It was back to the mainland for today’s walk, which meant driving from my B&B on the Isle of Sheppey to the small medieval town of Faversham further up the Kent coast.
I had located a free car park close to the Albion pub alongside Faversham Creek in the centre of Faversham. I now had to get back to Swale where I would begin today’s walk. I walked through the deserted town centre, which was very pretty, particularly the Elizabethan Guildhall with its wooden underlying timbers. I caught a train first to Sittingbourne then connected for the short journey to Swale on the Sheerness bound train. There were few people about and all including the staff wore face masks.
I had walked through Swale when I first walked to Sheppey back in March. For the life of me I could not understand why a train station was built there, because apart from the small train halt, there was nothing else around it. I made my way across the road and picked up a small road for a short distance that lead onto the sea bank and the Saxon Shore Way, which I would remain on for the rest of the day.
It was another lovely summer’s day, but not as windy as yesterday. Today’s walk would be following the River Swale eastwards on its sea bank with a number of inland incursions to get around various creeks. The first obstacle was Ridham Dock which involved a minor inland diversion before emerging back on the sea wall. Large scale industry dominates this area and none more so than the newly built Wheelabrator Kemsley K3 generating power and heat station, producing 50Mw from recycled waste material and supplying all the electrical power to the adjacent large paper mill. The coloured rectangular panels are a striking feature on the local landscape.
I passed around the old landfill sites at Kemsley Marshes and entered the first of the inland creeks which run into The Swale, this one was Milton Creek. I had to walk about a mile before I was able to cross over the creek via a busy road bridge. It was then a case of following the Saxon Shore way back out to the Swale. For the next 5 to 6 miles I stayed on the sea bank which had good views across The Swale to the Isle of Sheppey. Apart from a small incursion to get around Conyer Creek, the walking underfoot was excellent. My feet started to ache again, but I knew I could easily get to the end of the walk.
As I approached Uplees Marshes I could see the foundations of what I thought where old military type buildings, in fact they were once part of huge explosives factory and the scene of a tragic accident in 1916. A massive explosion of 15 tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate led to 116 men and boys losing their lives with the shock wave shattering windows in Southend and the tremor felt in Norwich. I was not aware of this event as I continued along the sea bank, but I later found out that most of the dead were buried in a communal grave in Faversham cemetery.
My final incursion inland took me across Oare Marshes following the Oare Creek and thence back out on the other side to join up with Faversham Creek and the walk around Ham Marshes and into Faversham itself.
Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,930 miles
Well, like so many others it has been a long time since I had been able to get out and do some coastal walking. However, the time seems to have gone quite quickly with the many DIY ‘projects’ I have managed to complete during the ‘lock-down’; I now have a rebuilt kitchen, laundry room, hall, office as well as a pristine garden!
Because I had done no serious walking for over 3 months I decided to ease back into it. Because the planned easing of lockdown regulations in Scotland were not due until 15th July, this meant I would be returning to Kent and the Isle of Sheppey. I opted for two full days of walking, unsure of how my body would react to the lack of regular hard walking exercise.
My first days on the Isle of Sheppey back in March had not been that good, with an obvious disparity between footpaths marked on the OS map and what was actually on the ground! After doing further research I could see that other walkers had struggled to do a complete loop of the island, due to lack footpaths. I decided that I would continue out to Leysdown-on-Sea and then do a circular walk out to the Isle of Harty.
I set off very on a Sunday morning heading to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey where I parked. The reason for the early start to the walk was because I intended to walk along the islands northern shore, which could only be completed at low tide or a few hours either side of it. Low tide was 07:30 so I needed to make an early start.
I set off through the almost deserted streets of Queenborough. I soon reached the shoreline of the West Swale which ran into the River Medway. I made my way along the concrete sea wall for a short distance with views across the River Medway to The Isle of Grain. The path then headed inland as I became sandwiched between industrial sites either side of me, including a huge car storage area parked full of imported Vw’s, Audi’s, Skoda etc…The path emerged onto the A249 and entered Sheerness at a place called Bluetown, once a hive of shipbuilding activity but long since gone. After passing Tesco’s I emerged onto the sea defence promenade where I had views NW towards Southend-on-Sea, north out towards The North Sea and east along Sheppey’s northern coastline. I did not know how long I had to complete the shoreline walk either side of low tide towards Leysdown, so I kept up a brisk pace.
