317. Canvey Island

Today would be a simple affair by walking a complete circuit of Canvey Island along its sea wall.

Canvey Island is a rather unique place, bounded by the River Thames to the south it has a tidal creek running around its northern border, making it an island. The island is served by two roads which cross over the Benfleet and East Haven Creeks. The island has been occupied since Roman times and today has a population of some 38,000. However, the effects of flooding have been a constant danger, no more so in 1953, 5 days after I was born, there was a huge tidal surge in the North Sea. Some 307 people lost their lives along the east coast, 59 of them were on Canvey Island.

As I lay awake in my motel room on the final day of my three days in Essex, I heard the rain beating down outside. I checked the forecast and it said the rain would subside by 07:00. I left Basildon at 06:00 and drove to Canvey Island. It was still dark when I set off along the sea wall. I was using my head torch, mainly to avoid the large puddles which had accumulated with the overnight rain. I tried and failed to take some photos looking across to the bright lights of Leigh-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea. By the time I reached the Canvey Heights Country Park is light enough to turn my head torch off. After rounding Smalling’s Creek I was soon back on the shoreline of the Thames.

I passed a number of pumping stations, each proudly displaying an info board explaining how the drainage system worked. Additional construction to the sea defences took place after the devastation of 1953 and as recently as 2005. The residential part of the island accounts for about two-thirds of the land with the rest given over to pasture for livestock and horses. There is also a large and part redundant oil storage depot, with a series of jetties alongside the Thames.

I made excellent progress along the sea wall and was soon joined by the early morning joggers and dog walkers. As I passed around the large oil storage depot I left these behind. I passed the famous Lobster Smack Inn (formerly the Worlds End Inn) and mentioned in Dicken’s Great Expectations.

After passing the Lobster Smack Inn the sea wall passed into the rural part of Canvey Island. On the opposite bank of Holehaven Creek another large oil storage depot/refinery drew the eye until I finally turned eastwards along East Haven Creek. Near to a tidal barrier, the sea wall disappeared and I continued along a raised earthen sea bank. I passed under the busy A130 which was raised upon pillars to pass over the West Canvey Marsh. After crossing the B1014 road to Benfleet I emerged back on a proper concrete sea wall passing alongside the golf course and back to my car.

And that was it for Essex! I had been walking this coast for quite some time with its convoluted shorelines of estuaries, rivers, creeks and channels making it the county with the longest coastline in England. For the main it had been quite enjoyable and surprisingly quiet, particularly on the sea walls.

Walking around Smallings Creek, a lot darker than the photo depicts
The amusement arcade at Canvey Island seafront
Canvey Island beach
LPG tanker at the Oil storage facility
Oil storage depot
The Lobster Smack Inn
Looking across Holehaven Creek
Walking actually on the sea wall
Tidal barrier on East Haven Creek
Heading towards Benfleet
About to cross underneath the busy A130

Distance today = 14 miles
Total distance = 5,801 miles

 

 

316. Benfleet to Tilbury

 

Today would be the start of my convoluted walk into London. Although, I had begun my walk down the Thames estuary yesterday it was predominantly a straight forward walk along the shoreline. From Benfleet onwards I would not only have to bypass natural obstacles such as the myriad of small channel, creeks, streams and rivers that feed into the Thames; but also weaving my way around oil refineries, docks, ports, quarries, landfill, power stations and other large industrial sites and premises. The walk into London will not be simple and will require a good of planning and reconnaissance.

After clearing the ice away from my car after another night’s severe frost I set off from my hotel in Basildon to park at Tilbury Port. Around the Fort is a fair amount of free parking right at the Thames edge and just a kilometre away from the Tilbury Town rail station. I walked to the rail station and caught the 07:19 to Benfleet, with a quick changeover at Pitsea. The train was packed with hundreds of schoolchildren setting off to school. The train from Tilbury Town had 8 carriages, but when the train terminated at Pitsea, everybody went over the bridge to catch the Southend train, which only had 4 carriages. Needless to say I could barely get on the train, which was packed to the rafters; the question on my mind was why they did not continue on towards Southend with the same train. I was not too bothered though, because Benfleet was the next stop along so I only had to put up with it for a few minutes.

