Friday, January 17, 2003

Walk 55 -- Tilbury Fort to Mucking

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 254 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 31 days.
Weather: Mild with a cold breeze. Dark and grey, but the rain just about held off.
Location: Tilbury Fort to Mucking.
Distance: 8½ miles.
Total distance: 345½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly grass river bank, then some road walking, across one grass field and gravel paths.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.46 & 47 round the back of East Tilbury.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.20 round the back of East Tilbury because the public footpath along the river bank became unsafe and petered out.
How we got there and back: We drove from Bognor to Tilbury, using the Dartford Tunnel to cross the Thames. We parked in the pub car park by Tilbury Fort (though we didn’t use the pub – it’s not in Colin’s book!)
At the end, we walked northwards along a road and found the station in Stanford-le Hope. We caught a train to Tilbury and walked through the town to our car. We drove back to the M25 and turned northwards. One and a half hours later, we arrived at Paul and Caroline’s cosy little cottage in Isleham, Cambridgeshire, where we spent the weekend.

We didn’t want a five month break in our round-Britain-Walk, but circumstances forced it upon us. At the end of August last year, we went on a wildlife safari to Kenya and Tanzania. It was fantastic – easily the best trip we have ever done! On our return we had to pay for the Antarctic trip we have booked for February, and that took all our money. I had to be available for supply teaching, we simply couldn’t afford for me not to be around when those vital phone calls came in. At first I was a little concerned we had overstretched ourselves financially, but as the academic year kicked into gear come October, so the phone started ringing. Teaching has become one of the most stressful jobs in this country, if not the western world, and by Christmas I had spent forty days in schools – more than I had done in any autumn term since I gave up full-time teaching in 1997. That was good news for the bank balance and I can now afford to say “no” more often, but it has made me very tired and disillusioned. To cheer myself up, I have booked several more holidays for 2003!
As soon as we returned from Africa, Colin went for the results of a bone scan which showed, thankfully, that his cancer had not spread beyond the prostate gland. Five weeks later, he was in hospital undergoing major surgery to have the offending gland removed! He recovered from the operation very well, with only a few minor setbacks. It appears that he is now clear of cancer, and will not have to undergo radio- or chemo-therapy. He has been encouraged to do a lot of walking and this has kept him very fit, but he has completely lost control over his bladder. It may be months or even years before he regains this – if ever! He has tried several different types of pads, but they tend to leak leaving him extremely uncomfortable. He finds a sheath catheter is much better, but this does not always stay in place. He is coping fantastically, and trying to lead as full a life as he did before. His attitude is, “It’s better than a box!” He is not yet allowed to cycle, so we had to use public transport to set up today’s walk.

We climbed over the high ladder stile and splashed down into a muddy puddle to start our resumption of ‘The Walk’. We skirted Tilbury power station by marching along a concrete platform between it and the river. This went under a couple of jetties which jutted out over our heads. I needed the loo and nobody else was mad enough to be walking on such a dull January weekday, so I tucked myself into a corner under one of the jetties where I could only be seen from the river. I looked up, and a huge ship with men all over the deck was passing by!! (Colin can just open a tap which is tucked under his trouser leg at the ankle – he can do it anywhere, and people think he is tying his shoelace!)

A bit further on, we looked back along the river and saw a tall ship sailing towards us, its topsails billowing in the wind – it was a magnificent sight! Unfortunately, it tended to stay on the Kent side of the river, and our big cameras with the long lenses are both in for repair prior to our Antarctica trip. It would only have been a dot with the little camera, so we didn’t even try to photograph it.

At the end of the power station, the path – according to the map – was supposed to turn away from the river and then meander all over the marshes. But in reality a well-worn path continues along the edge of the river, so we followed it all the way to Coalhouse Fort. This is another NapolĂ©onic-type fort directly opposite Cliffe Fort which we passed last summer on Walk 53. Coalhouse Fort has been turned into a kind of country park – we could see mown grass mounds, a children’s playground, a picnic area, and a man in a woolly hat was riding along a cycle path. However, we had to observe all this from the other side of the moat because we were able to walk round a grass bank next to the river and we didn’t go near the fort at all.

We were quite peckish by then, so we crouched behind a bank where we were out of the wind and ate our sarnies (made with fresh home-made bread courtesy of my new breadmaker!) We carried on along the river bank which got more and more uneven with deep holes to trip you up. I was very concerned – neither of us can afford to break an ankle this near to the Antarctica trip on which we leave a fortnight today. Then I noticed a lot of people had been walking along the bottom of the bank on the marshes side, and quite a good path was appearing. I went down to it and found it to be much easier walking, so Colin joined me. The path on the bank eventually petered out. We got out our binoculars/telescope to look at the birds on the mudflats – oystercatchers, plovers and a great black-backed gull amongst others.

