Paddling on the Medway and Swale

Over the last couple of days and a bit I’ve been out with Dave Wise paddling his canoe on the Medway Estuary and along The Swale. We camped out for two nights. Dead Man’s Island on the first nights and Darnett Island by the Napoleonic Fort on the second.

Dead Man’s Island deserves a bit of an explanation so by the power of clickable research here goes. When the Medway shipping area was riddled with contagious diseases they used to use hulk ships as accommodation ships and put those sufferers on board. Their bodies were then buried at Dead Man’s Island or the nearby Burnt Wick Island along with any dead from the prison hulks also in the area. Though we never noticed any there are apparently timber gravestone posts to mark the graves. By some accounts bones of the dead have been resurfacing due to erosion of the land by tidal waters. Thankfully we did not see any of them or did we have any ghoulish visitations in the night!

Getting back on the water now our journey on the first day took us as far down The Swale as the Sheppy Crossing. The onset of strong gusty winds and heavy rain led us to beach the canoe about a 1/4 mile from the bridge and take shelter whilst it passed. Thankfully it was short lived and within an hour we were back on our way up the river to the first campsite.

On route and again the following morning in the Medway Estuary we were treated to the sight of some seals. Each time there was just one but to see them basking and in the water was an unexpected bonus. The one we saw in the estuary was the biggest and most inquisitive coming up and having a look at us from about 20 feet away – close enough to clearly make out it’s features and hearing it snorting out air. Sadly I never got any pictures of the seals but will  settle quite happily for having had the experience.

The second day we made an early start about an hour before high water. Paddling back up the estuary the water was smooth like silk making the going a fair bit easier than on the previous day. We headed towards Humble Bee Creek to see the wreck of a WW1 U-Boat. Other than for an hour or so both sides of high water it’s surrounded by mud so we spent just less than an hour there clambering over it, taking pictures and grabbing some souvenirs from the trip. For a bit more detail about the sub check this link.

Back over the main channel to rest up while the tide turned before the paddle out to Darnet Island. The Napoleonic Fort on the island is one of two in the area that contributed to the defense of the Naval Docks in Chatham.

We stopped at Nor Marsh on the way so Dave could pick up and lay down some pinhole solography cameras. Looking forward to see the results he gets. You can see the products of some earlier experiments he has done here.

I was a bit wary of taking my digital camera and lenses near salt water so opted for the hardy Olympus OM1 with a Zuiko 28mm and 50mm. To add to the mix I brought along 3 rolls of expired (06/04) Kodak 400 film. For all the unpredictability things turned out pretty good!

All in all a really enjoyable two and a bit days. Big thanks to Dave for his time, company and giving me the opportunity to get out on the water.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Chatham to the Sheppey Crossing and back. | monaxle : blog

  2. Hi
    I am a Newbie to Canoes/Kayaking
    Please could You tell me what the Currents are like in the Mouth of the swale, want to travel from Seasalter to Leysdown, asked plenty of canoeists in proper Canoes, they say its ok, but have not done it themselves, when I say proper Canoes I mean I have an inflatable Sevylor, have been up and the non-tidal parts of the Medway and along the Drainage cuts behind Seasalter.
    Please any Info on currents on the Swale
    Thanks
    Frank

    • Hello Frank. That was my first and only time on the Swale in a canoe. I’d be happy to have another trip out though. Coming back up from the Sheppey Crossing to the Medway end was fairly hard work at times. One of the bends was particularly heavy going in terms of constant paddling and little travel forward. I think it would be quite easy in a single man Kayak or similar. I’d wait for a hot and calm day to do it in an inflatable Sevylor.

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