Sunday, 30 September 2012

Cliffe Fort, Kent - September 2012

Another hangover on a Saturday, another solo explore, another tick off of the hitlist. This weekend I made my way out to Cliffe in the Hoo Peninsula to have a look around the abandoned Fort there. I was also trying out my new camera on its first explore, and I'm quite pleased with the results. 

History from the always wonderful Underground Kent: 

Built in the 1860’s, Cliffe Fort is one of the three Thames Side Forts that were designed to defend that Thames Estuary. It was also built to work in conjunction with Coalhouse Fort in Essex to prevent a hostile fleet reaching London via the Thames.

Construction of the fort was difficult due to the marshy ground that the fort is built on; cracking and subsidence caused many problems for the men working on the fort. More surprisingly, this marshy ground was also home to malaria mosquitoes, which made life even more difficult for the construction work.
The fort was designed solely to cater for the armament of the day and the guns that were installed on Cliffe Fort were 12.5” and 11” RML’s, weighing around 35 tons. Protection of these guns was provided by granite faced casemates with shields for added defence. These shields, casemates and the rails on which the gun carriages stood are all still visible today.

In 1885, Cliffe Fort became the site for an experimental harbour defence system known as the “Brennan Torpedo”. This was the world’s first wire guided missile. Originally there were two sets of launching rails, but only one remains today. As progressive as this system was at the time, it was replaced 25 years later in favour of quick-firing (QF) guns.

Cliffe Fort remained armed throughout both World Wars, but was sold after the end of the Second World War to a local cement company. As a result of this, the fort has sadly been neglected and has fallen into a fairly advanced state of decay.

The explore started with about a mile long walk, going over two big gates, past a sailing club, and through the cement factory. Then I found the Brennan torpedo launcher, of which there isn't much left now. 

Upon climbing into and on top of the Fort itself, I found myself a surprise. A chap, about my age, sitting there with a certain whiff in the air. What was very surprising, however, was the fact he'd taken his bike to the top of the Fort! This involved getting it over palisade, and up a few climbs. Impressive. I said hello, but no sooner had I done so he cleared off, taking his bike too. 

Puzzlement aside I decided to crack on and took some photos of the WWII watchtower, then started to ponder a way to get down. I'm not the best climber, so it had to be somewhere that I could get back up to relatively easily. This ended up taking me some time, and as I thought I'd got an ideal location, the cement works next door that owns the Fort now went live, which changed my plans slightly.

Needles to say, I made it down eventually. 

There's very little left now other than the structure itself that might suggest a military past, but there was the odd sign, like in the picture above. I think someone said in another report that was a periscope or some sort of spotting device...

As I made my way around the casemates the extent of the flooding in the bottom of the Fort became pretty evident, and despite wearing my proper hiking boots, didn't fancy going for a wade as it looked like it got deep in places.

The final bit of my explore took place in the casemates to the South of the Fort. I took these two corridor shots, then had a venture down the stairs and decided that today was not the day to risk going for a wade given all of the rain in the last week.

On my way around I had spotted another potential way in/out, so decided to check it out. It did indeed get me back to the path, but not until after I'd had a severe argument with bushes, palisade and a bog for fifteen minutes. Really wasn't a smart choice to go the way I did, but I did find another access point in the end.

It's a shame that the Fort is in such a state now, as it would a great explore if it wasn't submerged. Still, it was a nice afternoon and a great day to cycle there too. Props to Wevs for the tip, too 

As always, thanks for reading. 


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