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Friday, 24 December 2010

Walk 16 – Canvey Island

Walk 16 – Canvey Island (Essex)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 8 miles – this is a circular walk
Difficulty: easy - flat
Terrain: mostly paths and pavements but some marshy areas
Access: park in or near the centre of the town
Public transport – Buses from nearby areas run to the centre of Canvey

This walk requires careful navigation along the roads to and from Canvey centre. A compass in conjunction with the map may be helpful. Canvey Island (origin reputed to be – The Island of Cana’s people) is very flat and much is built on land reclaimed from the sea. It has been inhabited since Roman times and was a popular seaside resort from the early 1900s until around 1970 when cheap overseas package holidays were introduced. It is still a destination for holidays and day trips but there is also a large amount of industry, mainly related to the petro-chemical trade. The island is linked to the mainland by a bridge over Benfleet Creek.

Head to the west and walk to the Dutch Village and museum which are marked on the map.  In the 1620s a number of Dutch workers were brought here to use the skills gained in Holland and build a land wall to protect Canvey. They also drained the area and reclaimed some land which had been regularly flooded in the past. As part of the deal the 200 Dutch workers were granted a large part of land to settle. The two preserved cottages (one of which is now a museum) were part of this development. About 1/3 of the town's roads have names of Dutch origin.

Walk in a southerly direction then along a road that goes south west past the oil refineries. Join the path here and walk westwards to the jetty at Shellhaven Point, this projects one mile into the estuary. Beyond this are the Coryton Oil Refineries. Canvey was the first site to receive liquefied natural gas. Surprisingly, there were several walkers along this stretch on a cold, foggy, February day. There is not much to be gained from walking further along this path so turn around and retrace your steps, walking eastwards. On the walk the marshy coastline is prominent and an area called Canvey Wick (a wick is a shed in which cheese is made and this was an occupation on the island) has been designated as a public community space nestled amongst the industrial surroundings.

The path follows the sea wall and passes The Lobster Smack pub. This very old pub was rebuilt in the 1700s as The World’s End and was later renamed. It is rumoured to be the hostelry made famous in Great Expectations by Dickens. It was a haunt for smugglers who would ship in and out from the sea wall.

Continue eastwards and past some rather basic looking mobile homes which have the tanks of the oil depot as a back drop. After the oil terminal is some sort of beach environmental garden in need of some TLC when I saw it. The land adjacent to the sea wall gradually becomes more pleasing with green space on one side and the metal gates of the sea protection on the wall. These were built in 1953 after the flood disaster which claimed 300 lives on the east coast including 58 here in Canvey. In just 15 minutes the sea broke through the original wall and was above the window sills of most buildings. Some people drowned in their beds, others died from exposure on the roof tops. Do not miss the flood memorial which is in the Memorial Gardens opposite the sea front; some interesting sculptures and facts are found here. Walk past the usual amusements and, if it is low tide, you will see a man made pool exposed (typical of other resorts such as Broadstairs).

Further along is Canvey Island FC ground. The club became famous in the 2000s for winning the FA trophy and defeating professional clubs to get to the third round of the FA cup. Continue in an easterly direction past Leigh Beck to Canvey Point. A footpath is marked on the map but I decided not to walk to the end when I sank down past my boot top into the marsh! Follow the footpath back along the eastern edge of the marsh towards Canvey (it follows a road/houses on the left, I do not think much can be gained from walking across the marsh to the north of this). On this final part of the walk you will be looking at reclaimed land which now has football pitches and public open space.

Navigate your way back to the centre of Canvey.

Snaps show: flood memorials; caravan park Canvey; interesting fact board; flood defences; Canvey Wick; The Lobster Smack Pub.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Walk 15 – Tilbury to Stanford Le Hope (Essex)

Walk 15 – Tilbury to Stanford Le Hope (Essex)

Map: L/R 178 (the very start is on L/R 177 but it is easy to find your way without going to the extra expense of another map.)
Distance: About 6 miles
Difficulty: easy - mostly flat
Terrain: reasonable but can be very marshy in places
Access: Park near Tilbury Fort in Fort Road and there is plenty of parking in Stanford Le Hope
Public transport – 30 minute rail service to Tilbury ferry from Tilbury centre. A bus service runs from Stanford Le Hope back to Tilbury at least every 2 hours but there may be others. Mon – Sat only.

