Just to the north-east of Whitstable and separated from mainland by a narrow channel called The Swale, the Isle of Sheppey is largely made up of flat marshland grazed by numerous sheep, in fact it was the sheep who bequeathed the name of the island, which comes from the ancient Saxon “Sceapige” or “isle of sheep”. Viking invaders set up camp here in 855, when the island was part of the Kingdom of Wessex.
The principal town on the island is Sheerness-on-Sea, at the north-west tip of the island. The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys, who we last encountered on a bender in Deal (see 22 June post) founded the Royal Navy Dockyard here, declaring that “a very proper place it is for the purpose”. This had the potential to become one of the most important naval bases in the country were it not for flooding during construction. However, the site continued to be used by the Navy until 1960, and it is still an important port, dealing especially with fresh produce, new vehicles and forest products.
Other settlements on the island include Leysdown-On-Sea, which is a popular spot for viewing both the shipping in the Thames estuary and the birdlife of the nearby Swale National Nature Reserve, and Minster, a village which includes the 7th-century church of St Mary and St Sexburga, one of the oldest places of worship in England. The beach between these two places is important for its fossils, which include giant sharks’ teeth. Another point of interest on the island is Elmley Marshes, another nature reserve, owned by the RSPB.
Map of the area.
photo © 2011 John Turner | more info (via: Wylio)