Thames Estuary sound map

Some recordings made along the Kent and Essex sides of the Thames estuary. Here are the sounds of marshland, industry, the river itself, and the jewels of the Thames Riviera: Gravesend, Southend and Canvey Island.

The churchyard of St Clements dominated by industrial sounds A gas freighter is loaded at a jetty near Purfleet On the expanse of the Maplin Sands at low tide A cuckoo and other birdsong at Cupid's Corner Aboard Southend pier's narrow-gauge railway Waves splash the struts beneath Southend pier Waves on the beach at Sheerness At a bowling alley in Sheerness Frogs and other wildlife among the Allhallows Marshes At the mouth of the Yantlet Creek Voices and birdsong outside the British Pilot pub At a lawn bowls club in Southend Birdsong and the chatter of a brook in Belfairs Woods Caribbean worshippers sing at an outdoor service An eerie-sounding siren test at Coryton oil refinery By the shore on the Isle of Grain Industrial estate with crickets Voices in Gravesend town centre on a Saturday Crossing the Thames on the Tilbury ferry Beneath an abandoned pier at Greenhithe Inside Bluewater shopping centre Clay pigeon shooting on the Dartford marshes

'CITY AIR MAKES you free after a year and a day' runs an old German saying. But it can feel like there's more freedom to be found along the Thames estuary than in London. The skies are open and people are usually more approachable. The river fills out and grows independent after its buttoned-up adolescence between the city's embankments.

The Kent and Essex sides of the estuary have been among my favourite places to visit for the last fifteen years or so. Here are some recordings from the clay-pigeon ranges of Dartford in the west to the empty expanse of the Maplin Sands in the east. All this will change if plans go ahead to build an airport at the estuary's mouth.

  Thames Estuary photos

Top row, left to right: the Dartford River Crossing; lyrics from The Jam's Saturday's Kids as grafitti at Tilbury; decaying barge stranded on the Kent shore. Bottom row: detail from the Hoo Peninsula; electricity pylon at Greenhithe, one of the two tallest in Britain; crack in the wall near Canvey Island.

TWO YEARS BEFORE Bill Fontana's well-publicised River Soundings show at Somerset House was Soundings from the Estuary, a more intimate depiction of the Kent side by sound artist Dave Lawrence, writer Germander Speedwell and photographer Frank Watson. You can hear four of Dave's compositions inspired by the Isle of Grain on his website here.

The southern shores of the estuary also star in the 1952 British film noir The Long Memory, set in Gravesend and the marshes to its east. John Mills plays an ex-con trying to lead a quiet life with a draughty old barge as his home. Of course, the past won't leave him alone.

Julien Temple's recent documentary Oil City Confidential is about the pub rock band Dr Feelgood. The film pays nearly as much attention to the band's spawning ground of Canvey Island as it does to the band itself.