174. Canewdon to Battlesbridge

February 2007

This walk takes me half way around the River Crouch, as I started at Canewdon on the south side and ended at Battlesbridge on the north side of the river.

As for my last walk because the bus service to Canewdon is infrequent I took that at the start, taking the train (via London) to Rochford and the bus from there to Canewdon.

I got off the bus by the Anchor Inn in Canewdon which although it was February, still had “Merry Christmas” lights above it’s sign!

Canewdon

I explored the village a bit first passing the church and village store.

Canewdon church

Canewdon village shop

Then I followed the same path I had followed on the previous walk along field edges and down to the banks of the river Crouch. This time it was a lovely winters day, clear blue skies and sunny though the clear skies meant it was colder and I noticed the water of a drainage ditch next to the path was still frozen.

Canewdon

On reaching the river, the water was incredibly calm, like a mirror.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

This time I turned left, heading inland rather than out to sea, as the first place (without a boat) you can cross the river Crouch is at Battlesbridge. There are odd wooden jetties in the river. I wondered if these were once used by boats or if they are some attempt at reducing erosion of the banks.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

The path follows right along the raised river bank as I head west. The river Crouch is quieter compared with the Thames just the odd small pleasure boat rather than container ships and other freight boats. On the opposite bank of the river are initially the marshy remains of the now flooded Bridgemarsh Island.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

I am pleasantly surprised by how rural this area is given it’s proximity to London, it is so peaceful. The path meanders with the river bank until I can see the first signs of habitation, the boat yard at North Fambridge on the north bank of the river.

The River Crouch near South Fambridge

On my side of the river I’m reaching the village of South Fambridge which is much smaller and mostly a bit set back from the rivers edge, though the river bank here is a popular place with fisherman as there are several sitting along the bank.

The River Crouch near South Fambridge

At South Fambridge it was decision time. The footpath continues west along the bank but after a mile or so it comes to a marshy area of land interspersed with channels of water where the footpath seems to end but then immediately continue on islands of marshy land. I suspect what has happened is that the sea wall has been breached (either deliberately or because of flooding) but the footpath has not been re-routed.

I decide to continue on the path as the alternative is a long diversion, almost entirely on roads about a mile inland from the river which is not only less pleasant than the river route but also quite a bit longer. I suspected that the area had been deliberately flooded and that as a result the footpath would either have been re-routed or bridges built (there is “FB” marked on the map, short for footbridge, in a few places on the marshy area, though not on the route of the path so I was hoping this was the re-routed path).

I soon come to a small area of salt marsh where it looks as if there was once some sort of wooden bridge or jetty across it, but it is now rotting away. What purpose it once had I’m not sure. But I find the rotting wood rather photogenic on this lovely sunny day.

The River Crouch near South Fambridge

The River Crouch near South Fambridge

I continue on the footpath but soon come to an un-welcoming sign warning that “There may be shooting in progress from this point onwards between September to February inclusive”. Hmm it’s February, so I hope no one is shooting today and anyway this is a public right of way.

I continued on the good path along the sea wall (concrete here, so it is dry underfoot).

The River Crouch near South Fambridge

Now I come across another even less welcoming sign. It tells me that “From this point on this is a private sea wall, there is no public right of way. Also there may be shooting between the months of September to February inclusive.”

Get off my land

Hmm well according to the Ordnance Survey map I’m using (and it’s still the case on the most recent maps) there IS a right of way along the sea wall beyond this point. But I sense I’m on a hiding to nothing. If the landowner put up these signs (which I suspect are wrong, but deliberately so) there won’t be any bridges or way forward and I’m certain I will find the way ahead blocked. That would add more miles and mean I risk not finishing before it gets dark. So reluctantly I turn back. It will have to be the road route.

This time I follow the track into the village of South Fambridge. The first house I come to is called “The Old Ferry House”. What a shame there isn’t a ferry any more it would have saved me many miles of road walking to get around the river.

South Fambridge

There seems to be a lot of new housing in South Fambridge. This one I thought particularly odd “Maritime Mews”.

South Fambridge

I suppose it is nice the architect has tried to build something a bit different than a square block of flats, but the mix of stiles and materials makes it look rather messy and ugly to me.

I continue past this modern development to the village sign and a seat and then I’ve reached the end of the village. From here there is a footpath heading directly south to the main road, which takes a shorter route than the road (which turns east here for half a mile or so before also turning south).

So I follow that, but it is full of piles of rubbish and a burnt out car. I’m not warming to South Fambridge.

Thankfully the footpath soon leaves this track and becomes a narrow path along the edge of fields and the rubbish has ended.

