On the marshes – To be published

14 writing by the estuaryAlmost a year since I finished my journey across the North Kent Marshes meeting people living alternative ways of life, I am happy to announce that I have just signed a publishing contract with Little Toller Books.

Little Toller Books are an independent publisher who look for writers who ‘seek inventive ways to reconnect us with the natural world and celebrate the places we live in.’

On the Marshes follows my journey from Gravesham to Whitstable meeting houseboat owners, chalet dwellers and friends of hermits living in the woods. The journey was a way of understanding my own experience of living in a caravan on the marshes for three years, my eviction from my home and the subsequent breakdown in my long term relationship.

I hope the book will help people see the beauty and value of an atmospheric corner of England which is under constant threat and give an insight into why some people follow an alternative route in life.

Many thanks to Little Toller for seeing the books potential, to my agent Joanna Swainson of literary agency Hardman and Swainson for working so hard to get me a deal and mostly to the many wonderful, kind, brave people who took the time to meet me and share their stories with me.

Getting a publishing deal is a huge and longed for step for me but I get the feeling that a new journey is just beginning and their will be a lot of learning to do before the book is finally on the shelves. Like any big and scary change in my life I am dealing with the only way I know how and have begun to write something new.

 

A Great Place to visit – Riverside Country Park, Medway.

Many thanks to Cora Polland for our guest blog this month.

HH boat

Riverside Country Park, located alongside the River Medway is a scenic, coastal spot scattered with rustic boats and is a good place for birdwatching. In addition, the area has very interesting historical background dating back to the industrial revolution. The first Portland Cement Factory appeared on the River Medway in 1851, with the secret ingredient for this new cement being Medway mud.

Throughout the 1850s the River Medway was supplying the whole world with Portland cement before similar mud was found elsewhere to produce the cement. Many Medway industries were based on large amounts of local materials and consequently became harder as well as more expensive to find as the materials were used up. During this period of time the workers who dug from the estuary were called ‘muddies’. At high tide barges would sail from Rainham dock into Medway, where the muddies then had the job of climbing over and shovelling slime/mud into the barge, until they floated off to be unloaded after the tide came in again. Great amounts of mud were dug from the river this way therefore meaning there are now deep pits filled with soft mud at the bottom of the river. It was initially feared that the mud extradition might change the flow of water in the river which could cause silting.

HH signpost

Horrid Hill, part of the park, was originally an island however, it was later joined to the mainland by a causeway in order to allow a horse drawn railway to reach the cement works.HH boat 2

From mid-18-19th century there were two types of Hulks in the Medway. Those used for criminals and those used for prisoners of war. This links in to one of the many rumours as to why it is named the ‘Horrid Hill.’ It is thought that convicts, housed on these hulks in the Medway anchored close to Chatham, made an attempt to escape to the land which looked like an island, those who were recaptured were hanged as a warning to others, giving it the name. Other rumours about the origin of the name are that during the Napoleonic War, French Prison Hulks were moored off Horrid Hill and local people could recall hearing the screams of the prisoners and the horrid conditions that they faced. A less gruesome rumour is that the name came from the manure used on the local farms which was dumped at the base of Horrid Hill – creating an unpleasant smell.

Furthermore, during the Great War of 1914-1918 the British Standard Cement Company’s works at Motney Hill lost a large amount of their workforce, therefore after the war a list of those who died was placed on a memorial plaque which is now viewable at the Riverside Country Park’s visitor centre.

The Eastcourt meadows were once a municipal rubbish tip up until the 1950s however it’s since been transformed into a magnificent haven for butterflies and wildflowers. The Riverside Country Park was once a place of hard labour and cement but has since become a place of natural beauty containing wildflowers, pear trees, and during high tide a place where common seals have been spotted.

HH landscape

 

An Interview with Stephen Turner in The Mudlark

Stephen Turner in Darnet Fort

Stephen Turner in Darnet Fort copyright: Stephen Turner

Last year I was lucky enough to interview the artist Stephen Turner in his studio at Chatham Dockyard. Stephen talked to me about his time camping on Hoo and Darnet Islands in the Medway Estuary and his concerns for the future of the area. The article is published this month in the Mudlark, an annual publication by the Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership. Read a copy of the magazine here;

http://issuu.com/medwaycouncil/docs/mudlark-2015-lr

or read the full article below

Escape to an Island-page-001

Escape to an Island-page-002

Escape to an Island-page-003

All At Sea

065 Hoo marina

Houseboats on the River Medway

Following the sign to the Marina, I pulled up in the wind blasted car park and emerged to the lost soul howling of wind through rigging. A man emerged from a static caravan and stared at me silently.

