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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Walk 19 Rochford to Wallasea Island (Essex)

Walk 19 Rochford to Wallasea Island (Essex)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: 8 – 20 miles depending on how far you decide to walk on Wallasea Island
Difficulty: easy, mainly flat
Terrain: mostly paths which can be muddy
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport – Rail station at Rochford.   
ADDED INFORMATION: Many thanks to Hilary from the RSPB Wild Coast Project on Wallasea Island who has let me know that a new bus service runs from Rochford to Wallasea - No.174 the Crouch Village Link.

This walk gives a flavour of this quiet but sometimes bleak marshy part of Essex near to the coast. The start is in Rochford which is worth a quick look around. It is a medieval market town with some old buildings. Rochford Hall is one of these and was once owned by Thomas Boleyn the father of Anne- Henry V111 visited the hall before their marriage. It is now privately owned so only the exterior can be viewed. Nearby is St Andrew’s Church, the only church in England in the middle of a golf course!

Follow the roads and paths to the mill marked on the map and then down to the path that goes eastwards along Pagelsham Reach. Muddy marshy shores are revealed when the tide is out. After a couple of miles Barling Marshes and the church at the village of Barling can be spotted on the opposite bank. Bizarrely, near here a nude man was sitting on a chair enjoying the winter sun. A strategically placed umbrella preventing any embarrassment!

Further along Potton island and further in the distance Foulness Island can be seen. Potton Island is sparsely populated and in the 1980s and 90s was considered as a potential site for the disposal of nuclear waste. Foulness is Saxon for ‘cape of birds’. In 1982 it was chosen as one of the possible sites for a third London airport. As explained in the last walk, it is highly militarised and a phone call is required before attempting to walk on any section of it.

A few boats are moored along Pagelsham creek and a very rusty boat remains tied up, presumably abandoned. Before the creek becomes the River Roach follow the path up the side of Pagelsham Pool next to Clements Marshes. The path winds its way round until it reaches the road along which you can cross to Wallasea. Once over the other side, a path appears soon on the left, follow this up to the marina with its many boats and a pub. A ferry is near the path and this shuttles between the island and Burnham on Crouch on the opposite bank.

Wallasea Island was farmland mainly devoted to the production of wheat and was used extensively in both world wars to help feed the population. It has been subject to flooding especially in the severe storm of 1953. Currently it is undergoing a major conservation scheme – the largest ever undertaken in the UK. The RSPB aims to combat the threats of flooding by recreating the original mudflats and salt marshes. Once completed the island will be a haven for an array of wildlife with access for the public. Completion is estimated to be around 2019. 

It is worth walking a mile or so along this path to appreciate the view along the river. A large collection of wooden cases were rotting in the water when I walked this section.

At this point I returned but if you are feeling energetic the sea wall can be walked for some distance. I understood from a local that it is a remote and peaceful ramble although rather featureless.

Pictures: sailing boats at Wallasea Island; rotting packing cases on the shore at Wallasea.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Walk 18 Southend-on-Sea to Great Wakering

Walk 18 Southend-on-Sea to Great Wakering (Essex)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 8 miles
Difficulty: easy, mainly flat
Terrain: mostly paths and pavements, parts can be very muddy
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport – regular bus service between Great Wakering and Southend-on-Sea, less frequent on Sundays.  

This walk is probably best done over a weekend to (hopefully) avoid some of the military activity along this part of the coast. Start at the pier and walk eastwards along the promenade passing amusements of various types. The beach is a mixture of sand and shingle; it goes out up to a mile at low tide increasingly revealing a muddy shore. After about a couple of miles the beach huts at Shoebury Common are reached. Access to the coast is not allowed after this because of the Shoeburyness military and firing range. The loud bangs that come from this area can be heard on the other side of the Thames.

The next part requires some careful map reading as the road goes inland into the town of Shoeburyness. (Mentioned in H G Wells – War of the Worlds). Find the way across and down to near Shoeburyness Rail Station. On this part of the walk you should pass a pub called the Captain Mannering (should be Captain Mainwaring); he was the character in the TV series Dad’s Army. A few scenes were filmed near here on the military areas. Walk along the small footpath to the coast. Looking back along the waters edge of Pig’s Bay part of the blocked off military area is visible. The artillery base was established here in 1858 to test Armstrong guns against iron clad warships.

Continue walking eastwards across the grass until the road moves back inland. Old barracks covered much of the surrounding land when I walked there. I was amused by a house called Pussy's Palace which turned out be a boarding house for cats! A path comes off the road and a ‘welcome’ notice informs you of the danger of picking up shot, shell, bombs or projectiles. This path may not be open during weekdays. At the end follow the path to Wakering Stairs. This is a strange walk but surprisingly popular. Military debris can be spotted amongst the stones and rocks and I understand that it is good area to spot Brent Geese.

Continue walking until Haven point is reached. From here you can see the buildings on the highly militarized Foulness Island. There are a few paths marked on the map across this island but I was informed by a local resident that access is very restricted and potentially dangerous. I decided to stay clear. The Broomway, once a firm track across the Maplin Sands to Foulness, is marked on the map. This is a volatile area and there is a phone number to see if it is safe to cross. Good luck to anyone who tries it!

