170. The Broomway and Foulness Island

May 2014

Foulness Island is one of the trickiest parts of the UK coast to reach. As the name suggests, it’s an island though only a tidal one (meaning you can walk to it at low tide). The primary problem that makes access difficult however is that most of the island is part of a military artillery range and hence public access is severely restricted. Despite this part of the island is outside of the control of the military and still public land on which around 150 people live. The people that live on the island are issued with permits that entitle them to drive over the bridge that links Foulness to the mainland (walking is never permitted). However those that don’t live there have no such privilege and so access for them is much harder.

The public are not generally permitted to drive over the bridge to the island. Which leaves only one other option to reach Foulness – The Broomway.

I mentioned this in my previous post but the Broomway is a public right of way across Maplin Sands to Foulness Island and is officially the only means by which the public can reach the island.

The Broomway is an ancient path over Maplin Sands, which is only passable at low tide. It runs for more than 5 miles parallel with the coast, but around 400 metres out on the sands. The route was originally marked with sticks of broom sunk into the sand to mark the safe route, which is how it acquired it’s name. However with the opening of the bridge few used the Broomway and so it is no longer marked, other than a track on the Ordnance Survey map which has the warning “Public rights of way across Maplin Sands are dangerous, seek local guidance”.

The dangers of the path are several. The first and most serious is the tide. The tide goes out more than 2 miles here, revealing a huge area of sand (Maplin Sands) at low tide. But when the tide comes in it comes in fast (I believe at times faster than a human can run) which means it is very easy to get cut off by the tide. In addition the wind can mean the tide comes in quicker and might be higher than was forecast. The second hazard are rivers. The rivers Crouch, Roach and Thames are on 3 sides of the island. As the tide comes in these rivers can fill more quickly than the sands, causing you to be cut off by the rivers and channels that feed them. Whirpools can also form because of the currents from the rivers.

The third hazard is the firing range itself. When in use access along the Broomway and the paths that approach it is not permitted. Even when not in use, the artillery that is tested on the island is fired out into the Thames estuary. It can form craters when it explodes. These craters can be filled in as the tide comes in by only soft sand washed into the whole, forming sinking sands which are not obvious to the eye. It’s not just sinking sand from artillery either. The sands have gloopy black mud beneath them which also means that there are natural areas of sinking sand, too. The Broomway is over firmer sand (though no one really seems to know why it is firmer) but it is easy to stray off the path (it is not marked) into the areas of mud.

The final hazard is the mist which can form in this wet low-lying area. This reduces visibility to just a few feet at times and means it’s incredibly easy to get disoriented and wander off the path into the various other dangerous.

So whilst I wanted to access Foulness it was clear it would not be easy. At the time I walked this stretch of the Essex coast I decided it would be too difficult. But a few years ago I decided I wanted to try to visit.

One way that it used to be possible to visit the island was to ring up the landlord of the sole remaining pub on the island, the George and Dragon and say that you wanted to visit for a meal or drink. This meant you had legitimate business on the island and so the landlord could (if so inclined, which I gather was not always the case) contact the ministry of defence (or rather QinetiQ, the private part of it) and arrange for you to be given a temporary permit to drive out to the island and the pub. Though strictly this did not entitle you to go anywhere but the pub in practice you cannot be prevented from following the rights of way (over which the public has a legal right). However the pub closed in 2007 so that is no longer an option.

Another option is that in recent years, as a result of increased interest in the island, a heritage centre has opened on the island, in the former school building. Access to the heritage centre on the island is permitted by the public on the first Sunday of the month only, between 12pm and 4pm and only in April to October inclusive, the centre is closed in winter. When the centre is open the public can gain access to and drive along the road that links the island to the mainland from 11:45am provided they state they wish to visit the heritage centre on one of the open days. If you are permitted access you can drive over to the island (but are not permitted to stop on the way) where there is free parking but (at least in theory) the access only allows you to access the heritage centre. In practice though the leaflet does suggest it is possible to walk the rights of way on the island, too.

However I wanted to walk the Broomway. Doing so alone is tricky and possibly dangerous (the path is apparently known locally as the “Doomway” due to the number of lives it has claimed). With all the hazards I did not want to risk walking there and back on the same tide. That would mean around a 12 hour stay on the island between tides which meant it was only really viable in high summer (I would not want to walk one way in the dark). There are limited facilities on the island (I think one shop, with limited opening hours) so I’d need to carry plenty to eat and drink too. It also carries with it risk in that if the tide in the evening is higher or the weather changes it might not be safe to return on the Broomway and there is nowhere to stay on the island.

The other option is to walk one way and return by bus. Surprisingly, there is a service to the island, however only 2 busses a day run on weekdays though 4 each way on Saturdays. However to use the bus service to/from Foulness Island you must have an MOD permit. I did wonder if this restriction would be enforced if you were leaving the island, but I didn’t want to risk it. If you want to follow this route independently (which I do not recommend) and at your own risk you can download a GPS track log of the walk (which I provided) here.

There was one other option. A chap called Brian Dawson runs (or at least, ran) guided walks over to the Broomway, with the return by coach (which he somehow manages to organise with the MOD), which allows time on the island to explore. This is under the name Nature Breaks, though sadly the website (http://www.wildlifetrips.org.uk/) has ceased working as of a few days ago (because the domain has expired and not been renewed). Brian also organised some trips by boat to the island and exploring the creeks and rivers around the island and the wildlife that can be seen there.

Despite the broken website I believe the organisation is still running and it’s just the website that is down. Sadly though all the rest of the Broomway walks for 2017 have been cancelled owing to “Unusual activity by the MOD”. However you could try calling the previously listed number : 01268 491540 and see if any more trips are running or if it is possible to book for 2018 (I believe the trips sell out a long way in advance).

This is the option I chose because whilst I generally prefer to avoid organised walks, this seemed the only safe and viable option to reach the island. As you have probably gathered by now I did reach the island and make it safely back. No one exploded or drowned either.

I rang the telephone number on the Nature Breaks website (not currently available) to book a trip and Brian answered. Here I managed to book trips on one of Brians’ walks out to the Broomway in May along with a friend of mine. He ran through what we would need to bring (wellies, sunscreen, etc) and took my name and telephone number to supply to “The Ministry” as he called it, presumably for the return coach trip.

Brian is frankly a brave man. Would you want to risk taking around 30 members of the public out to an area of sinking sand and subject to the tides (where they might wander off, or not follow advice) and where the authorities make clear they’d really rather no one went? Well Brian does and I’m very glad that he does so.

A week or so later, having sent a cheque to Brian a leaflet, map and details of the walk arrived in the post. The walk was around 3 months time, so I filed it away and made a note on my calendar. Spring forward 3 months and it was time for the walk. I was looking forward to it. I was fortunate that the weather for the day was just perfect, low 20s, no wind and clear sunshine for the entire day. In short, a perfect spring day. I had to make an early start though.

I had booked to join the coach at Laindon, the most westerly point it served which I think is also close to where Brian lives, which I’m sure is no coincidence. It left at 8am. Living
pretty much the exact opposite side of London, I had to travel half way round the M25 and a few miles along the A127 to get there. A check on the AA website suggested the journey would take around 90 minutes. I set off and had a fairly good journey until around the A1 junction where there were miles of roadworks and the dreaded 50mph average speed cameras which stretched for many miles. After that I made good progress
to the A127 junction and joined this heading for Southend. I was surprised just how busy the road was. It was 7:30am on a Sunday and I hadn’t expected this much traffic. I was in the left hand lane and not long before my junction, all I saw ahead was brake lights and the traffic soon came to a halt, just creeping forward now and again. I was tempted to get back into the right hand lane, but finding a large enough gap that wasn’t already taken was
hard, with the speed difference between the lanes around 60mph.

The traffic continued stop-start all the way to my sliproad and I saw then that the traffic on the sliproad was also queuing. I didn’t know the exact route and was not using a satnav so I guessed (correctly) at the correct lane to be in for the roundabout and mercifully the traffic was then  clear once I got off the roundabout (I think it might have been a car boot sale close by). The coach was due to be leave Laindon in less than 10 minutes. Thankfully I managed to find the correct route to the Laindon Community Centre, where I was due to join the coach, without taking a wrong turning and pulled into the car park, relieved to see a mini coach parked there. My car clock said it was 7:58 so I had made it with 2 minutes to spare!

I parked up and ran round to the coach. There I met Brian and his wife who immediately said no need to run you’re not late. Everyone but two had turned up on time.  Once we got to a few minutes past departure time Brian, tried to ring them. No answer. He decided we had to leave, so off we set. Thankfully on joining the A127 it was now clear and we headed for Southend. Brian Dawson, the guide for the day who was a lovely chap came round the coach to introduce himself and talk to the various members of his group. He showed a genuine interest for why we wanted to go to the island and seemed excited at what lay ahead. I suspect he enjoys these trips despite the obvious hassles and time he has to spend in organising them.

20 minutes later, we reached Southend, our second pick up. Here it was busy and the mini
coach was now almost full and there was plenty of chatter – the mood was good. Last stop was Great Wakering and I had expected to get off the coach here to walk through the ranges to the Broomway. But no, we continued to Landwick Gate and straight passed the barrier which was open and into the firing range. Soon we reached Wakering Stairs and there was a small parking area here. It turns out that this road is generally open to the public on Sundays and sometimes Saturday too. Rather than stop here the coach pulled up to the top of the sea wall. I almost thought we were going over, but after a quick glimpse of the Broomway, we reversed back down. I am not sure if the driver though there was more parking beyond? Or perhaps he wanted to give us (and Brian) a view of the Broomway to check conditions. Whatever he clearly though better of it. We soon parked up and got off the coach.

Brian went on a quick run through of the plan for the day and we were told to change into wellies (thankfully I had remembered to bring some). I also put on a good layer of sun cream, since the sun was strong and the weather beautiful. We were told photographs was allowed on the Broomway and rights of way but not to take photographs of the military areas we would see and pass through. Brian would be walking up front and his wife at the back and we were to keep with him at all times, because of the risk of getting stuck in the mud.

Soon wellied up, we set off along the jetty for the Broomway. A dog walker seemed surprised at our group and commented “Off on the mud are you?”.

It was not the most welcoming of paths.

The Broomway warning notice

The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

Going was initially easy over the sea-weed covered concrete jetty, but soon we were onto the mud. Brian stopped to tell us about the mud flats and plant life as well as some ancient wood just under the sands he had had carbon dated and I think he said was from the
17th Century. He pointed out the boats on the Isle of Grain and Isle of Sheppey just visible
through the haze on the other bank of the river. It looked a long way away.

