Monday, April 14, 2003

Walk 58 -- Canvey Island, via Benfleet, to Leigh-on-Sea

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 341 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 118 days.
Weather: Overcast with a cold wind.
Location: Canvey Island, via Benfleet, to Leigh-on-Sea.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 375½ miles.
Terrain: Concrete, gravel and grass – easy walking all the way.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers to cross: No.15, Benfleet Creek, to get off Canvey Island.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.58 at Hadleigh Castle (we had to go through it twice, but we’ll only count it as one!) Nos.59, 60 & 61 by the river.
Pubs: ‘Hoy & Helmet’ at Benfleet where we had a snack lunch and drank Brain’s SA.
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.18, Hadleigh Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Isleham to Benfleet station where we chained our bikes to an official rack. We then drove to Hadleigh Castle and visited that. Next we drove to Leigh-on-Sea station where we parked and caught a train back to Benfleet – this was to save ‘cycling’ up another particularly nasty steep hill! We visited the pub next, then picked up our bikes and cycled to the sea front on Canvey Island where we finished our last walk. We chained the bikes to a post, and at last started our walk! (All a bit complicated -- but it did work!)
At the end, we thirstily drank tea and consumed biscuits and chocolate before driving back to Canvey Island to pick up the bikes. Then we drove back to Isleham in Cambridgeshire where we were staying with Paul & Caroline.

