Friday, April 11, 2003

Walk 56 -- Mucking, via Fobbing, to Pitsea

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 338 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 115 days.
Weather: Overcast with a cold wind, but more sunny as the sun lowered in the sky.
Location: Mucking, via Fobbing, to Pitsea.
Distance: 8½ miles.
Total distance: 354 miles.
Terrain: Riverside grass banks, a section along a tarmacked lane, but mostly wandering in the marshes which – thankfully – had dried out!
Tide: Out.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.48, 49, 50, 51 & 52 on the marshes (it was the only way we knew we were on the official path!) and no.53 where we crossed the railway.
Pubs: The ‘White Lion’ at Fobbing where Colin drank Cain’s bitter and I enjoyed a glass of Addlestone’s cider.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Bognor to Pitsea, using the Dartford Tunnel to cross the Thames. We parked in the station car park, then cycled back to Mucking calling at the pub in Fobbing on the way. We chained our bikes to a fence where we finished the walk last time.
At the end, we downed two cups of tea, then drove back to Mucking to pick up the bikes in the dark. We drove back to the M25 and turned northwards. One and a half hours later, we got to Isleham in Cambridgeshire. Paul & Caroline were away for the weekend at a wedding, so we picked up the key to their cottage from a friend who lives up the road and let ourselves in.

We had meant to do this walk three days after the last one in January, but on our way back from Isleham the wind blew and the rain poured! Walking across the Thames marshes in such conditions did not appeal, so we drove straight past and went home! Then we intended doing a similar weekend in March and getting the next two walks under our belt, but the only weekend we were not away was the very week Paul and Caroline chose to go up to Scotland for a short holiday.
In a way, it was just as well because we have hardly been at home this year. In February we went on our BIG TRIP – to Antarctica! We flew to Ushuaia – the southernmost town in the world – on the tip of Tierra del Fuego, and there we boarded the ‘World Discoverer’. It was a small ship, only 138 passengers, but it was luxurious! We toured the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands and landed twice on the Antarctic continent. We saw penguins, seals and whales galore, apart from loads of other birds and amazing formations of ice in white, blue and black! It was surreal – like another planet! The weather was perfect because a high pressure system hung about the area the whole time we were there, making it either foggy or sunny and warm. The sea was calm so no one was seasick, we were able to go right inside the Antarctic Circle before pack-ice made us turn round, and we did eighteen landings to look at wildlife. On South Georgia we spent several hours in a colony of 100,000 king penguins. It was the most fantastic experience ever!
In March we took Cecilia to Yorkshire for a short winter break, and again we were blessed with a high pressure system so we walked the Dales in hot sunshine! A couple of weeks later we went to Lisbon for a short city break – that was fun!
As for our health? I am in fine fettle, and so is Colin – his last blood count showed the cancer has completely gone. However, after six months he has made no progress with his incontinence and still wears a catheter with a leg-bag. He has got quite used to it now, but it is not the same as being back to normal.