I passed by the regulatory early morning joggers and dog walkers as I entered the small village of Minster, here the promenade ended abruptly with the appearance of the cliff-line about 20m high. The whole cliff-line along this section of the coast has been “slumping” at an alarming rate for some time. The walk along the beach was a lot better than expected and quite easy underfoot. I was aware of a recent cliff fall at the end of May 2020, when a house, garage and cars disappeared over the edge. The lady owner bought the property in 2018 for £195,000 as a cash buyer and with no house insurance. A short 20 minute walk along this section of the coastline, would have saved her a considerable amount of money.
I arrive at Warden Point and passed around a few WW2 pill-boxes which had fallen down from above many years before. Here the walking, for a short distance, became quite muddy. I also met walkers who had ventured out from Warden. I spoke to a local man who pointed to a cliff-fall above us that he witnessed only last week. My walking shoes got very muddy at this point, fortunately I put my gaiters on a few miles back, which kept the worst of the mud off my shoes and trousers.
I continued on along the coast and came into Leysdown-on-Sea which had all the trappings of seaside “fun features” but on a micro-scale. I walked a short distance outside of the town and sat down for a rest, the heat of the day and my full-on exertions made me tired. I then had a decision to make. I wanted to include a loop walk down to Shellness Point and then out to the Isle of Harty and back to Leysdown. Unfortunately I would not be able to get the 13:30 back to Queenborough, but I could see from the timetable that there was an 11:30 bus back to Sheerness, which passed Halfway House, which was only 2km from Queenborough. I could easily walk this 2km back to Queenborough, pick up my car and drive back to Leysdown.
I walked back into Leysdown and waited for #360 wearing my gloves and face mask. Paying contactless was really easy. Other passengers got on and off the bus all adhering to the face covering rule. I got off the bus at Halfway House and walked along a proper footpath the 2km into Queenborough. Picking my car up and driving back to Leysdown I could see the town was very busy – I didn’t see any evidence of social distancing, although I did see some orderly queues for shops.
As my feet were hurting I had a further rest before setting out on my circular walk to the Isle of Harty – obviously, this was not an actual island. I set off along the sea bank and could that the tide was well in now. As I approached Shellness I passed by a Naturist Beach. I’ve walked through a couple of such beaches years ago, but at times when the weather had been awful. As I skirted the beach I could see that many had taken advantage of the warm weather – and there were lots of “bums and willies” on show, but a distinct lack of ladies present.
Throughout the day, although very sunny there had been a very blustery wind blowing, which had to this point been at my back; as I turned to walk SW I headed straight into this stiff but warm headwind. I could now see across the River Swale towards Faversham, where I would be walking tomorrow. I arrived at Sayes Court and the nearby Harty Church. At this point I looped back along a bridle path towards Leysdown. At Muswell Manor I came across a statue of the three Short brothers, who in association with the Wright brothers began building aircraft here at the beginning of the 20th century.
Arriving back at Leysdown would mark the end of my waking on The Isle of Sheppey. Lack of footpaths westwards from the Isle of Harty and Elmley Marshes meant my next day’s walk would commence at the small station halt of Swale, back on the Kent mainland.
Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,912 miles
I made a very early departure from my hotel in Rochester and set off to drive over to the Isle of Sheppey, a place I had never been to before. Even at 06:15 in the morning I could see the days were beginning to draw-out, with the glow from the SE starting to lighten the night’s sky. I drove to and parked in the small town of Queenborough at the library; the car park was free and close to the railway station.
I caught the 06:39 direct train to Gillingham. After popping into Greggs for a coffee and bacon bap I set off through the suburban part of Gillingham heading towards the Saxon Shore Way (SSW). I now have mixed feelings about the Saxon Shore Way, in places it is great and well signposted, in other places it makes pointless excursions and the signage all but disappears. I joined the SSW and stayed on it for about 300m, but then decided to transfer to the nearby road, which had an excellent footpath. I continued along the B2004 until Lower Rainham where I met a dog walker and enquired about the footpath ahead. The news wasn’t good with only intermittent footpath sections and little verge along a busy road. I returned to the SSW.
I passed by Bloors Wharf, long since flattened and cleared of buildings, with only the occasional mooring post still visible. I followed the SSW out towards a sewage works and then back along Otterham Creek. I passed around a couple of factories and then a few orchards before emerging on a minor road which was far from quiet! In fact, it was damm dangerous as I had to hold myself in the bushes to let cars through and also have eyes in the back of my head! I was on this road for about 800m and successfully missed the SSW turning off the road. This meant I arrived in the village of Upchurc, slightly off route. Annoyed with the SSW, I plotted an alternative route to get me to Lower Halstow where I could re-join the SSW. This worked out quite well and was traffic -free.