We looked round Hadleigh Castle before our walk because we knew we would be too tired to visit it afterwards. Also, we didn’t want the added mileage of diverting uphill to it as we passed nearby – besides, there wasn’t a convenient path to do this. Nothing much to write about this ancient structure really, it was built in the 13th century by one Hubert de Burgh and has been falling down ever since! Nowadays there is not much left because bits of it still keep slipping down the hill. Apparently, nothing ever happened there – no exciting battles or sieges, no boiling oil, moats or portcullises, not even any stories of rape & pillage! No wonder it crumbles away of its own accord. However, the view from there is spectacular – even if it is right across Canvey Island to the oil refinery! Kent can be seen on a fine day, but we could only see it as a shadow in the gloom on the horizon.
As we were parking our bikes at the beginning of the walk, a couple of youths in a parked car a short distance away called over to us, “You are going to lock those bikes up, aren’t you?” We assured them that we were, and they called back, “They’ll get nicked if you don’t, it’s that sort of area!” We thanked them for their concern, and explained that they were well and truly padlocked to each other and to an immovable post. As we walked away, they were joking about whether they could fit them in the boot of their car – we did wonder if it would have been wiser to have wheeled them somewhere else, but we didn’t and soon forgot about it.
We walked eastwards along the concrete path on the beach side of the sea wall. It gave the appearance of a sort of prom there, so it wasn’t too bad. There were quite a few people about, it being school Easter holidays, and there was a beach below which was mostly covered by the high tide. There was a rectangle concreted off to retain the water at low tide, and some young people were playing with their dog on the narrow perimeter wall which was just showing above the water. We turned a sharp corner to the left, and there was a concrete boat with more youngsters playing on it. We thought it must be yet another of those ‘mulberry harbours’ – can’t think of any other reason to build a boat out of this heavy, uncompromising material!
The eastern end of Canvey Island is a marshy blob, and on the map there is marked a public footpath right across it to a place called Canvey Point. We started walking along said path, but had only got a quarter of the way when it suddenly deteriorated considerably. We couldn’t see how we were going to continue without sinking in the mud, so we abandoned it and returned to civilisation!
Next we had a short inlet to walk round – it was full of sailing boats. The actual public footpath went a further three-quarters of a mile inland before crossing over, adding one and a half extra miles to our walk – so we were quite relieved to find that there was nothing to stop us cutting that out by walking across a bank on a track. There we were confronted with a huge pair of locked gates which reminded us of those entrances they have on forts in western films! There was a notice saying something about a new country park (on the map it is marked as a blank space) but it looked just like a landfill site to us, with weeds beginning to grow all over it.
We walked round with the fence to our left – the creek full of houseboats, then the marsh to our right – until we met a couple with their grandchild on the other side. They asked us if we were local, then told us that they lived nearby and the Mayor was supposed to be coming in a few minutes to officially open those wondrous gates! We all remarked on the lack of crowds to witness this great event; and they were full of cynicism at the hypocrisy of local Councils, especially with the huge hike-up in Council Tax (ours went up 13%!) the whole country has had to put up with this year.
We remarked on all the new housing we could see, mostly prefabricated bungalows which were still being built on an area marked as a caravan/camping site on our maps. They told us these residences were being advertised as ‘exclusive’ (at which word we all roared with laughter, recalling the temporary prefabs hastily erected after the Second World War to cope with the dire housing shortage at the time) and were for ‘over 50s’ only. They are very expensive, and apparently selling like hot cakes! Being of that age group ourselves, we can think of nothing we would hate more than to live in such a place – especially on Canvey Island, remembering what happened here in 1953. They may have a new sea wall, but it isn’t that high and so often we underestimate the sheer magnitude of the forces of nature. Our friend from Leigh-on-Sea – who now lives in London – told us that the Thames Flood Barrier is usually lowered three or four times a year only, but this year it has been lowered fourteen times already! We commented on the sheer stupidity of building more and more houses in such a place. Then the couple hurried after their grandchild, and we moved on.
When collecting our bikes later on that day, we remarked to each other about the large number of new properties being built on the Island. It seems as if they want to turn the whole place into one huge housing estate. We were told the next day, by a cafĂ© owner who has lived in the area for more than twenty years, that the entire island is below sea level. Before they can build anything, they have to sink a raft into the mud so that the foundations can rest on something solid! That is why they have so many single storey buildings there. We can hardly think of a place in England we would less like to live – unless perhaps the Isle of Sheppey!
Along the north side of the Island our path was on top of the sea wall which made for better views and consequently a better mood. We could see Hadleigh Castle up on Benfleet Down, and passed it from east to west. We passed a golf course before reaching the bridge – perhaps at least this bit of the Island will remain green! We walked a little way along the causeway, and crossed the bridge to get off Canvey Island. I don’t suppose we shall ever visit it again – it’s not a very salubrious place.
Immediately we turned right to walk east again. We passed a conspicuous yellow notice which read NO JET BIKE LAUNCHING and beyond it was a tiny rivulet running through acres of mud! Colin was tempted to add EXCEPT AT LOW TIDE but I managed to persuade him to move on. There was also a flood barrier across the river at this point, a huge construction that was barbed-wired off – probably built after the catastrophic floods of 1953.
We walked past a sailing club, then through a gate into a nature reserve. We were able to walk all along a gravel track by the river, which was on our right, with grass and greenery on our left. It was very pleasant, pity it was so dull and overcast. We saw lots of birds, and kept stopping to look at them through our binoculars/telescope. We saw avocets, redshanks, oyster-catchers, ringed plovers, curlews and teals. I think avocets have taken over from oyster-catchers as my favourite wading bird – they are so graceful! We could see Hadleigh Castle up on Benfleet Down and passed it again, this time from west to east.
As we approached ‘Two Tree Island’ (we wondered which specific two trees they were!) we were hoping that we would be able to cross on to it at its western end using a track which was marked on the OS map but not on the more up-to-date internet map. Well, it is not so up-to-date because the track was there, but is only accessible at low tide. Fortunately the tide had gone out far enough, and we were able to cross safely despite it being a tad slippery.
The bank round a pond was out of bounds because of nesting birds, so we followed a track behind some bushes and came to a hide overlooking said pond. There we were able to sit in comfort(?) and watch – through our optical instruments – redshanks, oyster-catchers, ringed plovers, curlews, teals and, best of all, avocets nesting. Such beautiful birds, it was magical! We must have stayed there half an hour before we reluctantly left because time was getting on. We walked round the perimeter of the island, as far as we were able, and ended up at the road bridge which links the central portion to the mainland. We had been tempted to go to the far western end where a track across the mudflats to the shore is dotted in on the OS map, but we decided against that. As it turned out, we made the right decision.
We turned right immediately we were over the bridge, and followed the path alongside the river for about half a mile to Leigh-on-Sea station car park where our car was parked. As we passed the shore end of the track from the western end of Two Tree Island, we saw that it would have been impossible to have crossed through all that mud even though the tide was very low. Interestingly enough, there was a set of human footprints leading out at least as far as the first tufted grass in the marsh. We looked out for someone up to their waist in quicksand calling for help, but didn’t see or hear anybody!

That ended Walk no.58, we shall pick up Walk no.59 next time at Leigh-on-Sea station car park. We drank tea and devoured biscuits & chocolate to recharge our batteries. Feeling a lot brighter, we returned to Canvey Island for the very last time to pick up our bikes – which were still there, untouched! Also still there were the youths in the car – they must have been hanging around there for six hours, the only difference being that they now had some girls with them to fool about with! “Did you enjoy your walk?” they called out to us, cheerily. We told them we had, strapped up our bikes to the rack and drove back to Isleham.

No comments: