It was time to move on to a new county. Having started off really enjoying the coast of Kent the last few walks had been mostly marshes and industry and I was getting a bit bored of it. It was time to cross the Thames into Essex.
I had puzzled about where to cross the Thames. The lowest crossing is the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry. I had wondered about walking across the Dartford bridge, but a bit of research found that this was impossible. I thought I read that if you arrived at the bridge there wanting to cross you would be driven across. It turns out this service only exists for cyclists not pedestrians (why?). So the first place I could walk across was the Woolwich foot runnel and that seemed too far. I had briefly considered walking as far as Tower Bridge but then I saw how much industry I’d have to walk through (especially on the north bank of the Thames in London) and decided against that.
So I decided that for my next walk I’d start at Tilbury. Ideally I’d take the ferry across from Gravesend, but that too presented it’s own practical problems. If I drove to Gravesend to do so I’d need to take the ferry both ways (as I’d need to get back to my car at the end) which seemed unnecessarily inconvenient and expensive. Or I could take the train, but that would cost almost double the price because (for some reason) at off-peak times the price difference between a single or a return train ticket is usually about 10p, so in effect to travel out to Gravesend and back from somewhere in Essex would cost almost double than a return on the same route. So in the end I decided just to start the walk from Tilbury and not bother with the ferry, after all I’d not be walking when on the ferry anyway.
So to Essex. Now here is a confession. Before this coastal walk, the only time in my life I’d ever even stepped foot in Essex before was to go to Stansted Airport. I didn’t know anyone that lived there, I’d never visited there and it was generally regarded as fairly flat, so it didn’t feature highly on my walking plans, either. But I actually rather enjoyed my walk around it’s coast, I was surprised by how rural and tranquil most of it was and the numerous creeks and estuaries (I read that Essex actually has the longest coastline of any county in England).
I decided to travel there by train rather than driving. To drive I now had to drive almost exactly half way around the M25 whichever way I went (or straight through London, but that would be slower). On the train I could take a more direct route and, as at the time, I already had a train season ticket to take me into London for no extra cost, it made sense.
The rail line out to Tilbury starts at London Fenchurch Street. This is an unusual station in that it is (I think) the only central London terminus that does not have a tube station within it (the nearest one is at Tower Hill). So I decided the simplest option was to take the train to London Waterloo then take the Jubilee line from there onto West Ham station. This had a direct connection with the line out of Fenchurch Street and the trains to Tilbury and so worked out quicker. It was a pleasant journey. I even had the rare privilege of a carriage on the Jubilee line entirely to myself as we got further out of central London – not something that happens often I imagine.
From there I found the train on to Tilbury Town operated by a company going by the strange name of “c2c”, whatever that is meant to mean. But I was pleasantly surprised. The train was modern, clean, on-time, not crowded and comfortable, unlike the run-down vandalised trains I’d encountered in Kent.
Sadly it was not all good news. I could get as far as Tilbury Town station. But the ferry from Gravesend was a mile away. There used to be a railway station right next to it (Tilbury Riverside), but it closed in 1992. This was because with the opening of the first tunnel under the Thames at Dartford in 1963 the Tilbury <-> Gravesend ferry had declined in importance, particularly when the M25 opened in 1986, providing a faster route for many. Fewer and fewer people used the station until it was closed entirely.
The first part of my walk was therefore a mile of road walking. I exited the station on the side for the town and turned right along Dock Road. I took the first road off to the right Soon on the right I came across a sign for Tilbury Fort, which I knew was on the riverside. This took me on a combined foot and cycle path over the railway line on a large bridge. There was another thing I noticed – the bridge was really high. I realised why as I was crossing – the trains on the north side of the Thames are electrified with overhead wires rather than 3rd rail that is used on the south side, which means bridges have to be higher to get over both the tracks and wires. Once across the railway I was on the busier A1089. Fortunately, it did have a pavement.
The road became increasingly industrial, with the docks on my right and and railway off to my left. I came to a couple of roundabouts and came to the waterfront, overlooking what is now the London International Cruise Terminal. If you come on a cruise and it claims to stop at London it’s probably actually stopping here in Tilbury, Essex (I wonder if they mention that in the brochure?). This is because these days most cruise ships are so large they cannot get further up the Thames. Only smaller boats can get under Tower Bridge to moor up in the Pool of London between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The cruise terminal now uses the old railway station building.
