The Hamlet of Shellness lies on the southeastern shore of Sheppey, at the fringes of the Thames Estuary as it merges with the North Sea. Its shore looks over to Whitstable and Herne Bay, which can be easily be made out on a clear day. Two miles south of Leysdown’s jaded amusements, Shellness comprises a private village, a naturist area, a cockleshell beach and a RSPB nature reserve. Although it is just an hour from the capital, this sparsely populated corner of Sheppey, with its broad skies and abundant birdlife, feels utterly remote from London.
This coastline has a very interesting history. The Kent Archaeological Field School’s publication The Swale District: An Archaeological Survey extensively details Swale’s geology and land use in centuries past. East Swale, just below Shellness, was used as a shipping route to reach the Medway and Thames. The Swale, Medway and Thames estuaries have also been critical locations for the naval defence of London from the Roman era to modern times. This illustration depicts 20th century fortifications and mining defences around Sheppey:
The Shellness XDO (Extended Defence Officer) Post, marked on the map above, remains standing today:
This part of the Thames Estuary also played an important role in the history of British aviation, from early flight at Muswell Manor to airships and seaplanes on Grain. For more information on the military history of the region, check out Dr Richard Wilding’s informative web page. If you’re interested in visiting the area yourself, some good walks can be had, perhaps starting at Harty, Capel Fleet or Leysdown.
I started by photographing some of the beach houses and was quickly glad that I’d brought a tripod along – it provided a steady platform in the strong gusts. Many of the dwellings were boarded up for the winter and in varying states of repair – in fact, some appeared to be abandoned. Exposed to the sea, salt and weather, they take serious punishment from the elements and it shows. One might harshly consider these properties to be the ugly sisters of Southwold’s pristine beach huts, though their owners surely take some pride in them.
A little further along, I encountered a derelict boat that Gordon and I had seen in May. The intervening months have not been kind:
On reaching this point, the wind strengthened further and spots of rain began to fall. So after taking some photographs on the beach, I hurriedly took shelter inside the XDO Post. The Post’s interior was littered with the usual detritus (fizzy drinks bottles, sweet packets, beer cans) and its walls marked with inane graffiti. Whilst waiting for the shower to abate, I set up the tripod and took this picture capturing the Post’s reconnaissance view.
The light began to fade so it was time to walk back up the beach. As the sun set just before 4pm, I made one final exposure before retreating to the warmth of the car and the journey home. Speaking of exposure, no naturists braved the cold on this particular day.
Click here to see a full gallery, with larger images, from this trip to Shellness.