I turned around at this point and made my way back to Great Wakering via footpaths and roads. It is possible to walk a bit further round and follow the paths back using a different route. Great Wakering is a pleasant end to the walk with historic pubs, a medieval church and a number of small shops.

Pictures show: Sir John Betjeman train on Southend Pier; a view back down the pier to Southend; Captain 'Mannering' pub; Wakering Stairs.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Walk 17 South Benfleet to Southend-on-Sea

Walk 17 South Benfleet to Southend-on-Sea (Essex)

Map: L/R 178
Distance: About 8 miles (9 or 10 miles if the pier is included)
Difficulty: easy, mainly flat
Terrain: mostly paths and pavements, parts can be muddy
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport – Rail stations at South Benfleet and Southend.

Leave South Benfleet Station and walk in an easterly direction along the road to join the shore path alongside Benfleet Creek.

Benfleet was a settlement in the 5th century when it was largely marshland. The name derives from a Saxon word meaning ‘tree stream’ – where creeks from the Thames join the woodland to the north. The Battle of Benfleet took place in 894 between the Vikings and Saxons, it was won by the army of Edmund the Elder who was one of King Alfred’s commanders. Local people are often known as ‘Bennies’ but don’t call them this as it is considered to be an insult!

A bit further along the path passes through a yacht club. If you are hungry or thirsty a converted vessel called ‘Barge Gladys’ is open to non-members. Soon you will enter Hadleigh Castle Country Park where the path follows the creek until it eventually widens into the Thames. The park was once a wooded royal hunting ground before being cleared in the 14th and 15th centuries. To the north of the riverside are the ruins of Hadleigh Castle. This was built in 1230 and rebuilt by Edward 111 in1360 before being sold to a lord in the 16th century. It was originally built to defend the Thames estuary.

The path passes a bridge which leads to Two Tree Island. This is now a 634 acre nature reserve and is worth a stroll around, particularly if you like bird watching. (I understand that local groups have successfully encouraged avocets on to the island).
The island was reclaimed from the sea in the 18th century and in more recent times (up until 1988) it was a council rubbish tip.

Leigh on Sea is a short distance from the island. The attractive and quaint front includes an anchor salvaged from a Norwegian vessel. The town has a long history of fishing and between the 16th and 18th century it was a ship building port. There are many shellfish merchants along the front with cockles featuring very strongly. Most of the fish are caught off the Maplin Sands to the east of Southend. John Fowles the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman was born here. H G Wells bought a house in Marine Parade when he was having an affair with the author Rebecca West. In 2007 the town came second in a survey of the most desirable places to live in England.

The railway between Fenchurch Stree and Shoeburyness runs alongside part of the path between Leigh and Southend-on-Sea. The first part of Southend is the suburb of Westcliff on Sea. There is a mixture of architecture on the front including a parade of restaurants with brightly coloured tented awnings. Trevor Bailey the England cricketer and radio commentator came from here and the actress Helen Mirren went to a school in the town.

Southend-on-Sea has seven miles of seafront although it was originally a sleepy hamlet once known as the ‘south end’ of Prittlewell. It became a seaside resort during the Georgian era. Its nearness to London coupled with train access means that it has maintained its popularity as a day trip and holiday destination (notwithstanding the general decline of seaside resorts in the 1960s/70s). A number of personalities are associated with the town including the comedians Lee Evans and Phil Jupitus.

The approach to the west side of the town is attractive. The impressive Cliffs Pavilion, a venue for various events, looks down from the top of the cliffs. Further along are the Cliffside gardens topped by a terrace of Georgian houses. From August to October Southend is illuminated by 100,000 coloured lights and floodlights. Further along you will see the lift which saves the walk up the hill to
the town centre, the top level provides good views of the seafront and beaches. Opposite this is the pier and no visit to Southend is complete without a visit. It is the longest pleasure pier in the world.

I walked the approximate one and a third miles to the end and got the pier railway back. Over the years the pier has been ravaged by storms, ship collisions and fires. Various attractions, including a theatre, have been victims of these events. When I visited it was still suffering from a fire in 2005 which had curtailed the railway line. Things may have improved now but there was very little at the end of the pier. The tea shop was unaffected and the lifeboat station was still there but other facilities, including the toilets, had gone. Bizarrely the only amusements were a ‘speak your weight’ machine and a ‘talking telescope’. Good views in all directions are possible when there is good visibility – blighted a little by the dominance of the Grain Power Station opposite. (update - now closed)

Southend also boasts the first pier railway in the world. Originally there were electric cars followed by ex London Underground units – now there are diesel powered engines. One of the two trains is called ‘The Sir John Betjeman’ because this poet once said: Southend is the pier. The pier is Southend.

Pictures show: The Barge Gladys cafe at South Benfleet; Westcliff on Sea; Cliffs Pavilion, Southend; Georgian Terrace, Southend.