The Broomway at Wakering Stairs

The previous day had also been warm, sunny and calm, probably contributing to the haze. We could see back to Southend too, some distance away.

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

Soon we continued out past the mud and onto the sand. Although not marked, I could make out the faint trace of the path over the sands. We followed Brian as he talked animatedly about the various sights. The wind turbines out to sea, the Isle of Sheppy and Grain and of course the vast mud flats and sand of the beach.

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

With the wet sand here reflecting back the blue sky you certainly feel insignificant out here and get a wonderful sense of freedom in this vast open space.

Walking the Broomway

Sadly it is not quite clear enough to see Red Sands fort of the Shivering Sands forts. These
remarkable forts, abandoned after World War II still stand, some on stitls in the sea and of course became better known as a result of the pirate radio stations that set up on them in the 1960s and 1970s.

Soon we pass the wooden marker posts that mark the route of Havengore Creek. This creek drys out at low tide and hence we can safely cross it on the sands. You can see the bridge inland.

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

The Broomway on Maplin Sands

The nearest post (above) looks like the mast of a boat that has sunk, with wood nailed onto it at right angles. The wooden posts continue out to sea and it is important not to think these are markers for the Broomway itself because they will lead you out to sea.

Further out I can make something out on the horizon. I ask Brian about this and he tells us it is the wreck of a ship that run aground out here. He said that he once walked out to it and found it in remarkably good condition and that “it only needed a good
battering to get it going”, but later goes on to say it has broken it’s back (I.E. it’s broken in two).

We continue on the sandy path which by now has become indisticnt. Brian at the front and his wife at the back with us in between. The ground underfoot feels firm though and we can soon see the numerous masts and constructions on Foulness.

Maplin Sands from the Broomway

Walking the Broomway

One is used to test airplane ejector seats, so I am told.

Brian also tells us about the security cameras on the island. He tells us that he once saw one demonstrated and was amazed to find it could be zoomed in to such detail he could read the warning notices on the firing extinguisher on a boat out in the estuary! So my suspicion on my previous tentative steps out onto the Broomway that I was likely being watched were probably true.

We run parallel for the land and soon we can see on of the low towers that looks a bit like an airport control tower. These are labelled and I think can be used to determine how far along the island you are.

Maplin Sands from Foulness Island

Soon Brian tells us we have reached the end of our journey along the Broomway and will be heading inland to Asplins Head. He warns us of the black mud and says that no
matter how bad the condition of the jetty (and it is bad), we must stick to it as if you try to go to the left of the jetty it is even worse.

Asplins Head, Foulness Island

The wellies were certainly needed, not just for the wet sand for the mud as I did sink up to my ankle at one point. Soon the jetty had become broken stone and pretty soon it becomes a propery jetty, but it is covered in green seaweed, mud and lose rocks and it is difficult to see what you are standing on – there are some big gaps between rocks.

Asplins Head

Even on the jetty there is some horrible black mud, which you sink around 1ft into. I can see footprints in it to the left of the jetty but stick to Brians advice and keep to the jetty.

Pretty soon and feeling very satisfied I am heading up onto the sea wall and onto the island
itself. We have made it and I sense everyone is feeling happy with themselves at having walked our way here along the miles of empty sand. Though the welcome is not the friendliest.

Broomway warning sign on Foulness Island

We all stop here to change from wellies back into more comfortable shoes (I change into trainers, despite instructions to bring walking boots).

The Broomway at Asplins Head on Foulness ISland

In the notes Brian sent it was said that we would be walking to the village of Churchend but in fact Brian had laid on transport for us. You can see it below.

Foulness Island

Yes, we’d be taking a tour of the island sitting on hay bails on a trailer, towed by a tractor owned by one of the farmers on the island. I am told on occasion they have used a similar contraption to take a tour of the Broomway itself and Brian says that have sometimes taken this out to Fishermans Head along the Broonway but that it is “a bit dodgy”.

It turns out there the tractor is not always available but in fact although I would like to walk some of the rights of way on the island the tractor tour works out to be a better bet. The reason is that the tractor is able to drive along the many roads and footpaths on the island, (including some that aren’t rights of way), allowing us to see pretty much every corner of the island, something that would not be the case if we were on foot due to the limited time.

There is a local guide for this part of the tour, Peter, who lives on the island and farms much of it’s land – and is also the owner of the tractor.

Path to Rugwood Head on Foulness Island

He is clearly enthusiastic for the place and likes the opportunity to tell others about it. I sense that over the years Brian has been running these tours he has become well known and liked by the people that live on Fouless.  He tells us we can take photographs when the tractor is on a public road or right of way, but should ask at other times.

We set off along the footpath for Great Burwood Farm passing the farm buildings. We then
reach the main “spine road” onto the island and head along it towards Priestwood and then turn left to reach the sea wall on the north of the island.

The tractor pulls up by the quay and we are allowed off to see the view and take photographs.

The quay on Foulness Island

The quay was historically the main route onto the island as before roads and railways the
Thames sailing barges head out out along the rivers Roach and Crouch to the various towns along the east coast. Many would deliver to or stop off at Foulness. So whilst the island is remote today, it was not always so.

Over the river we can see Wallasea Island. A look at the Ordnance Survey map of the area
shows this to be largely featureless. However we are told that the island is being converted into a wetland nature reserve, by breaching some of the sea walls and allowing the sea to flood in, and creating a series of board walks and bird hides.

Wallasea Island from Foulness ISland

Apparently the spoil from the Crossrail construction in London is also being dumped here. I have mixed feelings about this but I am aware that under some EU policy any wetland lost to development (for example ports) must be replaced elsewhere. With the new container port being developed at Coryton I suspect some marsh has been lost and is therefore being replaced here.

Foulness Island from the quay

There are clearly mixed emotions about it since our guide Peter comments that it is a “waste of prime agricultural land”. After our tour of the quay we head past Monkton Barn to the main village of the island, Churchend.

Foulness Island from the quay

Here there is the heritage centre, which is open for us and we can have lunch here.

Foulness Heritage Centre

Sadly with the pub closed, it is a picnic affair only. There are plenty of seats in the garden here and it is a beautiful day so I sit here. The heritage centre is in the old school, which is larger than I expected and despite having closed in 1988 I can still make out the feint lines of the hopscotch painted out onto the tarmac of the playground.

Brian makes us all tea (once he can get the kettle working) and we have lunch and a look around the Heritage Centre. The heritage centre has more than I expected with a large number of artefacts, an interesting display about the 1950s floods, history of the island and some beautiful photographs. Brian also shows me the line on the wall marking the height the flood water reached when the entire island flooded in the 1950s.

There are also some interesting nautical maps on the walls of this part of Essex.

After lunch Peter our guide for the island is keen to get cracking on our tractor tour of the rest of the island, and so soon we set off. It is perfect weather for it. Under the shade of the canvas roof it is warm with a gentle breeze blowing off the land and the island is, on a weekend at least, utterly peaceful.

Foulness Island

We set off along a pleasant grassy path where there are trees and we are told and old tent based camp during World War II, when the island had many military camps. We are
heading east from Churchend, the largest village on the island.

This has the island shop and post office, which is still used along with the former church and pub, both of which are now closed and the former school (now the heritage centre).

The church tower was apparently built at the request of the military to aid with navigation, as the church was originally built without it. Sadly the church has suffered from subsidence which has now cause the tower to lean slightly and as a result it too has been closed (in 2010, I believe).

The church on Foulness Island

We pass Lodge Farm and also pass over the edge of some of the fields that are now farmed by our guide, Peter. We head past New House Farm and are shown some of the former sea walls. This brings home how this number of islands at the mouth of the Thames would once have been a series of marshy lands, with parts or even all of the islands being flooded under high tides. These have become islands by the construction of sea walls, which have gradually been rolled further out to sea, to create ever increasing sized islands. Now the process seems to be gradually reversing, with nearby Wallasea Island being returned to this more natural state.

Soon we reach the most eastern place where the Broomway comes ashore, Fishermans Head. Here we get off the tractor and can explore the beach and the jetty. The change in tide since we arrived is astonishing.

Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

The sand and mud flats we were walking over earlier are now covered and the sea is lapping further up the jetty almost as we watch. The beach here is not so much a beach but masses of shells that must get washed up here.

Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

It is not just sea shells, either. Alongside the jetty are numerous ruined army shells and various other military junk just left to rust away on either side of the jetty.

Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

Warning notices forbid the removal of any of this.

Old military shells at Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

Old military shells at Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

East of here this part of the island is again “off limits” to the public, which is a shame as it would be nice to reach Foulness Point and gaze out to sea towards Belgium.

Next we head back inland to the village of Courtsend. We are told that the island did once have it’s own police force and the pubs here were notorious for bad behaviour, with this being one of the last places where bear fist fighting was carried out.

As with many other remote coastal settlements, smuggling was also a huge problem (at least if you look at it as a problem). This village is tiny but also charming with white
clapper board houses and the former pub which we pass.

Former pub at Courtsend, Foulness

Outside is still a red telephone box and I notice the telephone is still in situ. I wonder if it ever gets used now (if it even still works) and how often BT must come and empty the coins?

We now pass through the village, more a hamlet really on the narrow road and pass over Ridgemarsh and the only “hill” on the island (where the cottage is called “Hill Cottage”).

This is another area of farming. Before we reach the sea wall we turn left and pass over Nase Wick where there is a ruined farm and what is said to be the oldest house on the island. We are told it is now Grade II listed after the army wanted to knock it down. But obviously someone got as far as removing some of the roof tiles before this point. Whilst it Grade II listed it has been uninhabited for around 30 years and the neglect shows. It is difficult to see how this building will survive much longer with much of the roof missing, although the older barn nearby looks in better condition.

Oldest brick house on Foulness Island

Derelict barn on Foulness Island

We continue past another derelict farm, something that is now common on the island. Brian points out the bricks are all different, something he was telling us about on the Broomway. The marshes on both the Essex and Kent side had the kind of mud that is good for making bricks. Hence many bricks were made nearby and shipped out by sea.

Sometimes these ships would run aground and the bricks would be washed up. When this happens the islanders would often take them and use them for building. Hence many of the buildings are made from different types of bricks after each ship wreck.

The island tour was excellent and I am glad that we could do it since it took in pretty much every corner of the island. Given the time we had on the island it would not have been possible to walk every path so the tractor tour means I’ve got to see pretty much everything of interest on the island in the limited time we have.

Soon we are back at the Heritage Centre for cakes and tea, which is a nice touch. We have a
bit of time before our coach is due, so I wander a little around the village and through the church yard.

It is sad to see the church is derelict but at least someone still tends to the graveyard
where the grass has been recently cut.