Near South Fambridge

When I reach the road, the walk is truly horrible. I had feared the road would be busy, and it is. There isn’t a pavement, and the road is quite narrow with lots of tight bends, so I have to keep switching sides as I approach each corner to try to avoid being hit by cars who are coming round the corners clearly not expecting anyone to be walking in the edge of the road. In places there is a grass verge, but the grass is long and there are lots of dips (drains) which are not obvious because of the long grass. I think it is the worst stretch of road walking I’ve had to do since the roads leading to Brean in Somerset.

I have to follow this road for around 2 miles. There are only a few farms and a mobile home park called “Dome Village”, for some reason, beside the road so not much to slow traffic down. About half a mile before the end there is another road joining to the left and this brings with it even more traffic. This road is basically the only road into Hullbridge, somewhere which was probably once a village but is more a small town now at least in terms of size, with a population of around 7000. And it seems a large proportion of this population all want to drive along this road right now!

I didn’t take any photos along this section. I didn’t feel safe stopping, there was little of interest to photograph anyway and I just wanted to get off that road as quickly as possible.

It comes as a huge relief when I reach the edge of Hullbridge and can turn right on a track called Long Lane. This is a public byway but it’s more or less a road to Cracknell’s Farm after which it becomes a muddy rutted track, but at least there is no fly tipping here.

At the north end of this the track joins a minor road which I turn left along and soon reach a recreation ground which I cut across to reach the river Crouch again where thankfully there is a footpath again.

At last, back to the river and away from the traffic.

The River Crouch at Hullbridge

The river is noticeably narrower now, with a few marshy islands near this side of the shore. I pass another mobile home park and then some come to a concrete slipway where there is, bizarrely a byway marked as crossing the river. This meets another slipway leading to a road on the other side which heads to the now fairly large town of South Woodham Ferrers.

The River Crouch at Hullbridge

Perhaps once vehicles or horses used to ford the river here, but it must surely only be possible at low tides and given how muddy the river is, there is no way I would risk it on foot. Oddly, because it’s clearly marked as a public byway on the map another sign alongside warns “Private slipway, no public right of access” which I don’t think is actually true. In any case, the tide is in and as I can’t walk on water, so I have to continue on the path beside the river.

There are lots of swans gathered just past the slipway I suspect they often get fed here and are hoping I might feed them, but I’ve had lunch so they are out of luck! The sun is getting lower in the sky now and I can see the houses of South Woodham Ferrers reflecting in the calm waters.

The River Crouch near Hullbridge

I soon come to another little boat yard where on the opposite bank of the river the Fenn Creek joins the river Crouch, forming the western border of the town of South Woodham Ferrers. It is also more or less the end of Hullbridge, so soon both banks are back to rural rather than urban.

The River Crouch near Hullbridge

After about half a mile the path briefly leaves the sea wall bypassing an area that looks as if it was once developed (a track heads to it, but abruptly ends) but is now green again, but the path soon returns to the sea wall beyond it.

The River Crouch near Battlesbridge

Soon though the path passes a couple of large ponds (some sort of flood relief system?) and heads to the road – there is no path along the rest of the river. So it’s back to the road for the last half a mile. Again it is horrible, lots of traffic travelling at speed and no pavement or even grass verge. It’s the main road link between Hullbridge and the A130 so it is no surprise that it is busy.

It’s a relief to reach Battlesbridge where at last there is a pavement.

Battlesbridge can be summed up in one word. Antiques. It is a strange sort of village, at most 50 houses, so it is very small, but a large mill on the water front that is now a large antiques centre.

Battlesbridge

There is a pretty clapperboard pub at the other end of the large car park that serves this antique centre.

Battlesbridge

I pass another antiques centre where there are all sorts of unusual and interesting items. The most obvious of which is an old railway carriage but there is also a couple fireplaces and metal chairs. It is a strange sort of village.

Battlesbridge antique shop

Though despite it’s tiny size, Battlesbridge has another useful feature – a railway station! The service was only hourly however at the time (it runs more frequently now) and I knew I had about half an hour before the next train, which I’d take home.

So I had a quick look around the rest of the village passing a nice little pond with an island in the middle a lovely hold shop with the old Drapers sign still there – and three more antique shops and another pub.

Battlesbridge pond

Antiques (and drinking) then seems to be what Battlesbridge is all about these days!

Battlesbridge

Battlesbridge

Having seen the village I headed to the station. It was a little station consisting of just a single platform (as it’s on a single-track branch line) and a waiting shelter.

Battlesbridge Station

There is no ticket office nor even a ticket machine. But at least it exists! I’m there a bit early still so I see the train going the other direction first and my train comes about 15 minutes later, as the trains can only pass at North Fambridge, further up the line.

Battlesbridge Station

No one gets off and I am the only one to get on. Trains on this line run only between Wickford and Southminster so I need to change at Wickford to pick up a train from Southend that is going on to London where I use the tube to get to Waterloo and take a train home from there.