Now – the walk. Due to circumstances not quite beyond our control (like stopping at the pub on the cycle ride!) we didn’t actually start our walk until 3.40pm. Added to that, we hadn’t had a proper lunch and we were famished. We walked down the track between fishing lakes (how
did those fishermen get their cars into the gravel car park behind that high fence? – the only rusty and nettle-covered gate obviously hadn’t been opened for years) from the railway to the riverside and found a spot at the bottom of the bank out of the wind to eat our pasties and sarnies. There we had a ‘wonderful’ view of travelling cranes and a landfill site!
We felt much better then, so we got going. Unfortunately, our sojourn by the river was all too brief, and as we turned away we knew we wouldn’t be seeing it again for many miles. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to remember that we are doing a shoreline walk – finding ‘the nearest safe path to the coast’ is not as easy as it sounds. Our route took us across the marshes, cutting out the oil refinery at Coryton because it is an industrial complex (in accordance with additional rule no.3). According to Tom King in his hilarious book ‘Thames Estuary Trail’, there used to be a public footpath all round the oil refinery next to the river, and indeed the beginning of it is still in existence on the map but it comes to a dead end after only half a mile. Apparently, in the 1970s, the IRA tried to blow up the entire complex but fortunately their explosive failed due to a faulty timing device. The footpath was immediately closed, and since there was not one squeak of protest from anyone it has remained that way ever since. Tom King says he did once walk it many years before, and remembers “neat patterns of stainless steel pipes, chain-link fencing and cooling-towers”. He had to invent bouncing aardvarks to relieve the tedium – we know the feeling!
We followed a track leading northwards to a narrow lane which we followed eastwards for about a kilometre. When that turned northwards, we carried on across fields to the main road, did a dog-leg and came to our first challenge – a locked gate. The finger post was there but no stile, and since my leg-breaking accidents I haven’t been very good at climbing over gates. I think it is lack of confidence rather than lack of agility, so I made the best of it and sort of fell over in a very ungainly fashion. This attracted the attention of the lambs that were in the field, particularly the older ones, and they came across and head-butted us! One of them nearly had me off my feet – good job they weren’t calves, or bullocks! We made it to the stile at the other side and escaped without injury. We were by the main road again, and crossed – it wasn’t very busy.
We had a look at the church there from the outside, it was locked. There was a dreadful racket coming from the pub because there was a children’s party going on in a nether room – what a din! That put us off a bit because we couldn’t find the path – then we realised that we shouldn’t have passed the pub at all and had to walk back past the cacophony to get to it. Even when on the path we went wrong and had to backtrack. We found we should have climbed over a double stile into a small field which was sectioned off by electric fences in a most peculiar way. We just had to step carefully over them, they were fairly low but they were switched on – one of them was buzzing. Next we had to do a bit of careful navigation along an overgrown path (this was
all public right of way) around the back of a school field, along a driveway (I’m sure that was wrong, but it was the only way we could find), past some ponds, over a disused railway, through a little dingly dell, and eventually we emerged at the nether end of Fobbing village in what looked very much like someone’s cultivated cottage garden! It was very pretty – “thank you” to whoever planted all those flowers and weeded the beds.
Fobbing is a mere hamlet, but it has a BIG history! Apparently the famous “peasants’ revolt”, led by Wat Tyler, started here in 1381. It was the first popular revolt against harsh taxation, but it was very short-lived. Within a few days of the uprising, Wat Tyler was dead and authority reasserted itself. On the wall of the local pub – which we had visited earlier – there is a plaque which reads: Talking of the pub, perhaps we should have sought it out again and given up the day’s walk at that point – but we didn’t. We followed the correct public footpath sign down the correct little cul-de-sac, and at the end – NOTHING! A fence, a field of crops just starting to grow, no stile, no path. So we climbed over the fence (awkwardly, that’s me!) and set off in the general direction the path should have gone, cursing the fact we hadn’t brought a compass and relieved that there had been no rain for weeks so the field was not muddy.
For the next two hours we seemed to be wandering aimlessly across the marshes navigating by drainage ditches and electricity pylons because there was a great lack of footpaths or fingerposts. We came across a well-marked track, so we followed it for a while because it was easier walking – but we knew it was just the farmer’s track and not taking us quite in the right direction. Colin took over the navigation because I can’t see the map properly when I’m tired, and he ‘found’ us when we came across an S shaped pond – except that we were the wrong end of it! At least we were in the right part of the marshes. We saw a heron, which provided a modicum of interest, but apart from common birds that was the only wildlife. A little further on, we came to the only fingerpost in the whole area. One finger directed us left over a rickety stile – that was the short way – and one finger directed us right continuing along the track – that was the ‘nearest path to the coast’ if you discount the distant oil refinery, which we did.
I gave Colin the complete choice of which route to take – I forced him into making the decision because he never will. He spent about five minutes deliberating, so I sat down to wait for him to say which way. He kept prevaricating because he wanted me to make the final decision so that he could blame me when it proved wrong, but I wouldn’t play his game and sat silently waiting. At last he decided on the shorter route because of the time factor, he climbed over the stile and was confronted with a ploughed field! There was no way we could negotiate that with our tired feet, so we went the long route after all. (It was really quite funny, after all that, but we didn’t think so at the time.) Fifty yards further on, all sign of that path disappeared too and we were left with directing ourselves by electricity pylons once more. It was beginning to turn into a nightmare!
As we approached the pylons, we came across a plethora of kissing gates, which gave us a little light relief and also told us we were in the right place. We could also count pylons to see where we should join them and where we should leave them – that way we could cross the drainage ditches where there were bridges. We were so glad we hadn’t tried this walk back in January when we had originally intended because it would have been impossibly deep in mud back then, and we would never have got through.
We came to a field full of bullocks which were rather frisky. At first they took no notice of us, then they started following which I found inhibiting. Colin demonstrated that if you turn to face them and make a noise they flee – but they kept running back. I was really glad to get out of that field, but again we could only do it by climbing a gate and we were positive we were on the correct public right of way. I was getting more and more tired, the sun was sinking lower and lower, and I was very much afraid that we would still be wandering on the marshes at midnight with a map we couldn’t read because it was too dark. (I took little comfort in the fact that Tom King, when pioneering his Thames Estuary Trail, also got lost on Fobbing Marshes despite having lived in the area all his life.) Colin was more confident, and led me unerringly to the railway line where we had to skulk behind some dark buildings past nettles and brambles.
Even then we had a mile to walk before we could cross the line, and another two hundred yards or so along a concrete path in a not very salubrious area before we got to our car at Pitsea station. It was 8 o’clock and almost dark.

That ended Walk no.56, we shall pick up Walk no.57 next time at Pitsea station car park. We downed tea and biscuits, relieved to be off the marshes before it got too dark to see. We returned to Mucking where Colin had great difficulty unstrapping the bikes from the fence because it was pitch dark by then. I phoned Paul’s friend, Ian, who was holding his door key for us to explain we were running much later than expected – one of the very few times I have used my mobile phone. Colin got quite sleepy as we approached Cambridgeshire, so we had to stop and let him rest up a bit. It was 10.30 before we picked up the key – with much apology – and let ourselves into Paul and Caroline’s cottage in Isleham.

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