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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.

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