The pub, which closed in 2007, still looks in good condition though I’m not sure what use, if any the building is put too now.

The former George and Dragon pub, Foulness Island

Foulness Island

I noticed that the rights of way marked on the map seem to exist and look to be well signed and maintained, even though this is a remote corner of Essex.

Footpath on Foulness Island

Soon our coach arrives and our day on this unique island has come to an end. We head back along the spine Road and Brian makes a point of stopping on Havengore Bridge so we can see the height of the water.

Havengore Creek

It is almost touching the bottom of the bridge, or so it seems, and it hard to imagine that a few hours earlier we walking around half a mile out to sea here, land which is
now under many metres of water.

Soon we are off the island and back out of the gates at Great Wakering. It has been a wonderful day and I’m very grateful for the time Brian takes to show us around this unique, and beautiful corner of Essex. Suddenly it comes as a rude shock to be back in the
real world of traffic and noise as we crawl through stop-start traffic around Southend – no doubt because of so many people that have spent the day on the beach and fun parks of Southend.

Once clear of Southend the traffic clears and we are then soon back at Laindon. I thank Brian very much for his time and then set off for the 90 minute drive home. Thankfully traffic is not too bad and I make pretty good time.

This has been a wonderful and very memorable day. If you get a chance to visit this place I
strongly recommend that you do. It really is like nothing else and seems strange to be
somewhere so unique and peaceful within 50 miles of London. I hope that Brian continues to do these walks because without him very few people would be able to complete the walk.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow.

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169. Southend-on-Sea to Landwick Cottages

December 2006

This was an interesting walk along the coast from Southend eastwards taking in a military firing range and passing by the mysterious island of Foulness ending at Landwick Cottages, just outside of the firing range.

I was once again travelling from home for this walk. Unfortunately this time the London Fenchurch Street to Southend/Shoeburyness railway line was closed for engineering works with a dreaded “rail replacement bus” service instead. Happily Southend is one of only a small number of towns served by two railway lines from London, on completely different and competing routes, one from London Fenchurch Street and another from London Liverpool Street.

Therefore I opted to use this alternative service from London Liverpool Street instead. I took the train into London Waterloo, then the Waterloo and City Line to Bank and the Central Line from there to Liverpool Street. From there I took a train to Southend Victoria, (rather than Southend Central). This was operated (at the time) by a company going by the bizarre name of “One”. Not sure what it is with Essex and odd-named train companies (the other route is run by a company that calls itself “C2C”). Unsurprisingly, this stupid name was soon dropped because of confusion as to whether a train was the “11:30 One service” or the “11:31 service” (but not until most of the trains had been re-branded).

Southend Victoria is not as convenient for the coast at Southend Central so I had to walk first through the shopping area of the town in order to reach the coast. It was a lovely sunny day but as it was also the depths of winter I was doing a shorter walk than usual today due to wanting to finish before darkness as the sunset was early.

The pedestrianised area ended at the coast and I could cross on a path over the main road leading to the pier.

Southend

The pier at Southend stretches for over a mile and I could see right to the end of the pier from here.

Southend Pier

So long is the pier that a train runs the length of the pier. I considered going to the end but decided that I couldn’t spare the time (walking 2 miles there and back would take over half an hour and I’d have to wait a similar time if I opted for the train). So I decided to miss the pier out with the thought I might come back to do it another time (sadly, I haven’t done so).

I headed down onto the promenade and headed west along the promenade. This is another advantage of doing this walk in winter – the promenade is tarmac so it won’t suffer from mud, and it will be much less crowded than in the summer.

Southend

I passed Adventure Island – once again, closed. Soon I passed this and the promenade was then right beside the beach.

The beach at Southend

Southend has a nice sandy beach though the tide goes out a long way as it’s very flat. It was deserted on this winter morning.

I continued west soon reaching an attractive building, The Kursall. I headed over for a closer look. It was an amusement arcade and in fact built for that purpose, one of the very first such buildings, in 1901.

The Kursaal, Southend

I continued along the promenade soon passing the derelict remains of the old Southend Corporation Loading Pier.

Southend Corporation loading pier

This was I believe originally used for freight and fell into dis-use in the 1970s. By the time I walked here it was a derelict mess and was in fact demolished less than a year after I walked past, in 2007 so it no longer exists.

The beach east of Southend

I continued on the promenade past it soon reaching a small slipway where boats were presumably launched at high tide but today the slipway just finished on the mud flats! It is marked as “Marine Activity Centre” on the map, but there was not much activity today. A short distance beyond this I passed a restaurant built over the back of the beach, Ocean Beach. Despite the cold, there were quite a few people sitting out on the little terrace at the back.

I had now moved from the centre of Southend to an eastern suburb, Thorpe Bay. Now the sands were dotted with the odd boat, behind the beach the buildings were largely residential rather than commercial.

Thorpe Bay

There was also now a pleasant area of hard sand so I headed down onto that, rather than the promenade.

Thorpe Bay

The terrain varied between firm sand, soft sand and shells, but I still preferred it to the promenade, wanting to be nearer the sea. Sea gulls now swarmed overhead and the beach was backed by attractive beach huts and the long pier of Southend was becoming more distant.

Seagulls at Thorpe Bay

Thorpe Bay

Beach huts at Thorpe Bay

I stopped for lunch at the back of the beach here, though I ate quickly as I soon got cold when sitting still. I liked Thorpe Bay, it was peaceful, well kept and rather more peaceful than the centre of the town.

Thorpe Bay

I liked taking pictures of the various boats now marooned on the sands a long way from the sea as the tide was out. I wondered how often they were used.

The beach huts here were lovely, all painted different colours and clearly much-loved.

Beachuts at Thorpe Bay

After all the estuary walking I had done to reach Southend, I was really enjoying being back on a sandy beach, at last. Wooden groynes however made it a bit more difficult to walk along the beach as I had to head up the beach at each one, to get around it.

The coast at Thorpe Bay

Beach huts at Thorpe Bay

Beach huts at Thorpe Bay

Across the estuary I could make out Grain power station on the Kent side of the estuary. It is nice to see these familiar landmarks for the last time, even if a power station is not exactly pretty.

The Thames estuary at Thorpe Bay

Container ships made their way up and down the estuary.

Thorpe Bay

I soon reached another slipway, this one the Thorpe Bay Yacht Club.

Thorpe Bay

The groynes were becoming a pain now, so I retreated to the promenade.

The coast at Thorpe Bay

Soon the beach huts on the beach ended and now they were behind the promenade instead. I wouldn’t like this arrangement, with the need to get over the sea wall from the beach huts to the sea and a constant stream of people walking past, they were not very private.

Out to sea there were some people kite surfing on the sea though some had stopped on mud flats way out in the estuary.

The Thames estuary at Shoeburyness

Rain was now starting on the other side of the estuary, as the power station at Grain disappeared into the clouds, but thankfully it stayed dry on this side.

I had now reached Shoebury common and at a large slipway ahead access along the coast was prevented. Ahead was Shoreburyness Artillery Range. Here there was a fence and warning notices preventing further access along the coast. I believe the firing range has since closed (in fact I think it had when I walked here) and is gradually being re-developed and with a new path opened through to Shoeburyness. That hadn’t happened when I did this walk though, so I had to head inland along the road now.

There was  a pavement with houses on the left. I soon reached a small church and just ahead the end of the A13, the main road from London. Here I could turn right along Campfield Road. It was an odd sort of place as the old garrison site was being turned into new housing. I turned right on the first road I came to, but it was not yet complete as I came to a roundabout with nothing on the road ahead, a road not built to the right and another on the left. So I turned left and followed New Garrison Road and later Chapel Road through the old Garrison site, that had been sensitively re-developed to the point I suspect little looked different from the outside from when it had been used as a Garrison.

Old Shoeburyness Garrisson

I soon passed some buildings on the left that looked like they might have once been a railway depot, but looked disused now.

Shoeburyness

At the end I came to the shore once more, beside some rather ugly new flats. They were wood-clad but already the wood was discolouring.

The coast at Shoeburyness

It was nice to be back on the shore and I turned left soon with the beach just backed by (eroding) grass which seemed to be used as a recreation ground.

The beach at Shoeburyness

I walked along the edge of this grassed area past numerous benches and in places dunes were forming in front of the grass. It was nice to be back on a more natural stretch of coastline.

The beach at Shoeburyness

This doesn’t last long however. Soon the beach comes to an abrupt end. Chain link fences prevent further access along the grass and a huge long boom runs for almost a mile out to sea. I’ve reached the Shoeburyness New Ranges, another military firing range where access is not permitted. So here I have to turn left along a byway to a road, passing through a small car park and then crossing a railway line. I then took the first road on the right, Peel Avenue. This is a curious road. Concrete rather than tarmac, it has houses on one side a small area of grass on the other and beyond it a chain-link fence that separates it from the firing range.

Signs attached to the fence warn that the firing range is subject to the Official Secrets Act, photography is not permitted and bringing cameras into the site is also not permitted (I wonder how that works now mobile phones all have cameras?).

Broomway

Fortunately I’m outside the range, which is just as well because I spot an unusual and unexpected sight.

The firing range contains numerous railway tracks (for what purpose I’m not sure). However on the tracks are numerous old trains, presumably waiting to be sent for scrap. I can see one of the old slam-door trains of what was then my local rail company, South West Trains (now South Western Railway).

Old South West Trains train

These types of trains had been running to and from London Waterloo until about a year previously (and some of these trains continued to be used on the Brockenhurst to Lymington line until 2010). I suppose if there are old sidings here not needed any more and a large number of trains coming out of service to be scrapped it makes sense that they end up being held here for a while before scrapping.

I was not sad to see them go to be honest. At the time I was working in London so had been commuting to and from London on similar trains for several years previously. Though even this train was more luxurious than the usual train from my local station. Instead we used to get a variation with more cramped 3 by 2 seating that had an external door into every single bay of seats (you can see a picture further down on this page). This meant whenever someone got on, they would inevitably bang into your knees and stand on your feet. Not only that but you’d get a blast of cold air (in the winter) and often rain blowing in as they did so. The windows were single glazed so that in winter condensation would form so you couldn’t see out, and would run down the windows onto the seats.

Then to get off, on most of the trains (though oddly, not all) the internal door controls had been plated over, so you had to slide down the window, lean out of the window and use the handle on the outside to open the door to get off. This meant that many commuters would open the doors before the train had stopped (they weren’t locked) to save time, so you had to make sure you stood back from the platform edge when waiting to get on so as not to be hit by an open door. This also meant that of course people rarely closed the windows after getting off so in winter you’d have to walk through the train to close the windows after people had got off or it would get freezing cold (and the seats damp if rain was blowing in). Youths also used to think it highly amusing to get off the train at the far end of the platform and leave the doors open, leaving the guard to walk the length of the platform to close them again before the train could depart. They were in short, horrible trains to travel on.

