On this walk I followed the marshes eastwards from Pitsea, alongside the railway line to Benfleet and crossed onto Canvey Island the first island I’ve encountered in Essex (but certainly not the last) and ended with lovely views of the Thames estuary at sunset.
For this walk I took the train, taking a train into London Waterloo, the tube to West Ham and then another train from there to Pitsea. As it was early December and so close to the shortest day, this was not an especially long walk.
From Pitsea station I followed the station access road and turned right to follow the road which soon crosses another part of the railway line (two routes converge at Pitsea). Once over this and immediately to the right there is supposed to be a footpath. But I can’t see it, so I continued on the pavement beside a residential road.
After a while there are houses on the right and then the road I’m following turns left – away from the railway line. I realise I’ve already gone wrong, and retracing my steps back to the first house on the right I find the footpath I’ve been trying to follow which runs behind the backs of the gardens of these houses and emerges into a field with the railway line on my right.
It’s nice to be out in the open countryside now, having left Pitsea behind. Trains pass regularly on the railway line to my right, on their way to and from Southend. Over to the left I’m surprised to see a most unusual of Essex features – a hill! On the top the map shows there is a crematorium and the remains of some ancient moat. I can’t really see much of it from here, but it all seems a bit odd.
To my left the field is almost uniformly green, it looks like grass but it also looks very neat. In fact the view to my left reminds me a bit of the Windows XP background image with the green hill and blue sky.
Ahead I come to a minor road, Church Road, which passes under the railway line to my right and I think leads to some farms. I cross it and come to the remote church of Bowers Gifford. The village itself is almost a mile away to my west and I’m puzzled as to why the church was built so far from the village. Or perhaps the church came first and the village later (but then why build the village away from the church). Either way it seems odd to come across a church like this with no buildings around it.
The path enters the church yard ahead and it’s an attractive church which has a tower and looks to have been extended at some point. It looks well cared for, despite it’s remote location. The path continues beyond the church through a large field to reach a track at the end. Here there is supposed to be a footpath off to the right through Rookery Farm and under the A130. So I turn right crossing the railway line over a bridge and into the farm yard. But it is not very welcoming and there are no signs for the footpath.
After the experience on my previous walk I’m not in the mood to try to follow a path over marshes that doesn’t seem to exist on the ground (though subsequently, checking Google Earth the path seems quite obvious, so perhaps I should have tried). So I decided to continue ahead on the track to cross under the A130. This is the main trunk road that leads onto Canvey Island and joins to the A13. However there is not much traffic. Once over I can turn right onto a footpath that continues, as I have before, alongside the railway line.
The path is initially through a field but I soon come to houses ahead. This is the edge of South Benfleet, a large town, and the path heads behind these houses. Soon the houses end and the path emerges into a park (though a rather wiffy one, as there is a sewage works the other side of the railway line). I walked through the first part of the path and continued ahead where it became more natural, this part being part of Benfleet Marsh. I crossed a track leading to some sort of building I think related to the railway (transformer?) and then continued on a path back in the more manicured part of the park. The path left the park and emerged into a residential road (Hall Farm Road). At the end of this road I reach the church yard.
Another pretty church built of stone and with a tower. I’ve done well for churches on this walk. Not so much for coast though, at least so far.
Of course Canvey Island is an island so my rules say I don’t need to visit it. But as with every island I’ve passed so far, I decide I want to. So from the church I follow the road down passing under the railway line and station (Benfleet) and then follow the road beside the creek, Benfleet Creek, that separates the island from the mainland.
The road is called Ferry Road clearly hinting that the bridge I use to cross over to the island didn’t use to be here. In fact now there are two bridges and another “Flood Barrier” just down from the river.
Much of the east coast of Essex and Canvey in particular were hit by a disastrous flood in 1953. A tidal surge flooded most of the island, killed 58 people and caused the evacuation of around 13,000 residents. Since then most of the island has been surrounded by sea walls, as parts of it are below ground and presumably this flood barrier also helps with this defence.
Once onto the island I turned right and followed the footpath around it’s north and western coast. Canvey Island is surprisingly densely populated. It now has a population of almost 40,000 and as a result around 2/3rds of the island is built up. However the western part is largely undeveloped and is now the South Essex Marshes Nature Reserve.
Thankfully the sea walls meant the path was fairly dry underfoot as it mostly followed along the tops of grassy dykes. It was a peaceful walk other than when I reached the other side of the A130 and crossed under the road. The path follows the marshes beside East Haven Creek that separates the mainland from the western coast of Canvey.
Soon I could see another structure that looked like a bridge but turned out to be a “Moveable Flood Barrier”. A large sign, intended for captains of boats had a red light on top of it and warned that when the light flashed the barrier was closed and vessels are unable to pass through. However the light was not flashing today so clearly the tide was not exceptional.
Rounding the corner I was now heading along the south west coast of the island. Opposite was a huge oil refinery, at Coryton. It wasn’t pretty, a maze of towers, chimneys and a flare stack.
The land on this part of Canvey is no longer developed but the map suggests it once was and I suspect there was also industry of some sort here. Google Earth shows the foundations of some round buildings (probably for storing oil or gas). But it’s all gone now. Instead my peace was shattered by some youths riding around this area on motorbikes.
