Estuary Life – The Final Leg

For the last year I have been walking across the marshes of North Kent writing about the lives of the people who have chosen to live in an alternative, simpler way. I began the last leg of my trip by catching a lift aboard the Edith May, a Thames sailing barge.

Ed and Geoff man the Edith May

Ed and Geoff man the Edith May

Estuary Life – Lower Halstow to Upnor

I climbed onto the Edith May, a Thames Sailing barge built in 1906, restored by Geoff Grandsen and his son Ed. In her early years she had worked these waters, collecting grain from Great Yarmouth and delivering it to London. Geoff had bought her as a wreck for £5000 and was restoring her, a project which was costing a lot more.

The crew prowled the decks, waiting for high water, Ed scaled the rope ladders, the kettle rang out from below, the chatter was all of laying up and bilge pumps, hard water and rigging and mostly about the barge match that the Edith May was to compete in the following day, a competition, Ed told me, “had stopped being competitive for a while but was now a serious business again.”

Finally we loosened the ropes holding us to the dock and motored out into the estuary, piped away by the oystercatchers. We passed the islands of Milford Hope, streaks of saltings disappearing beneath the rising tide. The land stretched away, all the miles I had walked. The path to Lower Halstow I had ran along in the rain shower, Darnet Island, where the rats danced at night, Bumbleness Creek, with its German U-boat. The place I had swum with Carl. It was the river I had read about with Mr Coles Finch, the river of Francis Drake and prison ships, of Man O Wars and the Dutch fleet coming to burn them. It was the river of dredgers and smacks, bawley boats and barges like this one. 1 Ed up the rigging

Ed climbed into the rigging once more, to untie the ropes which bound the top sail, the sail flapped overhead. Craning my neck to see him at work it was like looking up into the roof of a cathedral. The rust red wing unfurled and flapped in the wind. Ed shimmied down again and began pulling on ropes. It wasn’t work for the feeble, he hauled on the rope, using his whole body strength, bending at the knees and swinging back up to snatch the rope and pull again. I felt exhausted just watched him and happily gobbled down chocolate biscuits which came with a welcome cup of tea.

As we passed Hoo Ness Island other barges could be seen, moored up.

Ed pointed out his competitors.10 the competition

“The Edme,” he said, pointing to a slightly slimmer, smaller boat, manned by boys with dreadlocks and a feisty dog that ran along the decks barking abuse at us. “It is the number one barge,” he said, eyeing it with envy.

The men on board were busy polishing the woodwork.

“Too late for that,” he shouted to the crew. “You’re either ready or not.”

The crew waved back in acknowledgement.

“No one beats it,” Ed said and bit down hard on his chocolate biscuit.

Ed eyes up the competition.

Ed eyes up the competition.


Museum of Water

bottle of water by MedwayArtist Amy Sharrocks is building a Museum of Water and is urging people to choose a water that is precious to them, find a vessel to put it in and tell her why you have chosen this water. The resulting collection of water and stories is currently touring the country before being exhibited in Somerset House by the River Thames from Friday 6th – Sunday 29th June.

The day before the start of my pilgrimage along the Estuaries of the Thames, Medway and Swale it seemed somehow fitting and right to visit the river and collect a bottle of estuary water. I guess the reverse of the traditional pilgrimage offering to the river but still hopefully auspicious.

So at 8am on a rainy Saturday I found myself down by the Medway in my wellies, clambering over seaweed slippery rocks and through the ooze of grey mud to the rivers edge. The tide was just coming in and the water looked decidedly murky and foaming. I ignored the fear of riverbourne nasties like Weils Disease and the many cuts and scrapes on my hands and dipped my IKEA bottle into the river, fishing out a typically estuarine mix of water and sediment.

collecting Medway River Water

The water then toured Medway with me as I went about my Saturday errands before being dropped off at the LV21 at Gillingham Pier, the current stopping point for the museum, where my Medway was due to join my friends bottle of Swale and be exhibited along with water from Tasmania, the Baltic, Lourdes and a bottle of election day water from a puddle outside a poling station and stored in a old bottle of daddies sauce (my personal favourite.) bottle of Medway river water

To find out more about the Museum of Water and the exhibition visit the website