Archive for the Kent Category

The Hoo Peninsula, Kent

Posted in Kent with tags , , , on September 1, 2012 by mysearchformagic

The Hoo Peninsula is a place with a strange, rather magical atmosphere. Despite the fact that it is located north of Rochester in Kent, just a few miles from the London’s sprawling metropolis, it feels remote, almost forgotten. It’s the kind of place that people tend to pass by without even noticing it is there.

This is also an area with a long history stretching back to Saxon times, the word Hoo being derived from the old English for ‘spur of land’. It is dotted with ancient buildings, in particular medieval churches, but despite the fact that it has rolling hills and rich farmland, this is no picture-postcard idyll. The arrival of industry in the 19th and 20th Centuries has resulted in large-scale developments around the peninsula’s coastline. No matter where you are, no matter how pastoral the surroundings, the looming visions of chimneys and the hulks of power stations can be seen lurking in the distance.

The view from Allhallows-on-Sea

All of this heavy industry hasn’t stopped the peninsula becoming a haven for wildlife, which now attracts birds, insects, rare water voles and wild flowers. The views here are breathtaking; on a blustery day when the sky is wide and dark the marshes near Allhallows can feel like the edge of the world.

A Red-veined Darter, Cooling

Further south, the village of Cooling stretches along a narrow country road, the crumbling remains of a castle at its centre. The nearby church of St James’ may be redundant, with no regular services held there, but it is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, who keep it open to the public. Inside it holds some fascinating remnants of ancient Kent, in particular the rows of 14th Century carved oak benches, and an odd little vestry, the walls of which are decorated with thousands of cockle shells. Charles Dickens recognised the spooky possibilities of Cooling and its windswept surroundings, allegedly using the churchyard as inspiration for the opening scene of Great Expectations, which features the pivotal meeting between Pip and the escaped convict Magwitch.

St James’ Church, Cooling

In the late 19th Century the mud of the peninsula’s flats became a valuable commodity, ideal for use in the production of cement. Fleets of barges would carry the mud from Hoo to factories further up the Medway and beyond. Later, as trade declined in the early 20th Century, the barges were either converted into houseboats or left as hulks on the shoreline, their dark, ghostly wrecks still visible around the peninsula today.

If you are looking for chocolate box perfection, then the Hoo Peninsula is not for you. Parts of it are built-up and ugly, huge factories blot the skyline and the remains of concrete military installations litter the shore. But at its heart are ancient places, villages and buildings which recall a long and complex past. Perhaps it is the contrast of these two worlds that makes the Hoo Peninsula so intriguing. This is, however, is a place at risk. Recent proposals to build an airport here are strongly opposed by the locals, who fear it will destroy the area’s fragile environment. Let’s hope that they are successful in their campaign, and manage to preserve the unique landscape of this eerie, magical corner of England.

Fields near Cliffe