This was another rather frustrating walk. Footpaths that don’t seem to exist anymore. Signs telling me there is no right of way when the map says otherwise and many miles of walking on a horribly busy road with no pavement. But at least the sections beside the river were nice and Battlesbridge at the end was interesting and it was helped by the fact it was a lovely sunny day.

Postscript: It was only when reading Ruth’s blog that I subsequently realised all of this walk was unnecessary. There is in fact a passenger ferry from Wallasea Island to Burnham-on-Crouch. I don’t know if it didn’t run at all when I walked here, or if it only ran in the summer (as is the case now) or if I simply missed it. As I wrote in my rules I won’t walk around every river to the nearest bridge if there is a ferry – and there is here (it’s marked on the current maps, at least).

Here are details of the public transport needed for the walk. There is no direct service between Canewdon and Battlesbridge. Instead to get back to Canewdon, you will have to take the train from Battlesbridge to Wickford, another train from Wickford to Rochford or Southend and finally the bus from there to Canewdon. The bus is the least frequent, so schedule the trains around this.

Greater Anglia trains Crouch Valley Line : Southminster – Burnham-on-Crouch – Althorne – North Fambridge – South Woodham Ferrers – Battlesbridge – Wickford. Trains run roughly every 40 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 5 minutes to travel between Battlesbridge and Wickford.

Greater Angila trains London to Southend : London Liverpool Street – Stratford – Shenfield – Billericay – Wickford – Rayleigh – Hockley – Rochford – Southend Airport – Prittlewell – Southend Victoria. Trains run every 20 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sundays. It takes just under 15 minutes between Wickford and Rochford and a little over 20 minutes to Southend.

Stephensons of Essex bus route 60 and 60A : Southend – Rochford – Great Stambridge – Ballards Gore – Canewdon  Paglesham Eastend. 6 buses per day each way, Monday – Saturday. (Only 4 of these operate beyond Canewdon to Paglesham Eastend). There is no bus service to Canewdon on Sundays.

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

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173. Wallasea Island

June 2017

This was my second visit to Wallasea Island. When I first walked the coast of Essex, in 2006 and 2007 I had walked a short distance along the path on the north coast of Wallasea Island, but did not make it to the end, mainly because it was a dead-end and rather featureless.

However since then the island has changed. Around 2008 most of the island was purchased by the RSPB to create the “Wallasea Island Wild Coast”. What this means in practice is that many of the sea walls around the island have been breached, to create a large area of wetland on which it is hoped to encourage more birds and re-introduce some rare or lost birds.

So the path I walked on 10 years or so earlier has since been deliberately breached, to flood the land. The footpath mostly remains, but has been diverted to what is now the the coast of the island, and even better, new paths have opened. The project is a joint one between the RPSB and Crossrail, which seems an unlikely partnership but it makes sense since the RSPB is using the earth removed to build the Crossrail tunnels under London to landscape the island.

I drove to the reserve. It is quite remote but you follow the road to Canewdon and then continue on the road ahead. Pass the marina and at a place called Grapnells, continue on the now private single-track road to the car park at the end. From here I turned right and was almost opposite Burnham-on-Crouch. I followed the path along the sea wall, which was easy to follow, if not the most varied. It was a very hot day, clear and sunny with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius. So I soon stopped on the grass bank for lunch.

Path on the north coast of Wallasea Island

I could see the old sea wall and it’s path and the boats on the river beyond, just visible through the gaps in the sea wall.

The River Crouch from Wallasea Island

Ahead I was soon surprised to come across some rather more industrial structures, which were not marked on the map. These turned out to be temporary. Earth extracted from under London to build the Crossrail tunnels is transported by boat down the Thames to a temporary dock on the north of the island where a convener system transports it over the marshes behind the breached sea wall for use in landscaping the island. Steps had been provided over the convener so that I could reach the rest of the path.

Wallasea Island

I continued to the very end of the path where there is a wooden shelter. This faces the River Roach with Foulness Island just beyond, which I had visited a couple of years previously.

Wallasea Island

It was a peaceful spot and the rivers around here were proving popular with the boaters, as numerous yachts headed along the river, though a few also seemed to be moored up in the river here. Ahead the sea wall on the east of the island has also been breached (not marked on any maps that I could see) forming more marshes, so this is now as far as you can go.

Wallasea Island

Wallasea Island

Wallasea Island

The River Roach and Foulness

I headed back, but just before the conveyor belt there was another path to “Half Moon Viewpoint”. It was also marked with the name of another trail that I forget. So I followed this. It followed the raised banks around the new area of marshes taking me almost back to the east coast of the island again.

Wallasea Island

On the way I passed this rather cluttered sign post! Pointing not just local areas but where the birds that nest here (or it is hoped will) come from.

