320. Gravesend to Allhallows

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.

The Clock Tower in Gravesend
Heading eastwards along the Thames Estuary
Heading along the back streets of the industrial area in Gravesend
Onto the Sea Wall
The ruins of Shornmead Fort
Gun window at Shornmead Fort
Looking out over Higham Marshes

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.

Cliffe Fort
Passing through the aggregate repository at Cliffe Fort
Part of the huge World War 1 ammunition store on Cliffe Marshes
Boundary marker at Lower Hope Point
Heading eastwards along the Sea Wall
A recent breaching of the sea wall to create Salt Fleet Flats Reserve
On the Sea Wall and my first real sandy beach of this leg
Impassable at High Tide and I suspect even at Low Tide!
Looking back down to the Thames and the route I had come
Looking across the Thames to Southend-on-Sea

Distance today = 21 miles
Total distance = 5,860 miles

 

 

319. Woolwich Arsenal to Gravesend

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.

5:30 in the morning looking across the Thames to Gravesend from the Tilbury Ferry shelter
Heading down Plumstead Road at Woolwich Arsenal
Plumstead
Plumstead Library
Heading through Bostall Woods
Crayford
Alcock and Brown

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.

Dartford High Street
Crossing the A282 – Dartford Crossing traffic
Looking across to Tilbury Docks from near Northfleet
Heading into Gravesend
Looking across to the Tilbury landing stage
Gravesend High Street
The pontoon for catching the Tilbury Ferry

Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,839 miles

 

 

 

318. Woolwich Arsenal to Tilbury

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!

Early morning at the Woolwich Ferry looking across the Thames to North Woolwich
Zoomed shot looking towards Canary Wharf
Covered in scaffolding the entrance to the Foot Tunnel
Decending to the Foot Tunnel
Heading along the tunnel underneath the Thames
Looking across the King George V Dock towards Central London
Two BA flights taxiing in preparation for take-off
A flight about to land at London City Airport
Quite a few shrubs had their blossom out on The Greenway

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.

Heading eastwards along the A13 on the CS3
Crossing over the A13 near Barking
The memorial clock in Rainham Village
The view over Rainham Marshes
Heading over Rainham Marshes
Lorries queueing up at the landfill site on Wennington Marshes
Back alongside the Thames near Alveley Marshes

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

The RSPB centre at Purfleet
Gunpowder Magazine No.5 at Purfleet
M/F cargo ferry ship ready for sailing to Rotterdam docked at Purfleet
A very boggy public footpath between the docks and the river
Approaching the Queen Elizabeth II bridge
Below the QEII bridge
Heading towards Grays on a grafitti strewn sea wall
St. Clementines church amid warehouses and factories in West Thurrock
Approaching Tilbury Fort

Distance today = 22 miles
Total distance = 5,823 miles

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

314. Barling to Canewdon

I have set myself the target of walking a minimum of 3 days in England and 3 days in Scotland each month, which would hopefully see me complete my challenge later this year. As I had already walked 5 days in January, I just needed to get a single walking in, so I decided on a day’s visit to Essex. Doing a single days walk driving from Shropshire can be quite hard on the body with 7 – 8 hours of driving coupled with a 5 – 7 hours walk. The good news is I am finally nearing my completion of the Essex coastline, which has been frustrating in terms of linear progress down the coastline.

Today’s walk would involve a large amount of sea wall walking and some small sections of road walking. Because of the bus schedules I decided to reverse my usual direction of travel by driving to and parking in Canewdon. From there I caught the 08:01 #60 bus into Southend-on-Sea and then catching the 09:07 #14 bus to Barling. I had a bit of a scare when I arrived at the bus stop where I would catch the #14 bus, in that I could not see the service number on the timetable. I knew it was the correct stop because I had checked it on Google Streetmap and Traveline. Anyway I caught the bus ok and was glad to get out of the wind which was a freezing cold.

I got off the bus in Barling Magna and headed towards the Church, with its small spire sitting atop the main square tower. I joined the sea wall at Barlingham Creek, which fed into another channel called The Violet which in turn fed into the River Roach which I would be walking around today.
The thing to understand about the coastline of Essex, is yes, it has a number rivers, some of which confluence into larger estuaries and contribute to the 350+ miles plus of Essex coastline, but what adds to the difficulty of walking around these rivers are the numerous creeks, channels, inlets, pools, streams and smaller rivers that feed into the River Colne, Stour, Blackwater, Crouch and Roach and must be walked around!