This is the point where the walk moves to the other side of the Thames. It is a matter of debate where coastal walking ends and river walking begins. There seems to be no hard and fast rule. The tidal range doesn’t help; if this rule is followed then the walk would go through London all the way down to Teddington! Battersea and Chelsea suggest the coast goes at least this far and there was once a popular man made beach near Tower Bridge. However, I feel this is stretching the idea of a coastal walk a bit far and feel (along with one or two books) that Gravesend is a sensible place to finish and Tilbury a good place to start on the northern side.

Park in the most westerly car park (if you can) near the sea wall and just east of Tilbury Docks. Wherever you begin you should be able to walk along the sea wall path to the Worlds End pub. This used to be the ferry house for the ferry between Gravesend and Tilbury. It is a Grade 2 listed building built 17/18 centuries with timber frames. The ferry still runs.

Looking back towards the west there is the Port of Tilbury which opened in 1880 and was a major port for goods and passengers. Not as busy as before but it is still an important port. Near to here is the unwelcome edifice of Tilbury Power Station.

Continue walking eastwards to Tilbury Fort, it is very close to the path. If it is open it is worth a visit and the audio commentary provides a helpful guide. The seventeenth century fort has a unique double moat on the landward side. A variety of guns are on display including some from World War 2. The fort has never seen action but bloodshed occurred in a bizarre cricket match in 1776. A fight started between Essex and Kent players, one of the Kent team stole a gun from the guardroom and killed an Essex player; the commanding officer and an elderly invalid were also killed. The players rapidly left the scene!

The fort is the scene of Queen Elizabeth 1st famous speech to her army before facing the Spanish Armada: “I have the body of a weak and feeble woman……..”

Continuing the walk, Gravesend and, further along, Cliffe can be seen on the opposite bank with East Tilbury marshes on the land side. The banks are stony and muddy. The sea wall is ‘rich’ in graffiti some dating back to the 1980s miner strikes. I wonder if it is still there?

Further along there is a much more congenial area surrounding Coalhouse Fort. This was built in the 19th century by General Gordon of Khartoum. It was derelict but there are plans to regenerate the area. These buildings were called Palmerston Forts (Lord P. was prime minister at the time) to defend against a possible invasion by the French. Most of the other coastal forts of this time have been destroyed.

The walk continues eastwards alongside the aptly named Mucking Marshes. I diligently followed the path to the jetty near Mucking Flats and planned to walk up the track marked on the map and make my way in to Stanford Le Hope. This was a bad idea, explained underneath, so I suggest taking the path near the 079 eastings map line and going back to East Tilbury or along the roads to Stanford Le Hope.

I pursued the walk marked on the map to a small beach area south of Mucking Flats. These turned out be only just accessible and very marshy. I got through a gap in the fence on to the track which heads inland on the map. This whole area turned out to be a massive refuse tip. I sunk to my knees in stinking mud at one point. It was a Sunday so the tip was closed and the way out was blocked by barbed wire fencing against intruders from the road. Alternatives were jumping a stream (risky) or walking down a railway line (also risky) until I got to a road. I chose the latter by which time it was getting dark. My welcome at a Stanford Le Hope pub was less than warm, only when I was picked up did I realise why when my wife complained about the smell!

The author Joseph Conrad lived and wrote his books at Stanford Le Hope.