Signpost on Wallasea Island

I also passed part of one of the Crossrail tunnelling machines.

Part of a Crossrail tunnelling machine

Then the path turned south and eventually took me to the south coast of the island, overlooking the River Roach.

Wallasea Island

Wallasea Island

Sadly, and to my irritation (because it wasn’t signed as such), it was a dead-end. After nearly 40 minutes of walking I was a bit annoyed by that, I had assumed, wrongly, that the path would loop back to the car park, but it didn’t.

So I had to walk back again, stopping for plenty to drink. At the car park I did consider follow the path back to the marina, but having done this before I decided that it was time to head home.

The view from Wallasea Island looking west

It had been interesting to see what had changed, but probably it is better to wait for this project to be finished (I think in 2020) and come back a few years later, when it has become more natural and established. I’m also hoping that at some point the Ordnance Survey or RSPB might publish a proper map showing the full paths that the public can access around the island. I am not sure if the path I followed is intended to remain a dead-end but in any case a proper map would make this clear.

There is only very limited public transport in the area. Stephensons of Essex routes 60 and 60A runs six times a day between Southend and Canewdon and one bus extends to Essex Marina on the north western coast of Wallasea Island. The bus runs the following route : Southend-on-Sea – Southchurch – Rochford – Great Stanbridge – Canewdon (one bus extends to Essex Marina) – Ballards Gore – Paglesham.

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

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172. Canewdon to Rochford

January 2007

This is a walk of rivers, marshes and islands, as so much of the Essex coast is, as I walk alongside the rivers Roach and Crouch.

I’m doing this walk in the reverse direction, ending at Rochford, where I also ended last time because there is only an infrequent bus service to Canewdon and so I want to get the bus journey done in the morning to avoid an otherwise potentially long wait at the end.

I took the train into London Waterloo, then the Waterloo and City Line to Bank, the Central Line onwards to London Liverpool Street and then a train from there to Rochford. I had timed this so I should arrive in time to catch the bus to Canewdon. Fortunately all my connections run to time so I get to Rochford in time to take the bus to Canewdon. This service only runs once every 2 hours. And on time, an ancient double-decker bus arrives. I sit upstairs, where it smells rather damp and it’s cold, but it gets me to Canewdon on time, which is the main thing.

Canewdon is a pleasant little village with a pub, a village store and some pleasant white clapper-board houses.

Canewdon village stores

Just past the shop I turn right along the un-surfaced Gays Lane which soon becomes muddy but emerges into a field where it becomes drier. For the first part of the walk I’m following a marked trail, the Roach Valley Way. This is a 23-mile walk around Rochford and the surrounds, much of it alongside the estuary. Since it’s a named path I’m hoping the paths will be a bit better.

Emerging into a field I’m a little surprised to find I’m heading downhill. I’m in Essex, I didn’t think there were any hills! I’m also following a dog walker, who you can see ahead.

Near Canewdon

As is often the way he is walking quite slowly and stops from time to time, so I soon catch him up. As I get close he suddenly swings his arm back with a stick to throw for the dog and very nearly hits me in the face with it! Thankfully he noticed before he did so and apologised but I often find myself in this situation.

If I’m walking faster than other people I catch them up. Walking doesn’t make a lot of noise so people often don’t realise you’re behind them. Perhaps I need to start coughing as I approach or something.

At the end of the field the path goes over a stile and crosses the drainage ditch of Old Fleet and continues to Upper Raypitts Farm where I can go beside the farm buildings to join the southern bank of the river Crouch.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

Between me and the other side of the river is Bridgemarsh Island.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

This was an island that would naturally flood, but in 1736 it was enclosed by a sea wall preventing the tidal flooding and connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway. The island was then farmed as well as having some industry, such as a brick-works that used the clay from the island. However the sea wall was not maintained and major floods along the east coast in 1953 was basically the end for the island. Many of the walls were destroyed and the island returned to tidally flooded marsh and is now no longer inhabited. In fact it’s now a huge number of tiny marshy islands and is now owned by the Bridgemarsh Island Trust. However as the island is so shallow and barely above the water I can hardly see it.

Now I’m on a sea wall path again following the southern banks of the river Crouch heading north east towards Black Point. On the other side of the river, beyond Bridgemarsh Island I can see the village of Althorne where I hope to reach on my next walk. It’s an odd village with a part of the village south of the railway line beside the river and another part of the village about half a mile north (inland) and up a hill, along the B1010.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

The concrete sea wall path has soon becomes grass but thankfully it is dry enough under foot. I soon reach Black Point (which isn’t black) and continue east as the river bank and path turn south east. I’ve reached the end of Bridgemarsh Island now so the view is now directly across to the northern bank of the Crouch.