The SSW out of Lower Halstow was through a number of horse-paddocks before re-joing the road. The SSW then began to rise towards a short ridge which gave good views across the Medway Estuary to the Isle of Grain. I soon lost any signage for the SSW and could see where people had climbed barbed wire fences and trampled through dense undergrowth in search of the path. The shoreline was only 200m away and I finally gave up with searching for a non-existent path and returned to the road. The road was quiet and quicker which resulted in me making quick progress towards Raspberry Lane. The SSW finally joined the road and crossed over outwards Chetney Marshes, although it only went part of the way. I made the decision to stay on the road, the road bridge across to the Isle of Sheppey was only about a mile away now.
I arrived at the Kingsferry Bridge which carries trains, as well as cars, pedestrians and other traffic were not allowed to cross the main Sheppey Crossing. The bridge towered above me as I passed underneath it amongst the huge support pillars. I was heading for a marked footpath on the map that headed across fields towards Rushenden and then on to Queenborough. A finger post on the main road pointed the way, but that was the last I saw of any footpath signs. The sea bank had no right of way on it, yet was covered in deep mud from use by off-road motorcycles. I took my compass out setting a bearing towards The White House (on the map) which no longer existed. The large water-sodden field was occupied by grazing cattle which made the underfoot conditions worse. I could not find a way through or around as the railway line, with its ‘live’ rail track was on my right. I retreated after about 30 minutes back to the bridge, totally covered in mud.
I followed the B2231, which had a wide and excellent footpath towards Queenborough. The B road ran adjacent the busy A249 which used the main Sheppey Crossing. It required another section of non-footpath road walking to get to the outskirts of Queenborough and thence pick up a path.
Again not a good days walking and looking ahead access issues on the Isle of Sheppey which will probably mean a shortened visit to the island.
Distance today = 17 miles
Total distance = 5,894 miles
I had booked myself into the Royal Victoria and Bull hotel in the centre of Rochester. I don’t think the place had seen much renovation or decoration since Dicken’s first visited the town in the mid-19th century! Dickens actually did use the Bull (referred to as the Boar) in the Pickwick Papers. In fact there is a lot of Dickens literary connections with Rochester and the surrounding area. As well as living in Chatham for a number of years he died in nearby Higham at Gadshill.
Today was going to be quite easy travel wise. I had left my car parked at the hotel and decided to catch a bus back out to Allhallows. I caught the 07:43 #191 bus from close to my hotel. The bus was almost full, mainly with schoolchildren. Unfortunately, I sat a few seats away from one particularly obnoxious little brat. He spent the entire journey, swearing, cursing and I don’t’ mean the occasional expletive. I don’t know if this is how he talked or behaved at home, who knows, but I was reluctant to intervene, as an adult I feared being accused of almost anything. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for the little sh*t to get off the bus and feeling sorry for the teachers having to deal with this behaviour.
I got off the bus in Allhallows, the journey time had been just over an hour and the cloudless sunny sky had me believing it was going to be warm. Instead I set off walking into a strong headwind, which was very cold. I had decided to avoid the south-east part of the Hoo Peninsula, as it contained just industrial areas container ports, oil storage depots and power stations. Also most the roads did not have footpaths or even verges to walk on, plus I would have to contend with lots of heavy goods traffic. I therefore plotted a route using public footpaths across fields and minor lanes. It was hard work walking into the headwind, as I made my way to Upper Stoke and then across more fields towards the Kingsnorth Power station. There is a single track railway out to the Isle of Grain, where all the industry is located and just before the power station I had to cross the railway line. As I closed the crossing gate behind me a goods train suddenly appeared, the driver sounded his horn (or rather whistle which is what they must do). Fortunately, I had seen the train and just waved to the driver. That’s the first time I have ever been delayed by a passing train on one of these crossings. Close by to the power station was another huge Amazon distribution centre.
I walked past Kingsnorth Power Station and headed for the Medway estuary joining the sea bank and shortly afterwards by the Saxon Shore Way. The grass sea bank soon disappeared and I had to make my way along a narrow pathway hemmed in by industry and boatyards. The footpath had excellent signage and I was able to pass through without any problems. Soon after the boatyards I had to walk along the stony beach, which would have been impossible at high tide. I soon came across a set of walls and brickwork that at first looked like a limekiln. In fact these were the ruins of Cockham Wood Fort, built in 1669 to guard the approach to Rochester, it was abandoned back in 1818. I eventually emerged with very muddy feet at the village of Lower Upnor. As I climbed the steep steps to get around the Ordnance Yard, the days walking had begun to fatigue me somewhat. It may have been the headwind. After passing through the charming village of Upper Upnor I arrived at a major roundabout which directed traffic towards the Medway Tunnel. I passed through Strood along the recently built Riverside Way. I could now see the Rochester Bridge over the River Medway. I could now see an old submarine moored out in the river. This was an ex-Soviet submarine named Foxtrot B39 built in 1967 and now in private hands awaiting restoration.
