On Friday I went to the estuary to meet a dog.
We met at the village of Cliffe, which feels like a village at the end of the world. The road ends at the church, and then there’s mud, and marsh, and channels of water leading down to the grey old Thames. But humans have live here a long while: there is record of settlement in AD43, during the Roman occupation, when there was a crossing point over the river.
Our walk did not start well. We took a path through the edge of a field, which headed gradually uphill, passing grouse pens and dogging spots. Eventually we admitted defeat and doubled back, but not before being rewarded with a view of birds and the river from our chalky vantage point.
The view is of Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve. If you like birds, there are plenty of them available here. Avocets, lapwings. Little egrets. Lagoons filled with teals, wigeons, shovelers, mallards, gadwalls and pintails.
In the back of my mind was the fear that this whole area was scheduled to be turned into a beyond-parody post-Brexit theme park, but I was wrong. That’s planned for the Swanscombe peninsula, on the other side of Gravesend.
After a few more wrong turns, we finally found the path down to the nature reserve, and the landscape opened up on front of us. We passed a birdwatcher armed with binoculars and a tripod, and some cyclists trundling the uneven paths, until we could at last stand on the estuary wall and wave at cargo ships bound for the North Sea and beyond.