Having said all that it is interesting to think what with all the strikes that have hit Southern trains in the last year or two, in a dispute over the role of guards, including whether it is the guard or driver that opens the doors, that until a few years ago it was the passengers that were responsible for opening and closing the doors, not the guard or the driver!

Beyond it too I even spotted an old underground train lurking in the sidings. Clearly then this firing range was also a train graveyard.

Old London Underground train

The road soon turned left, away from the range so at the T-junction at the end of this road I turned right onto Wakering Road. I continued on this road, which had houses on the left but fields to the right. Soon the speed limit increased and the houses on the left ended, just as more houses started on the right. After about half a mile I had reached the end of this road too, so I turned right along Poynters Lane.

This was an unpleasant stretch as now there was no pavement, and the traffic came quickly, although it was not that heavy. Thankfully I soon reached the small and strangely named village of Cupids Corner. The main road I had been following turned left and I could continue on a quiet residential road passed some attractive old houses.

Cottage near Great Wakering

At the end I was once again alongside the fence of the Shoeburyness Firing Range.

Here I could turn left and follow a footpath to the left, running alongside the chain link fence. A short distance ahead there is a gate into the range. When the range is not in use (no red flags flying) the gate should be unlocked as there is a public footpath through the area. As I approached it looked like the gate was locked but as I got closer I could see it was just pushed closed and I could just push it open. The usual warning signs about entering a military firing range were present, but in addition to those there were also warnings that the site is subject to the Official Secrets Act and that it is prohibited to bring “cameras or recording equipment” into the range.

I was not clear if this applied to the public using the right of way or not, but decided to to play it safe and avoid taking any photos (or publishing them) on this firing range. After all, if it did apply to the public I was already breaking the rules by taking a camera inside and I didn’t want to make it obvious I had done so and risk having it confiscated. I think that if you keep on the public right of way there is no law against photography (despite the signs), but I did not fancy explaining that to some security guard who would likely insist I was wrong.

Ahead I crossed the railway line again. I could see many more trains “stored” on the tracks along the ranges, though the ones near the footpath were covered in graffiti – I guess this is not so secure, after all if there is a public path through! The path continued over the railway line and crossed scrubland adjacent to some fields. Clearly the area had been used for something in the past as there were the remains of buildings visible.

Whatever they were used for remains a mystery. The path soon reached the sea wall which it then followed. I felt uneasy walking through this area. I hadn’t seen anyone but the numerous warning signs made me think I was probably being watched by someone, somewhere.

After about half a mile I came to something even more unusual. At a place called Wakering Stairs is a long byway, heading out onto the mudflats and sand of Maplins Sands. It runs for around 6 miles, parallel with but around 400 metres from the shore and the Ordnance Survey map warns that “Public rights of way across Maplin Sands are dangerous, seek local guidance”. This path is called the Broomway and it has a very interesting history.

I’ve now reached almost the eastern end of the mainland coast of Essex alongside the Thames estuary. But it’s not the end of Essex or land. I’ve now reached the Essex archipelago. Bounded by the rivers Thames, Crouch and Roach at the mouth of the Thames Estuary are numerous islands. Potton Island, Rushley Island, Wallasea Island, Havengore Island, New England Island and lastly Foulness Island.

All of these islands are flat low-lying marshy islands. Havengore and New England Islands are no longer islands having been joined to Foulness by the construction of several dams. So the first island ahead, Havengore Island, is now part of Foulness Island.

The path ahead, The Broomway, was once the main access to Foulness Island as the island did not have a bridge. As the tide went out large expanses of sand and mud would be exposed and a track was marked with sticks of broom (the plant) pushed two feet into the sands (with 1ft protuding from the sands) at 30 yard intervals to mark the safest route over to Foulness which is how it came to be called the Broomway. Once alongside Foulness island 5 different paths headed left onto the island. Though ferries also linked the island at certain times, the Broomway was the only low-tide route onto the island. It is still open today with parts of it a byway, meaning it is even permitted to drive on it. It is however rumoured to be incredibly dangerous. The tide comes in incredibly fast (I believe faster than you can run at times) and as the rivers Roach and Crouch fill whirlpools can form, meaning it is very easy to get cut off by the tide or drown, particularly if the weather becomes misty.

The Broomway

No one seems quite sure if the path is entirely man-made or whether it is a natural ridge of firmer sand. It was first marked on maps dating from 1595 so it is an ancient route. It has claimed many lives over the years. It has been recorded that 66 bodies have been recovered from the sands since 1600 though it is thought around 100 have drowned in total on the path, not all recorded.

The military first became interested in the area in 1855 when Shoebury Sands, part of Maplin Sands had been used as an artillery testing site. Later than century the War Office wanted to extend this by purchasing some of the land of Foulness. They did buy some of the land but not as much as they wanted as one of the landowners, Alan Finch refused to sell. However he died in 1914 and his half-brother than agreed to sell the land a year later, in 1915. As a result the War Office (later the Ministry of Defence) owned around 2/3rd of Foulness Island. In 1922 the military constructed a road to the island, connecting it to the mainland. However the public are not permitted to use this road.  This meant that the Broomway is no longer maintained and no longer marked on the ground, because the military and residents of the island can use the bridge.

Roughly 2/3 of Foulness is still in control of the military, now under the privatised QinetiQ. Whilst they are pretty secretive about the uses, I believe it is still used for testing weapons. However the remaining area, mostly the eastern part of the island is not under military ownership and people live in the two small villages of Churchend and Courtsend. Once on the island there is a network of footpaths and bridleways including a fair amount on the coast. The residents of these villages are given permits allowing them to drive along the bridge to the island, but for everyone else the only legal way onto the island is to use the Broomway or to arrive by boat.

So history lesson over, to continue my walk, I soon reached Wakering Stairs, the start of the Broomway. Initially there was a slipway, though it was in a poor state. This soon descended onto the sand where I could see no obvious path. I walked along the slipway to the end and took a few tentative steps out onto the Broomway. I had heard that another danger is that the military often fire weapons from Foulness Island over Maplin Sands. When they explode they cause large craters that are often filled in by soft sand as the tide comes in, so if you step on one you can end up sinking right into the sand. I had no idea if the tide was coming in or going out, so I didn’t venture further out onto the Broomway as it would be too dangerous (and in any case, it would soon be dark).

I had to puzzle over whether I’d try to walk it another time and reach Foulness Island or give it up (my rules after all say that I don’t have to walk around every island). I’d like to get to the island, but I knew it would not be easy. So for now I headed back from the Broomway and back onto the footpath around the sea wall of the mainland.

I soon reached Haven Point where the path turned left to head north alongside Havengore Creek with Havengore Island, now part of Foulness, just across the creek. Ahead I could see the private Havengore Bridge. I could see the military checkpoint and barriers part way along the bridge so I knew there was no point in trying to cross. I didn’t have a permit, I would be sent back.

Soon I passed under the bridge and left the military firing range. I retrieved my camera from my bag and took a picture of the bridge in the now fading light, now I knew I was outside and allowed to take photos again.

Havengore Creek and bridge

I watched a car drive out, stop at the checkpoint, the barriers rise and the car continue. I wondered if it was a resident or the military.

My route continued alongside the creek. The tide was out so it was mostly mud with just a thin strip of water at the bottom.

Havengore Creek

I passed an area that looked as if it might have once been some sort of small harbour and then a larger area of marsh to reach the farm at Oxenham.

Havengore Creek

Havengore Creek

Here I could follow a footpath (along the farms access road) to Landwick Cottages, a small row of cottages near Great Wakering. From here, despite being just a few houses, I was pleased to find a regular bus service back to Southend, a surprise considering it was a fairly isolated place. So I took this bus back to Southend and then walked back to Southend Victoria station where I took the train back to London and onwards home.

It had been a fascinating walk. From the resort of Southend I had passed east through pretty and quieter Thorpe Bay and it was lovely to be back on sandy beaches again. After that I came to the old military town of Shoeburyness. Beyond that the military was very much still in evidence with the large firing range taking up much of the coast and land behind it. This had turned out to be more interesting than expected with path through it passing the old trains and then reaching the Broomway out to the mysteries of Foulness Island. I’ll have to decide whether to go to Foulness or not.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Arriva bus service 7 : Landwick Cottages – Great Wakering – North Shoebury – Thorpe Bay (railway station) – Southchurch – Southend-on-Sea – Prittlewell – Rochford – Hockley. Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday. It takes 35 minutes to travel between Landwick Cottages and central Southend.

On Sundays Arriva service 4A : Shoeburyness (East Beach) – Great Wakering – Southchurch – Southend-on-Sea. On Sundays it is necessary to walk to Great Wakering (around half a mile) and take the bus to Southend as no busses serve Landwick Cottages on Sundays.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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168. Benfleet to Southend-on-Sea

December 2006

After missing out the path closest to the close between Benfleet and Two Tree Island it was time to fill in the missing gap and continue onto the large resort of Southend-on-Sea near the mouth of the Thames estuary.

As on previous walks in this part of Essex, I took the train first taking a train into London Waterloo, then the Jubilee Line to West Ham and finally the C2C train to Benfleet station.

Unlike last time, today was a cloudy and overcast day though it was not that cold for December. From Benfleet station I followed the road towards Canvey Island but just before the bridge over to the island I turned left on a footpath squeezed between the railway line and Benfleet creek. Actually although a path it was more a road to start with, passing a boat yard on my right.

Benfleet Creek

Soon though I reached the end of the boat yard and the road narrowed to a track and then a path along the raised sea bank. The raised path meant that the ground was reasonably firm underfoot for winter. To my left I could look up to Hadleigh Downs but it was such a grey misty day the tops were already disappearing a bit into the mist.

Looking to Hadleigh Downs from the Thames estuary

Benfleet Creek was quiet, too. It was not long before Christmas. It felt like everyone was out doing their Christmas shopping and everywhere else was deserted.

On the other bank were wooden boat moorings, but as I headed further east, most were empty.

Two Tree Island

Although the castle is further north a sign informed me that this too was part of Hadleigh Castle Country Park but it was so dull I could barely make out the castle on top of the hill. I was glad I’d been there last time when it was clear and sunny.

The path headed around a couple of marshy areas and soon I was opposite Two Tree Island, where I had visited last time.

DSCF4195

In fact as I neared the western end of the island I realised there were actually two crossings to the island, the bridge and this ford. The ford didn’t look to hard to cross. I watched as this group made their way across with no problem and so decided to cross to Two Tree Island here, rather than walk further up to the bridge.