I was fortunate to have the stiff breeze with me at the start of the walk, but as I reached the River Roach at Barling Ness I now headed  into the freezing breeze. I was essentially walking around Barling Marsh, which appears to be a large landfill site. I headed westwards along the sea wall before turning inland near Mucking Hall, as the public footpath on the sea wall ceased. I plotted a route along public footpaths, crossing over a miniature small gauge railway track that seemed to have fallen into disrepair and then along the odd short section of road. This worked well and I soon arrived at the outskirts of Rochford.

At Rochford I had to negotiate getting around a large boatyard, a large disused industrial site, a household recycling facility as well as crossing over The River Roach. I was surprised how easy this was, especially as the maps were not so clear. However, I managed to get over the Roach and continue  along the opposite bank and start making my way eastwards and with the breeze now at my back. I had been following The Roach Valley Way, but at Bartonhall Creek, which required a 1.5 mile detour inland, the Roach Valley Way disappeared inland. I continued along the sea wall, which was a bit rough in places.

The church at Barling Magna
Barlinghall Creek at low tide
Looking across the River Roach to Paglesham Eastend
Looking westwards towards Rochford
Heading westwards towards Rochford
Small gauge railway near Sutton Hall
Small gauge railway near Sutton Hall
Crossing over the Roach near Rochford
At the head of a 1.5 mile detour around Bartonhall Creek
Back on the Sea wall alongside the Roach heading eastwards

To the north I could see Canewdon, where my car was parked, it was quite tempting to head straight for it, but I had planned to continue walking around The Roach. I carried on along the river and soon arrived at the Jetty, with a few river boats/home moored alongside close to the village of Paglesham Eastend. After a kilometre I left the left the Roach and headed along Paglesham Creek. At this time I was rather fed up with walking along the sea wall, so I headed across footpaths towards the village of Paglesham, with its delightful church and clap-boarded cottages. I joined up with the Roach Valley Way for a short distance then made a direct line across filed paths and a quite road back into Canewdon.

 

Houseboats near Paglesham Eastend
Old boathouse near Paglesham Eastend
Zooming across Clements Marsh to Burnham-on-Crouch
Clap-Board houses in Paglesham

Distance today = 19 miles
Total distance = 5,747 miles

 

 

 

 

 

313. Rosehearty to St. Fergus

Today would be the day when I eventually start walking southwards again, as the last 6 or 7 walks have been eastwards. I had no concerns about today’s walk other than a few possible river crossing which may have required a slight inland diversion. It would be a very early departure from my hotel room, because I had to catch the first of two buses to get to my start point. This meant driving to the shore car park about a mile from St. Fergus and walking back into St. Fergus to catch the 5:53 #69 bus to Fraserburgh. As I drove to the car park I passed the large St. Fergus gas terminal, with its thousands of lights lighting up the early morning sky. There was little traffic about at that time of the morning and I passed a Police car in a lay-by. About 400m later I turned down the single track road to the beach. As I got out of the car and started getting my stuff ready, another car appeared. It was the police, or should I say Ministry of Defence Police, the equivalent of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary who I had come across before. There were obviously checking me out as the car park is about 1km from the huge gas plant. They soon disappeared back up the road without stopping.

After catching the bus into Fraserburgh, I then caught the 06:55 #74 to Rosehearty. It was still drizzling with rain when I got off the bus and because it was only 07:05, still very dark. I had checked beforehand though and I knew there was a good footpath all the way back into Fraserburgh. As I walked out of Rosehearty and through Sandhaven, the rain ceased and it gradually began to get light. By the time I had reached Fraserburgh I was able to remove my hi-vis vest and turn my head torch off. I passed a bakery and popped in to get a bacon bap, it was really nice and perked me up as the drizzle began to slowly return.

I walked through Fraserburgh and out past the harbours full of boats, mainly to do with the fishing industry. I transferred down onto a lovely beach that swept around Fraserburgh Bay. About half way along the beach I spoke to a chap who was exercising, I asked him about crossing the burn further up the beach. He confirmed my suspicions that I would have to divert inland due to the high tide which was now underway. I cut across the golf course to the B9023 road. I crossed over the Water of Philorth via a road bridge and continued along the main road for another mile before continuing down a minor road into Inverallochy. As I left Inverallochy, the sun came out and it stopped raining. I walked alongside another golf course and into the village of St. Combs.