I followed a good path across playing fields before joining up with the rail track I had just travelled along. I soon arrived at the rather isolated St. Margaret’s Chapel. The path continued to follow the railway line, but became increasing muddy. I thought at first it was down to irresponsible horse-riders using the footpath as a bridle path. The path was really churned up and I soon discovered the reason why as a number of free ranging horses and ponies emerged from the scrub. I passed Pitsea railway station and made a quick right down over derelict land. I passed around a factory and then some paddocks that were really muddy. I then walked south for a couple of miles, following a few vague footpath signs. The ground was extremely flat and I ended up surrounded by stream that I could not cross. I decided to make use of my mobile phone locater software, which worked quite well and I was able to backtrack a bit to get onto the right path.
I entered the village of Fobbing and spoke to a chap who was planting some Rowan trees. We had a good chat for about 20 twenty minutes before I said goodbye. I was now quite some distance from the Thames having to get around Vange Creek, a large Oil storage facility and the London Gateway Port. I walked through some residential streets in Corringham and then out across very quiet lanes and footpaths.

St. Margarets Chapel on Bowers Gifford Marsh
Heading over derelict land at Pitsea
On Marsh Lane looking down on Vange Marsh near to Fobbing
Looking over to the London Gateway Port near Stanford-le-Hope

I was heading for Mucking Marshes and the Thurrock Thameside Nature Reserve. I had hoped to pick up a public footpath marked on the map to walk along the sea wall of the Thames. I could not see a way through, just as Assistant Ranger appeared, he said that large plant was using the adjacent land, which originally was one large landfill site and that I would have to retreat about a kilometre and follow the Thames Estuary Path. I had seen these signs a few times today and I wondered by it too did not try and link up with the path I was heading. Reluctantly I retraced my steps around Mucking Marshes. The route I was now on was badly flooded in a few places but I just to plough on regardless, wet feet and all. The path eventually led me back to the sea wall.

On the sea wall I could see that the path marked on the 1:25k was not there at all. However, I was now on a concrete sea wall which made for some rapid progress. I soon arrived at Coalhouse Fort which together with Tilbury Fort, a few miles upstream, were originally constructed during the early 19th century to guard the eastern approaches to London. As I left Coalhouse Fort, an ominous note was stuck to a tree telling me that in 300m the footpath to Tilbury was closed due to damage. A detour from this point would have quite significant, so I decided to investigate the closure. I passed another sign warning of the closure and I then came to a 30 metre section of the path which was under plastic and probably having something drying underneath it. I simply stepped onto the rough grass and walked around it. Thank goodness I investigated, health and safety gone mad………again!

The only obstacle between me and Tilbury Fort was the large disused Power Station at West Tilbury Marshes. I could see lots of disturbed earth and active plant ahead. Fortunately there was a crossover point, where the plant were taking the soil from the power station and dumping it on a large barge tied up at the jetties. As I could see no evidence of the power station I climbed up onto the sea wall and could see nothing of the power station, just a construction site for something quite large. In fact the old Tilbury B power had been demolished by 2019 and a new power station called the Tilbury Energy Centre was being built. I followed the sea wall past the old power station and then towards Tilbury Fort set in bright green fields with horses nearby. I dropped down to the Fort entrance, but it was closed. Tilbury Fort in fact was on the site of a former fort dating back from the late 16th century. The Thames estuary had narrowed quite a bit now and I could look across to Gravesend on the far bank. There is a pedestrian ferry here which I may be able to make use when I come back along the other side, together with the free parking plot!

Earlier in the walk I had passed out of Essex and into the smaller admin district of Thurrock. However, I would be back in Essex tomorrow for my last walk in the County when I hoped to circumnavigate Canvey Island.

 

Flooded footpath on East Tilbury Marshes
Looking towards Thurrock Thameside Nature Reserve over Mucking Marshes, with no sign of the footpath shown on the map
Heading along the sea wall at East Tilbury Marshes with Kent visible across the Thames
Just in case you wondered what the ramp was for!
Coalhouse Fort
Closed footpath, I just stepped three paces to the left and continued on
Approaching the site of the old Tilbury B power station
Passing under the power station jetties
A zoomed shot across the Thames to Gravesend and the impressive Guru Nanak Gurdwara (a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs)
Tilbury Fort

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,787 miles

 

 

315. Barling to Benfleet

I had planned to get back to Aberdeenshire for 3 days of walking but the arrival of storm Ciara meant my last day would be in very high winds. I opted therefore for 3 days walking in Essex. I had booked myself into a motel in Basildon for three days that would take me out of Essex and to the fringes of London. I drove from Shropshire and parked on Canvey Island. It was the closest place to my walk end where I would not have to pay the exorbitant parking charge of £8.

