This walk turned out to be a beautiful walk through more interesting scenery than I had expected and on a beautiful (albeit cold) winters day. Though I did deviate from the nearest coastal route (but rectified that on my next walk) to explore somewhere that looked more interesting.
I took the train from my local station to London Waterloo, the tube over to West Ham and the C2C train back to Benfleet where I had a short wait for a bus over to Canvey Island.
I returned to the same point on the sea wall where I had finished last time. I was not expecting much because from the map I could see the eastern part of Canvey Island was largely built up. I seemed to have timed it to be near high tide since the beach shown on the map was just a few large pebbles just below the sea wall.
The first half mile or so was not particularly interesting following the concrete path next to the concrete sea wall. However soon I reached the south easterly corner of the island where I could look over to Southend-on-Sea ahead and it’s long pier and the south eastern corner of the island where a line of gravel seemed to have formed.
Heading north now, the coast to my right soon began to turn to salt marsh again.
I passed a marina with boats in various states of repair and then came to another larger area of marsh ahead. This leads out to the eastern most point of the island to Canvey Point. A footpath heads right out along this and although it was a dead-end I decided it might be nice to follow it.
The junction of the path was at a slipway heading down to Smallings Creek ahead. Here I turned right on what I took to be the path at the south edge of a boat yard but then the path just seemed to end. The only way onwards was to cross the mud flats and marshy islands ahead. Clearly the path wasn’t really a footpath any longer but had been eroded away.
Old bits of wood were poking up from the mad flats and some suspiciously straight creeks on the map suggested there had once been something here – perhaps an oyster farm or similar?
So I quickly gave up that path and returned to the main coastal path around the island, where I was now looking across Smallings Creek, another area of marsh with wooden jetties and boats moored ahead.
The path passed a boat yard of some sort, the boats in varying states of repair (or decay) and rail tracks embedded in one of the slipways suggesting it was once used by large vessels.
The path took me passed a flood gate in the sea wall, this time closed. I wasn’t sure if the gates were always left like this or if there was a risk of flooding today.
I’d now reached the end of Smallings Creek and inland there was a small pond which also looked man-made. Caravans peeped over the top, though they looked more the “park home” variety than holiday ones.
Technically there is briefly no footpath here – the footpaths head much further inland but in fact there was an obvious and well-used path over the end of the creek to enter Canvey Heights Country Park. I’m not sure where the “heights” part comes into play, since it’s entirely flat but as I reached the coastal end of the park I had fine views of Southend in the distance. Well I say fine, but I could see a lot of ugly 1960s tower blocks too – it did not look like Southend was a pretty town, but I did like the contrast between the salt marsh left to nature ahead and the large town beyond it.
I soon turned the corner to reach the north coast of Canvey Island and begin heading west again, towards Benfleet. I followed the sea wall past the area called “Newlands”. To my right was more areas of saltmarsh and to my left the caravans that I decided looked to be permanent homes rather than holiday caravans.
On the marshes a sign informed me this was “Newlands Saltmarsh” which is part of “Benfleet and Southend Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest” and was managed by “Canvey Wildfowlers Club”. These sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are “areas protected by law to conserve their wildlife or geology”. It seemed rather at odds to have such a site managed by a club whose preferred pastime is blasting wildlife with a shotgun. Thankfully the wildfowlers were not about today, so all was peaceful.
As the marsh narrowed I was surprised to see on the other side of the Benfleet Creek there were hills. Zooming in with my camera I could even make out Hadleigh Castle, that I could see marked on the map on the other side.
The castle looked quite interesting. Having spent so long walking around the flat marshes either side of the Thames estuary I was yearning for some hills and the views they offered. I decided that once round Canvey rather than follow the coastal route I would instead follow the path up to the castle instead and I’d come back next time to follow the more coastal route (I’m not going to cheat!)
At a place called Sunken Marsh the coast path around the island switched from being a footpath to a bridlepath for some reason. It also crossed Tewkes Creek which seemed to be routed underground under the sea wall here through sluice gates.
I could now hear and see the trains rumbling along the railway line just the other side of the Benfleet creek. On my left I was now passing a golf course, Castle Point Golf Club.
To my right the path was soon routed behind another boat yard of some sort, separated from the path by an ugly metal fence.
On reaching the end of the fence I’d also completed my walk around Canvey Island as I was now back at the B1014 bridge leading over to the island with the flood barrier to my right – though it was open.