DSCF4203

It was easy to get across, the water channel was narrow with some stones at the bottom I could stand on, so I made it across with dry feet. The western tip of the island where I had crossed had clearly been flooded with the old sea wall breached and the island flooded, creating numerous little marsh islands in the middle.

The western tip of Two Tree Island

I headed south soon reaching the south of the island and turned left to follow it’s southern coast. This too was marshy and I could see the tower blocks of Southend in the distance.  I could also see two trees. But where they the Two Trees?

Two Tree Island

Two Trees on Two Tree Island

Soon I reached the southern end of the island where I had walked too last time. I passed the slipway where I had taken many photos last time, but it was not as pretty in the grey overcast skies. I didn’t bother to walk to the end of it this time.

Two Tree Island slipway

Passing this I was onto the south eastern corner of the island where the path I was following was a raised bank with water on my left and marshes and the Thames estuary on my right, so it was more like a causeway.

The south coast of Two Tree Island

I followed the raised bank to the eastern end of the island, where the water on my left ended and I could turn the corner to reach the eastern dry point of the island. I say dry point, because there was lots of marshes beyond the sea bank path so strictly the island extended further east, but I wasn’t going to try walking further out.

Two Tree Island

I could see Southend clearly now so I knew that much of the rest of my walk would be urban. It was misty enough that I couldn’t make out the pier, however.

Rounding the north east coast of the island I was now alongside a boat yard on the mainland across the creek.

Benfleet Creek from Two Tree Island

Before leaving the island I decided to stop at the toilet marked on the map in the car park but came across the rather dilapidated toilet. Well that is what the sign said it was, but I didn’t think it can have been used for a long time.

Toilet block, Two Tree Island

The wooden building was partly boarded up, but seemed also to have had a fire. I had to find a bush instead.

I crossed the road back off Two Tree Island having rounded the island. I realised though I never did count the trees. I’m sure there were more than two though, for one you can see one next to the old toilet above and I photographed two others earlier. So there are at least 3.

Once over and back onto the mainland I could turn right on a footpath running along the north side of the creek that separates Two Trees Island from the mainland. The water was beautifully calm but the mist seemed to be worsening to the point it was hard to make out the horizon line between the sea and the sky.

Benfleet creek

Soon I passed Leigh-on-Sea station and the large car park that serves it. The path ahead was now squeezed between the railway line and the shore again. Past the boat yard there were still fishing boats and the wooden shed had a sign that it was used by a Cockle merchant. The fishing boats were moored up today, though.

Leigh-on-Sea

A bridge passed over the path and railway line ahead to serve the various industry along the shore and it was a nice area with some pretty old clapper-board buildings mixed in with the fishing sheds and the like.

The Thames atr Leigh-on-Sea

At a little dock ahead I had to head away from the shore but onto the cobbled High Street of Leigh-on-Sea. I didn’t mind, the street was a pretty cobbled street packed with history. I was pleasantly surprised, I didn’t know much about Southend but I thought it was a fairly modern resort, so it was nice to find this historic area.

Leigh-on-Sea

Leigh-on-Sea

It was clearly the “posh” end of Southend as I passed art galleries and Chandler shops. It was an interesting street with a lot of character to it, and I enjoyed walking along it. It ended at another little dock where ahead there was a short stretch of sandy beach. I followed the promenade behind it. It was busy now, it seems Leigh-on-Sea is as far west as most people walk from Southend.

The coast at Leigh-on-Sea

The coast at Leigh-on-Sea

After a while, the beach ended and the path was squeezed in between the shore and the railway line on the left.

The coast at Leigh-on-Sea

It reminded me a little of the sea wall at Dawlish in Devon with the railway line right along the coast and the path squeezed in alongside it, though here there are ugly fences between the path and railway, unlike in Dawlish.

I hadn’t expected this either and the water seemed fairly high up the slope. It was a calm day today but I imagine in stormy weather the waves must splash over the railway here too, like they do at Dawlish?

This was not as nice an area as Dawlish though, as I was reminded when I passed a horribly vandalised shelter.

Vandalised shelter, Leigh-on-Sea

Ahead and moored up was a surprising sight, a large grey boat tide up 90-degrees to the shore. It looked like it was once a military naval boat, though it looked like it might have been turned into a house boat, now.

Old military boat at Leigh-on-Sea

Just past this house boat was an elaborate spiral path up over the railway line which would otherwise cut off this part of the coast from the town behind.

Leigh-on-Sea

Trains continued to rumble along the coastal line. Out to sea there was now some activity as numerous yachts could be seen, having a race I presume.

Yachts in the Thames Estuary at Leigh-on-Sea

I passed another small boat yard and slipway ahead and then reached Chalkwell station. Here there was another small bit of beach, more shingle than sand and the large retaining brick wall that presumably protects the station from the weather, though it was rather ugly and daubed with graffiti.

The coast at Chalkwell

Chalkwell

It felt a shame that if you commuted from here waiting on the platform you were so close to the sea, but could not see it for that wall. I suppose it stopped the platform being so called in the depths of winter, though.

My path ahead was now Chalkwell esplanade. This marked the point the railway turned a little inland so there were now houses to my left, rather than trains.

The beach at Chalkwell

They were quite grand houses, too. Chalkwell seemed to be another wealthy suburb of Southend.

All along the path now I was pssing were these emergency telephones at regular intervals.

In Emergency dial 999

But I couldn’t help but think they had a design flaw. The instructions to the left stated “Lift Handset. Dial 999”. Seems simple, until you look at the telephone and realise that it only has a 1, 2 and 3 button! Looking closer I see, written on in much smaller handwriting next to the button 1 someone had indicated this was the button to press for 999. So why don’t the instructions say “Life Handset and press 1”?! I mean in an emergency the last thing you want is confusion on how to use it or which buttons to push.

The road along the shore was getting busier too and it now felt that I was entering the resort as I passed a very grand looking shelter overlooking the sea with plam trees in front of it.

Westcliff, Southend

Past that there were some odd, temporary “tent” like shops built out of what looked like tarpaulin from the raised road above, which seemed out of place. I was now starting to pass the facilities of the resort with the West Cliff Casino ahead. I don’t think it will have Las Vegas too worried about the competition!

Westcliff, Southend

I could now see the pier, too. Southend Pier is the longest in Britain and is a little over a mile long. The town was getting busier now and I could see the Funfair ahead. On my left too were something I’d not seen for a long while – cliffs! Albeit here they were grassy cliffs, protected from the sea by the road and promenade so they were partly rock gardens now!

Southend

On my left just past this was a curious structure, the “Space Lift” apparently.

Space Lift, Southend

It was a sort of viewing tower, except that it was far too short to earn the name “tower”. I didn’t see anyone there, I’m not even sure it was open.

On my right too was Adventure Island. However the Adventure seemed to be to work out how to get inside.

Adventure Island

In the summer I expect this is packed. But today it was locked up and closed, presumably for the winter.

Southend was a strange mix. It had an air of grandeur about it with some grand buildings and elegant gardens, but it was mixed in with some really tacky buildings such as this huge arcade.

Electric Avenue, Southend

I had now passed under the approach road to the pier which oddly was not accessible directly from the promenade since the approach to it went over the Adventure Island amusement park.

I continued past numerous more arcades, one called New York, another Monte Carlo. Hmm all places rather more glamorous than Southend! Beyond the amusements though I came to the real attraction of Southend – the beach.

The beach at Southend-on-Sea

The beach at Southend-on-Sea

It was a mixture of sand and shingle, but there was sand and no mud. It was a long time since I’d been in a proper resort with a beach and cliffs, rather than mud and marsh, and it was good to feel like I was properly by the sea again.

It being almost the shortest day of the year however, the light was now fading fast. I checked the map and realised the next station near to the coast was at Shoeburyness. I wasn’t going to get that far today, so I decided to end here at Southend and returned back to the town centre in order to locate the station, Southend Central which was a few minutes walk back from the sea front. From the station I caught a train back to London and onwards home.

It had been an interesting day though it was a shame the weather was so grey and overcast. The first part was not that interesting alongside marshes along a raised sea wall, the sort of scenery I’ve been seeing a lot of on the Thames estuary. I had mixed feelings about reaching Southend. The western part of the town had been nicer than I had expected, but the centre was as brash, crowded and tacky as I had expected. I’d been here in the depths of winter though, it must be packed in summer.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

C2C trains runs regular services between Southend Central and Benfleet on the London to Shoeburyness route : London Fenchurch Street – Limehouse – West Ham – Upminster – West Horndon – Laindon – Basildon – Pitsea – Benfleet – Leigh-on-Sea – Chalkwell – Westcliff – Southend Central – Southend East – Thorpe Bay – Shoeburyness. It takes around 12 minutes between Benfleet and Southend. There are 6 trains per hour between Benfleet and Southend Central Monday – Saturday and 4 trains per hour on Sundays.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow.

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167. Canvey Island to Leigh-on-Sea

December 2006

This walk turned out to be a beautiful walk through more interesting scenery than I had expected and on a beautiful (albeit cold) winters day. Though I did deviate from the nearest coastal route (but rectified that on my next walk) to explore somewhere that looked more interesting.

I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube over to West Ham and the C2C train back to Benfleet where I had a short wait for a bus over to Canvey Island.

I returned to the same point on the sea wall where I had finished last time. I was not expecting much because from the map I could see the eastern part of Canvey Island was largely built up. I seemed to have timed it to be near high tide since the beach shown on the map was just a few large pebbles just below the sea wall.

Canvey Island

The first half mile or so was not particularly interesting following the concrete path next to the concrete sea wall. However soon I reached the south easterly corner of the island where I could look over to Southend-on-Sea ahead and it’s long pier and the south eastern corner of the island where a line of gravel seemed to have formed.

The south eastern corner of Canvey Island

Southend Pier from Canvey Island

Heading north now, the coast to my right soon began to turn to salt marsh again.

I passed a marina with boats in various states of repair and then came to another larger area of marsh ahead. This leads out to the eastern most point of the island to Canvey Point. A footpath heads right out along this and although it was a dead-end I decided it might be nice to follow it.

The junction of the path was at a slipway heading down to Smallings Creek ahead. Here I turned right on what I took to be the path at the south edge of a boat yard but then the path just seemed to end. The only way onwards was to cross the mud flats and marshy islands ahead. Clearly the path wasn’t really a footpath any longer but had been eroded away.

The east coast of Canvey Island

View towards Canvey Point, Canvey Island

Old bits of wood were poking up from the mad flats and some suspiciously straight creeks on the map suggested there had once been something here – perhaps an oyster farm or similar?

