I know what you’re thinking, who’s Ritchie and what’s he rambling on about? I’m Richard Hanman, Rich or Ritchie to my friends. Just a normal bloke living on the Isle of Sheppey in the beautiful Kent borough of Swale.
Like many, I was furloughed from work during the Covid-19 pandemic so decided to maximise my daily exercise my roaming the footpaths around Swale in search of birds, butterflies, orchids and wildlife in general. I posted a daily blog on social media called ‘Ritchie’s Rambles’ which developed a bit of a following, so much so that I got a call from a fella at Swale Borough Council asking if I could write a monthly wildlife-themed article to promote the natural beauty of Swale. So here’s the 1st edition, hope you enjoy.
So where to start. Well I guess the most iconic object in Swale is the Sheppey Crossing Bridge which spans the stretch of water between the Isle of Sheppey and mainland Kent, and after which our borough is named.
It just so happens that this is also one of my favourite walks as there is always something to see on account of the varied habitat. You’ll see saltmarsh grazing, freshwater pools, tidal creeks, reedbeds, meadows, scrub and of course, The Swale itself.
Let’s start with the domestics. This is a ramble through the countryside, so parking is limited to pulling over safely at the end of Ferry Road (ME12 3RN). There’s no loos, café or visitors centre on this walk, but plenty of fresh air and wide open space.
Once parked, take the path next to a big metal gate up onto the embankment. Follow the public footpath signs east, keeping The Swale on your right and Minster Marshes and Elmley Reserve on your left. The winding footpath mirrors the flow of The Swale.
On the day of this walk (28.08.2020), Swallows were gathering enmasse on a small barbed perimeter fence. It won’t be long before they depart to Africa.
On the opposite bank is the busy Ridham Dock. Today, RMS Dusiberg was just departing and a check on marinetraffic.com told me this 100m long x 11.5m wide boat is registered in Antigua and was heading to Antwerp in The Netherlands.
You’ll soon arrive at Crown Sluice. It’s worth stopping here and scanning for Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Wheatear in late summer.
Continue along the path checking both sides as you go. Swale-side look for Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Whimbrel, Little Egret and Great Crested Grebe.
On the saltmarsh of Elmley check for Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Lapwing, Redshank, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Cormorant, Greylag Goose, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper.
You’ll pass through a metal gate with an Elmley NR sign. Keep to the path and carry on until you get to a large reedbed. Take time to sit and wait for the birds to come to you. Here you should see Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting.
If you’re lucky you’ll see beautiful Bearded Tit’s perform their acrobatic manoeuvres, or hear a Water Rail ‘squealing’ like an excited piglet.
Moving on from the reedbed you’ll eventually reach the now abandoned Elmley Dock. This area is now home to large flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets. Rabbits are everywhere but you may get lucky and see a Brown Hare or a Stoat.
Instead, retrace your steps back to the Sheppey Crossing. The tide will have changed providing opportunities to see something new. The length of the walk from Sheppey Bridge to Old Emley Dock and back is 5 km.
Allow 2-3 hours to complete the walk. It’s on flat ground and there are no styles or gates to climb. See OS Explorer Map 149 for further details.
All image credits: Richard Hanman
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For more information on ‘Ritchie’s Rambles’, a ramble or a trip you can email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org alternatively go via the website or social media to view his images on flicker by clicking the links below.