It was a cold, blustery Wednesday when we decided to revisit Tilbury Fort. Years ago we lived in the area and whenever we visit my Dad’s grave which is nearby, we always walk to a hill with a view that stretches out as far as Tilbury, and point out our old flats.
Tilbury Fort is most known for its historical significance – but when I think about it, I just remember walking along the shore with my Dad, beach-combing for sparkly beads and long-lost marbles.
As the taxi crunched to a stop on the gravel I surveyed my surroundings. At first, walking in to Tilbury Fort was like trying to recall a half-forgotten dream – blurry around the edges. My brain scrambled to try and fit all the puzzle pieces together but it often came up short – some things, like the big courtyard with the canons – were things that I did not remember at all.
We walked along the sea wall, looking out across the murky Thames Estuary, sparking half-buried memories. I recalled hot Summer days, kicking up dust as my Dad and I walked along that wall from Tilbury Fort to Coalhouse Fort, probably talking about everything and nothing; one of his weird and wonderful tales most likely.
I thought about us down by the shore, necks craned and eyes keenly scanning the rocks and mud for a glint of ‘treasure’. He always found the poison bottles and the ceramic doll parts. I was happy just to find the corner of something shiny peeking out from the ground.
Across from the river is Gravesend. I recalled us making the journey to Tilbury Riverside to take the small ferry across. Dad used to stand up on the ferry railings and pretend to ‘rock’ the boat as it rolled over the waves. I remembered the uncomfortable orange plastic seats too.
Eventually the wall gave way to marshland. There used to be a pathway you could walk along that took you all the way up to Coalhouse Fort – a pathway we trod previously hundreds of times. But now the path is crumbling, a sign told us not to attempt it. We walked just a short way down. Just enough that I could find my feet on jagged rocks on the marsh, and watch the river gently ebb and flow.
When we could go no further we turned back, retracing our steps once more. I listened to the robins click and thought about days gone by.
After our trip to the Fort we had planned to visit my Dad’s grave so we made our way through Tilbury to a bus stop that would take us all the way up to Chadwell St Mary. I was saddened to see so many of the old shops boarded up like a ghost town.
At the cemetery it felt like Autumn; the pathways were lined with crunchy leaves that rolled in the breeze, a lone parakeet squawked from high up. As ridiculous as it may sound I felt happy that my Dad was laid to rest in such a peaceful place with so many trees and birds- almost as if he could experience the seasons as they passed with us.
Although he is gone, he is never forgotten.