We passed what was supposed to be a sewage works, according to the map, but everything was derelict in the area including that. We could only see bits of concrete under brambles – there wasn’t even a lingering smell! Ahead of us we could see a huge landfill site with big vehicles working it and clouds of gulls swooping overhead. The public footpath was supposed to continue along the riverside for another half mile or so to some ‘travelling cranes’, then we were hoping to walk straight across to Mucking along some tracks marked on the map. No chance! The landfill site was surrounded by a high fence which stretched all along the shore. There was a bit of a path between it and the slippery stones of the estuary, but it deteriorated rapidly and we had to contend with uneven stones, thick brambles and fence posts leaning out to block the way. We could see the ‘travelling cranes’ not too far ahead, but the path was unsafe so we turned back. We took a well-marked path across to East Tilbury, walked along the back of a housing estate and through a children’s playground to a road by the station.
About eighteen months ago, a teenage girl who lived on the estate was abducted and murdered by her uncle. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but he won’t say where her body is and it has never been found. This is hardly surprising in this area of disused workings, landfill sites and mudflats. We couldn’t help thinking about it as we walked because the case has always been high profile as far as the media are concerned – in fact there is a documentary on it on TV in a couple of days time. We hope she is found, for her distraught parents’ sake, but we don’t want to be the ones to find her!
The children’s playground was lovely – all landscaped with seats and picnic tables, and it even had an aerial runway! However, we were distressed to see that nearly half the new trees planted there had been vandalised. A sad reflection of our modern-day kids – the more you do for them, the more they complain and spoil things for everyone else.

It was only three o’clock, so we decided to continue our walk and catch the train back to Tilbury from the next station. Neither of us like walking along roads, especially when we turned into a side lane to find no pavements. It was quite a busy little road, so it was not pleasant. The lane turned back alongside the railway and I was marching on, head down, just trying to get there when Colin said, “Here’s a
PUBLIC FOOTPATH sign, is that any use to us?” I then realised that I had intended to take it all along, and would have missed it if he hadn’t said. (‘Senior moment’?) Then I realised that we could have cut off a corner further back using a similar path, but neither of us had noticed either end of it! It was much pleasanter walking across fields, away from the traffic and the associated dirt. We came to a level crossing, and had to wait for a train. Meanwhile, I had to persuade Colin not to pick up and carry home a huge cutting disc he found in a pile of rubbish under the hedge!! (“Do you know how much these things cost to buy new?”) Honestly!
We walked down a little lane into the hamlet of Mucking, just a few farm buildings and a church really. (Good name – Mucking – because it looked a bit mucky with puddles and mud all over the ground, and a slate-grey sky!) We would have liked to have stopped and looked at the church, but we were well aware that we were losing light rapidly and wanted to get back to ‘civilisation’ before we couldn’t see anymore. So we took the footpath across the swamps between fishing lakes – it probably all looks lovely on a fine summer’s day – and came out at a railway bridge where we descended to the road that runs under it.

That ended Walk no.55, we shall pick up Walk no.56 next time just south of the railway bridge, east of Mucking. In the gathering dusk (it was only 4pm!) we walked north to Stanford-le-Hope station. We only had to wait a few minutes for a train back to Tilbury Town – a nice comfortable modern train, not the ancient filthy slam-door trains we still have to put up with back in Sussex.
There was supposed to be a bus link to take us the mile to the ferry terminal, near where our car was parked, but there was no sign of any buses or timetables and it was cold and dark. So we decided to walk – a route through the town rather than alongside the main road. We navigated it fine until we crossed the railway on a footpath and were supposed to continue straight on. In front of us was an earth bank whereas the path turned sharp left taking us in almost the opposite direction! We climbed the bank to get our bearings, and Colin remarked that footprints and bike tracks went down the other side. Looking ahead, we could see the ferry terminal in the distance, but in between was a swamp with glistening pools of water in the darkness. We had no torch. Colin said, “Be bold!” and led me unerringly through the swamp in almost total darkness! (We could just about see the path for three or four yards ahead, and we hardly even got our boots wet!) We had two cups of tea from our flask in the car along with a few chocolate biscuits, then we left Tilbury vowing never to return in our lives!
We drove back to the M25 and turned northwards. One and a half hours later, we arrived at Paul and Caroline’s cosy little cottage in Isleham, Cambridgeshire, where we spent a very pleasant weekend.

No comments: