Pitsea to Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
Saturday August 6th 2016
Finally today we got back to the sea! We left the sea three years ago almost to the day when we passed Seasalter in Kent and began to make our way along the Thames to the first crossing.
We caught an early train from Aldershot and arrived in Pitsea in time to pop into the big Tesco for lunch and water. We had identified the beginning of the first footpath last time we were here and it was a hopeful start as it was clear and dived neatly behind a row of houses just as it was supposed to do. It came out at the end of the houses into a wheat field, which was yellow and ripe and swaying gently in the breeze.
At the end of the fields we came out onto a lane and our first landmark of the day; St Margaret’s Church at Bowers Gifford. It was already warm and we were grateful for a seat in the shade of the church wall to have a drink stop. There were a few people about with mowers and strimmers working in the churchyard and when we had finished the drink we stopped to chat. They were tidying things up as part of the preparation for a wedding and the grounds were looking lovely. A lady offered to show us the church and told us a little of its history. It is a strange place as the buildings now sits in the middle of fields a few miles from any civilisation but its origins were as a place of worship for the many people who lived on the marshes and worked on the farms there. Parts of the church date back to the 1300s and she showed us parts which date from the rebuild in Tudor times.
We left the church behind and found our way out of the far side of the churchyard and along another path on the edge of a field which again came out on a lane. We were intrigued by a handmade sign here pointing under the railway to “Daniel and Chloe’s party”. We were under the impression that the road only went to a sewage works but maybe not!
There was a path here continuing alongside the railway but it was choked with nettles and brambles so we decided to find a way through the housing estate. It turned out to be very easy – up one road, right into another, then across a park. The park had some very large trees and we took a break in the shade and enjoyed a box of pineapple chunks. On the other side of the park, we found our way through more houses to join up with the route again at Benfleet Church. Outside the church we stopped again and bought some more water in a shop opposite. We then walked along a road through Benfleet and picked up a path which would lead us uphill and into Hadleigh Country Park. We were now looking for a place to stop for lunch but the path led into a cow field and although we had seen the cows trotting past, we were a little worried that they might come back.
So we pressed on uphill, over a stile and up again to the edge of a patch of woodland. Here in the shade, was the perfect place to stop for a while. We had a view of Canvey Island and Sheppey and a small patch of blue in the distance which was almost certainly our first glimpse of the sea.
After a good stop and some good food we were ready to continue and we thoroughly enjoyed the next section which was through the edge of the woods. It was a good path which climbed gently, was well signed and easy to walk.
After a couple of miles, we emerged into the car park of the country park. Here we found a large visitor centre, toilets, a café and hundreds of cyclists and the solution as to why Hadleigh had been naggingly familiar as a name. This is Hadleigh Farm which is where the Olympic mountain bike races had been held in 2012. The legacy of 2012 is really in place here as the Olympics courses are still in place and many more have been put in since. They are graded according to difficulty and some are suitable for children. We saw cyclists of all ages from toddlers on balance bikes to very elderly gents on swish expensive machines and many families out enjoying the sunshine. We stopped for water and ice cream and sit down in the shade.
Then it was on for the last lap. A good “multi-use track” took us towards Hadleigh Farm which is now a rare breeds farm and tea room. The site was opened in the 1890s by the Salvation Army to provide work and training for men from London who needed a helping hand. Many went on from Hadleigh to work overseas. The complex included several farms, brickworks and living accommodation and the work on offer covered farm work, labouring in the brickworks or work in the living quarters, library and kitchens. The work has evolved over the years but the Salvation Army still help people find work here on the farm or in the country park. We did not stop at the farm but continued down to Hadleigh Castle which is about half way down the hill.
A few walls and one tower are all that is left of a once large castle. It was built in the 1230s by Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent and a hundred years later was a favourite residence of Edward I. Edward III also loved it and spent a lot of time at Hadleigh in his later years. After his death, the castle was no longer used and in the 1550s it was demolished and the stones sold off as building materials. It is now in the protection of English Heritage and the grounds are immaculate and it was full of families picnicking and enjoying the sunshine. The views were amazing and we identified Canvey Island below us and could make out Allhallows on the Isle of Sheppey and could definitely see the sea now.
After a break at the castle, we dropped very steeply to the path along the bottom near the railway line. It was hot down there, very hot and there was no shade. All we could do was keep going in the knowledge that we were nearly at Leigh-on-Sea. We could see the trains slowing down to stop at the railway station and suddenly we spotted this sign!
It took us a little longer than 2 minutes but we got there and gratefully collapsed on a seat in the shade for a few minutes. To our surprise it was quarter to five and we decided to finish the walk here. We were both struggling a bit and it seemed the wisest thing to do. Leigh station had loos and a coffee shop so all we needed was to hand, as well as a train back to London which was almost due.
