An occasional blog about walking in the edgelands of North East London and various other places

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River Roding: Leg 9 - To the Source ...

River Roding: Leg 8 - The Roding Villages

Across to Two Tree Island

River Roding: Leg 7 - Through Fyfield

River Roding: Leg 6 - Upstream to Ongar

The Land Art of Theydon Bois

What Is It With All This Walking and Writing?

The Heights of Epping Forest

River Roding: Leg 5 - Out of London

River Roding: Leg 4 - Through the Leafy Suburbs

River Roding: Leg 3 - Ilford up to Woodford

The Lost Lido of Leytonstone

River Roding: Leg 2 - the Barking Barrage to Ilford

River Roding: Leg 1 - Thames to the Barking Barrage


30 August 2016

A walk along a stretch of the Thames Estuary - with glimpses of ruins, old and new.

One of my favourite Essex walks is along the sea wall which runs beside Benfleet Creek on the North side of the River Thames, followed by a visit across to Two Tree Island. It is usually hot when I visit Benfleet and today was going to be no exception, so I made sure that I arrived at the start of the walk in Hadleigh country park before ten o’clock. The country park now includes the adjacent farm land that was used for the 2012 Olympic Mountain Biking events, and has re-branded itself as “Hadleigh Park”.

Avoiding the scores of mountain bikers who were also intent on an early start, I walked downhill through the trees. These soon opened up to give views over Canvey Island, famed for the floods that killed 58 people in 1953 and for the music of Dr. Feelgood. The most prominent sight was that of the oil silos and crane gantries at the nearby Coryton Refinery - not for nothing was Julien Temple’s film about the Feelgoods titled “Oil City Confidential”. The refinery might have been an inspiration for Wilko Johnson, but the plant is now closed and the site is being turned into a distribution terminal.     

Looking down over Benfleet Creek and Canvey Island, towards the oil silos and crane gantries at Coryton

At the bottom of the hill, I reached the grazing marshes - land that was reclaimed from the sea for use as pasture, and is now a conservation area.

From here I walked westwards, and after about a mile the footpath led over the railway line which bisects the marshes. This is not a country track with an occasional engine passing through, but the main Southend to London line with a train every few minutes. Sure enough, I’d just finished walking across the line, and was about to take a photo, when an engine sounded its warning …

Crossing the railway brought me out beside the road bridge to Canvey Island, and here I turned to walk eastwards along the side of Benfleet Moorings, home to hundreds of small boats - some of which looked like they had not moved for years, being marooned within the marsh land or trapped inside the boardwalks.

At the end of the moorings I reached the start of the grassy path along the sea wall. The river was at low tide, with the occasional boat sat in the mud - a series of isolated objects on the floor of the Creek, reminding me of the drained river bed in J. G. Ballard’s novel The Drought

I now walked along the sea wall for a couple of miles. Ahead in the distance I could make out the town of Leigh-on-Sea, and up on the hill to my left were the remains of Hadleigh Castle - the subject of a famous painting by John Constable.

On the estuary side of the sea wall, the remains of a wooden jetty stood out like a row of dragon’s teeth. This structure was once part of a wharf used by local brickworks to load their product onto barges.

The drying mud of Benfleet Creek glistens in the sun

Further along the creek is Two Tree Island. Originally pasture land reclaimed from the sea, then used as a landfill site, the island is now a nature reserve. At low tide it is possible - if sometimes rather muddy - to cross onto it by foot at its western end, which I was able to do today. I joined a path which passed by the salt water lagoon, which serves as nesting home to gulls and waders, and has seen a number of cases of theft of Avocet eggs.

The saline lagoon at Two Tree Island

I now followed the path around Two Tree Island. Looking across the Thames, the 800 foot high chimney belonging to the Isle of Grain power station was very prominent. The station was decommissioned in 2012 as “economically unviable” and is gradually being demolished - indeed, it has just been announced that the chimney itself will be blown up at 11am on 7 September 2016.

A last look at the Isle of Grain power station

On reaching the Two Tree Island car park, I walked down the access road and off the island, to follow a path towards Leigh-on-Sea. The pier at Southend was clearly visible; you could see just how long it is - at one-and-a-third miles it is the longest pleasure pier in the world - and, unlike many of Britain’s old piers, this one is still very much in use. Further on, I passed more boats that seemed to have found their final resting places in the creek …

On reaching the railway station on the outskirts of Leigh-on-Sea, I turned to follow the narrow road past the cockle sheds, one or two of which incorporate shops selling fresh seafood and fish. At the end of the sheds, I reached the Crooked Billet pub, where I had some refreshment while gazing out over the estuary …

There was a bit of a queue at the seafood cafe, and the day was getting increasingly hot, so I decided against a pot of cockles, or any of the other delights of the sea, such as whelks or octopus in sweet vinegar. Instead, I walked back past the cockle sheds and the railway station, onto a path that runs along the inland edge of what was formerly grazing marsh, now converted to arable land. After a mile or so, I turned up the long, gentle ridge that ascends towards to the remains of Hadleigh Castle.

From the top of the hill, you can see the whole of Canvey Island spread out below. Unfortunately, there is no direct route from here back to the car park at Hadleigh, so I descended back down the other side of the hill to the main track and followed it past what is now the Mountain Biking area, to the path that leads back up through the Country Park - a tiring climb on what was now a very hot day indeed.

Looking back towards Hadleigh castle