I crossed over the Rochester Bridge, which itself was under a re-build and popped into the hotel I was staying at. Here I dropped off my bag and replenished my water supply. I paid a flying visit to Rochester Castle and Cathedral, continuing along the quaint High street. Rochester is certainly a place I would like to return to and explore at greater length. I headed into Chatham, walking along the Dock Road and past the historic Naval Dockyards. I walked through the grounds of the Medway University and onto the Asda store there where I bought some food. My next destination was to walk to Gillingham railway station, where I would join up again with the Saxon Shore Way and end today’s walk by getting a train back to Rochester.
Not a particularly satisfying walk, but progress is always welcomed.
Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,876 miles
March started to throw up all kinds of obstacles to me getting out and doing some serious walking. Although the weather had abated somewhat, at least in the South East, I had a number of important family and domestics matters to sort out; chief of which was the total renovation of our kitchen and laundry room. There was also the more ominous threat of the Covid-19 virus. Although numbers of cases are extremely low in the areas that I intend to walk in, the whole pandemic is a bit of a worry. I decided I needed to get a minimum of three walking days in as I continue my walk along the banks of the River Thames through Kent. I’m unsure if I will be able to get to Scotland in March, if I can’t then it could see me making another three day trip back down to Kent.
I left Shropshire very early, determined to beat the early morning traffic along the M1, M25 and the Dartford crossing, which would be my first crossing as part of my coastal walking challenge. Of course there is also a charge to use this crossing and so I set up an account on the Gov.UK website to prepay the toll. My first crossing was free as the charge is only made from 6 am to 10pm. I was heading for a small village called Allhallows on the Hoo Peninsular, close to the Isle of Grain (although not actually an island) which forms the eastern part of the Peninsula.
I now needed to catch the 06:37 #191 bus to Strood and then a train to Gravesend. The bus was full of schoolchildren, even at this early hour. I had to stay alert as I needed to get off at the right stop in order to make my way to Strood railway station. I had used Google Streetview for reconnoitring the streets and committing them to memory. The station at Strood was very busy with the early morning commuters, a lady near to me sneezed and I instinctively moved away…I know I must be getting paranoid!
By 07:45 I was walking through Gravesend in an easterly direction trying to pick up the Saxon Shore Trail which I would be on for a while before it turned inland. This, it would appear, is what most coastal paths do! I had chosen a three day weather window with clear skies, little chance of rain and only a light breeze. On the drive down I did see that it had been raining overnight and I had brought my walking boots along, just in case it got too muddy. I soon picked up the Saxon Shore Trail at the promenade play area adjacent to the Thames. The next 1.5 miles was through the back streets and alleyways of the industrial area of Gravesend, stepping over fly-tipped rubbish covering the footpath. I soon managed to get onto the sea bank, unfortunately, youths had been using it for practicing their off-road motor bikes skills and together with the grazing ponies, and the sea bank was a bit of a muddy mess in places.
My first place of interest was Shornmead Fort, sitting opposite across the Thames to Coalhouse Fort. However, unlike Coalhouse, this fort was in ruins and covered in graffiti. I passed onto Higham Marshes and through Shorne Marsh Nature Reserve. I was heading past a number of very large old gravel pits that were ideal for returning the land back to nature. I was a bit concerned with the appearance of a large gravel quarry or gravel sand repository in the near distance. In fact the Napoleonic fort I was looking for, Cliffe Fort, was hidden right amongst this quarry and aggregate dumping ground. Fortunately, the footpath I was on was able to pass around both the fort and quarry. Here the Saxon Shore trail disappeared inland for some reason, but I continued on along the sea bank along a public footpath.
The sun had risen now and it was a glorious day to be out walking. I could follow closely the features on the opposite banks of the Thames that I passed through some 3 or 4 walks ago.
After Cliffe Fort the next section of the sea bank continued all the way to Allhallows; with little bail-out option other than continuing or returning the way that I had come. Other than the sheep I met on the sea bank I met no other walkers. On my right and the landward side I could see a huge collection of disparate MOD type buildings which were part of a large ammunition during the First World War. I did come across an intentional breach of the Sea Wall to create Salt Fleet Flats Reserve, which was not shown on my 1:25k OS map. The eye became drawn to the large buildings and high rises of Leigh-on-Sea and Southend across the river together with the beckoning sea as the Thames Estuary now had widened considerably.