We came back all the way to Fenchurch Street and came across London on a beautiful balmy evening. From Fenchurch Street we caught the tube to Embankment then walked across Hungerford Bridge. The South Bank was crowded and loud as we made our way through the throngs and up to Waterloo for our train home.
It was a splendid walk; Essex redeemed itself today and we really enjoyed it. The best thing was that we finally saw the sea and will look forward to walking along a proper prom again soon.
Leigh-on-Sea Station 16.46
Time 6 hours 23 minutes
Saturday July 16th 2016
Today’s walk proved to be the most challenging coast walk we have yet undertaken, partly due to weather, partly to footpath problems and partly due to Jen’s health.
We set off in good spirits on a route which was completely new to us. From Waterloo, we caught the Jubilee line to West Ham then changed onto a C2C train to Stanford-le-Hope. It was quite fast and by 9.15 we had arrived in Stanford. We called into the local Tesco express then made our way to the edge of town to pick up our route again.
The first footpath was very easy to find as it wound through a cornfield and out the other side onto a track called Rainbow Lane. We were a little uncertain after this as a new road had been built to serve the London Gateway Port and we were not sure whether the old footpaths would still be open. However we crossed Rainbow Lane and followed a small roadway past a farm. Suddenly the new road loomed in front of us and, sure enough, the path opposite had a sign proclaiming it to be private property. We decided to investigate, crossed the empty (being a Saturday) dual carriageway and approached the path. There was a sign with its back to us which pointed to a right of way running south parallel to the new road. We reasoned that in order to see this sign, it must be possible to walk towards it so we set off down the track. It soon spilt and we took the path we wanted and met up with some local walkers. They promised to show us the way through to Corringham village then promptly missed the turning! It was very well concealed and overgrown but after a few yards fighting through brambles we arrived at the back of a park. Here were Saturday morning footballers and their families enjoying the sunshine. The park is new and was not on any maps but we took the chance of a break under the trees for a few minutes.
At this point we realised that neither of us had packed the sun cream so we asked some ladies where the nearest shop was. They directed us and one offered her own cream. We took a little but decided to buy some anyway. Once across another dual carriageway a short path took us into Corringham and a small parade of shops which furnished drinks and sun cream.
From the shops we walked back down the road towards the church and found a delightful ancient village centre. We stopped to admire the church and a man mowing the graveyard asked if we needed directions. We didn’t but it was kind of him and we chatted for a few minutes. Corringham is a very old village with connections to smuggling and part of the church dates back to Saxon times.
The path to Fobbing ran beside The Bull pub and was rather urban and unpleasant but short and brought us out at the bottom of a hill! Rather unexpected that. At the top of the hill was the centre of Fobbing Village and a few yards up the road a recreation ground with some big shady trees. We were intrigued by the monument here. It was erected in 1981 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the peasants’ revolt which began in this area in May 1381. Villagers from Fobbing, as well as Corringham and Stanford refused to pay their taxes and were summoned to Brentwood to explain to the commissioner. He told the villagers that if they did not pay they would be arrested. They refused and a riot followed. The unrest spread and led to the now famous march into London.
Fobbing’s history is also linked with smuggling. The village used to be on the waterfront and the church was well known as a hiding place for illicit goods. But after the 1953 floods, the land was drained and Fobbing is now stranded a few miles inland with a main street which goes nowhere.
We were quite worried about the next leg of the walk. From Fobbing we needed to strike out across Vange Marsh, which is a wild piece of land almost rectangular in shape bounded by the road into Fobbing to the west, the A13 to the north, Vange Creek to the east and the River Thames to the south. A couple of paths were marked on the map but every blogger who had walked this stretch said that they were impassable. I had the app from the new Thames Estuary Path on my phone, however, and this clearly marked a route across. So we set off along Marsh Lane and out into the wilderness. There should have been a path heading almost directly north at this point but there was no sign of it. A field of crops stood where it should have been. We thought about walking round the outside of the field but it was planted right up to the edge.
The alternative path on the map headed east then north, but was a lot longer and looked a little more complicated, which is why we had planned to take the quicker one. Again there was no sign of it but The Thames Estuary Path was well signed here also going away towards the east although it appeared to be on the opposite side of small water course. However, we decided to try it. Using the GPS on my phone and Memory Map also on the phone, we quickly established that we were indeed walking on the “wrong” side of the ditch but we were on a proper path. At the end of this footpath we had a rest under a tree and considered our options. The Thames Estuary path was signed again quite clearly heading north but on no route which was on the map. We came to the conclusion that this route must have superseded the old paths and that following it was the only way to get across the marsh.
We continued for another couple of miles, were overtaken by some faster walkers who were cheerfully just following the signs, and soon found a tree for a lunch break. After lunch we continued but the path became very difficult. It ran between a drainage ditch on one side and Vange Creek, which was protected by a 12 foot high bank, on the other. It was airless and very overgrown with long grass. It was a very much longer route than we had planned - at least an extra five miles as the Estuary path followed the winding edge of the creek instead of heading straight up as the old path had done.
