I will soon be returning to some of my favourite places along the length of the Medway Estuary which I first explored in 1994. This time I will be in company with the writer Carol Donaldson as we set off in our small inflatable boat ‘Magwitch’ to both cover old ground and to explore new places together. I have been looking at some of my older photographs to remind me of different moments during a long association with this special river. It’s been such a long and deep engagement that at times in the 1990s it felt more like a marriage! I have a lot of love still for all its natural and unnatural beauties; for the tides, terns and turnstones as as well as the recent recent history of cement and brick-making and power generation. Then there’s the legacy of hospital ships , quarantine vessels and prison hulks that even on a sunny day (to paraphrase Alan Silitoe in his book ‘The Saxon Shore Way’), still cast a their shadow across the marshes.
I will be looking forward to revisiting the twin forts of Hoo and Darnet in particular that were built to defend the Chatham Dockyard in the 1860s. Guarding port and starboard approaches to the deep water shipping lane, they were the Medway’s own Scylla and Charybdis* – designed to truly put any unwelcome ship between a rock and a hard place.
Unfortunately by the time they were completed in the 1870s traditional foes had become friends and naval technology had left their fixed gun casements on the verge of obscalescence. By the outbreak of the Second World War they had been abandoned, though Hoo Fort was recommissioned as an observation post. The earliest graffiti I found there was a large dot dot dot dash in white paint that possibly originated in 1945 with Churchill’s famous V for victory. A passing V formation of geese photographed on the same day was an equally happy counterpoint.
It’s exciting to be planning another trip and there is now only a few day to go..There are so many memories waiting to be unlocked and new associations formed.
* The sea monsters of Greek mythology that guarded the Straights of Messina.