The River Crouch near Canewdon

To my right the scenery is now very flat, mostly agricultural fields drained by numerous drainage ditches. Across the Crouch there are gentle hills rolling up from the rivers edge. Soon on my side of the river I come to an area of salt marsh that marks the start of Lion Creek. Across the estuary I can see the large house at Creeksea.

Marshes near Canewdon

Lion Creek was I believe once joined to Paglesham Creek meaning that Wallasea Island ahead was a true island. Now it is probably technically a peninsula, being joined to the mainland by a road between these two creeks.

Marshes near Canewdon

Beyond that I can see the town of Burnham-on-Crouch on the other bank of the river, but it will be a while before I’ve walked there.

Burnham-on-Crouch

Lion Creek is only s small creek, heading less than half a mile inland to it’s end. Though before the end of the creek there is actually a sea wall across it, but according to my map, the footpath doesn’t go over it, but heads further inland to what I presume is the natural end of the creek. But I’m pleased to find I can walk over the sea wall to cut off the end of the creek and clearly access is permitted here as I come to a sign from Essex Widlife Trust telling me that they purchased the land here with the aid of a donation in 1991 and goes on to tell me about the wildlife that can be seen here. Rather frustratingly to me, it makes no mention of how the creek got it’s name or what it used to be used for.

Lion Creek

There is Lion Wharf just ahead on the map so I guess it must have once had some sort of use for industry or fishing, but it’s quiet now. (As a postscript to this, the official route of the Roach Valley Way is now marked as the route I followed rather than the route shown on my now ageing map, it looks like the footpath has been diverted).

On the eastern side of the creek I have to briefly join the road, which is also the route of the Roach Valley Way. As the road turns to the left, I have a choice. The official route of the Roach Valley Way is to turn right here off the road and on a footpath that follows the western edge of Paglesham Creek. Or I could turn left and follow a footpath out onto Wallasea Island.

I ponder this for a while. I like islands. The path to Wallasea Island runs along the entire northern coast of the island, and part way along the south side of the island, where it comes to an abrupt end. It is nearly 5 miles long, so to walk there and back is nearly 10 miles. I’ll never have enough time to do that and get to Rochford before it gets dark. So I decided to give the island a miss for now, it will have to wait for another day.

Right it is then, alongside Paglesham Creek. Actually the path is not really alongside. Instead it follows a route across fields a couple of hundred metres from the waters edge because this creek does not have man-made sea walls but is more natural.

When I reach the inland point of the creek the footpath then does run alongside the water. It is a narrow and shallow creek, full of the usual salt marsh.

Lion Creek

The path on the other side of the creek is more interesting as it follows the sea wall alongside, so I’m right beside the water again. I pass an old World War II pillbox a reminder that this coast was once heavily defended.

Paglesham Pool

I can look across from here to Wallasea Island and the large marina on it. The tide is coming in now and the creek looks nearly full. It’s windy too, creating quite a few waves. The creek forms the southern border of Wallasea Island, so it does lead to the open sea, a few miles away.

Paglesham Pool

There isn’t a lot else to be seen truth be told, the gentle waters of the creek on my left and flat open farm land to the right, so I make quick progress.

Soon I reach the eastern edge of the creek and turn right with the sea wall to head south and right again, now heading west now along the northern bank of the River Roach.

There is more activity here with a few boats to be seen in the river.

The River Roach

Marshes near Paglesham Eastend

A short distance ahead it looks like someone has, at some point in the past created something in the salt marsh, because it is cut into neat squares.

Marshes near Paglesham Eastend

I wondered originally if it was a harbour but it seems boats couldn’t get in, so my guess is it was some sort of area for capturing sea creatures of some sort (oyster beds?) or perhaps for drying salt water to create salt. Either way whatever used to happen here doesn’t any longer. One of the squares has a boat dumped in it. I know that it’s dumped because a sign attached to it warns it “This vessel is subject to salvage” and “Unsafe vessel, do not board”. Actually it’s probably not dumped more likely got washed away from it’s moorings and ended up here during a storm.

Marshes near Paglesham Eastend

Further up I come to another larger boat. This looks as if it had been converted to a residence. A front door on the deck and windows above. But now the boat seems to have taken on water and the back part of the boat is submerged and the wooden panelling making up the house is rotting and the roof flopping down. Despite this a man is working at the front of the boat. I wondered if he was planning to repair it or was removing anything of value.

Boat yard at Paglesham Eastend

I pass another couple of boats Paglesham Eastend boat yard which look like they too are house boats, one still with Christmas lights below the window.

Boat yard at Paglesham Eastend

The little boat yard here looks quite busy with boats in various stages of repair, though with the wind the waves are breaking over the jetty that leads up to it.

