Medway and Blackwater Lowlands

In Celebration of World Photography Day

It seems that World Photography Day (19th August) has passed a lot of people by this year. As life panned out for me, I needed to be in the South East of England on the preceding day, so I took a day off from work, and stayed overnight to explore. 

I felt that a break from woodlands and forests was called for and decided to try and track down some interesting locations in the lowlands and marshes around the Thames, Medway and parts of Essex. These waterways have been vital routes for trade throughout centuries and I was hoping to find some interesting wrecks.

When searching for wrecks, my go to starting point is navigation charts. These not only provide locations of wrecks and obstructions to navigation, they also give you all the information about tidal heights at which wrecks might be exposed. Further research using Google Earth then allows me to shortlist those that are accessible and possibly photogenic.

Location 1: Horrid Hill

My first stopping point on Wednesday evening was on the River Medway. My research had revealed numerous wrecks throughout the area, mostly old Thames barges, many of which had been placed deliberately to shore up the sea defences. The best barge graveyard, at Hoo Fort, was however only accessible by boat. Nevertheless, I found a suitably photogenic hulk on firmer ground, and therefore standing proud of the mud and water, at Horrid Hill. Unfortunately I was a day late for the perfect conjunction of sunset and high tide. But with a little work I managed to come up with this image:

Parking is available at Riverside Country Park, immediately adjacent. The notice says that the carpark is locked at 8:30pm (earlier in the winter) and I didn’t want to risk it, so I parked a little further away. In the end, when I was departing at 9:15pm, the carpark gates were still open, so take your own chances if you choose to visit at sunset.

Location 2: Cliffe Pools

Cliffe Pools is a nature reserve managed by the RSPB in former gravel workings. There are still active workings in the area so access needs to be carefully thought about, but the area is criss-crossed by public footpaths. Close to one of these footpaths, I came across this abandoned crane, now partly submerged in the flooded gravel pit. Not exactly a boat wreck, but I thought that it would fit the bill. 

This crane was my destination for Thursday morning, given that the light would be rising in the East behind the jib. The weather was not very kind, with a thick layer of low level cloud, but at least it was bright above and so produced some texture and interest in the cloud layer. With careful exposure and a little further work in post processing, this is what I came up with.

There is a RSPB Reserve carpark available, or you might be able to find other places to park, but be careful as the gravel workings were highly active with truck and train movements, even at 5:00am. I have indicated the parking location. I will let you suss out the crane for yourselves, because what is the fun in exploring a new location if you know everything in advance?

Location 3: Tollesbury Managed Retreat Area

A while ago I was chuffed to get a good photo of the skeleton trees on the salt marsh at Porlock. Whilst I was researching that location, I came across another area of land near Tollesbury in Essex, that had also been claimed by the sea. This area however is one of ‘managed retreat’. The sea defences here have been realigned deliberately allowing previously agricultural land to be claimed by the sea and become salt marsh. This is the perfect recipe for finding dead tree skeletons poisoned by the salt. When I delved further I did indeed find indications on Google Earth of dead trees here too.

On location, I missed the top of the tide by about 20 minutes as I had underestimated my travel time, and it was also a neap tide, so not particularly high. I therefore did not get a clean shot with water around the trees, although from the tide marks, it clearly rises quite far at times. Anyway, I did manage to make a few shots in this location.

I parked at the RSPB Old Hall Marshes Reserve carpark. This is at the end of a long single track lane and involves driving through what appears to be someone’s front garden. This foxed me for a while, but after checking it out on foot, yes you do indeed drive past the front of the cottages and through the ornamental gate on the far side. I then walked south around the sea defence dyke to find the managed retreat area.

Location 4 : Secret

My final location was another one that needed quite a lot of effort to track down. I finally found sufficient clues in a walking guide to Essex. When I got to the location however, it is clear that the landowner has taken steps to prevent photographers like me wandering willy nilly across his land. Maybe these these old trees are in a dangerous state and the landowner does not want someone to be injured by a falling branch. Anyway the piece of land with this old dead oak woodland was very securely fenced and gated, even with an electric strand in the fencing and lots of signs telling people to keep to the public footpath. 

I was able to obtain this view from the footpath adjacent. However the perspective from eye level was not what I would have hoped. So I am extremely glad that I had chosen to lug around my very heavy but very tall (>2m fully extended) Gitzo tripod. This extra height has allowed me to get shots on quite a few occasions and this was one of those. With the Camera at full arm stretch above my head, I had to resort to my EOS 5Div with its built in WiFi and Canon’s Camera Connect app on my phone to compose and expose the shot. It is not what I hoped for when I first found the location on Google Earth, but it was certainly better than coming away with no shot at all.

Given the Landowners obvious sensitivity, I have not included the location here, as I would not want to encourage anyone to trespass in pursuit of a ‘perfect’ shot.

These photos are of course available for sale as usual. Click on a photo for pricing etc. For these ones I will make fine art prints myself

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