The church of St Giles at Tonge is old and overlooked behind dense, green yews. The simple, square tower sits next to a richly coloured, clay-tiled roof that that stoops down to the ground and shrouds a beautifully carved, wooden porch.
The narrow lane leads past farmhouses and large orchards full of fieldfares, redwings, starlings, finches and buntings. Kent cob trees line a low ridge looking nothing more than a hazel hedge. Rows of strawberries plants sit on long benches beneath the pearl shade of polytunnels. New tunnels are in the process of being erected; neat lines of short steel pipes and long strips of black plastic stitch a large field and await the large metal hoops that are stacked at the field edge.
Long stock barns sit on the low ridge above the grazing marshes and the footpath runs round a field full of black-faced Suffolk ewes and then down to the narrow creek at Conyer. Curlews, pigeons and crows feed in the emerging winter wheat and dark fallows and wheel away on approach. Starlings and more winter thrushes make a blustery, blue sky busy.
Flocks of shelduck, wigeon, mallard and teal ride the windswept waters of the Swale and ducks loaf on the muddy edge like idling sunbathers. Avocets form a neat line on the edge of the channel. This is an inhospitable and inaccessible wilderness of distant views of waterbirds against rich bands of sand, mud and sea.
The clouds darken the mud and turn the scene to a desperate grey of deserted coast. The smooth green hump of a capped landfill, slender smoke stacks and shiny shoe-box factories to the north of Sittingbourne are just an hour’s walk from the pretty quay at Conyer. The Swale estuary is a place of stark beauty and uncomfortable contrasts.