After winding through the heart of Kent, the River Medway becomes a tidal river below Allington Lock and enters the Medway Council area at Halling. It continues to widen as it meanders through its flood plain, reaching the urban areas of Medway, Rochester, Strood, Chatham and Gillingham.
Rochester has had a bridge crossing of the Medway since Roman times, beyond the road and rail bridges the Medway, now a busy river with commercial shipping, takes two sharp turns to reach Chatham.
Chatham, still with a lot of evidence of its military and naval past, boasts a town centre shopping mall at the Pentagon. The Royal Naval Dockyard on the east bank is a World Heritage Site and extends towards St Mary’s Island on the last sharp bend of the river. Once part of the dockyard, St Mary’s Island is being developed for housing; beyond this point the Medway widens out into its estuary.
On the southern bank lies Gillingham, with the riverside leisure site of The Strand and further east, Riverside Country Park, a popular point for people to enjoy a stroll along the riverbank. On the northern bank of the estuary, the shore of the Hoo Peninsula hosts many marinas and boat yards as far as the Kingsnorth power generation complex. The Isle of Grain completes the northern shore of the estuary with, at its mouth, another industrial site and Thamesport.
Where the Medway meets the Greater Thames Estuary the width narrows with the Isle of Grain facing the Isle of Sheppey on the southern side. The stretch of water that divides the Isle of Sheppey from the mainland is known as the Swale and runs from the southern side of the Medway Estuary to the North Sea at Seasalter. The Kingsferry road and rail bridge, the only link from Sheppey to the mainland, crosses the Swale. The Sheppey bank of the Swale is open country with agricultural land; on the mainland side however; industrial sites around the Sittingbourne area break up the open grazing marshes
Within the estuary is a deep-water channel for shipping, many pleasure craft use the waters too. Islands are scattered throughout the estuary, once used for defence and industrial purposes these are now becoming saltmarsh a habitat containing unusual plants that thrive in salty waters. Saltmarshes occur in places along the shores of the estuary, providing a haven for wildlife, whilst on the landward side traditional coastal grazing marshes, created by generations of farmers still exist in some places.
In front of the saltmarshes, vast areas of intertidal mudflats appear as the waters ebb. These apparently dull stretches of mud are rich in animal life that lives within the mud; the creatures providing food for birds, fish and humans; the latter having taken oyster and other shellfish from the estuary for centuries.
The Medway river estuary has provided a living for man and other animals for at least 2000 years, giving both shelter and food.