WEEK 1 – Tower Bridge to Maldon, Essex

  

91 miles walked

What a first week. It’s been dominated by sore feet that have made the walking tough and the daily foot admin quite onerous. I’ve been treated to glorious weather (apart from the 1.5 hrs of rain on the way to Burnham). As always I found London amazing and Essex has been full of surprises for me; the long and wiggly coastline and the little gems like Burnham-On-Crouch. The people I’ve met have been lovely although my experience of walking through towns hasn’t been great as I clearly look odd (I blame the walking poles) and find people like to shout at me from the safety of their cars. Fortunately I can never hear what they shout. 

This week I’ve seen too much of the A13 – It was present every day for the first 3 days reminding me that I’d probably only travelled the equivalent of a 30 minute drive. Crossing it near Pitsea was terrifying as it was rush hour and I was in one of my hobbling stages. 

Why do we build so many rubbish tips by the coast/Thames? I have passed one every day this week, and even managed to walk through one at Mucking. 

On a more positive note, Thank goodness for RSPB nature reserves; I love their cafes. I hope I find more and eat more of their cake.
Lots of wildlife seen already, highlights include: cormorants on the Thames, skylarks and lapwings at Mucking Flats, a weasel crossing the road, a tawny owl hunting near Rochford in evening daylight, lots of egrets and waders, but no adder. I was told by a man to look out for adders on the sea wall walk from Burnham-On-Crouch but, despite keeping my eyes peeled and walking poles handy I didn’t see one. 

Day 7 Very Windy Walk to Maldon

Sunday 12 April 2015

Steeple to Maldon
15 miles walked
Osea Campsite, Mill Beach

If yesterday started with the breakfast of champions then today was the breakfast of kings. I stayed at the Star Inn in Steeple and the lovely proprietor cooked me breakfast on the house just for being a nutter. Marvellous. This was after he served me the biggest portion of cod I’ve ever eaten for dinner yesterday. If you’re ever in the area I can recommend The Star.  

one piece of cod was deemed too small for an Essex portion so I got two!
 I set out to walk to Maldon on a sunny but very windy day. Making my way around Mayland and Lawling Creeks I occasionally had to use my walking poles to try and prop me upright against the wind. I met a lovely couple who were very interested in my trip and were out for a training walk ahead of doing the South Downs Way. If only I’d done some training! 

This photo captures the essence of the Essex coastline for me. It took me 3 hours to get from the campsite across the creek to where I’m stood taking the photo; over 7 miles of walking, 2 pee stops, one blister stop and a cake bar just to get half a mile as the crow flies. I should have swum it.  

view across Lawling Creek
Oh the wind, it was incredible and I definitely got windburnt. I was treated to some lovely views of Osea and Northey Islands, lying in the Blackwater River. 

Osea Island
I passed the site of Maldon Battle in 991 – a nondescript field by the river. Maldon itself is a good looking little town and there were lots of people out in the park enjoying the good weather. I stopped for a prawn sandwich and the. Walked into town to buy some more blister plasters. It was then a long slog out of town to Osea campsite. I pitched my tent in as much shelter from the wind that I could find; as you can see it was difficult to find a space.   

At 5.30, after a shower and some foot admin I walked to the onsite restaurant and bar for some dinner only to be told they stopped serving food at 5. The barman took pity on me and offered to cook me scampi and chips with peas so I at least ate, even if it wasn’t the nicest. 

Fingers crossed I don’t blow away in the night. 

Day 6 The Long Essex Sea Wall

Saturday 11 April 2015

Rochford to Bradwell-On-Sea
21 miles walked
The Star Inn, Steeple

The day started with a breakfast of champions – 2 pain au chocolat and a coffee from Tescos. It was a blustery walk from Rochford along the River Crouch. There was no one about except the early birds chirping away to keep me company, including lots of Egrets who were a constant presence all day. I did find the way to make a cheap road when by the sea, just use shells.   

A farm road made of shells near Rochford
Halfway through the morning the first rain of the trip arrived and confirmed there’s no reason to believe in God as my prayers weren’t answered. Fortunately I have good waterproofs and I quite enjoyed myself, at least until it started hammering down and the rain dripped down my legs into my socks and I got wet feet. 

By the time I reached Wallasea Island the rain slowed and I managed to open my eyes long enough to phone for the ferry to Burnham-On-Crouch.  

 

The ferry man recommended cafe 41 on Burnham high street, which is a really pleasant town, and I was glad of a rest. I couldn’t resist the flying pig hot sausage sandwich and a pot of tea. (It’s OK Jo, I’m eating!) 

One change of socks later and I was set for the afternoon’s brisk walk to St Peter’s Chapel at Bradwell on Sea. I walked along the top of an earth bank that separates the land from the encroaching sea and passed many pill boxes. This was the finest.  

 

It was a blowy and solitary afternoon with stunning views out into the North Sea and including a wind farm. A long and satisfying day.  

it’s windy by the sea
  
St Peter’s Chapel
 

Day 5 I’ve Reached the Sea at last

Friday 10 April 2015

Benfleet to Little Wakering, Essex
18.5 miles walked
Southend Airport Premier Inn

Another train trip across London first thing was significantly improved by meeting my sister-in-law, Laura, at Marylebone for a quick coffee. The train journey meant I was late starting from Benfleet but I was rewarded with a beautiful walk through Hadleigh Country Park with views of Hadleigh Castle and Two Tree Island (which has many more than two trees).   

