Friday, 17 December 2010

Sheppey's Three Islands (Part One)

People looking at the map of Sheppey might be surprised to see that it mentions two other Islands, those of Emley Island and the Isle of Harty. That is because some few hundred years ago, before the current seawalls were built, the above two islands were indeed seperated from Sheppey by part-tidal fleets Windmill Creek and The Dray at Elmley and Capel Fleet at Harty.

Let's start at Harty and if you look at the map below you can see most of Capel Fleet as it wriggles its way round the marshes, originally near Shellness in the east and off-map, at Windmill Creek in the west. Capel Fleet was tidal at both ends and for part of its length from each end and it was only the construction of the current seawalls that effectively dammed it's two ends and stopped the daily inward flow of seawater. Before that and for much of length it had on both sides, low counterwalls that would protect the flat marshes from regular flooding from either Spring tides or winter rains. If you walk about three quarters of a mile along the seawall from Shellness towards the Swale NNR you come to a sharp bend in the seawall and here you will be able to see why on the map, that Capel Fleet seems to end almost a mile short of the seawall.

Running away from the seawall and in a straight line across the nature reserve, is a low counterwall (see the photo below) and before the existing seawall was built this counterwall was in effect the old seawall bordering the tidal saltings as Capel Fleet ran inland. This counterwall was originally on both sides of the Fleet but only a few yards remains of the eastern side. What is interesting in the two photos below is the fact that the grazing land to the immediate right of the counterwall was originally saltings, exactly as there still are on the seaward side of the seawall. After the seawall effectively dammed off Capel Fleet from the sea these saltings gradually dried out and grassed over but there is still evidence snaking through the field, of the shallow depressions left of what would of originally been the deep and muddy reel-ways of the saltings. Sadly, all that remains of Capel Fleet for this stretch is a tiny ditch that seperates the nature reserve from the farmland alongside.

So, this stretch of now non-existent Capel Fleet stretches across the nature reserve and across the new RSPB fields until it reaches the track running down from Muswell Manor and here it reaches the first remains of how it used to look and although its wide width is concealed now by wall to wall reed beds, it runs in its original form all the way round to the Raptor viewing Mound on the Harty Road. Between the Raptor Viewing Mound and Capel Corner at the foot of Capel Hill, it peters out again and is little more than a ditch that only re-floodes to its former width in very wet winters. However along this ditch-like stretch it is noticeably bordered on both sides by its original counterwalls and one of them serves two purposes, not only did it serves as a low counterwall to protect the marshes from being flooded by the Fleet, but its top also doubled up as the way across the marsh, it is the Harty Road. This explains why it is in such poor condition these days, it was only intended as a footpath and cart track, it was never built with foundations capable of sustaining the regular passage of huge and heavy farm tractors and lorries as it now has too.
Finally, and sorry about the darkness of the photo, at Capel Corner we see the last stretch of Capel Fleet in the form that it basically continues in all the way round to Windmill Creek and the seawall again. This is the Capel Fleet that most people are familiar with these days and is pretty much how it would of looked along its whole length once apon a time when it was creating the Isle of Harty.
(I will describe how Elmley Island was formed in Part Two)


  1. Were you a school teacher in an earlier life ?
    This is absolutely fascinating and I can't wait for further instalments. Your 'library' probably consists of books, magazines and newspaper cuttings - have you ever thought of writing an article, or articles, for the glossy Kent magazines or even producing a booklet. I know that much of Sheppey's history is well documented but your knowledge of the marshes is a revelation.
    Many thanks, but you have set yourself an almost impossible standard to maintain.

  2. Very enjoyable, Derek. You have a fine manner of conveying this story/history/natural history that keeps this reader engaged. Looking forward to more.


  3. Blimey guys, thanks for the comments and encouragementand no I was never a school teacher, just a labourer who ended his working life in management.
    I've always enjoyed writing but have never been able to find the patience to sit and write many long accounts of things that would take many weeks,etc. to complete. My Aviation History of Sheppey was the only example of that kind of determination.