Boat yard at Paglesham Eastend

I continue past this interesting boat yard back along the sea wall, alongside more salt marsh. It must be near high tide now as the waves are splashing against the marsh. It is nicer to see with water in rather than acres of mud flats I would otherwise see.

The River Roach near Great Stambridge

I was soon opposite the landfill site of Barling Marsh I passed last time, so there were large numbers of sea gulls again. Soon I reach Stannets Creek. This is an odd place because it’s now a lake really, as it looks like a sea wall was built over the mouth of the creek meaning the sea no longer enters the creek. Back on the sea wall it’s only a short distance before the next creek (I do wonder how many creeks Essex has?!). This is Bartonhall Creek and soon I reach Barton Hall itself. I thought it might be something grand but it looks like it is just a farm these days.

The River Roach near Great Stambridge

Here I come a bit unstuck with the footpath. My map shows that the path goes left, in front of the hall. But I can’t see this path and instead end up following the road behind the house. I notice on more recent maps the route of the path is the one I ended up taking so I assume it is another path that has been diverted and my map shows the old route. (Later when I get home I find that the map I had bought in my local WH Smith a few months previously is actually dated 1998, making it 9 years old, so it is perhaps no wonder there were a few issues with it. WH Smith had obviously had it on the shelves for a long time).

I continued past Hampton Barns and around the back of the creek, to return to the river Roach. Inland is a small house, Waldens, in a rather isolated location. Onwards along the sea wall after another half a mile I’m passing the buildings of Great Stambridge Hall.

The River Roach near Great Stambridge

This looks to be more a farm again now, but beyond it is a pretty church which I can see through the trees.

Great Stambridge Church

This was presumably once the church that served this estate, but it’s now about half a mile from the village of Great Stambridge. I was now nearing Rochford with the river suddenly becoming packed with boats and with a large mill ahead.

The River Roach near Rochford

This is Stambridge Mill and it isn’t an old mill, it is modern and looks quite industrial.

There also looks to be an old military boat of some sort in the end of the creek, not sure if it’s awaiting scrapping or some further use. I soon reach the end of the creek and cross the road ahead where there is a fishing lake, though no one is using it today and beyond this the station, where I ended my walk and met up with the previous walk.

Fishing pond in Rochford

From here I took the train to London Liverpool Street. Sadly by the time I had got back to London the Waterloo and City Line had stopped running (back then it finished early on a Saturday, it runs all day now) so I had a longer tube journey back to Waterloo for the train home.

This had not been the most of interesting of coastal walks, as it was almost entirely along marshes and creeks. It was quite pleasant, helped by good weather just not a lot of variety to be found. However it was at least peaceful and quiet and pleasantly rural, so it had it’s charms, too.

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

Stephensons of Essex bus route 60 and 60A : Southend – RochfordGreat Stambridge – Ballards Gore – Canewdon Paglesham Eastend. 6 buses per day each way, Monday – Saturday. Only 4 of these operate beyond Canewdon to Paglesham Eastend. There is no bus service to Canewdon on Sundays.

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

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171. Rochford to Landwick Cottages

January 2007

After my walk to Foulness island, it’s back to walking around marshes and rivers on this walk. This time I decided to start from Rochford and walk east to Landwick cottages, where I had finished my last walk on the mainland. Although Rochford might appear quite far in land I need to cross the river Roach and Rochford is the closest place to the coast this can be done without a boat.

As there was engineering work on my local trains this weekend, meaning the service was less frequent and slower I decided to drive, as the days were short and I needed to get there in good time in order to finish before it got dark. I also decided to drive to Rochford rather than Landwick as I knew it was possible to park at Rochford station which I’d be returning to by train at the end of the walk and not sure how easy it would be at Landwick Cottages.

I had a reasonable journey to Rochford via the M25 and A127 and minor roads to Rochford. I passed Southend Airport on the way (now London Southend Airport) and I was surprised to notice an Easyjet plane there as I passed (at the time I think the only scheduled flights from there was 1 a week to Jersey, though it has regular flights now).

I reached the station and parked there and headed down to the main shopping street in Rochford. I didn’t know anything about Rochford and I had never been there before, but I found it quite a pleasant little town. The buildings were old and a mixture of styles and the shops were almost all independent, with a little market square, too.

Rochford

Rochford

I did come across one surprising sight. A derelict Rumbelows store, a name I had long since forgotten.

Rumbelows

For those that don’t remember Rumbelows was a chain of electrical stores. Once to be found on most High Streets (even it seems, little Rochford) all the branches had closed by 1995. That was 12 years earlier! But this branch still had all the logos up and even an old “Sale” sticker on the window. It also reminded me that most High Streets used to have numerous electrical retailers (Dixons, Currys, Comet, Rumbelows, Radio Rentals). Now all these names have either gone for good or at least gone from the High Street to out-of-town retail parks.

