Coast,  East of England,  England

Why Tilbury Fort is a true hidden gem that you must see

If you know anything about Essex, I’m sure when you see or hear the word Tilbury, your heart doesn’t exactly leap in excitement. Today, it’s a fairly bleak industrial town, famous for its docks, now decommissioned power station, and giant Amazon warehouse, but it’s a town steeped in history. Tilbury is the site of Queen Elizabeth’s famous speech to her troops in preparation for the Spanish Armada; it was the home of Daniel Defoe for a short time; it was stopping point for The Empire Windrush in 1948. And as a remnant of its fairly surprising history, Tilbury Fort is open to the public, so I took Ted for a day out.

Despite it being a fort, I wasn’t quite expecting what I saw. The entrance is through a grand archway, where we ended up standing in a large courtyard that reeked (not literally) of naval military history: old cannons lined the edges. As it’s an English Heritage site, I paid my fare, declined a membership, and we legally made our way into the fort.

It was an incredibly warm day, and I was worried about Ted burning his little paws, so I tried to keep to the grassy verges around the perimeter of the fort. We only walked up one verge before we had to stop for a quick water break, which I didn’t mind as it meant I got to bask in the sunshine, and take cute photos of Ted.

Eventually, we started to explore the area, and I realised that the fort is a place of two extremes: the browns and greys of the military buildings, and the greens of the fields to the north. What also struck me was its size. How could I have lived half my life only a town over, and never known that the fort was there, let alone how big it is?

We tried to explore all the nooks and crannies of Tilbury fort, especially the slightly claustrophobic ammunition stores. In all honesty, it was stressful – I was half expecting something to jump out at us from one of the side rooms, and I was trying to stop Ted from eating literally every smidgen of dust from the floor. In a matter of time, we were back in the courtyard, searching for a place to sit for more water.

Hidden away within some of the red brick buildings is a collection of information boards that describe the fort’s history from Henry VIII through to World War Two. Spending some time in there kept us out the sun for a while, and was educational. Ted also seemed to enjoy inspecting the shells they had on display while I was reading.

Having spent a couple of hours immersing ourselves in the local history, we climbed up the steps to the right of the entrance to catch a glimpse of the estuary wall and of Gravesend, another important dock in English history, in the distance. There (although you can’t see it) are the ruins of another of Henry VIII’s forts, a complete 18th Century fort, and the resting place of Native American Pocahontas. Who knew that Essex and Kent could be this interesting?

Related: How to explore the Thames Estuary like a local

If you are local to Tilbury and haven’t yet seen what the town really has to offer, make the trip to Tilbury Fort one afternoon. I think, like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


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