After parking up I had decided to catch a bus to Benfleet station, then a train to Southend, however, because I was almost 30 minutes early I caught a #27 which would take me all the way to the bus station in Southend. The only trouble was, it was early morning rush hourand the bus was very busy, stopping letting people on and off. It took just over 1.25 hours to get to the bus station. I caught my connecting bus, a #14 to Barling, with just 60 seconds to spare!

It had been freezing overnight and a severe frost was on the ground, but the sun was out and it felt warm, just like a spring day. I got off the bus in Barling and began walking along the road towards Little Wakering. The land to NE was a collection of islands owned by the MOD, one of them Foulness required a permit to enter the island and there were restrictions on where you could walk. I could not be bothered with all the fuss that this involved so I was heading towards Shoeburyness. I passed through Great Wakering and followed a footpath across fields to the edge of Shoeburyness, here, I picked up the MOD perimeter fence which warned of firing ranges. The firing ranges have long since gone and most of the site is now run by QinetiQ. However, I could hear loud explosions coming from Foulness to the NE.

I passed the entrance to the Shoeburyness ranges and continued to the coastline. Bizarrely the sea wall and shoreline is still ‘out of bounds ‘and continues past Shoebury Ness. The whole area of Shoeburyness was once the site of a huge garrison for training and firing of large artillery pieces. There is a fantasic amount of military history surrounding Shoeburyness, to much to descibe here! As I passed Shoebury Ness and the nearby HM Coastguard lookout point I left Shoeburyness behind and entered the Thames Estuary. The estuary here was very wide, but I still make out the far bank in Kent through the mid-morning haze.

The church at Little Wakering
Heading across fields to Shoeburyness
The MOD perimeter fence at Shoeburyness
The end of the MOD land at Shoeburyness
Back on the coast and heading towards Thorpe Bay
A beautiful morning heading in towards Southend-on-Sea along the Thames Estuary
The Pier at Southend
The entrance to the pier (taken in 2008)
Heading out along the pier (taken in 2008)
One of the trains that run along the pier (taken in 2008)
Looking back towards Southend (taken in 2008)
Work still under way following the fire in 2005 (taken in 2008)
Small Turnstone(taken in 2008)
Looking across the Thames estuary towards Kent (taken in 2008)
From the pier end looking back to Southend (taken in 2008)
Evidence of the fire from 2005 (taken in 2008)

The Thames was like a mill pond and extremely calm. I would be following the sea front all the way back to Canvey Island and Benfleet along paths, sea walls and the promenade. It was not long before the trappings of most seaside town made an appearance, chief amongst which was the huge Southend-on-Sea Pier. Stretching out 1.3 miles into the Thames it is the world’s longest leisure pier. Today I would not be walking out along it, but I did do back in 2008 when my local football club AFC Telford visited Southend for an FA Cup replay. The pier is quite amazing and has its own railway carriages running backwards and forth. For a week day in early February, the day could have easily passed for a summer’s day, with the sun out and large amounts of people about.

I soon had the pier at my back as I made my way out of Southend into Westcliffe-on-Sea, then Chalkewell and finally Leigh-on-Sea, each merging imperceptibly into a single large seaside conurbation. Leigh-on-Sea was quite a charming small town, with the seaside part of the town retaining its cobbled streets and quaint pubs.

I left all the built-up areas behind me and set off along a very wide sea bank, which was in the main dry. The view now was not out towards the Thames but a small island called Two Tree Island. It certainly had more than two trees, as well as well as a large Nature Reserve. Eventually Canvey Island appeared, although it was difficult to see with all the water channels, still at low tide.

When I reached the main road out of Canvey Island I continued onto a short distance to Benfleet railway station, as I needed to fill a small gap in my walk, which would save me from doing it tomorrow morning. I reached the station and about turned heading over to Canvey Island and back to my car.

 

The cliff-lift at Southend
A very placid Thames at Westcliffe-on-Sea
The Crow Stone demarcating the limit of the Port of London River Authority
The wharf at Leigh-on-Sea
Looking back to Leigh-on-Sea and Southend
Hadleigh Castle
Heading towards Benfleet
The tidal Barrier at Canvey Island

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,767 miles