Anyway I continued along the aptly named South Street, heading south to the roundabout at the end of the town centre.

Rochford

Here I turned left on a signed footpath past some industry and then following a tributary of the river Roach. Presumably it was once called the river Roch (hence Rochford).

I soon came across (another) odd sight. To my right behind the trees (easy to spot now they had no leaves) were cars piled up on scaffolding.

Scrapyard(?) in Rochford

I wondered what on earth that was about. Most scrap yards pile the cars on top of each other rather than put them on separate platforms like this. They clearly weren’t new cars that had been imported, most of them were around 10 years old. I wondered if it was a long-term car park but for what (the airport had very few flights at this time)? I decided it must be a scrap yard after all.

Ahead the path began to open out to the river Roach but this northern little tributary was crossed by a bridge by an what I assumed would be an old mill ahead. But it looked like a modern buildings so was probably still used.

Stambridge Mills on the river Roach

I needed to be on the south side of the river and there was a minor footpath right off the main path (which was part of the Roach Valley Way) so I followed this to emerge into an industrial estate. This part of Rochford was not so pretty! I followed this road to the end, then turned right and took the first road on the left and followed this down to Sutton Road.

Sadly whilst the north bank of the river Roach has a good footpath along it, the south side was not so lucky. The nearest route along the coast was along this road but it had no pavement and I’d be following it for around a mile. There was an alternative footpath through fields to the south, about 200 metres from the road so I decided to follow that instead, it wasn’t as if I could even see the river from either the road or the path.

To join this I turned right initially following a brief stretch of path beside the river on a raised bank beside the houses of Sutton Ford. Soon I could turn left, crossing a footbridge and emerge into a large field. The path went straight across the field heading for the church – presumably created by residents of these houses walking to church many years ago. The church was another pretty one with an old stone wall and unusual timbered tower at one end.

Sutton Hall Church

Beyond the church I had another surprise (it was turning out to be a surprising day!). I was now passing railway tracks. These turned out to be the miniature narrow-gauge tracks of the Sutton Hall Railway. This is open to the public on occasion, though today was not one of those occasions. In fact it looked like they were in the process of relaying the tracks, given the rather abrupt halt and the area of cleared earth ahead.

Sutton Hall Railway

I could look over and see the engine sheds etc too, but all was quite today.

Sutton Hall Railway

The path continued beside the tracks in the other direction for a little while before these too came to another abrupt end. It seemed an odd sort of railway!

Sutton Hall Railway

I continued down through another field to the road near Slated Row. I turned left along this road and when the road turned to the left I could turn right on what was signed as a bridlepath to return to the route closest to the coast. It was not really a path as I was following a surfaced road just that it was now a private one. This turned left, past Butler’s Farm and soon narrowed. It then turned right now a track rather than a road between fields. This continued for around 3/4 of a mile where I passed Mucking Hall. It was more a farm now it seemed but the map suggests there was an ancient settlement here.

Mucking Hall

Onwards I was now back on a private access road, this time for Mucking Hall which soon emerged onto the minor road. Here I turned left passing a lovely clapper-boarded house.

Bolts Farm near Stonebridge

When the road turned right I could continue ahead on a footpath that passed Roach Farm and a pumping station and at last to the banks of the River Roach. I had walked about 4 miles so far and this was my first view of anything coastal!

The River Roach near Barling

As I expected it was a scene of marsh and mud flats, but a peaceful spot. I now had a path right along the river bank for the next couple of miles. As I often found in Kent, it was a path along the top of the raised grassy banks that protected the land behind from flooding. It started off quite a pleasant walk but as I headed east there were hints things were about to change.

The River Roach near Barling

I first passed a sign that a high pressure gas pipeline crosses at this point. I continued east towards Barling Ness. There were little piers and jetties going out into the river, though they looked to be rarely used now. Inland too there was some marshy ground and flooding, I was glad to be on the raised bank with dry feet.

The River Roach near Barling

Sadly things did not continue to be pleasant. The eastern end here near Barling Ness is actually a landfill site, but this is not obvious or marked on the maps. This attracted huge number of sea gulls and was a bit stinky.

Barling Marsh

I was a bit worried about receiving a “deposit” from a sea gull given there were so many flying about but thankfully I escaped that.

Soon I reached Barling Ness, where a few more sea-birds were out on the mud flats at the dge of the water. Looking further along the river I could see the boats and boat houses of Paglesham Eastend, where I would be on my next walk.

Barling Ness

Paglesham Eastend

I was now turning south to follow Potton Creek. This once separated Potton Island, just across the creek from the mainland, but this island has now been joined (along with Havengore Island) to Foulness Island and is very much out of bounds. I continued south for only around half a mile before the path turned right with the coast again. This time I was heading up another creek, Barlinghall Creek. This twists and turns inland for a mile or two to Little Wakering. I was beginning to realise the truth about Essex having the longest coast of any county in England!

