The route passes the Thames Barrier. Photo: Phil Cooper/flowndrones.co.uk

The route passes the Thames Barrier. Photo: Phil Cooper/flowndrones.co.uk

Walkers can now traverse the full length of the River Thames, after the opening of a new stretch of the England Coast Path.

The new section, almost 50 miles in length, stretches from the village of Grain in Kent to Woolwich on the South Bank.

The path creates a walkers’ route from the Thames Estuary to central London for the first time.

It is the latest stretch of the coastal path to be opened, and connects with the existing Thames Path national trail, enabling a sea-to-source route of 374km (232 miles) from the river’s meeting with the North Sea to its beginnings in the Cotswolds, via central London.

Natural England, which is responsible for the establishment of the England Coast Path, said the Grain to Woolwich section will enable London and Kent residents and visitors to connect with nature and for health and wellbeing.

It said the varied 76km (47-mile) trail follows a route from the north Kent coast, along the wild reaches of the Thames Estuary which supports a wealth of wildlife, and beside the dynamic working tidal Thames in London. The path opened on Wednesday.

Marian Spain, Natural England chief executive, said: “The 2,700-mile-long England Coast Path will be the longest coastal walking route in the world as well as England’s newest national trail.

“It follows the whole coast, passing through some of our finest coast and countryside as well as iconic seaside towns and places of marine industry, past and present.

The path passes through a variety of landscapes. Photo: Ian Tokelove/remotelondon.com

The path passes through a variety of landscapes. Photo: Ian Tokelove/remotelondon.com

“At a time when the benefits of connecting with nature are clearer than ever, it’s fabulous that we are opening up this 47-mile-long section of footpath from the capital to the Kent coast. Easily walkable in all weathers and readily accessible by public transport, it is a wonderful new recreational resource for the hundreds of thousands of people who live nearby, as well as a tourist attraction for those who will come from around the world to walk the whole path.”

A Natural England spokesperson said: “This new trail covers a wealth of unique environments. As you set off from Grain on the Hoo Peninsula, you can enjoy views across to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey, to Southend-on-Sea, and the confluence of the Medway and Thames.

“Surprisingly so close to such an urban area are some of the remotest grazing marshes in the South-East. Between Allhallows and Cliffe in Kent, you can walk more than 12 miles (nearly 20km) without passing another coastal village or car park.

“There are some gorgeous little pocket beaches and extensive mudflats full of wintering wading birds. Along the river, you may also see the occasional grey seal hauled up on one of the many small beaches.

“In the Thames Estuary, the largest in England, the creeks, extensive mudflats, saltmarsh and grazing marshes support a wealth of wildlife of national and international importance. During the winter months, you’ll see flocks of waterbirds such as avocet, knot and dunlin and the nature reserve at Cliffe Pools in Kent is a popular spot for birdwatching.

“The Thames Estuary also has a long and rich military and industrial history. You can see forts such as Shornemead, near Gravesend, which were installed to protect London in the 1860s.

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Photo: Phil Cooper/flowndrones.co.uk

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Photo: Phil Cooper/flowndrones.co.uk

“You pass under the largest pylon in the UK and can look up at the impressive Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which is the busiest estuarial crossing in Europe.”

The Westminster government’s advisory body for the outdoors said a new section of the path will also take visitors through the recently designated site of special scientific interest at Swanscombe Peninsula, where an industrial history has resulted in habitats that provide ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife.

The spokesperson said: “As you walk beside the Thames, the busiest working port in the UK, the boat traffic provides a fascinating view into this dynamic working river. There are many independently run wharves handling goods arriving by large maritime vessels.

“As you arrive in Woolwich, with great views of London’s skyline, the England Coast Path meets the existing Thames Path National Trail. You pass the impressive Thames Barrier, which protects London from flooding, and can walk along the Thames to its source in the Cotswolds. This new stretch of the England Coast Path completes a ‘source to sea’ walking route along the country’s most famous river.”

Natural England said it has worked with several partners to develop the trail, in particular four access authorities: Kent County Council, Medway Council, London Borough of Bexley and Royal Borough of Greenwich, who worked on this project from the start and will be taking on management of the path now it is open.

The new trail connects with the Thames Path in London. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The new trail connects with the Thames Path in London. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 places a duty on the secretary of state and Natural England to secure a long-distance walking trail around the open coast of England, along with public access rights to a wider area of land along the way for people to enjoy. Natural England is working on the entire coastal route.

The government body said, as well as new sections of trail, there are improvements to existing access along the coastline to identify a clear and continuous waymarked walking route along this part of the coast, bringing some sections of the existing coastal footpath closer to the sea and linking some places together for the first time.

There is also provision to allow the route to ‘roll back’ if the coastline erodes, shifts or slips, solving the long-standing difficulties of maintaining a continuous route along the coast.

The new stretch can be accessed via public transport. There are numerous train stations along the route including Woolwich Arsenal, Erith, Slade Green, Greenhithe and Gravesend. Public buses connect the villages of Grain and Allhallows with Rochester and the Thames Clipper offers a daily service between Woolwich Royal Arsenal and central London.

Kent has 106km (66 miles) of England Coast Path already open to the public between Camber to Ramsgate. Kent County Council and Medway Council are currently preparing sections of the trail to open this year, including the trail between Whitstable and Swale rail station and around parts of the Medway Estuary.

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