The last 1.5 miles had a bit of sting in the tail, as the footpath along the river deteriorated rapidly through erosion and was now prone to flooding at high tide and my progress along the shore became blocked by the rising tide. Fortunately I did not have too far to back track to find another route to get me onto to Allhallows. To do this involved climbing onto the ‘ridge’ and high ground that runs along the Hoo Peninsular, which, although only some 35m high provided an excellent view down to the Thames and south-eastwards to the River Medway.
A very good days walk and it was so nice to get away from the issues and pressures that seem to surround us all at this time.
Distance today = 21 miles
Total distance = 5,860 miles
I decided to adopt a different approach to my route planning from yesterday; although there was a shoreline path for some miles from Woolwich Arsenal, I would have had to cut inland upon reaching the River Darent. I decided therefore to try something different. There are a number of sites that can do route planning for you and because essentially most of today’s walk would be through suburbia I decided to go with what my https://www.plotaroute.com/myhome route gave me.
A thing I have noticed is that my OS Leisure 1:25000 maps are not that good when it comes to residential streets, in fact, you would be much better off with a London A-Z Streetmap. This meant I had to reprint my maps in a different format, one that would give me street names. At this lower scale I ended up with 17 printed A4 sheets, I should have bought an A-Z! Because I would be changing maps quite frequently, I did not use my map carrying case, but simply folded them up in my jacket pocket. As my automated route was a more direct route, it ended up some 5 miles shorter than my original planned route. However, although I had requested a “walking” route I still had to check that the route had footpaths or pavements. I was certainly intrigued by utilising this approach to route planning, as the situation of walking a complete section through suburbia would probably not materialise again.
I made a very early start, leaving my Basildon hotel and heading again to Tilbury Fort, where I parked my car. I then walked the short distance to the Tilbury landing stage to catch the 05:50 ferry and again was accompanied by the returning night shift from the Amazon warehouse. Again I walked along Gravesend High Street which was deserted being a Saturday morning. I caught the 06:29 train to Woolwich Arsenal. By 07:00 I was walking eastwards along Plumstead Road.
I continued along the mostly deserted streets for 3 or 4 miles before Plumstead Road became Bostall Hill, which also became an open greenspace with trees and parkland. But I was soon back in suburbia and passed from the London Borough of Greenwich into the London Borough of Bexley. I continued along further miles of residential streets before dropping down a hill into the town of Crayford. Here I popped into a Greggs to get myself a bacon/sausage bap and a coffee. Outside a retail park I sat down on a bench to eat my breakfast. The retail park was built on the site of the old Vickers factory which had a huge role in both World Wars. The bench which I sat on, was also occupied by two life-size statues of Alcock and Brown, who, in 1919 made the first successful flight across the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy, built in the once nearby factory.
I set off through suburbia again and soon passed into the Borough of Dartford which meant I crossed over in to modern day Kent. By this time, I began to get a feeling of ennui from all this residential traipsing. What did change though was the appearance of hills; with the streets and roads now having more up and downs which coincided with the use of Chert and Flint nodules in boundary walls and the sight of Chalk in some cuttings.
I dropped down a fairly steep hill into Dartford and continued along the High Street which was hosting an open air market. I had actually walked along this street twice before when I came to watch my football team play Dartford. The high street continued up East Hill and I soon crossed over the A282 which was the southern extension of the Dartford Crossing. I continued along the A226 passing through Stone, Greenhithe and Swanscombe which all merged imperceptibly into each other. To the north I could now see industrial areas and the river itself. I crossed over the main line for Eurostar trains and could just make out Ebbsfleet International Station, where I had once caught a Eurostar train to Brussels. I passed the Ebbsfleet football ground, which I had also visited some years before and continued into Northfleet. For the first time today I diverted from planned route and took a cycle footpath that indicated that Gravesend was 1.75 miles away. I followed the footpath, which was poorly signposted and ended up by the river in a dead-end road full of fly-tipped rubbish! I managed to pick the footpath up again and made my way around a large construction site, which lead onto the wharfs and jetties of Gravesend.
The ferry back across to Tilbury ran every 30 minutes so I did not have long to wait. Quite a different walk which I doubt I would ever repeat, as I much prefer to plot my own route.
Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,839 miles
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
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.
Distance today = 14 miles
Total distance = 5,801 miles
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.
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.
Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,787 miles
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 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.
Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,767 miles