Jen began to struggle with the humidity and the conditions and with muscle spasms in her legs and we were forced to take frequent breaks. I was rather worried about her particularly given the distance we still had to go and how far we were from any help. We poured everything into her that might possibly help – sweet biscuits (she is a diabetic), water, ibuprofen, Ventolin (she is an asthmatic). While she rested, I clambered up the bank to survey the creek and the possibility of rescue if it became necessary. On the opposite side of the creek was The Wat Tyler Country Park and what appeared to be some sort of boatyard with small boats sitting in the mud. The tide was out, but if it really came to it, we could possibly wait for high tide and get out that way with assistance. However, Jenna insisted that if we took it slowly she would make it. So we just plodded on very gently, for a while stopping after every twenty steps for a rest, but secure in the knowledge that it was high summer, it would be light well into the evening and there was really no hurry.
Eventually we came to a sign pointing away from the creek edge and here the Estuary path joined up with the mapped paths which made it easier to navigate. On the edge of civilization we found a patch of woodland, possibly an old orchard, and took a long break under the trees. The heat of the day was wearing off and Jen was feeling better so we were able to make faster progress as we approached the northern end of Vange Marsh.
Here was an RSPB reserve and we walked alongside the railway line and found a possible way out. We had been forced to divert behind a small industrial site and the gate onto the road was open. It would have meant crossing the A13 dual carriageway and finding our way through a housing estate to a bus stop in Basildon. But, having checked the maps, we decided to carry on into Pitsea as it was not much further than the escape route.
Finally we passed the head of Vange Creek, which had caused this inland detour, crossed the railway line and walked through another industrial area to emerge onto the road near Pitsea Station.
We took the final photos then found our way to the huge Tesco store just over the railway bridge. We had run out of water several miles back so bought some food and six bottles of drink. Two bottles each went down us as we rested on a wall in the car park of the store! After that we felt strong enough to make our way home from Pitsea back via West Ham and Waterloo.
Stanford-Le Hope 09.45
1 65 miles
Pitsea Station 17.58
Time 8 hours 13 minutes
Tilbury to Stanford-le-Hope, Essex
Saturday April 16th 2016
Our first foray into Essex would take us along the north bank of the River Thames heading optimistically for the sea again.
Having decided to walk today the first decision was how to get back to the ferry terminal at Tilbury to pick up the walk. Until 1992 there was a railway station at Tilbury Riverside; a branch line from the main line at Tilbury Town. The service has been replaced by a bus which connects with the train from London. But not early on Saturday mornings. Somewhat reluctantly we decided that the quickest route was to go back to Gravesend and cross by the ferry once again. So that is what we did and after an easy journey via Waterloo Main and East, Tesco in Gravesend High Street and the first ferry of the morning, at 10:15 we were at Tilbury ready to depart. Initially, the path was obvious and very easy, alongside a road ending at The Worlds End pub thereafter joining a concrete wall for the short distance to Tilbury Fort.
Tilbury Fort is one of a number of defences built to defend London from attack from the sea. The first fort was built here in 1539 by Henry VIII and was extended in the 1580s during the Spanish Armada. As part of that defence a boom was constructed across the river. It was fairly crude, being made of chains and cables attached to boats, but no doubt effective. One story suggests that it was at Tilbury that Queen Elizabeth 1 gave her famous speech about having the body of a weak and feeble woman but the mind of a king but that is not confirmed. What is known is that in the 1740s, prisoners were brought to Tilbury after the battle of Culloden and there is a memorial to them here. Over the years the fort was upgraded, left to decay and upgraded again and the soldiers here were credited with the shooting down of a zeppelin in the First World War. The fort was demobilized in 1950 and is now in the care of English Heritage.
Unfortunately the site was still closed for the winter and a closer look at the sign revealed the frustrating news that the first opening day of the new season would be tomorrow.
From Tilbury the wall continued and we enjoyed spotting landmarks from last summer across the river. Looming ahead of us was the not very attractive sight of Tilbury Sewage Works on the river’s edge and the power station behind. We were under the impression that there were two paths around these works, one on the river side and one inland. However, when we got there we were confronted by a set of steps crossing the wall and a sign to the effect that the sole path was on the river side and, incidentally, was only passable at low tide. With some trepidation we headed towards the river below the high wall enclosing the sewage works and peered around the corner. To our relief the tide was out and there was an obvious track across dry land.
The pleasure was short lived as we realised that the path was not all that dry and we had to pick our way through rubbish left by the retreating river. What we were walking through does not bear thinking about; suffice it to say we were very glad to reach the other end and climb back onto the concrete wall again.