Over the land fill and rubbish I could just make out the church tower of Barling ahead. However the view to my left was quite pleasant with a few boats moored up in the creek and masses of sea gulls again.

Barlinghall Creek

I passed Barling Hall where there was a small jetty with a few boats moored up. Although I didn’t pass it, I could now clearly see the church of Barling to my right, too.

Barling Hall

Barling church

South of Barling Hall the path continued along the sea wall beside the creek.  At some point the creek to my left became Little Wakering Creek and narrowed to reach the edge of the village. I then turned and followed the south bank of this creek back out again, now on the south side of the creek. This was now very reminiscent of Kent, with the path lined with large amount of salt marsh on my left.

Barlinghall Creek

I soon neared Halfway House Farm where north was a marshy little peninsula of land. To my left it is now Fleethead Creek (all these creek do get confusing). I could cut out this little marshy creek as a footpath cuts across it’s neck, but I had time before it got dark. I was soon opposite Barling Hall where I had been nearly an hour earlier, but now on the other side of the creek.

View to Barling Hall

To my right the marshes seemed popular with large number of Canada geese, probably over-wintering in the UK.

As I rounded the creek, the land was fairly flat and featureless. It looked like they were arable fields in the summer. So I was back alongside Barlinghall Creek and turning right back onto the west side of Potton Creek. On the other side was Great Potton, part of Potton Island and part of the MOD land.

Great Potton on Potton Island

Ahead now I was nearing Potton Bridge. This connects Potton Island with the mainland but like Havengore Bridge it is out of bounds to the public and I could see the high fences and barriers and the security building on the other side.

Potton Creek

I continued to the bridge. The land south of here, even on the mainland, is also part of the danger area. The bridge had a warning that it was MOD land and the public and pedestrians were not permitted to cross.

I was sure once again I was being watched by security cameras or perhaps someone in the building on the other side of the bridge. Fortunately the path ahead was all open (I am not sure if it is every closed, despite being in the Danger Area) and I was soon passing another boat yard with boats in varying states of repair.

Potton Creek

Many moor were moored up along the centre of the creek, accessed by a wooden jetty.  I suspect most would not move now until the spring.

Potton Creek

Other boats, moored up (or abandoned) beside the creek looked like they would never move again. Sadly one such rusting hulk still had the writing “Rotherhithe Dockland Museum”. This museum no longer exists (or at least, has changed name) and it seemed a shame that this boat had apparently once been considered worthy of preservation but had now been seemingly abandoned here to rust away.

Rotherhithe Dockland Museum

Once past the boat yard I continued around Mill Head where presumably there had once been a mill, but wasn’t now. I continued back around the south side of this little inlet now alongside Havengore Creek. Accross the creek is Rushley Island. This still is an island thought it is uninhabited and within the danger area though from what I could find out is privately owned. Clearly it was inhabited at some time, as I soon reached a ford marked on the map with Rushley Farm marked on the map but clearly no longer in existence other than an over-grown barn. The ford looked to have been recently used, as I could see tyre tracks across it.

Ford to Rushley Island

Beyond I could see Havengore Bridge over to Foulness Island. It was only a short bit more walking to reach Oxenham where I had reached on my previous mainland walk and so I re-traced my steps along the track from here to Landwick Cottages where I had previously ended, to join up these two walks.

From here it was a rather fiddly journey back to Rochford. First I took the bus to Southend, then I walked from the bus station to Southend Victoria station and took the train from there back to Rochford, taking a little over an hour.

It had been a mixed walk this one.  Rochford turned out to be a pleasant little town but the first part of the walk was mostly around industry and through fields away from the shore and coast. When I did reach the coast, it was initially blighted by the landfill site. Thankfully things improved after this as I could follow right along the sea wall paths around all these muddy little creeks. I was beginning to realise the reality of the length of the coast of Essex, with all these creeks and streams!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. First take a bus from Landwick Cottages to Southend, then a train from Southend Victoria station to Rochford.

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 there is no bus to Landwick Cottages. Instead you’ll need to follow the road for another half a mile inland to Great Wakering instead and use this bus:-

Arriva service 4A : Shoeburyness (East Beach) – Great Wakering – Southchurch – Southend-on-Sea. 

Once at Southend, walk to Southend Victoria and take the train to Rochford on the following route:-

Greater Anglia, London to Southend : London (Liverpool Street) – Stratford – Shenfield – Billericay – Wickford – Rayleigh – Hockley – Rochford – Southend Airport – Prittlewell – Southend Victoria. Trains run every 20 minutes Monday – Saturday between Rochford and Southend taking 10 minutes. On Sundays trains run every 30 minutes.

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

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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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