“I’m here to meet Martin Simpson,” I said, feeling, however silently, he was demanding to know my status.

“You’re here to meet Martin Simpson,” he repeated, eyeing me in a way which made me feel I was dressed as a dog’s dinner not in jeans and a duffle coat.

He stomped away through the puddles to another porta cabin.

This was not the start to my journey I had imagined when I had decided to set out on a mission to meet people living in alternative homes on the North Kent Marshes.

Thankfully Martin arrived, full of jolly breeziness despite the bleak weather.

“The site manager,” he told me as we made our way through the houseboat marina along an assortment of wet gang planks and metal walkways above the mud, a scene reminiscent of Oliver Twist.

Martin on the gangway

Martin on the Gangway

At the end of the walkway we boarded Martin’s huge tanker, climbing down a steep wooden gangplank. The tanker was painted a sunny yellow and topped with a gravel beach.

“The neighbour’s cat uses it as a litter tray,”said Martin. We looked out from the deck towards the squat fort on Hoo Ness island and away to the right the coastline stretched to the industrial cathedral of Kingsnorth.

“You have the best view on the whole marina,” I said as widgeon paddled beneath us in the shallow and oystercatchers piped along the bay.

Martin looked at it sadly. He knew he did but still he was planning to move.

Down in the beautiful living quarters we settled down with cups of tea on the leather sofa and Martin told me the story.

The site owner had been making life increasingly difficult for Martin.

“He doesn’t like the fact that I have a lot of female friends. They’re just friends,” Martin emphasised “but now he’s stopped me having more than 4 people on here at once.” A rule, it turned out, applied only to Martin.

The previous summer Martin had used his prime position on the estuary to take others out kayaking, wanting to share the beauty of the area but recently friends had turned up in the car park to find a sign telling them that ‘Martin’s event is cancelled.’

“He’s jealous,” I suggested.

Martin shrugged. One of the other boat owners had given it to him straight but without malice. “You’re face doesn’t fit.”

To tell the truth it probably didn’t. Martin had come to living on a houseboat from owning a 5 bedroom house in the ritzy waterfront village of East Farleigh. Here he had owned a waterfront property and kept a boat for pleasure cruising across to the continent. A sticky divorce had left him financially on his uppers.

“Poverty brings a lot of people here,” he said “but they choose to stay.” Martin loved the way that living on the river confronted all your senses, the way the tide rose and fell, the light changed, the noises of water hitting the boat in the storm. “The water gives me energy,” he said. “It affects me, the tide changes and so does my mood.”

Martin had built his life back up, from living on, what had once been his pleasure boat, he had bought and renovated this tanker into a swish bachelor pad, using his skills as a builder and architect. Now he owned a portfolio of properties. He spoke proudly of being a ‘Bargee’, a river gypsy but I could see why maybe he didn’t blend with the other boat owners.

He was moving the boat in a few weeks to Rochester Bridge, to an upmarket marina where, he hoped, his face would fit better. Here he hoped to bring together his experience of property development and on board living to convince the council to take seriously his vision of building a series of houseboats which turned with the tide, offering ever changing views of the river. These boats could provide affordable accommodation for people in a natural setting.

“But you need to change people’s mindsets,” he said. “They see houseboat owners as the rougher end of society, they think we make the river look scruffy, but all I see is new waterfront developments stripping all the character and community from the river and building ugly concrete walls. I want to make people see that they need to support the bargee’s and their way of life.”

Martin was being positive about the move, he needed to change, to maybe sell the boat and create something new but, as he looked out of his windows across the expanse of the estuary and spoke of his love for this every changing landscape, he suddenly said “I’m going to have boats 6 foot away from me on either side in Rochester.”

Martin spoke of the river as one community, a community which ended at the shoreline and, as we walked back down the gangplanks to the car park, other boatowners, emerged, swathed in waterproofs and offered him help with acquiring the tugs he would need to help move the boat. There was community spirit here but it was still a community where one man’s mean spirit and inverted snobbery could drive another away from his home.

Martin on prow of boat