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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.

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