Dick Durham drops anchor in Halstow Creek, a mud-hole once used to create the bricks that built London
It looks like the bleakest place on earth: flat, ooze-ridden with desolate marshland islets supporting nothing but collapsed barge hulks, overgrown wharves and an abandoned slaughterhouse. It sounds like a film set for some dystopian Hollywood blockbuster and may yet be used for just that! However, the lower reaches of Halstow Creek offer the most protected anchorage anywhere on the East Coast. You can drop your flukes into boulder clay and no tempest from any direction will tear you free and even if it could, you’d drag no further than into a slightly shelving mudbank peppered with nothing more damaging than oyster shells. Here you will find 3m depth at Low Water and sleep soundly in the knowledge that nothing can get at you.
As for a run ashore, that is a different matter. Forget landing by dinghy at the nearest sea wall and taking a stroll. It’s a mile and a half through wild, overgrown thistles, over ankle-snapping potholes and in too-soft mud. The only practical way to get ashore is to take the dinghy up the drying creek to Lower Halstow on the flood – there’s a enough for a dinghy after two hours flood tide – and moor at the weedy jetty which once served the Thames sailing barges that here loaded bricks to build Victorian London. There’s a good chance you will moor next to the spritty barge Edith May, now magnificently restored and kept on barge blocks.
Your dinghy trip will be worthwhile, as the sailors at the Lower Halstow Yacht Club are always pleased to see visitors who take the trouble to come to the upper reaches, rather than the soft option of remaining in the deep water of Stangate Creek, which is adjacent to the River Medway itself.
Once over the sea wall, you will be under the eaves of the Saxon church St Margaret of Antioch and, having genuflected, can then proceed to the Three Tuns pub where a legendary barge skipper used to lie on his back in the public bar, beneath a shelf upon which stood his private barrel, the tap of which was then opened…
In the neighbouring tributary of Funton Creek rot the remains of the most famous racing barges ever to grace the East Coast: FT Everard’s Veronica and Crescent Shipping’s Sirdar, the former a weed-covered, mid-stream hulk, the latter a burnt skeleton slowly being covered by creeping marsh. Be sure to put up a riding light, not so much to warn other craft, but to find your way back to your boat. This is a place eerily uninhabited for miles around, with the flaring skyline of Thamesport Container Terminal on the Isle of Grain on the far side of the Medway throwing the anchorage into even darker shadow.
It is also a place of ghosts: buried on the adjacent marshes are hundreds of Napoleonic prisoners of war, who did not survive the fevers of the prison hulks which once anchored here, too.