Fraserburgh High Street early in the morning
Faithlie Harbour Fraserburgh
Heading around Fraserburgh Bay
The Water of Philorth

I got speaking to a local dog walker who advised me of the two bridges I needed to cross a couple of miles further up. I already knew about the bridges, but it was still reassuring to know they were still there. I now entered a dune system that would be with me to the end of the walk. The dunes were covered in Marram Grass and difficult to walk through. I picked up a couple tracks that ultimately led me to the two wooden bridges I needed to cross. One of the bridges was over the outfall from Loch Strathbeg, Britain’s largest dune loch and an important winter feeding site for many birds.

I could now see the towers from the large St. Fergus gas terminal. Composed of three plants, each having three offshore pipelines coming ashore, the site receives 25% of the country’s gas supply. I decided to cross over the dune system again and drop down to the beach. This took a while as the dune system here had two ridges which took some effort getting over. The beach was beautiful with amazing surf causing a fine mist to form. The sand, however, was a bit of a pig to walk along though. Try as I did, I could not find a “sweet spot” to walk along without sinking into the sand. I decided to cut back into the dunes as the effort of walking over the beach sand was sapping my energy. I cut back through the dunes and walked along the dune fringe. I could now see the lighthouse at Rattray Head which I was heading for. I passed the Lighthouse cottages, which was a bit of a misnomer, as the “cottages” appeared to be a large and well-built house.

Crossing the outflow from Loch Strathbeg
Looking back over the dunes to St. Combs
Heading down onto the beach
On the beach with the surf causing a fine mist
Heading towards Rattray Head
The Lighthouse “cottage” at Rattray Head
Looking back at the lighthouse at Rattray Head

I got back onto the beach and stuck with it until I reached the Gas Terminal. I knew at some point I would have to cut through the dunes again and follow the fence line of the gas terminal, because of a water course at the far end of the site. After walking along fence line past the multiple signs warning me that armed police patrol the site 24hours a day, I arrived at the old ruined Annachie bridge that got me over the last water obstacle of the day. The last kilometre was along a dog walker’s path past the dunes to the car park and my car.

 

Heading along the beach towards the St. Fergus gas terminal
Walking along the fenceline at St. Fergus
The Annachie bridge at St. Fergus

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24806

Distance today =20 miles
Total distance = 5,728 miles

 

 

 

 

312. Rosehearty to Banff

 

I had a really fitful night’s sleep, it had taken me 8.5hrs to do yesterday’s walk mostly over established footpaths and tracks, but today’s walk would a similar distance, I would be starting almost an hour later and it was over ground that had large amounts of ascent and descent with few footpaths. I knew I had to alter my route slightly, taking in more road walking in order that I would finish before it got dark. I examined and re-examined my public transport options. Using public transport to get to the start of the walk in Banff was a non-starter as I would be starting my walk at 11:00! The only option was to drive to Banff again and park up there. I then looked at the option of setting out straight away in the dark towards Rosehearty and getting the only bus back at 16:18, this was a bit of gamble so I opted to take two buses to get me to Rosehearty to start walking at 09:00.

I caught the 07:35 #271 to Fraserburgh, then a short journey on the 08:42 #74 to Rosehearty. I set off down the B9031 on a still, warm morning where the overnight rain had ceased and the sun was just up. I was on the B9031, which was very quiet, for only mile before I turned off down a single track road. The single track road just served the odd farm and with the odd intermittent vehicle. After 30 minutes I passed a farm and the farmer was just about to jump into his tractor and do some muck-spreading. Then what started with a simple query as to how far I was walking turned into a 20 minute conversation! He was from Bath originally and had been farming here for over 30 years. We talked about his cattle and he kindly showed me some that were in his barn. We could have chatted for an hour, but he had work to do and I needed to get going myself.