All sorts of jetties now occupy the front of the station one of which (I’m not sure which) is used by the Gravesend ferry.
Just past this I could begin on a path beside the road which led to the Worlds End Pub. It did seen an apt name.
The banks of the Thames here were briefly undeveloped, with mud flats and the great hulking power station a bit further along the shore. I passed along the sea wall here, now a footpath to reach Tilbury Fort.
This is owned by English Heritage and open to the public and parts of it date from the 16th Century. It is a very interesting castle with a moat on 3 sides and the Thames on the south side. It was built to defend the Thames and London from attack from France. The entrance was through an impressive gate house. I would liked to have taken a look but it was now November and I knew I’d not finish my planned walk before dark if I did.
So I had to make do with peering through the gate house instead. It did look pretty interesting.
I continued along the shore past the fort, but too my irritation there was no path and it was soon blocked by a gate (looking at the map now I think a path has since opened).
So I had to head back to the Worlds End Pub and follow a path marked heading north from here. This was clearly once a road, but is now closed to cars.
It still had the white line down the middle, but was being taken over by vegetation.
At the end I rejoined the public road. Sadly this time there wasn’t a pavement. The road soon turned to the left and just after this I could pick up “Public Footpath 146”, as the sign informed me. This ran along a raised bank with the road leading into Tilbury power station just to my left. Soon it turned right, away from the power station road and alongside a little area of water, mostly hidden by trees. When this ended I continued on a concrete path by the sea wall.
The view was not promising! A sewage works and then the power station beyond that.
I had seen that this part of Essex was industrial from my walk along the south side, so I suppose is was not a surprise. However soon this opened up to a path right along the shore of the Thames again.
It looked like the sort of path that might flood at high tide given the washed up debris about but it did not seem likely today. The path runs right along the shore in front of Tilbury Power station and underneath a couple of jetties and pier that service it.
In fact though I hadn’t realised it, there are actually two separate power stations here, one fired by coal and another by oil. The oil one had shut down in 1981 and had been part demolished. The second one, the coal one was operating at the time I walked here, but has since closed (it closed in 2013). The jetties were I think for unloading the coal shipped in. I passed under the jetties and soon reached the end of the power station.
At the end of the power station the map showed the public footpath headed away from the sea wall beside old land fill areas and the like. Thankfully I found this diversion was not necessary (and in fact didn’t seem to exist). I could continue alongside the sea wall. When this ended I found there was a pleasant footpath over the marshes.
It passed a few former industrial structures (old piers etc). It was not marked as a right of way (the footpath meandering about a bit inland) but seemed well used, mostly by fisherman. I was actually quite relieved about that because I always feel a little nervous in remote industrial areas so it was good to have the fisherman about too.
Soon the un-official path I had been following joined the route of the official path again right along the coast. I was surprised to see there was even a brief sandy beach!
The path crossed a couple of little streams inland.
Ahead I came to a derelict old jetty with a concrete tower. I imagine it was from World War II but not entirely sure of it’s use. It looked a bit like a water tower on closer inspection.
Ahead I came to another interesting fort. This one is Coalhouse Fort. This is more recent than Tilbury Fort, dating from the 1860s. It was used until the 1950s when it was closed and became derelict.
A local preservation group has now taken over to maintain and preserve it and they open the fort on occasional open days. Like Tilbury Fort, much of the moat is still intact and still full of water. It was very pleasant with a little park in front of it.
On the other bank too I could see Cliffe Fort and the industry that surrounds it.
I passed the entrance to the fort and although the fort was closed to the public when I walked past the main gates were open so I could at least look over the low wooden fence and see inside.
A lot of original features seemed to be intact with old railway tracks heading off into the fort. Another one to come back and visit another day.
I could actually walk the coastal side of the fort and at the end a public path continued along the banks of the Thames.
This path continued right along the banks for about 1 mile. There was old industry (mostly gravel and sand extraction) marked on the map to the left but it is now disused and slowly returning to nature.
The tide was going out now, revealing large areas of mud flats.
Near these old jetties the path came to an end. The map suggested the path continued on the banks of the Thames for another half a mile or so to some “Travelling Cranes” but it was fenced off.