So I quickly gave up that path and returned to the main coastal path around the island, where I was now looking across Smallings Creek, another area of marsh with wooden jetties and boats moored ahead.

The path passed a boat yard of some sort, the boats in varying states of repair (or decay) and rail tracks embedded in one of the slipways suggesting it was once used by large vessels.

Canvey Island

The path took me passed a flood gate in the sea wall, this time closed. I wasn’t sure if the gates were always left like this or if there was a risk of flooding today.

I’d now reached the end of Smallings Creek and inland there was a small pond which also looked man-made. Caravans peeped over the top, though they looked more the “park home” variety than holiday ones.

Canvey Heights Country Park

Technically there is briefly no footpath here – the footpaths head much further inland but in fact there was an obvious and well-used path over the end of the creek to enter Canvey Heights Country Park. I’m not sure where the “heights” part comes into play, since it’s entirely flat but as I reached the coastal end of the park I had fine views of Southend in the distance. Well I say fine, but I could see a lot of ugly 1960s tower blocks too – it did not look like Southend was a pretty town, but I did like the contrast between the salt marsh left to nature ahead and the large town beyond it.

Marshes near Canvey Point, Canvey Island

Southend from Canvey Island

Southend from Canvey Island

I soon turned the corner to reach the north coast of Canvey Island and begin heading west again, towards Benfleet. I followed the sea wall past the area called “Newlands”. To my right was more areas of saltmarsh and to my left the caravans that I decided looked to be permanent homes rather than holiday caravans.

On the marshes a sign informed me this was “Newlands Saltmarsh” which is part of “Benfleet and Southend Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest” and was managed by “Canvey Wildfowlers Club”. These sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are “areas protected by law to conserve their wildlife or geology”. It seemed rather at odds to have such a site managed by a club whose preferred pastime is blasting wildlife with a shotgun. Thankfully the wildfowlers were not about today, so all was peaceful.

Marhes on Canvey Island

Marhes on Canvey Island

As the marsh narrowed I was surprised to see on the other side of the Benfleet Creek there were hills.  Zooming in with my camera I could even make out Hadleigh Castle, that I could see marked on the map on the other side.

Hadleigh Castle from Canvey Island

The castle looked quite interesting. Having spent so long walking around the flat marshes either side of the Thames estuary I was yearning for some hills and the views they offered. I decided that once round Canvey rather than follow the coastal route I would instead follow the path up to the castle instead and I’d come back next time to follow the more coastal route (I’m not going to cheat!)

At a place called Sunken Marsh the coast path around the island switched from being a footpath to a bridlepath for some reason. It also crossed Tewkes Creek which seemed to be routed underground under the sea wall here through sluice gates.

Tewkes Creek, Canvey Island

I could now hear and see the trains rumbling along the railway line just the other side of the Benfleet creek. On my left I was now passing a golf course, Castle Point Golf Club.

Castle Point Golf Club, Canvey Island

To my right the path was soon routed behind another boat yard of some sort, separated from the path by an ugly metal fence.

Marina on Canvey Island

On reaching the end of the fence I’d also completed my walk around Canvey Island as I was now back at the B1014 bridge leading over to the island with the flood barrier to my right – though it was open.

The flood barrier on Benfleet Creek

Here I turned right on reaching the mainland and soon found the footpath crossed the railway line and I could then follow the bridleway over Benfleet Downs. I hadn’t expected this, proper hills in Essex!

Hadleigh Country Park

I soon found a path heading higher up though the views back where hazy because the sun was getting low. However the view ahead was lovely – the rolling hills of Benfleet Downs, with the flat salt marshes to it’s right leading down to the Thames and Benfleet creek.

Benfleet Downs

Benfleet Downs

It was lovely and the path was easy too having been properly surfaced meaning it was not the mud bath I feared it might be given it is a bridlepath and it’s winter.

Benfleet Downs

Soon I had the ruins of the castle (Hadleigh Castle) just to my left.

The ruins of Hadleigh Castle

They were much more impressive than I had expected. So although slightly off the path I was following I headed up for a closer look. I was pleased to find that the sight was owned by English Heritage but there was free access to walk around the castle, rather than an admission charge.

In the now low sun it was particularly beautiful with the yellow light catching the ancient stones of the castle.

The ruins of Hadleigh Castle

The ruined tower of Hadleigh Castle

I remember when the 2012 Olympics were being planned. I think the mountain biking was originally pencilled in for somewhere in Surrey but was changed to the area around Hadleigh Castle. I remember thinking at the time, now that I had been to the area, it was a brilliant idea. You might not associate Essex with mountains but these gently rolling hills were in a beautiful location close to London, with good transport links and high enough to make a good course. Yes it made a lot of sense (and it worked very well).

Benfleet Downs

I very much enjoyed exploring the ruins of the castle and was pleased I had decided to come this way. Oddly the round tower was still standing but around 1/3 of the wall was missing.

The ruined tower of Hadleigh Castle

I wondered why this was, but I found an information board that explained that in 1551 Edward VI sold the castle with the castle to be demolished and the stone to be used elsewhere. I guess the demolition was never finished, hence the ruins that exist now.

It was a lovely location and I could get the hoped-for views over the Thames estuary with the flat marshes below me, then the Thames and the shore of Kent just visible in the distance.

View from Hadleigh Castle

There were a lot of people about and it is clearly a much-loved place for the locals to visit too. The path (now the Saffron Trail) headed east over the ridge of the chalky downs. It was a little like the path over the top of the Malverns but in miniature!

Path east from Hadleigh Castle

It was a nice easy path and beautiful, too. It had been an eye-opener to me this walk I had not expected to find such lovely scenery along the built up Thames estuary.

Hadleigh Castle

This path was now getting quite muddy. No longer a bridlepath it was now a footpath though the numerous trails from bicycle wheels suggested it was still well used by cyclists, despite this.

Hadleigh Castle

So I had to slip and slide my way down a bit to head down the hill. A road continue ahead through the woodland of Belton Hills to reach Leigh-on-Sea station.

The sun was just setting so I could see the red glow of the setting sun over the buildings of Leigh-on-Sea ahead.

Sunset at Leigh-on-Sea

It was such a lovely evening I decided that rather than take the train straight back, I’d explore a little further. Just south of Leigh-on-Sea station there is another little creek that has created another island, Two Tree Island. Though it’s not a true island in that it’s now linked by a road.

So I headed along the footpath at the north edge of the creek to the bridge and crossed over to Two Tree Island.

Leigh-on-Sea

Sunset at Leigh-on-Sea

It was getting dark now so I would not have time to explore all the island (it is a nature reserve with numerous paths) but I did follow the road to it’s end at the south of the island where I stopped to take many photos of the beautiful views at dusk.

I was really pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was albeit I was also very lucky with the beautiful weather conditions and light.

Two Tree Island

Sunet at Benfleet Creek

Sunset at Benfleet Creek

In fact the road didn’t quite end at the southern end of the island, it continued as a slipway further out into the creek with the marshes at the north east of Canvey Island a couple of hundred metres away. I walked to the end of it and looking over to Canvey I’d walked about 7 miles since then – to end up so close to where I had been a few hours earlier!

Sunset at Benfleet Creek

Sunset at Benfleet Creek

Sunset at Benfleet Creek

Sunset at Benfleet Creek

As the sun got lower I had to end my photography session and head back to the station as I didn’t want to walk the road back to the station in the pitch black since although it wasn’t busy it didn’t have a pavement and I didn’t have a torch, so would not be so visible to traffic.

I made it to the station safely and did not have to wait long for a train into London and onwards home.

This had turned out to be a lovely walk, really enjoyable, and far more interesting and scenic than I could have imagined. I was really impressed by how varied the scenery was too, I had not expected to find lovely areas of downland and the interesting ruined castle at Hadleigh albeit I’d diverted slightly from the true closest route to the coast in order to see them – but I was glad that I had done so (and I returned to walk the path closest to the coast next time).

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Essex bus route 21 : Southend – Westcliff – Leigh-on-Sea – Hadleigh – South Benfleet – Benfleet Station – Canvey Village – Canvey (Newlands Creek). Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 45 minutes to get back to Canvey Island however. You could instead travel by train between Leigh-on-Sea and Benfleet station and then take a bus from there to Canvey which might work out faster.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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166. Pitsea to Canvey Island

December 2006

On this walk I followed the marshes eastwards from Pitsea, alongside the railway line to Benfleet and crossed onto Canvey Island the first island I’ve encountered in Essex (but certainly not the last) and ended with lovely views of the Thames estuary at sunset.

For this walk I took the train, taking a train into London Waterloo, the tube to West Ham and then another train from there to Pitsea. As it was early December and so close to the shortest day, this was not an especially long walk.

From Pitsea station I followed the station access road and turned right to follow the road which soon crosses another part of the railway line (two routes converge at Pitsea). Once over this and immediately to the right there is supposed to be a footpath. But I can’t see it, so I continued on the pavement beside a residential road.

After a while there are houses on the right and then the road I’m following turns left – away from the railway line. I realise I’ve already gone wrong, and retracing my steps back to the first house on the right I find the footpath I’ve been trying to follow which runs behind the backs of the gardens of these houses and emerges into a field with the railway line on my right.

It’s nice to be out in the open countryside now, having left Pitsea behind. Trains pass regularly on the railway line to my right, on their way to and from Southend. Over to the left I’m surprised to see a most unusual of Essex features – a hill! On the top the map shows there is a crematorium and the remains of some ancient moat. I can’t really see much of it from here, but it all seems a bit odd.

Bowers Gifford Cemetery

To my left the field is almost uniformly green, it looks like grass but it also looks very neat. In fact the view to my left reminds me a bit of the Windows XP background image with the green hill and blue sky.

Windows XP field?

Ahead I come to a minor road, Church Road, which passes under the railway line to my right and I think leads to some farms. I cross it and come to the remote church of Bowers Gifford. The village itself is almost a mile away to my west and I’m puzzled as to why the church was built so far from the village. Or perhaps the church came first and the village later (but then why build the village away from the church). Either way it seems odd to come across a church like this with no buildings around it.

Bowers Gifford Church

The path enters the church yard ahead and it’s an attractive church which has a tower and looks to have been extended at some point. It looks well cared for, despite it’s remote location. The path continues beyond the church through a large field to reach a track at the end. Here there is supposed to be a footpath off to the right through Rookery Farm and under the A130. So I turn right crossing the railway line over a bridge and into the farm yard. But it is not very welcoming and there are no signs for the footpath.