Snaps show: two views of Tilbury Fort; graffiti; Coalhouse Fort; rubbish tip at Mucking Flats.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Walk 14 – Cliffe to Gravesend

Walk 14 – Cliffe to Gravesend (Medway)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 6 miles
Difficulty: easy - mostly flat, hilly around Cliffe
Terrain: reasonable but can be very muddy in places
Access: Road parking at Cliffe – car parks or road parking at Gravesend
Public transport – A 133 runs from Chatham to Cliffe. (Mon-Sat). Rail station and several buses from Gravesend to various destinations – the 417 operates 3 times a day between Gravesend and Cliffe and return (Mon-Sat)

A pleasant walk with a bit of interesting history at the end. 

Take the path out of Cliffe and follow the Saxon Shore Way crossing a narrow piece of land between Cliffe Pools. This is a large RSPB reserve with 235 species of birds. Unlike the last walk you are very unlikely to be on your own at this point!

Walk away from the pools and continue until you reach Cliffe Fort at the entrance to Cliffe Creek. This was built in the 19th century to defend London against invasion along the Thames. It is now owned by a local aggregate works (stone, gravel etc. used for building) and is derelict and inaccessible. The fort is also known as a site for the Breman torpedo the first effective weapon of this type and was used to defend at the fort for 15 years at the end of the nineteenth century. (Update the path here has been closed recently due to erosion - may now be open but needs checking).

Near here is a lop sided memorial stone. This marks the limit of the Thames Watermen who used to ply their trade taking goods from ships to quayside using flat bottomed barges called ‘lights’. The trade has largely died out because of the introduction of container ships.  

From the lightship at Higham Saltings you can look back to the fort although this is dwarfed by the aggregate works. The walk towards Gravesend presents a few possible hazards. Part of it can be very marshy and this makes for slow going. Do not stray from the path near the danger area marked on the map as the path is in fairly close proximity to a firing range. In addition, the walk passes through a number of industrial areas including quarries and jetties. I missed the path out to Gravesend and had to climb up a vertical ladder on the tall riverside wall with the (slightly) amused encouragement of some workmen. Across the river Tilbury power station is prominent.

One of the first landmarks approaching Gravesend (the name coming from Greve – a small wood not a burial grave) is the Royal Terrace Pier. This was built in 1844 and was often used by day trippers mainly in the nineteenth century. It was given its royal status in 1863 after Princess Alexandra arrived here to marry the then Prince of Wales.

Further along is the Port of London Authority building. The Port of London stretches 150 km. from the tidal limit of the Thames at Teddington to the North Sea. Pilot ships operate out of Gravesend guiding ships along the river.

The Clarendon Royal Hotel faces the river and was in a sorry, dilapidated state when I saw it despite being a listed building. It was built in 1665 for the Duke of York (later James 11) – Clarendon was his father in law. It became a hotel in the 1840s and was popular with aristocrats. UPDATE: 2013 - have just seen a Channel 4 programme called Four in a bed. The hotel has been completely refurbished and updated and is open for business.

Opposite this building is the Tudor Blockhouse. This is the only remaining part of one of the artillery forts built by Henry V111 to defend the Thames.

Further along at Bawley Bay is St Andrew’s Mission House. This was built by the daughter of Beaufort (the man who classified wind speeds) in 1840. It was originally set up to raise the spiritual and moral condition of the waterside community including the families living in coal hulks moored off the town. Gordon of Khartoum used it as a reading room to teach poor children.

As you walk along the riverside you will come to the Town Pier, the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world. Thousands of tourists once used the pier to alight from London and explore the once famous Gravesend pleasure gardens.

If you have time, take a walk into town and find St George’s Church. This is where you will find the statue of Pocahontas. In 1617 she was rowed ashore and buried here. Her story is well documented and people from all over the world visit here – many claiming to be her descendants! Charles Dickens is strongly associated with the area. Musicians may like to know that Rimsky-Korsakov the composer was posted here in 1862 when in the Russian navy and wrote part of his first symphony.

This is the final part of the coastal walk before crossing to the north side of the Thames.

Snaps show: St Helen's Church, Cliffe; Cliffe Pools; the pier at Gravesend; The Clarendon Royal Hotel, Gravesend.