I was a bit apprehensive they’d start riding along the sea wall I was following, which was churned up but thankfully they at least kept away from me. Ahead was what I suspect is another relic of the industry that was once on this part of Canvey, a long pier the leads to a jetty. It stretches for a little more than 1km into the Thames estuary, with a jetty at the end.
I suspect this is where a pipeline emerges and gas or oil is pumped from ships into this pipeline. But I could be completely wrong.
Before I got to this pier I passed another shorter wider jetty, now derelict and fenced off but surely connected with the industry that used to be here.
I soon passed under the large pipe jetty I had seen ahead earlier. Although much of the industry had gone it certainly looked like this pier was maintained and still used, at least from time to time.
The sun was now getting low so I was aware I’d need to keep up a good pace to get out of this industrial area before it got dark (since I’d not be able to catch a bus from there). It was now getting very pretty out in the Thames with the suns rays breaking through the clouds.
In another half a mile or so I came to another pier. I’m not sure what this was once used for, but now it is a lookout for the National Coastwatch Institute charity. This charity does exactly what it says. Volunteers look out over the coast keeping an eye for anyone or any ship in distress so they can raise the alarm. Just past it is a lovely pub, the Lobster Smack. I suspect a popular place for those at the coastwatch station at the end of their shift!
It was clearly very old, a white clapper-boarded pub. Though it does really show how the sea wall has been built up, as the path I was following along the raised bank was almost level with the roof of the pub!
Beyond the pub I was now entering a still working, rather than former area of industry. This is the Canvey Island Oil Storage Depot. Thankfully there was a road inland here before I entered this area, always useful to know because I had concerns I’d find the path blocked (unfounded, thankfully).
The path continued over and under numerous other little jetties and piers with the building inland identifying it as the “Calor Gas Canvey Terminal”. It looked very 1960s.
Despite the industry to my left I was really enjoying it. The sun was getting low over the Thames, it was high tide so I had views over water, not mud and some of the industry was quite interesting.
When I reached the end of the industry I was surprised to find I was walking now through a massive caravan site, right next to all that industry! Many of the caravans looked very old, though some were newer, and some of those closest to the shore were boarded up, presumably for protection against winter storms rather than because they were abandoned. Popular with Londeners I’d guess who want a cheap bolt hole by the coast but only a short journey away.
I rounded the little bay of Thorney Bay which is presumably the main attraction for the caravaners, with the first houses of Canvey Island beyond. I could certainly see the attraction of this little beach. It was small, but it was lovely and sandy (I’d expected mud, which is what the map shows) and the water was extremely calm.
I headed down onto the sands. It was so nice to be back on a beach after all the walking around industry and mud flats I had done on recent coastal walks. At the end the path continued as a flat concrete path in front of the sea wall. I suspect it would not be passable at particularly high tides, but the Thames estuary was so calm today I would have no problems.
A gap in the sea wall was created for the Labworth Restuarant. There was an art-deco look to the building with the large glass windows providing fine views over the Thames. I could see the sun set reflecting in it’s windows, it looked a lovely place to visit.
In land of this were the more traditional coastal attractions of a small fun fair “Fun Zone” though it was all closed up for the winter. So not much fun to be had today.
The sea wall now had a few bits of grafitti on it some of it rather curious. I passed one that pronounced “Canvey is England’s Lourdes”!
Back along the sea wall now I had passed the restaurant it felt like I was on a promenade but as it was high tide only a few pebbles poked above the water. It was rather pretty though in the beautiful low winter light.
After a while I did come across a small area of sandy beach and a couple of families were playing on it, even though it was pretty cold now.
I continued past the “resort” part of the island where there is a tidal swimming pool and watched the beautiful sunset now forming to my right. I stopped to take photos along a slipway at Leigh Beck over the calm waters of the Thames. It was like a pond, rather than a large estuary. I’m sure it’s not normally this calm.
I took some beautiful (even if I do say so myself) photos of the sunset over the Thames. It was a lovely way to finish the walk. I was not the only one enjoying it, since a few fisherman were also gathered alongside the sea wall.
It was a very relaxing and beautiful way to end the walk. I watched the sun just dip below the horizon over Kent.
I was nearly at the south eastern corner of the island so it was time to call it a day now and head home. I first needed to get over the sea wall (the path was in front of it) so headed back to the jetty I had been photgraphing and then found a bus stop a short distance to the west along Eastern Esplande.
From here I took a bus, meandering around the residential roads of Canvey Island, to Benfleet Station and had only a short wait for the train from there back to London.
The first part of this walk was pleasant enough, through fields and passing the churches but it wasn’t really a coastal walk. However Canvey Island turned out to be quite an interesting place. Not spectacular in any way as it is almost entirely flat but I found the mix of industry, estuary and countryside more pleasant than I had expected probably helped by the wonderful weather (for December) and beautiful light. The sunset at the end was a lovely way to finish the walk.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. The simplest way is to take the bus directly back, though you can also change to the train, as I did, as Benfleet station.
First Essex bus route 22 : Canvey Island (Leigh Beck) – Canvey Island (Haystack Corner) – Benfleet Station – South Benfleet – Pitsea – Basildon. Every 20 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 40 minutes between Canvey Island and Pitsea.