South of the Crouch

After my 2012 break, concentrating on Walking in Essex, I picked up the coast again in summer 2013, walking solo this time.

There’s a few privations on this stretch, but things get markedly better as the sea nears, though the complex channels at the mouth of the Crouch mean that it won’t be directly encountered till Shoeburyness.

Monday 8 July 2013. Battlesbridge to Canewdon, 17 miles, 16 on route.

If there could be one stretch of the Essex coast that I could rip up and dump somewhere out near Dogger Bank, it would be this one. Well, nowhere’s perfect.

Things don’t start well. At Battlesbridge, the south bank of the Crouch can’t be accessed, so there’s a kilometre on a busy road with no pavement before at last a footpath sign appears. From there, things are fine to Hullbridge, indeed for most of the way it’s OK to walk on the sea-wall even though it’s not a right-of-way. And Hullbridge has benches, boats and a pub, as all the best coastal settlements do.

So I strode confidently out after a quick bite. Two guys, walking back, asked if I knew whether it was possible to get through the the Dome, a caravan park that was my next objective; sure, I said, there’s a right-of-way on the map. They weren’t convinced, and muttered something about overgrowth. Indeed there was some, but nothing insurmountable. Wimps, I thought. And then the land to my south narrowed …

Most Essex sea wall breaches, like those west of Bradwell say, are inconveniences only. This one however, without warning, severs a crucial link in the coastal walker’s chain. At TQ833956, the promised way either south or (clearly long-severed) north, is instead many yards of deep and tidal open water, utterly impassable. Retreat was the only option.

And that meant two tarmac miles on the busy road out of Battlesbridge that I had forsaken a couple of hours before. Though there was quite a nice marshland crossing immediately before South Fambridge, the sea-wall eastwards was depressing, badly overgrown though on asphalt, and without the little meanderings that made the north bank so beguiling. Views over to the Dengie peninsula were often good, though the most fun was keeping pace with a small yacht tacking against the wind in the channel.

There is some improvement at the Lion Creek nature reserve towards the end, but I was pleased to reach Lion Wharf and nip down the road to catch my bus to Rochford. On the way, an elderly cyclist passed me. “New bike,” I thought. He was waiting at the bus stop, and asked me how far I had walked. “Seventeen,” I said, which normally shuts people up. “Oh,” he said, and wondered why I did not walk into Rochford. “My wife and I, we regularly walked 20 miles out here. And on the tandem, we cycled 20,000 miles while we were married.” It turns out that she had been disabled for the last few years of her life, had recently died, and that to stave off self-pity he had bought this new bike to give his life a renewed focus. So it can be worth walking 17 dispiriting miles to find one uplifting story.

Monday 15 July 2013. Canewdon to Rochford, 12 miles, 10 on route.

Much better, thank goodness. And as it happens, I met my elderly gent again, just before I stepped onto the sea wall. Cycled too much last week, he said, but wasn’t feeling too stiff now.

This walk was mostly around the little peninsula in which the two Paglesham hamlets, Churchend and Eastend, sit. Across its two border-channels, first Paglesham Creek then the River Roach, lie two islands, Wallasea and Potton. Their uses could hardly be more different: Wallasea is being converted to nature reserve; Potton is part of the Foulness weapons testing range, from which bangs and flashes might emanate at any time.

The few hundred yards between the pillbox marking the junction of creek and river and Paglesham’s little quay are full of interest. There are many abandoned oyster beds here; like Cornish tin mines, one wonders whether this is simply a fallow few decades for them, given the success of shellfish farming elsewhere along the coast. And at a little inlet between them is the probable last resting place of HMS Beagle, the ship on which Darwin uncovered much of the incontestable evidence that finally helped consign the writings of Biblical times to story-book rather than fact. Alas, any timbers are little more than molecules now.

Things are a bit scruffier beyond Barton Hall, and I knew an industrial estate at the head of the navigable Roach would have to be crossed, but I hoped that ‘Stambridge Mills’ would be a beautiful old tide mill, like Battlesbridge. Alas no; it’s a derelict factory, the path skirting it with barbed-wire ten-foot fence. But enough of interest on the walk to encourage me on to the next stage, around the fractal convolutions of the channels surrounding Foulness.

Tuesday 1 April 2014. Rochford to Great Wakering, 14 miles, 12 on route.

Sutton Hall railway

Sutton Hall railway

Goodness! Nearly a year off!! And on a bright if rather hazy day, I set off with little expectation, not least from the anticipated mile of road after Sutton Bridge. My rule is ‘closest right of way to the sea’, which would mean the road, but rather than that risky trudge I decided to divert on field paths instead, even if they were just inland. Good choice too, otherwise I would never have known about the 10¼-inch gauge Sutton Hall Railway, which the path runs alongside for a good half-mile – alas though no steam today. There’s a brief coastal glimpse from here, but it’s a good hour from Sutton Bridge before the sea wall is finally regained, though from here there’s no deviation until just before the finish. First, there’s Barling Marsh to be circumnavigated – it hosts the local tip, but as at Rainham, this helps bring bird life in to scavenge. From Barling Ness, the sea wall turns inland again, first beside the intriguingly named The Violet, and past the little harbour at Barling Hall.

Across Brimstone Hill

Across Brimstone Hill

Turning seaward again at Little Wakering, I had the advantage of a high spring tide rapidly filling the basin, covering all the marsh hereabouts except for a tiny fragment, named on the Explorer map as Brimstone Hill. For nearly an hour I’m doing no more than gain a spot on the Violet opposite where I had been before. The day’s final landward turn brings a change, however; the land to the east belongs to the military, the Foulness range (here, Potton Island again) that had been in earshot from not far short of St Peter’s Chapel. Or for the military, read that insult to both morals and the English language, the privatised entity called Qinetiq. At the swingbridge to Potton Island – I could just see it opening as I neared it – it’s technically a trespass on to military land to continue on the sea wall for a few hundred yards, but the warning signs are only designed to be visible to boats, so I continued on. It’s straightforward then to Oxenham, taking its track away from the coast to the bus stop at Landwick Cottages, and the main military entrance to Foulness.

Battlesbridge tide mill

Battlesbridge tide mill

Fambridge airfield memorial

Fambridge airfield memorial

Across the Crouch to The Cliff

Across the Crouch to The Cliff

Lion Wharf

Lion Wharf

Paglesham Quay

Paglesham Quay

Stannets Creek

Stannets Creek

Rochford cricket club

Rochford cricket club

Stambridge Mills

Stambridge Mills

Barling Hall

The quay at Barling Hall

Towards Havengore Bridge

Towards Havengore Bridge