Hadleigh Castle
It didn’t take long to reach Leigh-on-Sea and then I passed the Crow Stone in the mud at Southend-on-Sea that signifies the end of the Thames proper. I already knew I was at the seaside because the breeze had picked up, I could smell the sea and Southend had everything one might find at the classic British beach resort, except a donkey and a Punch and Judy…oh and the sea! It was a hazy day (I struggled to see the end of the famous pier) and the tide was out so for a long time I thought I was in Southend-on-Mudflats. Still, there were hundreds of families enjoying a day on the beach and I received a few more strange looks, which I’m slowly getting used to.   

View down the hazy sea front at Southend
  After celebrating reaching the sea with my first ice cream of the trip I headed out of Southend and on to Shoeburyness. I walked through an old Artillery Barracks that has been turned into some rather smart homes and then had to detour inland slightly to get around MOD firing ranges (used by QinetiQ). There is a path through the firing ranges and out to Haven Point that was open today so I walked it. No photos allowed though.   

Oops – I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act
 The final part of today’s walk took me around the windy inlets of The Middleway, facing the MOD-owned Islands which are at the most Easterly tip of Essex and used as a firing range. I cut inland to finish with a pint at the Castle Inn in Little Wakering, where a gentleman informed me that Essex is the county with the longest coastline because it’s so wiggly. 

Day 4 Trip to the Dentist

Thursday 9 April 2015

Day off

My broken tooth is fixed. A lovely sunny day spent on the train, washing my kit and going to the dentist. As I only have a dentist for one more month I needed to get it fixed. My feet definitely appreciated a day off and on closer inspection using a mirror I realised the soles are quite bruised, which is more painful than the blisters. Back on the train to Benfleet tomorrow.  

Icing my bruised feet

Day 3 and My Map is Out of Date

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Tilbury to Pitsea, Basildon
15 miles walked
Airbnb stay with Lindsey

Such a beautiful start to the day walking along the estuary past Tilbury Fort with just birdsong and lapping water for company. Music to the ears but not so for the eyes I’m afraid as there was lots of rubbish, mainly plastic sticks and plastic tampon accoutrements. This is where the plastic goes.  

Tilbury Fort – One for the Gun Spotters
  As the day got going so the map reading became more tricky and I got my first telling off from the man in the hard hat on the big crane at Mucking Tip because I shouldn’t have been walking there amongst the enormous dumper trucks that kept speeding past. Fortunately I found a gate into Essex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve and was glad to stop for some refreshment and a good view of the new container port being built. Today the twitchers were out looking for bearded tits (no comments Spike!) but I didn’t have time to look as I carried on through Mucking Marshes. 

 When walking map reading is more significant because mistakes mean extra miles. The landscape around the new container port, set to be the biggest in Europe, is changing and I discovered my map is now out of date. I was fortunate not to get lost as some paths no longer existed and I came across a dual carriageway where there was a field on my map; that was a surprise!

I made it to Fobbing early afternoon and rewarded myself with a refreshment stop at the White Lion where I met Len, Paul and Dave. Len also likes walking and canal boats (he was about your age mum but I think he was married). He was kind enough to explain all the map issues I was having and point me in the direction of Pitsea, a small town next to Basildon and my night stop.  

spot the path? Just have to head for the white post
  Tonight would be my first Airbnb experience and many thanks to Lindsey who was an excellent host. Tomorrow is my first, unplanned, rest day as I shall be going home to visit the dentist and hopefully get the broken tooth sorted. My feet will be glad of the rest and hopefully the blisters will heal.

Day 2 is Full of Rubbish

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Barking to Purfleet
6 miles walked
taxi to Provident Lodge, N of Tilbury

Thanks to my friend Val for hosting me last night and cooking me a lovely meal; I fear the bar has been set too high to follow. I had a tube ride back to Barking to contemplate my blistered and aching feet before I set off on a glorious sunny day. I’ve never been to Barking and Dagenham before and they definitely disappointed. Maybe I only saw the worst bits but there was a lot of litter and I counted 6 dumped mattresses on the side of the road; a definite record. Bored of dirty side streets, achy feet and no sign of the river I hopped on a bus to Rainham (it’s not cheating as this isn’t a challenge!). Rainham Marshes were interesting and full of birds, and rubbish. In fact there is a huge landfill site there as well as a dump for stuff that’s dredged out of the Thames. Lovely. When I finally hit the riverbank there were great views of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and the Darent Valley flood barrier (should get a closer look at that next year). 

River Darent flood barrier from the Purfleet RSPB Centre
By the time I reached Purfleet RSPB reserve my feet were killing me so I decided to call it a day and get a taxi to my B&B. I did enjoy tea on the veranda first, admiring the view. Listening to the local twitchers getting excited about the sighting of a red kite and a spitfire was amusing as I have left home where there are hundreds of red kites and I’ve seen the RAF Spitfire numerous times as well. Should have stayed at home!

Day One and Everything Hurts

Monday 6 April 2015 (Easter Monday)

Tower Bridge to Barking
15 miles walked
tube ride to stay with Val Kiley

Here I am at Tower Bridge at 1020 this morning filled with trepidation about what lies ahead. Why am I doing this? 

What a glorious day for a walk. The sun was hot, the sky blue and I got my legs out and needed sun cream. The first few miles were great and people kept smiling at me, then I worked out why – it’s the end of a long weekend and I was walking the last bit of the Thames path carrying a big rucksack. If only they knew, then the smiles would have been more pitying. 

First swimming stop found at Shadwell but I didn’t stop for a dip. The slide looked inviting but the fish were enormous!  15 miles later and I made it to Barking train station.  I got lots of funny looks hobbling through the town centre; I think it was the walking poles. Too many parts of my body hurt to list them all. Easier to list the bits that feel fine:

1).

I think tomorrow might be a challenge. Thanks for all the lovely messages.