So I had to turn inland here on another path along the south edge of Mucking Marsh (I think it is actually an old landfill site, so lives up to it’s name!). I was soon passing along a field near to East Tilbury, with the houses close by. Soon I was turned left with the path to run parallel with the edge of East Tilbury.
East Tilbury is one of those planned communities. The Bata Shoe Factory was built here in the 1930s. The owners of the factory developed East Tilbury for their workers (though the shoe factory has since shut down) and most of the houses date from this period. My path passed a park and then reached the road. Here I turned right passing East Tilbury station.
I continued along the road to reach the end of East Tilbury and the start of the village of Linford about 100 metres later! I passed the church on my right.
A gap in the wooden fence past this led to a footpath which was a shortcut through a small area of woodland. There were in fact quite a number of paths here (probably well used by dog walkers) but I headed in the rough direction of the path on the map and soon emerged onto Walton’s Hill Road. This was a busy road with poor visibility and no pavement so did not make for a pleasant place to walk.
On my left I soon passed Walton Hall Farm which has a museum and a small farm open to the public. Beyond this I continued with the road which soon paralleled the railway line. The road clearly used to have a level crossing here, but it had closed.
The road soon turned left away from the railway again but a footpath continued ahead beside the railway which I took beside a field.
This soon met the road again but this time it was a more minor road leading to the small village of Mucking. I crossed the level crossing (this one does still exist) and continued along the road.
Mucking is unusual in that it’s on this dead-end road. I continued on the road passed the church which is now a private residence rather than a working church.
Just past this there is a footpath off to the left. Interestingly now at the end of the road there seems to have been a nature reserve created, Thurrock Thameside Nature Park which is now owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust. So there is additional access along the coast now. This opened in 2013 (by David Attenborough, no less) on what was land fill at the time I walked here. It shows what can be done!
However when I walked here this didn’t exist, so instead I turned left on this footpath into Stanford Warren Nature reserve. Here a pleasant track led over marshes and across a creek. It continued between lakes.
This soon emerged onto another road. My destination, Stanford-le-Hope station was just half a mile along this road. However I decided to continue a bit further first.
So I turned right through more of the nature reserve back alongside Mucking Creek and back to the Thames.
Here a pleasant path continued along the Thames. It was now nearing sunset and the light was lovely. On reaching the banks of the river I could see back to the Travelling Cranes I had passed earlier. They looked strangely beautiful in the early evening sun, catching the last of the suns rays.
I’m not normally one to find industrial areas attractive but the light made it really quite beautiful.
Ahead though the view was of more industry. There was a large oil storage depot and another power station beyond it and an oil refinery beyond that. Something to look forward to for next time!
Now with the sun almost setting I took one last photo looking back over the cranes now in dusk. This landscape has changed now. The oil refinery ahead has since all been re-developed into the London Gateway Port.
It was a beautiful sunset. The path ahead was supposed to continue a little further before coming a dead end but after a short distance you are expected to walk across the mud flats I think where the banks have eroded away.
So I abandoned that as not safe and so turned inland along Rainbow Lane (a track that is also a bridleway). I continued ahead on this in the fading light passing a sports ground and to the road.
At the end of this sports field I turned left, passing the other side of it on the left and then turned left again to continue ahead to Stanford-le-Hope station. I had about 15 minutes to wait for a train back to West Ham where I then returned home by tube and train via London Waterloo.
My first walk in Essex had been an interesting one. It had turned out more pleasant than I expected with a path along the banks of the Thames for much of the walk and despite some industry much of it was actually reasonably rural. The lovely sunny weather and beautiful light helped, too. The two forts were very interesting and I even found the industry visible at the end strangely pretty in the lovely light of dusk.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.
C2C trains run regularly between Tilbury and Stanford-le-Hope : London Fenchurch Street – Limehouse – West Ham – Barking – Upminster – Ockendon – Chafford Hundred – Grays – Tilbury Town – East Tilbury – Stanford-le-Hope – Pitsea – Benfleet – Leigh-on-Sea – Chalkwell – Westcliff – Southend Central. Trains run twice an hour, seven days a week. It takes 9 minutes between Stanford-le-Hope and Tilbury Town.