The views ahead were superb with the high cliffs of Stranhangles Point and the high ground of Troup Head dominating the view across Aberdour Bay. Although I had intended to walk along the cliff-line, I had decided to stick to the lane, which was 300 – 400m away and had more commanding views. The road descended down to the River Dour where I continued across the river and began the long steep climb up a farm track. The track led to much higher ground and after passing through Bankhead farm, it continued straight ahead as a footpath. I picked some signs indicating that this was a recognised route to Pennan, where I was heading. I had decided that although I would be staying on the roads for most of the walk, but there were three places I wanted to visit and Pennan was one of them. I followed a footpath and track past the ruins of Pennan Farm and dropped steeply into the tiny old fishing village of Pennan, famed for being the location of the film “Local Hero”. Its K6 telephone box featured in a number of the scenes of the film and is still there today. However, I later discovered that the  K6 used in the film was a prop! The actual and working K6 box is stuck behind a small building 50 metres away. I remember watching the film at the time…..crikey how the years have flown by!

The Square in Rosehearty
The view ahead with Strahangles Point (l) and Troup Head (r)
Looking back at The Doocot near Craigiefold
The intriguing name of Egypt Farm
The view ahead with Strahangles Point (c) and Troup Head (r)

The bad news about descending down to Pennan was that I had to re-ascend up from the village again, which was very steep. I re-joined the B9031 for two miles; the road was still quiet, but the weathered had begun to turn, with cloud and drizzle coming in. I took a minor lane which serviced a few isolated farms which I could see would give me access to the second and third destinations that I wanted to visit, namely Crovie and Gardenstown. I dropped down steep ground towards a ravine, which was clad in gorse. Frustratingly, the road I needed to get on was only 150m away, but there was no way I was getting down through the gorse and across the ravine. I back-tracked back up the slope and field. Some 30 minutes later I dropped down to the tiny old fishing village of Crovie. Like Pennan it sits at the base of the large sandstone and conglomerate cliffs and is hemmed in by the sea. I continued on along the beach to Gardenstown, which was just around a small headland. The good news was there was a well-established path which had steps around the headland, however the weather had closed in big time and More Head, which rose above Gardenstown, was cloaked in fog almost down to the sea, while the drizzle continued.

Descending into Pennan
Pennan
Not the actual K6 in Pennan
Descending into Crovie
Crovie
The steps around the headland to Gardenstown

I decided I needed to get a move on and I also had to climb up from the shoreline in Gardenstown back onto the main road. It was one hell of a steep climb and it took a lot out of me. Back on the main the visibility in the fog was down to 80-100m. I put my hi-vis vest and my head torch on. The road was now much busier than earlier. Fortunately, the available verges, were good, although there were a couple of tight bends where I had to scurry through. Sometimes I managed to get into the adjacent field and walk alongside the road. I must admit this was the first time I had encountered dense fog on a walk. I was on the B9031 for about 6 miles before it joined up with the A98 just on the outskirts of Macduff.  As I walked along the welcome pavements into Macduff, the light had begun to fade. I was pleased that I had managed to visit at least three places on my original intended route. I made it back to the car at 04:00, just as the fog was beginning to clear.

Even though todays walk had been slightly further than yesterdays and I had completed it in a faster time, which is not surprising as there was more road walking, but I was surprised to find that my total ascent was 955m – which is a reasonably sized Munro!

On the ascent out of Gardenstown looking down at the harbour in the rain
Small fishing vessel in for repairs in Macduff shipyard
Looking across Banff Bay to a very murky Banff
The bridge over the River Deveron

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24805

 

Distance today =22 miles
Total distance = 5,708 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

311. Findochty to Banff

I could see a three day weather window that would be perfect for a trip to the NE tip of Aberdeenshire. I booked myself into Saltoun Inn in Fraserburgh. The Saltoun is actually a Weatherspoon’s hotel which I booked a large family room at a very good rate.

It was forecast to be dry for all three days of my walks, but today had the added bonus of having the stiff breeze with me as well as being a sunny day with blue skies all around. The daylight hours were still short so I needed to make an early start, this meant driving the 25 miles to Banff, where I parked up. I caught the 06:45 # 35 bus to Findochty. The bus was quite busy with most people going to work. It was still dark when I got off the bus in Findochty, although the sky to the east was quite bright.