Here I turned right on reaching the mainland and soon found the footpath crossed the railway line and I could then follow the bridleway over Benfleet Downs. I hadn’t expected this, proper hills in Essex!
I soon found a path heading higher up though the views back where hazy because the sun was getting low. However the view ahead was lovely – the rolling hills of Benfleet Downs, with the flat salt marshes to it’s right leading down to the Thames and Benfleet creek.
It was lovely and the path was easy too having been properly surfaced meaning it was not the mud bath I feared it might be given it is a bridlepath and it’s winter.
Soon I had the ruins of the castle (Hadleigh Castle) just to my left.
They were much more impressive than I had expected. So although slightly off the path I was following I headed up for a closer look. I was pleased to find that the sight was owned by English Heritage but there was free access to walk around the castle, rather than an admission charge.
In the now low sun it was particularly beautiful with the yellow light catching the ancient stones of the castle.
I remember when the 2012 Olympics were being planned. I think the mountain biking was originally pencilled in for somewhere in Surrey but was changed to the area around Hadleigh Castle. I remember thinking at the time, now that I had been to the area, it was a brilliant idea. You might not associate Essex with mountains but these gently rolling hills were in a beautiful location close to London, with good transport links and high enough to make a good course. Yes it made a lot of sense (and it worked very well).
I very much enjoyed exploring the ruins of the castle and was pleased I had decided to come this way. Oddly the round tower was still standing but around 1/3 of the wall was missing.
I wondered why this was, but I found an information board that explained that in 1551 Edward VI sold the castle with the castle to be demolished and the stone to be used elsewhere. I guess the demolition was never finished, hence the ruins that exist now.
It was a lovely location and I could get the hoped-for views over the Thames estuary with the flat marshes below me, then the Thames and the shore of Kent just visible in the distance.
There were a lot of people about and it is clearly a much-loved place for the locals to visit too. The path (now the Saffron Trail) headed east over the ridge of the chalky downs. It was a little like the path over the top of the Malverns but in miniature!
It was a nice easy path and beautiful, too. It had been an eye-opener to me this walk I had not expected to find such lovely scenery along the built up Thames estuary.
This path was now getting quite muddy. No longer a bridlepath it was now a footpath though the numerous trails from bicycle wheels suggested it was still well used by cyclists, despite this.
So I had to slip and slide my way down a bit to head down the hill. A road continue ahead through the woodland of Belton Hills to reach Leigh-on-Sea station.
The sun was just setting so I could see the red glow of the setting sun over the buildings of Leigh-on-Sea ahead.
It was such a lovely evening I decided that rather than take the train straight back, I’d explore a little further. Just south of Leigh-on-Sea station there is another little creek that has created another island, Two Tree Island. Though it’s not a true island in that it’s now linked by a road.
So I headed along the footpath at the north edge of the creek to the bridge and crossed over to Two Tree Island.
It was getting dark now so I would not have time to explore all the island (it is a nature reserve with numerous paths) but I did follow the road to it’s end at the south of the island where I stopped to take many photos of the beautiful views at dusk.
I was really pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was albeit I was also very lucky with the beautiful weather conditions and light.
In fact the road didn’t quite end at the southern end of the island, it continued as a slipway further out into the creek with the marshes at the north east of Canvey Island a couple of hundred metres away. I walked to the end of it and looking over to Canvey I’d walked about 7 miles since then – to end up so close to where I had been a few hours earlier!
As the sun got lower I had to end my photography session and head back to the station as I didn’t want to walk the road back to the station in the pitch black since although it wasn’t busy it didn’t have a pavement and I didn’t have a torch, so would not be so visible to traffic.
I made it to the station safely and did not have to wait long for a train into London and onwards home.
This had turned out to be a lovely walk, really enjoyable, and far more interesting and scenic than I could have imagined. I was really impressed by how varied the scenery was too, I had not expected to find lovely areas of downland and the interesting ruined castle at Hadleigh albeit I’d diverted slightly from the true closest route to the coast in order to see them – but I was glad that I had done so (and I returned to walk the path closest to the coast next time).
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
First Essex bus route 21 : Southend – Westcliff – Leigh-on-Sea – Hadleigh – South Benfleet – Benfleet Station – Canvey Village – Canvey (Newlands Creek). Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 45 minutes to get back to Canvey Island however. You could instead travel by train between Leigh-on-Sea and Benfleet station and then take a bus from there to Canvey which might work out faster.