After the experience on my previous walk I’m not in the mood to try to follow a path over marshes that doesn’t seem to exist on the ground (though subsequently, checking Google Earth the path seems quite obvious, so perhaps I should have tried). So I decided to continue ahead on the track to cross under the A130. This is the main trunk road that leads onto Canvey Island and joins to the A13. However there is not much traffic. Once over I can turn right onto a footpath that continues, as I have before, alongside the railway line.

The path is initially through a field but I soon come to houses ahead. This is the edge of South Benfleet, a large town, and the path heads behind these houses. Soon the houses end and the path emerges into a park (though a rather wiffy one, as there is a sewage works the other side of the railway line). I walked through the first part of the path and continued ahead where it became more natural, this part being part of Benfleet Marsh. I crossed a track leading to some sort of building I think related to the railway (transformer?) and then continued on a path back in the more manicured part of the park. The path left the park and emerged into a residential road (Hall Farm Road). At the end of this road I reach the church yard.

Benfleet Church

Another pretty church built of stone and with a tower. I’ve done well for churches on this walk. Not so much for coast though, at least so far.

Of course Canvey Island is an island so my rules say I don’t need to visit it. But as with every island I’ve passed so far, I decide I want to. So from the church I follow the road down passing under the railway line and station (Benfleet) and then follow the road beside the creek, Benfleet Creek, that separates the island from the mainland.

Benfleet Creek, Canvey Island

Benfleet Creek, Canvey Island

The road is called Ferry Road clearly hinting that the bridge I use to cross over to the island didn’t use to be here. In fact now there are two bridges and another “Flood Barrier” just down from the river.

Much of the east coast of Essex and Canvey in particular were hit by a disastrous flood in 1953. A tidal surge flooded most of the island, killed 58 people and caused the evacuation of around 13,000 residents. Since then most of the island has been surrounded by sea walls, as parts of it are below ground and presumably this flood barrier also helps with this defence.

Once onto the island I turned right and followed the footpath around it’s north and western coast. Canvey Island is surprisingly densely populated. It now has a population of almost 40,000 and as a result around 2/3rds of the island is built up. However the western part is largely undeveloped and is now the South Essex Marshes Nature Reserve.

East Haven Creek, Canvey Island

Thankfully the sea walls meant the path was fairly dry underfoot as it mostly followed along the tops of grassy dykes. It was a peaceful walk other than when I reached the other side of the A130 and crossed under the road. The path follows the marshes beside East Haven Creek that separates the mainland from the western coast of Canvey.

East Haven Creek, Canvey Island

Soon I could see another structure that looked like a bridge but turned out to be a “Moveable Flood Barrier”. A large sign, intended for captains of boats had a red light on top of it and warned that when the light flashed the barrier was closed and vessels are unable to pass through. However the light was not flashing today so clearly the tide was not exceptional.

East Haven Creek, Canvey Island

Rounding the corner I was now heading along the south west coast of the island. Opposite was a huge oil refinery, at Coryton. It wasn’t pretty, a maze of towers, chimneys and a flare stack.

Coryton Oil Refinery from Canvey Island

The land on this part of Canvey is no longer developed but the map suggests it once was and I suspect there was also industry of some sort here. Google Earth shows the foundations of some round buildings (probably for storing oil or gas). But it’s all gone now. Instead my peace was shattered by some youths riding around this area on motorbikes.

I was a bit apprehensive they’d start riding along the sea wall I was following, which was churned up but thankfully they at least kept away from me. Ahead was what I suspect is another relic of the industry that was once on this part of Canvey, a long pier the leads to a jetty. It stretches for a little more than 1km into the Thames estuary, with a jetty at the end.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

I suspect this is where a pipeline emerges and gas or oil is pumped from ships into this pipeline. But I could be completely wrong.

Before I got to this pier I passed another shorter wider jetty, now derelict and fenced off but surely connected with the industry that used to be here.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

I soon passed under the large pipe jetty I had seen ahead earlier. Although much of the industry had gone it certainly looked like this pier was maintained and still used, at least from time to time.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

The sun was now getting low so I was aware I’d need to keep up a good pace to get out of this industrial area before it got dark (since I’d not be able to catch a bus from there). It was now getting very pretty out in the Thames with the suns rays breaking through the clouds.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

In another half a mile or so I came to another pier. I’m not sure what this was once used for, but now it is a lookout for the National Coastwatch Institute charity. This charity does exactly what it says. Volunteers look out over the coast keeping an eye for anyone or any ship in distress so they can raise the alarm. Just past it is a lovely pub, the Lobster Smack. I suspect a popular place for those at the coastwatch station at the end of their shift!

The Lobster Smack, Canvey Island

It was clearly very old, a white clapper-boarded pub. Though it does really show how the sea wall has been built up, as the path I was following along the raised bank was almost level with the roof of the pub!

Beyond the pub I was now entering a still working, rather than former area of industry. This is the Canvey Island Oil Storage Depot. Thankfully there was a road inland here before I entered this area, always useful to know because I had concerns I’d find the path blocked (unfounded, thankfully).

The Thames estuary from Canvey Island

The path continued over and under numerous other little jetties and piers with the building inland identifying it as the “Calor Gas Canvey Terminal”. It looked very 1960s.

Canvey Island Terminal

Despite the industry to my left I was really enjoying it. The sun was getting low over the Thames, it was high tide so I had views over water, not mud and some of the industry was quite interesting.

Oil works on Canvey Island

When I reached the end of the industry I was surprised to find I was walking now through a massive caravan site, right next to all that industry! Many of the caravans looked very old, though some were newer, and some of those closest to the shore were boarded up, presumably for protection against winter storms rather than because they were abandoned. Popular with Londeners I’d guess who want a cheap bolt hole by the coast but only a short journey away.

Caravans near Thorney Bay, Canvey Island

I rounded the little bay of Thorney Bay which is presumably the main attraction for the caravaners, with the first houses of Canvey Island beyond. I could certainly see the attraction of this little beach. It was small, but it was lovely and sandy (I’d expected mud, which is what the map shows) and the water was extremely calm.

Thorney Bay, Canvey Island

I headed down onto the sands. It was so nice to be back on a beach after all the walking around industry and mud flats I had done on recent coastal walks. At the end the path continued as a flat concrete path in front of the sea wall. I suspect it would not be passable at particularly high tides, but the Thames estuary was so calm today I would have no problems.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

A gap in the sea wall was created for the Labworth Restuarant. There was an art-deco look to the building with the large glass windows providing fine views over the Thames. I could see the sun set reflecting in it’s windows, it looked a lovely place to visit.

Labworth Cafe, Canvey Island

Labworth Cafe, Canvey Island

In land of this were the more traditional coastal attractions of a small fun fair “Fun Zone” though it was all closed up for the winter. So not much fun to be had today.

The sea wall now had a few bits of grafitti on it some of it rather curious. I passed one that pronounced “Canvey is England’s Lourdes”!

Canvey is England's Lourdes

Back along the sea wall now I had passed the restaurant it felt like I was on a promenade but as it was high tide only a few pebbles poked above the water. It was rather pretty though in the beautiful low winter light.

Sunset over the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

After a while I did come across a small area of sandy beach and a couple of families were playing on it, even though it was pretty cold now.

I continued past the “resort” part of the island where there is a tidal swimming pool and watched the beautiful sunset now forming to my right. I stopped to take photos along a slipway at Leigh Beck over the calm waters of the Thames. It was like a pond, rather than a large estuary. I’m sure it’s not normally this calm.

I took some beautiful (even if I do say so myself) photos of the sunset over the Thames. It was a lovely way to finish the walk. I was not the only one enjoying it, since a few fisherman were also gathered alongside the sea wall.

Sunset over the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

Sunset over the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

Sunset over the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

Sunset over the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

It was a very relaxing and beautiful way to end the walk. I watched the sun just dip below the horizon over Kent.

The Thames Estuary from Canvey Island

I was nearly at the south eastern corner of the island so it was time to call it a day now and head home. I first needed to get over the sea wall (the path was in front of it) so headed back to the jetty I had been photgraphing and then found a bus stop a short distance to the west along Eastern Esplande.

From here I took a bus, meandering around the residential roads of Canvey Island, to Benfleet Station and had only a short wait for the train from there back to London.

The first part of this walk was pleasant enough, through fields and passing the churches but it wasn’t really a coastal walk. However Canvey Island turned out to be quite an interesting place. Not spectacular in any way as it is almost entirely flat but I found the mix of industry, estuary and countryside more pleasant than I had expected probably helped by the wonderful weather (for December) and beautiful light. The sunset at the end was a lovely way to finish the walk.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. The simplest way is to take the bus directly back, though you can also change to the train, as I did, as Benfleet station.

First Essex bus route 22 : Canvey Island (Leigh Beck) – Canvey Island (Haystack Corner)Benfleet Station – South Benfleet – Pitsea – Basildon. Every 20 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 40 minutes between Canvey Island and Pitsea.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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Compass points

Now I’ve been to three of the four compass points of mainland Britain.

Southernmost (Lizard point)

Easternmost (Lowestoft Ness)

And now the most northerly, Dunnet Head (which is actually further north than John O Groats)

Just the western most point now to go!

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165. Stanford-le-Hope to Pitsea

December 2006

I did this walk from home first taking the train into London Waterloo, the tube from there to West Ham and a C2C train from West Ham to Stanford-le-Hope. It was a pleasant journey though I had not made as early a start as I’d hoped. It was now December, and daylight is in short supply in this month.

Coastal access was limited on this walk so it was to be another walk through marshes – I’ve come to realise that a lot of the coast is marshes.

I came out of the railway station at Stanford-le-Hope and headed through the church yard. The church was very pretty with interesting brick work on the tower.

Stanford-le-Hope church

I emerged from the church yard opposite a pleasant looking pub, The Inn on the Green. (I was also amused to notice, later on, the differing reactions of the two ladies waiting for a bus when I took the photo).

Stanford-le-Hope

Sadly this was the of the town centre now really as I headed down un-interesting suburban streets back to the northern end of Rainbow Lane, where I joined the roads into Stanford-le-Hope for the train last time.

Interestingly the route I took then seems not to be possible now. I turned right along Rainbow Lane and then turned left on a track (High Road) which headed north east past Oak Farm and Great Garlands Farm.

Country lane near Corringham

But the most recent Ordnance Survey map shows that this road has been sliced in two, with a new dual carrigeway built to serve the new “London Gateway Port” cutting it into two dead-end roads. So I’m not sure if it is still possible to walk this way.