I set off along an excellent track that was the Moray Coast Trail. The coast here is very rugged, with the rocks steeply dipping into the Moray Firth. I caught an occasional flash of the Tarbat Ness lighthouse fast receding into the distance. After 2 miles I entered another sleepy old fishing village – Portknockie. Portknockie is famous for the close proximity of the geomorphological feature called the Bow & Fiddle, which is basically a sea stack with an attached sea arch resembling a fiddler’s bow. The path dropped down from the surrounding cliffs to a shoreline and passed a number of caves, now seated above the shoreline on a raised beach. I passed Jenny’s Well, not to sure who Jenny was, but the well was spouting a nice flow of water. The sun was now up but remained low in the sky for most of my walk, which meant I could have really done with a peaked cap to shade the blinding sun. In Portknockie I had spoken to a local resident, a retired gamekeeper from England, he advised me of the footpath situation for the next couple of miles.

Early morning looking back at Findochty, the lights in the far distance are Lossiemouth
Looking down on the harbour at Portknockie
The Bow and Fiddle near Portknockie
Looking eastwards towards Troup Head in the far distance
Heading down to the shoreline near Cullen
Jenny’s Well

My next village was Cullen, famed for its Cullen Skink – a traditional Scottish soup made with Haddock, potatoes and onions. I tried it once but I was not that impressed. Although mid-morning there were few people about. The entrance to Cullen was marked by a large railway viaduct, now disused this used to carry a branch line of the Great North of Scotland line, but closed in 1968. As the excellent shore path passed out of Cullen I came across a pet cemetery on the beach, it was a very sad place to be, especially with all the names of the animals and their photos, toys leads etc..
The path rounded Logie Head and I again dropped down to the shoreline. The path was certainly becoming much fainter now and less trodden. By chance I came across a sign with information about Charlie’s Cave, I thought “here we go again, some cave that Bonnie Prince Charlie dossed down in blah…blah”. But no, this was about a Frenchman, Charles Marioni who jumped ship in Plymouth in 1904 and made his way to North East Aberdeenshire and set up a home against a small niche in the rock. His full story, written by Andrew Saunders, is contained in a photo I took.

I soon came to the ruins of Findlatter Castle, not a great deal to see as the erosion by wind and water over the centuries have left their mark. I then arrived at Sandend Bay and what a beautiful beach it was!

The Three Kings at Cullen
The Pet Cemetary at Cullen
The ups and downs of the coastal path at Logie Head
Info board for Charlies Cave (zoom in to read)
The niche where Charlie built his sea-shore shack
Climbing back up the cliffs
Looking down on the ruins of Findlatters castle
Looking back to Logie Head
Looking back to Sandend across the beautiful beach

I picked up the coast path at the far end of the beach and climbed up the cliffs again. The path continued around another promontory – Redhythe Point. I was now only a mile from another fishing village – Portsoy. Again this was a very quiet place, either the inhabitants were at work or the place was full of holiday lets. I walked past the harbour and around Links Bay. I could see handmade signs to the coastguard lookout tower. When I reached the “Coastguard Tower?” It was simply four posts knocked into the ground with some tape and a sign advising that this was the site of a former coastguard tower. I was slightly underwhelmed. The bad news was that I was virtually surrounded by thick gorse with no way of beating my way through. I managed to backtrack slightly and drop down to the beach again, where I picked up a feint path which soon fizzled out. I knew from reading other accounts that a working quarry lay ahead and that I needed to make an inland diversion to get around it as well as getting over the River Boyne.
I cut inland for about a kilometre and joined a quiet road where I crossed the River Boyne. As I passed the access road to the quarry I could see that it was still working. I soon got off the road and headed across some freshly ploughed fields back towards the coast.

Back on the coast there was little or no footpath of any sort. The ground was reasonably flat and offered a number of small sandy beaches to walk along. After a couple of miles I entered Whitehills, another small old fishing village. I rounded a headland near the harbour called the Knock. I could now see both Banff and Macduff some three miles away. I set off along the track bed of the old railway route and met a lot more people, nearly all dog walkers. By this time fatigue was beginning to set-in with my feet and legs. It seemed to take an age to cover the last mile and I was really relieved to get back to the car.

This had been a fabulous days walking, which despite the one diversion, I had been able to stick close to the coast. With beautiful scenery, good walking conditions and a bright sunny day, this had been one of the best walking days I had had for some time.

One of the harbours at Portsoy
Looking eastwards Whitehills and in the far distance Banff and Macduff
One of the many isolated beaches I passed over at Bears Head
Looking across Boyndie Bay to Banff and Macduff
Late afternoon looking across to Macduff from Banff

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24804

Distance today =21 miles
Total distance = 5,686 miles