October 1 – Gillingham to Deal

Cooling, Cliffe, Higham, Upchurch, Lower Halstow

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

The plan today was to do some church micros between Gillingham and Deal but first of all I wanted to visit All Saints church at Frinsbury as that is the church that Uncle Fred goes to and that Aunty Jean’s memorial is. I was hoping that there was a church micro too and my GPS showed one so we collected the numbers and walked the short distance to the cache. When we got to GZ we couldn’t find the cache and that’s when we realised that it had been archived. On returning to the church, which wasn’t open we walked around the churchyard but could not find Jean’s gravestone. We asked a guy mowing the lawns and he knew just where to look as he knows Fred and knew Jean. The views from up here are outstanding all over the Medway towns of Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester. Next, we went to High Halstead where the church was closed but we found the cache.

St James church at Cooling which dates from the late 13th-century is a Conservation Trust church and had an interesting history as apparently the opening scenes of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens were set here and there is a grave called Pip’s Grave where there are 13 tiny coffins all from one family. A very sad sight. Also, there is a tomb where Dickens used to spread out his lunch. Inside the church is a lovely Queen Anne coat of arms and a font dating from the 1200s. It also contains the oldest pew in England and some unusual wall arcading, a triple sedilia and a double piscina. The small stone lean-to structure on the south wall is the 19th-century vestry.  The interior walls of the vestry are covered from floor to ceiling in the most unusual form of decoration as they are lined with hundreds of cockle shells, mounted here in the 19th century.  This shell was worn as an emblem by pilgrims to one of the most renowned holy sites in Western Europe, the shrine at Santiago de Compostela of St James – the patron saint of Cooling church.  We worked out the numbers for the church micro which was about 800 metres away so we drove and it took us ages to find. We nearly gave up but we persevered as this was a very early number in the church micro series, number 80 out of a current 12862.

From the church, we could see the two towers which are the remains of Cooling Castle. Unfortunately, this is a wedding venue so we are not able to get any closer and another of the towers is also on private property. Cooling Castle is a 14th-century quadrangular castle and it was built in the 1380s by the Cobham family, the local lords of the manor, to guard the area against French raids into the Thames Estuary.

St Helen’s church at Cliffe was built about 1260 and is a Grade I listed building. It was constructed alternating layers of Kent ragstone and squared black flint.  It contains wall paintings of the martyrdom of St. Edmund, a Jacobean pulpit, and fine stone carvings but unfortunately, it was not open so we were unable to see the treasures.

Cliffe was the first village in Kent to be bombed in WWI on Christmas Day 1914. Also on 24 October 1942 a Stirling bomber W7628 OJ-B which was returning from a bombing mission to Genoa, Italy ran out of fuel and crashed into a row of four cottages and a farmhouse at Rye Street, Cliffe-at-Hoo killing the seven crew of the bomber and a civilian.

The village green is called “the buttway” as in the 1200s it was required that all men should be able to use a longbow. The buttway was to enable men to practise every week after the church service.

In the corner of the churchyard is the Charnel House and it was built during the mid-19th-century. It was used as a make-shift mortuary until the bodies were taken away to be buried. Its location close to the river Thames is key as bodies found were washed up or floating along the Thames were retrieved and taken to the charnel house to be stored awaiting identification and burial.

After lunch, by Cliffe church, we went to St John’s in Higham. Finally, a church which was open. It had a stone pulpit and five modern stained glass windows. The West window is the oldest and is a Ward and Hughes design from 1907. We collected the numbers and at GZ there was a seat to take in the lovely view over the River Thames and plenty of nettles and rubbish but we could not find the cache.

St Mary the Virgin at Upchurch what a lovely East window with lots of characters on it. Sir Francis Drake’s father, Edmund was the vicar of this church in 1560. The Lady chapel had a lovely window of the crucifixion clearly showing the soldiers playing dice below the cross. The highlight of the church was a series of six tapestries depicting the six days of creation designed by Alex Beattie and embroidered by local people between 2014 and 2016. We found the church micro and a village sign cache in Upchurch.

Sr=t Margaret of Antioch at Lower Halstow was an 11th-century church which was closed. The final was some 800 metres away but we could not find it despite looking for ages, maybe we had the coordinates wrong.  We are right on the shores of the river Thames now and in the mooring was the boat Edith May which is being reconstructed by local volunteers. After another failure to find the village sign cache at Lower Halstow we decided we had had enough for the day and drove off on the motorway to Dover and then to Deal before the evening traffic.

When we arrived in Deal, Boris was very happy to see us and Jill had left us some gifts from Barcelona which was lovely of her. It looks like a place where we would like to visit.