It was a quiet road both in terms of traffic and noise, with large fields on either side, crossed with power lines, probably from Tilbury. When this lane turned off to the left, I could continue ahead on a footpath heading along a field edge near to Old Hall. The path comes out ahead onto the A1014, but just before it I turned right then left again to emerge a little further down the road. The path was not obvious on the ground and I struggled to find it until I spotted the stile I was meant to reach on the other side. This brought me out onto the A1014, another dual carriageway. Thankfully traffic was light (probably because it is the weekend) and once over I could cross into a recreation ground and follow the footpath across it to the church in Corringham.

Corringham Church

Corringham and Stanford-le-Hope were presumably once separate places but they have now merged together. I didn’t know anything about Corringham, but it was lovely.

I followed the path through the church yard to reach a pretty collection of buildings, some half timbered and some clapper-boarded with an attractive looking pub being one of them.

Corringham

Corringham

The path continued past these buildings and beside an attractive lake, Cobblers Mede Lake. It even had a little fountain in the middle.

Lakes in Corringham

At the end I emerged onto a road with the school just the other side of the road. The path continued alongside the school and beyond it was squeezed between another lake on the left and the school fields on the right.

At the end the path crossed a track turned left and bought me out onto another road. This was a minor road that led into the small village of Fobbing to my right. I passed this building with it’s bright coloured doors and a large pub beyond it.

Fobbing

The road here too was quite a steep hill – and there was me thinking Essex was flat!

Fobbing

At the T-junction ahead I turned right down the main road of the village, with a mixture of old and new buildings. Soon I reached the church. It was another attractive church with a nice solid looking tower. It’s been a good day for spotting churches. Less so the coast.

Fobbing Church

As I passed the church I could look back and realised that though Fobbing is now quite a small place it must have once been both wealthy and important since the church seemed to have 3 distinct sections to it, I presumed extensions as the congregation grew.

At Fobbing I had a choice. A path headed north east over Fobbing Marsh, my onward route. Another path headed east over another area of marsh (un-named, perhaps also part of Fobbing Marsh). This second route was closest to the coast but it was basically a giant loop down to the A1014, which I’d have to follow back to Fobbing. In short a lot of walking (about 3 miles) to end up about 20 metres from where I was now, mostly not on the coast.

However checking the map more closely I could see that the southern (dead-end loop path) seemed to have a bridge over a creek. So I decided to follow this southern route, closer to the coast and see if I could devise my own route. I followed the road as it turned left at the far end of Fobbing and then found a path on the right which seemed to go across someones garden then out into the marshes.

Fobbing Marshes

This crosses an over-grown stream and then I turned left on a fairly obvious slightly raised track heading east over the marshes. In fact the path is dry underfoot and quite easy to follow, a relief. The marshes are flat, large and with distant views of the industry around. Though the immediate area is actually pleasantly rural – and not actually very marshy!

Fobbing Marshes

At a fork in the footpaths I turn left to follow the route closest to Fobbing Creek. I’m briefly next to the creek, now almost a river with another raised bank ahead. I suspect this area was once more marshy and these raised banks protect it from the tides so the land is drier.

Fobbing Creek

Oddly ahead the path turns to the right, away from the creek then turns left, back to the creek, forming a big U-shape. I follow it. To my right now is the “moveable flood barrier” marked on the map. This crosses the much larger Vange Creek.

Moveable flood barrier on Vange Creek

I had wondered if it might be possible to cross Vange Creek here. However the land beyond is a mixture of industry, old wharfs and a rubbish dump, with no roads and no paths. The barrier I can see is big, much bigger than I expected. Clearly with the fences around it there is no way to cross it. So I give up on any thoughts of trying to cross it.

As my path returns to the banks of the smaller Fobbing Creek, there is another barrier. Well more of a damn really, over Fobbing Creek. It is not a public right of way. But there is a stile and no signs saying “Keep Out”. So I cross the stile onto the damn. An Environment Agency sign tells me that I am in fact on an “Ooze Dam” and gives the grid reference.

Fobbing Creek

I think this may be a nature reserve, oddly there were signs for both the RSPB and Essex Wildlife trust I noticed, so I am not sure who owns it (I think the Essex Wildlife trust had recently acquired it from the RSPB). However there are no “keep off” or private signs, so I follow the raised bank, again not a right of way, on the western bank of Fobbing Creek.

The creek soon widens as it joins the larger Vange Creek. The view across this creek is quite a contrast. The sun has come out and I have the natural un-spoilt creek (well, more mud flats really, since the tide is out) with the chimneys and industry ahead.

Vange Creek from Vagne Marshes

I continue on the sea bank path as it turns left along the south edge of another creek called “Parting Gut” (sounds more like a medical condition).

Ahead I reach a fence of some sorts but the gaps between the slats are so wide I can just walk through, so I’m not clear what it is for. At tit’s inland end I rejoin the public footpath. I’m pleased to have managed to make a more coastal route and also one that does not require me to double back, though I’m not clear if it’s strictly a legal route.

The mouth of the creek is another of those barriers. To my right the creek is mud flats. To the left there are so many reeds you would barely realise there is water there at all.

Creek on Vange Marshes

Now the footpath leaves the raised sea bank and heads over a field. The route on the ground is unclear so I had just to the left of a brown coloured building I can see ahead since this is also marked on the map and the path clearly goes just to the left of it.

Vange Marshes

The walk is difficult but as I reach the track I’m met with a locked gate. I’m certain this is the public right of way as the grid references from my GPS matches where I thought I was on the map. So I have to climb over the gate onto the track, and climb another gate on the other side to continue. I reported these padlocked gates to the appropriate authority who told me they had visited and found the gates were unlocked. Hmm.

Beyond these gates the path proves very difficult. There is no route on the ground and I come to a water channel. The path goes right across it, but there is no bridge. So I turn right back towards Vange Creek where it is narrow enough I can scramble across. I was hoping not to have problems now I was back on a proper right of way, but I’m wrong.

There is no sign of the path on the ground now so I head in broadly the right direction until I reach a line of trees behind which is another creek.

Footpath over Vange Marshes

So I turn left, keeping the banks of the creek on my right until I reach a track. It is the track I crossed earlier, where the locked gates were. So I should have walked on that. I could follow this ahead to where it joined another track going left to right to Marsh Farm.

I cross this track and once again the footpath disappears. I’m left trying to make my way over boggy areas of grass, mixed with streams, long grass and boggy areas.

Vange Marshes

I make very slow progress. Eventually I reach the north edge of this area with the railway line now to my left. I crossed a footbridge (so this is the path) but then followed beside the railway line, because it was drier here, though it is not the right route. At the field end I turned right and rejoined the proper footpath to go behind Vange Wharf. Here the path is very overgrown.

I soon reached the access road for Vange Wharf where there is a railway crossing so you can reach the A13. But the A13 is a busy dual carriageway here with no safe route to walk or cross it. So reluctantly, I keep to the path. I pass a metal gate where there is a footpath sign to Pitsea station. However it’s back to a boggy overgrown path. I make my way as best as I can across this area to end up next to the railway again.

Past this the path becomes a track. This soon leads to a foot crossing over the railway line. Here I made a mistake. The footpath continued a bit further north towards the A13 then it turns right. I turned right too early. I end up in a scrappy area of waste ground and assumed the path goes through here. I find a reasonably easy track to follow through this. I can follow this to the railway line. There I come to a locked gate, with spikes on top. It soon dawns on me I’m not on the correct path. I try to look for another way out, but there isn’t anything easy. I could go back to the A13 but I don’t want to.

Frustratingly, I can Pitsea station, where I’m heading. It’s just across the road which is just the other side of the fence. There is a level crossing across the road. Eventually I realise I might just be able to squeeze around a small gap in the fence where the level crossing mechanism is and then get over the fence as here there is only a small gate with no spikes on top. I manage to squeeze through hoping no one at the station sees me!

Relieved to be off that horrible path and back on the public road, I could finish here at Pitsea. However it has not been a long walk (albeit it not an easy walk) and ahead there is another small area of coast that is accessible to the public – Wat Tyler Country Park. At least being a country park it should have easy family-friendly paths. So that is where I went.

The route is initially not pleasant, along a road with another private road off to the left and then passing the sewage works. However soon I reach the start of the country park and there is grass next to the road I can walk on. The country park is basically a dead-end with Timberman’s Creek to the west of it, Pitsehall Creek to the east and Vange Creek to the south, so it’s a small spit of land surrounded by creeks.

Wat Tyler was the leader of the peasants revolt against the poll tax in 1381. He marched a group of rebels from Canterbury to the capital, where he was killed by officers of King Richard II. I’m not sure if he ever reached this part of Essex. It seems unlikely given it’s the wrong side of the Thames to be on if coming from Canterbury.

As I entered the country park I tried to make my way to the western edge, beside Timberman’s Creek. However I got a bit lost in the woodland and made a couple of wrong turnings before I found the way. I followed this around the edge of the creek though I turned inland to explore a view point made out of an old World War II pillbox. This was in fact the end of the strongest World War II defensive barrier (so the sign said), called the GHQ line.

Wat Tyler Country Park

From here I returned to the coast and was soon walking beside Vange Creek, just a short distance from where I was earlier. Although the tide was out, leaving mud flats, it was still very pretty in the now low setting sunlight.

Vange Creek from Wat Tyler Country Park

Vange Creek from Wat Tyler Country Park

I continued past the Wharf at the south eastern corner and stopped to take in the fine view over the creek.

Vange Creek from Wat Tyler Country Park

The sun was however nearly setting so I soon headed north along the path close to the eastern side of the park where there was a miniature railway. This bought me to the main visitor centre area where the was a pretty thatched cottage and a couple of other interesting buildings.

Wat Tyler Country Park

Wat Tyler Country Park, Pitsea

I imagine they are open during the day when the park is busier, but they were all closed up now.

I soon reached the end of the country park having made a circuit, or as close a one as I could and returned along the road back to Pitsea station. From here I took the train to West Ham to pick up the tube to Waterloo and then the train home.

This was an odd sort of walk. The first part was pleasant, through some pretty villages but not really coastal. Then for a while it was a nice walk through the marshes on the sea bank path. But this soon deteriorated to a frustrating battle through boggy marsh with no visible path and then a further battle with a level crossing barrier. However Wat Tyle country park made an interesting end to the walk with the lovely views over Vange Creek.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

C2C trains run every 30 minutes between Pitsea and Stanford-le-Hope seven days a week on the following service. London Fenchurch Street – Southend Central : London Fenchurch Street – Limehouse – West Ham – Barking – Upminster – Ockendon – Chafford Hundred – Grays – Tilbury Town – East Tilbury – Stanford-le-Hope – Pitsea – Benfleet – Leigh-on-Sea – Chalkwell – Westcliff – Southend Central. Trains run twice an hour, seven days a week. It takes 6 minutes between Pitsea and Stanford-le-Hope.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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