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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1 Response to 168. Benfleet to Southend-on-Sea

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