The poor weather in Scotland meant that it was unlikely that I would get my required three walking days north of the border during February, so I turned my attention to my “second front” on the SE coast. I was now approaching London and my next two walks would see me cross The Thames and begin the walk out from London.
I spotted a short two day weather window and made a very early start from Shropshire. I drove to and parked at Tilbury Fort, where there was free parking amongst the many lorries close to Tilbury Docks. I had planned today’s route in great detail as most of the north shore of the Thames is given over to docks, power stations, car manufacturing and other large industrial complexes. My route would involve using some of the large arterial roads before arriving back on the Thames shoreline. Most of the planning involved checking that there was a footpath/pavement along all of my road sections using Google Streetview.
To get to the start of the walk at Woolwich Arsenal meant making the short walk to the ferry terminal at Tilbury landing stage and catching the first foot ferry of the day at 5:50. Even at this ungodly hour I was joined by a group of workers who had just completed their night shift at the huge Amazon complex in Tilbury. The foot ferry only took 5 minutes for the short crossing to Gravesend. Once in Gravesend I followed the deserted High Street towards the railway station and caught the 06:13 to Woolwich Arsenal. In Woolwich I popped into a Greggs to get a coffee and a bacon/sausage bap. It was getting quite light now as I headed towards the Thames and my “bridging” point UNDER the Thames! The pedestrian tunnel was opened in 1912 and runs for 504 metres from Old Woolwich in the south to North Woolwich in the north. From a recent survey the tunnel is used by 1000 people each day.
I descended the steps of the foot tunnel, which were not that deep. At the bottom I could see the tunnel dipped slightly before rising again as I walked northwards. There were other users of the tunnel even at this early hour. I was soon climbing the steps at the far end and able to continue my walk along the northern side of the Thames. I headed along the A1112 passing through the old docklands of East London. Now transformed with the building of multi-coloured apartment blocks and the London City Airport. I had always thought the airport was used by light twin prop planes, but I was amazed to see a large BA Airbus 318 pass 100ft above my head on their approach to the runway, crammed between the King George V and Royal Albert Docks. I saw two BA jets take off giving a wall of sound echoing off the adjacent buildings on the far side of the Royal Albert Dock. I could also see that take-offs had to be steep as Canary Wharf loomed just a mile away!
I soon picked up one of the many interconnecting paths forming The Greenway, which in turn led onto the Cycle Superhighway termed the CS3. The CS3 led onto the very busy A13, a key arterial road heading eastwards out of London, with 6 lanes of traffic separated by high fence on the central reservation to prevent pedestrians taking a dangerous short cut. I was now heading eastwards on the CS3, painted blue with two cycle lanes and a walking lane. The early morning traffic although very busy was not that fast, having to observe an average speed of 40mph. The only way to cross this road was either by the odd subway or a set of irregular spaced footbridges.
As I neared Barking I had to cross the A13 and proceed along the A1306, a far quieter road. I was now in a mixture of suburbia and industrial factories/premises. At Beam Park I passed out of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham into Havering Borough. The huge Ford car plant lay just to the south of me, but I could see little of it. As I approached Rainham I took another quiet road, the B1335, where I passed through the village. The land now was getting more rural as I criossed over the railway tracks at Rainham railway station.
I was now heading across Rainham Marshes along a good cycleway. Rainham marshes is a huge area of marshland, together with the adjacent Wennington and Aveley Marshes. I was accompanied along most of this route by a service road that carried a continuous train of lorries carrying waste to the landfill site just south of me. The smell from the rubbish tip was quite strong and I finally emerged onto the banks of the Thames for the first time since I set out and also entering the unitary authority of Thurrock.
I soon reached the small town of Purfleet, site of a large Nature Reserve building and famous in the past as a place where gunpowder was stored in 5 magazine warehouses. Only one of the magazines still stands today, but unfortunately was all locked up. Despite a very brief incursion inland I would be on the river bank for another 6 to 7 miles. My path would be along a very narrow corridor sandwiched between the river on my right and a collection of industrial sites on my left guarded by high barbed-wired fences. There was little or no opportunity to escape this corridor because of the lack of public footpaths leading to it. What did draw the eye though was the approaching Dartford Crossing, the A282 or Queen Elizabeth 2 bridge carrying the southbound M25 traffic at a snail’s-pace some 60 metres above me.
The narrow corridor of public footpath continued eastwards with its colourful array of graffiti, which I did not mind, as the “canvas” was just a dreary grey sea wall. It wasn’t a Banksy, but some of the art was quite good. As I continued along the northern shore of the Thames I could see to my left a small church, St. Clements, dwarfed by the warehouses and factories. Although appearing out of place a church of some form had existed on this site since before 1066 and recently was the setting for the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The last of the jetties and wharfs disappeared as I entered the streets of newer housing in Grays, West Thurrock. My next two miles involved heading inland weaving in and out of residential streets along various footpaths. I finally emerged just north of Tilbury at Tilbury Marshes. I followed the busy A1089 into Tilbury passing the large dock complex and the immense Amazon factory building and then into Tilbury Town itself. I continued on past the ferry terminal and onto Tilbury Fort where the walk ended.
The 7.5 hour walk had been very interesting and not as bad as I had imagined. It was a first for me actually walking under a river and the location of the London City Airport was very unique. All that I needed to do now was head to my hotel for the night in Basildon
Distance today = 22 miles
Total distance = 5,823 miles