ruins... the remains of the Gravesend Blockhouse.

Henry VIII built five of these blockhouses. The one across the river, at Tilbury Fort, was demolished in the mid nineteenth century during the Palmerston improvements. The others, at Milton, Higham and East Tilbury, were dismantled during the Elizabethan period and nothing remains above ground.

Gravesend Blockhouse survived because it was working in conjunction with Tilbury Fort. It was repaired in 1588 during the Armada crisis and again in 1667 during the Dutch Raid. It survived until demolition in 1844, and its foundations were uncovered by archaeologists in 1975-6. The ruins are now a scheduled monument.

The Henrician blockhouse, Gravesend

A short distance to the east lies the last fortification to be investigated in four years of estuarine exploration, the New Tavern Fort. Of all the fortifications between the mouth of the Thames Estuary and this point, New Tavern Fort is the only one to be constructed in the 18th Century.

An information board with a map of New Tavern Park, the Fort on the left

The grounds have been landscaped and form part of a larger park. A bandstand has been constructed on the old parade ground, and a walk created around the ramparts and along the moat.

The interior of New Tavern Fort

The most striking feature of the Fort's interior is a building... one that existed before the Fort, had the Fort built around it, and is the oldest building in Gravesend. It is known as the Milton Chantry.

Milton Chantry from the ramparts

It was constructed in 1322 as part of the Leper Hospital of St Mary the Virgin, by the wealthy and powerful Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, an ally of Edward II and veteran of the Battle of Bannockburn among others.

This complex fell into the hands of Henry VIII during his reformation of the Church, and the Hospital disappeared. The chapel survived by becoming a family home, and then a farm, and by the end of the 17th century it was an inn called the New Tavern...
later giving its name to first the Fort and, eventually, the Park. During the active years of the Fort it became a barracks, and in 1932 a Museum.

Like its neighbour at Tilbury, New Tavern likes to show off the Very Large Guns

New Tavern Fort came about due to fears that the French and Spanish, supporting the Americans in their War of Independence, would launch an attack up the Thames. In 1780 the engineer Thomas Hyde Page, having made minor improvements to Tilbury Fort, crossed the river and inspected the Gravesend Blockhouse. Finding it inadequate, he decided to construct a new fortress a short distance to the east.

Feeling lucky, punk?

It never saw action in the War of Independence, of course, but continued to be expanded and improved throughout the 19th century, especially during the Palmerston period. General Gordon, of later Siege of Khartoum fame, oversaw those improvements while living in the grounds of the Fort between 1865-71. He has a memorial on the East Tilbury church tower next to Coalhouse Fort, as he was also overseeing the construction of that.

Freshly painted Large Gun

The Fort became a Royal Engineers depot during World War 1, and was later used by the Territorial Army. The Gravesend Corporation purchased the interior of the Fort and opened it as a pleasure garden in 1932, although the batteries remained until 1938. During World War 2, the underground magazines were requisitioned as Air Raid Shelters and communication masts were erected to monitor enemy transmissions. A V2 rocket took out Fort House, once the home of General Gordon, in 1944. Parts of the Milton Chantry complex also had to be demolished.

Restored magazine

In modern times, New Tavern Fort has become part of Gravesend's Riverside Leisure Area, its great guns overlooking a children's play area and a park with an ornamental lake. Its restored magazines are open to visitors during the warmer months, and its rampart provides a view across the Thames toward the unmistakeable Water Gate of Tilbury Fort.

To which we must return, by ferry, for that's where we left the car, next to the old inn called World's End. And for us, it is Quest's End. The defences of the Estuary have been explored about as much as is practicably possible. Quests which saw us braving scything Winter gusts on lonely marshes, tearing our clothes on bramble at overgrown batteries, seeing swooping owls, undulating porpoises, howling peregrines, historic wrecks both under the water and on the foreshores.

It's been an adventure. It's been an eye-opener. It's been educational. It's been a lot of fun.

It ends, as we open our car doors next to the marsh, just as it began four years ago when I vacated a different car next to a different marsh.

Full circle.