This wall was to be our companion now for most of the day. It must act primarily as a flood defence as in some places the drop inside was very high. We kept walking along the wall, pausing at a jetty being used to load some kind of quarried material and to look a sign which must have blown off a cruise ship. It read “Ibiza Loves You!” Also on this stretch was a hexagonal radar tower dating from World War 2.
Soon after the radar tower, the path turned inland as we approached the second military installation of the day at Coalhouse Fort. This complex is much larger than Tilbury but is similar in that it dates back to the 1500s and has seen many rebuilds and reuses. It is located on a sharp bend in the river and operated at various times in conjunction with Cliffe and Shornemead Forts on the southern bank to defend the Thames on the approaches to London. It fulfilled this role though the Napoleonic Wars, the threats of French invasion in the mid-1800s and into World War 1, when the fort was manned by the Royal Garrison Artillery. A minefield was laid in the river, with mines which could be detonated mechanically in the shallower parts of the river and remote controlled devices in the deeper part. Thus legitimate shipping could pass but the mines could be set off if an enemy ship approached. Another brief for the troops here was to fire at any ship which did not stop when challenged. The fort played a similar role in WW2 but towards the end of the war was downgraded and acted as the base for the local Home Guard Coastal Battery detachment. The fort is well preserved and open to the public on occasions, while its grounds have been turned into a riverside park by its current owners, Thurrock Council. From our point of view, it had toilets and a café and we were glad to make use of both.
After a pleasant stop we found our way back onto the concrete river wall again. At this point we took a bit of a risk. The older maps and guides routed us inland soon after the fort as ahead of us lay Mucking Marsh. Mucking was, until recently, the landfill site for London and barges would arrive regularly at the small jetty to unload their cargoes. Most of the marsh is now a nature reserve and, according to more recent information, it should be possible to walk from the end of the river wall over to the nature reserve.
We continued along the wall, past the end of the footpath inland. We were very amused by a series of duck slopes built into the wall, presumably enabling water birds to access the river. At intervals there were ladders with one end in the river and the other on the inside of the wall for people. We met a dog walker and stopped for a chat. We mentioned that we hoped to get through to the nature reserve and he assured us that, although he had never done it himself, there was a people-made path at the end of the wall. We continued and once we had spotted the well-trodden path, found a place to stop and enjoyed watching the traffic on the river while we had our lunch.
Refreshed and rested we set off. All was well to begin with but we soon lost the obvious track and the land underfoot became rather soggy and not long afterwards turned to thick and deep mud. It was not universal mud, however, and we managed to pick our way carefully from one higher spot to another. In parts there were remains of a road, although that was flooded right across in places. At one point I lost my footing and sat down, coating my behind in greyish mud. Jen was leading the way and headed for a wide path which looked solid but, as she discovered, was anything but and she went in over her ankles.
We ploughed on and eventually could see the nature reserve’s visitor centre above us, so we turned a little inland and clambered along the slopes above a flooded track at right angles to the river before emerging onto a proper new pathway and into the nature reserve. It was a huge relief to be safely on solid ground and we headed for the visitor centre. We later found out that the Gravesend inshore lifeboat had rescued two people from the mud in the area that afternoon and were thankful to have got through safely.
The centre had a café, loos and a shop and it was a relief to sit down and have a hot drink. I suspect that we left a trail of mud everywhere but that couldn’t be helped. The visitor centre itself is interesting as being built on an old landfill site it has to be flexible enough to move as the land settles. So it stands on three legs containing hydraulic jacks which can be adjusted over time as the rubbish decays and the land shifts. After a good rest we climbed to the viewing point on the roof to look back at Tilbury and Gravesend, forward to Southend and across the river to Cliffe.
Our route now lies inland for a while as we skirt Canvey Island so we made our way out of the nature reserve along the access road and into the village of Mucking. It is a tiny village and there was not a soul in sight. The church is now a private house with the front garden planted around the gravestones. We consulted the maps then for the best route into Stanford le Hope and worked out a place to end the walk which would also work well as a beginning next time. This meant finding a path near the church which proved ridiculously tricky but it was there and easy once we had started along it. At the other end, we declared to walk over for the day.
From that point it was a short walk into the centre of Stanford-le-Hope and the railway station. The fun transport bit then followed to get home and although the morning’s journey in reverse sounded a bit complicated it worked because the transport all connected. From Stanford-le-Hope we caught the train to Tilbury Town, then the connecting bus to the Tilbury Ferry. The ferry was waiting for the bus and it was a quick hop over to Gravesend where we caught the high speed train to St Pancras. From there we took our well-worn route of tube to Oxford Circus then to Waterloo and home to Ash Vale where Glyn picked us up.
So we have begun Essex and can look forward to seeing some proper coastal walking again in the not too distant future.
Tilbury Pier 10.15