319. Woolwich Arsenal to Gravesend

I decided to adopt a different approach to my route planning from yesterday; although there was a shoreline path for some miles from Woolwich Arsenal, I would have had to cut inland upon reaching the River Darent. I decided therefore to try something different. There are a number of sites that can do route planning for you and because essentially most of today’s walk would be through suburbia I decided to go with what my https://www.plotaroute.com/myhome route gave me.

A thing I have noticed is that my OS Leisure 1:25000 maps are not that good when it comes to residential streets, in fact, you would be much better off with a London A-Z Streetmap. This meant I had to reprint my maps in a different format, one that would give me street names. At this lower scale I ended up with 17 printed A4 sheets, I should have bought an A-Z! Because I would be changing maps quite frequently, I did not use my map carrying case, but simply folded them up in my jacket pocket. As my automated route was a more direct route, it ended up some 5 miles shorter than my original planned route. However, although I had requested a “walking” route I still had to check that the route had footpaths or pavements. I was certainly intrigued by utilising this approach to route planning, as the situation of walking a complete section through suburbia would probably not materialise again.

I made a very early start, leaving my Basildon hotel and heading again to Tilbury Fort, where I parked my car. I then walked the short distance to the Tilbury landing stage to catch the 05:50 ferry and again was accompanied by the returning night shift from the Amazon warehouse. Again I walked along Gravesend High Street which was deserted being a Saturday morning. I caught the 06:29 train to Woolwich Arsenal. By 07:00 I was walking eastwards along Plumstead Road.

I continued along the mostly deserted streets for 3 or 4 miles before Plumstead Road became Bostall Hill, which also became an open greenspace with trees and parkland. But I was soon back in suburbia and passed from the London Borough of Greenwich into the London Borough of Bexley. I continued along further miles of residential streets before dropping down a hill into the town of Crayford. Here I popped into a Greggs to get myself a bacon/sausage bap and a coffee. Outside a retail park I sat down on a bench to eat my breakfast. The retail park was built on the site of the old Vickers factory which had a huge role in both World Wars. The bench which I sat on, was also occupied by two life-size statues of Alcock and Brown, who, in 1919 made the first successful flight across the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy, built in the once nearby factory.

5:30 in the morning looking across the Thames to Gravesend from the Tilbury Ferry shelter
Heading down Plumstead Road at Woolwich Arsenal
Plumstead Library
Heading through Bostall Woods
Alcock and Brown

I set off through suburbia again and soon passed into the Borough of Dartford which meant I crossed over in to modern day Kent. By this time, I began to get a feeling of ennui from all this residential traipsing. What did change though was the appearance of hills; with the streets and roads now having more up and downs which coincided with the use of Chert and Flint nodules in boundary walls and the sight of Chalk in some cuttings.

I dropped down a fairly steep hill into Dartford and continued along the High Street which was hosting an open air market. I had actually walked along this street twice before when I came to watch my football team play Dartford. The high street continued up East Hill and I soon crossed over the A282 which was the southern extension of the Dartford Crossing. I continued along the A226 passing through Stone, Greenhithe and Swanscombe which all merged imperceptibly into each other. To the north I could now see industrial areas and the river itself. I crossed over the main line for Eurostar trains and could just make out Ebbsfleet International Station, where I had once caught a  Eurostar train to Brussels. I passed the Ebbsfleet football ground, which I had also visited some years before and continued into Northfleet. For the first time today I diverted from planned route and took a cycle footpath that indicated that Gravesend was 1.75 miles away. I followed the footpath, which was poorly signposted and ended up by the river in a dead-end road full of fly-tipped rubbish! I managed to pick the footpath up again and made my way around a large construction site, which lead onto the wharfs and jetties of Gravesend.

The ferry back across to Tilbury ran every 30 minutes so I did not have long to wait. Quite a different walk which I doubt I would ever repeat, as I much prefer to plot my own route.

Dartford High Street
Crossing the A282 – Dartford Crossing traffic
Looking across to Tilbury Docks from near Northfleet
Heading into Gravesend
Looking across to the Tilbury landing stage
Gravesend High Street
The pontoon for catching the Tilbury Ferry

Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,839 miles





318. Woolwich Arsenal to Tilbury

The poor weather in Scotland meant that it was unlikely that I would get my required three walking days north of the border during February, so I turned my attention to my “second front” on the SE coast. I was now approaching London and my next two walks would see me cross The Thames and begin the walk out from London.

I spotted a short two day weather window and made a very early start from Shropshire. I drove to and parked at Tilbury Fort, where there was free parking amongst the many lorries close to Tilbury Docks. I had planned today’s route in great detail as most of the north shore of the Thames is given over to docks, power stations, car manufacturing and other large industrial complexes. My route would involve using some of the large arterial roads before arriving back on the Thames shoreline. Most of the planning involved checking that there was a footpath/pavement along all of my road sections using Google Streetview.

To get to the start of the walk at Woolwich Arsenal meant making the short walk to the ferry terminal at Tilbury landing stage and catching the first foot ferry of the day at 5:50. Even at this ungodly hour I was joined by a group of workers who had just completed their night shift at the huge Amazon complex in Tilbury. The foot ferry only took 5 minutes for the short crossing to Gravesend. Once in Gravesend I followed the deserted High Street towards the railway station and caught the 06:13 to Woolwich Arsenal. In Woolwich I popped into a Greggs to get a coffee and a bacon/sausage bap. It was getting quite light now as I headed towards the Thames and my “bridging” point UNDER the Thames! The pedestrian tunnel was opened in 1912 and runs for 504 metres from Old Woolwich in the south to North Woolwich in the north. From a recent survey the tunnel is used by 1000 people each day.

I descended the steps of the foot tunnel, which were not that deep. At the bottom I could see the tunnel dipped slightly before rising again as I walked northwards. There were other users of the tunnel even at this early hour. I was soon climbing the steps at the far end and able to continue my walk along the northern side of the Thames. I headed along the A1112 passing through the old docklands of East London. Now transformed with the building of multi-coloured apartment blocks and the London City Airport. I had always thought the airport was used by light twin prop planes, but I was amazed to see a large BA Airbus 318 pass 100ft above my head on their approach to the runway, crammed between the King George V and Royal Albert Docks. I saw two BA jets take off giving a wall of sound echoing off the adjacent buildings on the far side of the Royal Albert Dock. I could also see that take-offs had to be steep as Canary Wharf loomed just a mile away!

Early morning at the Woolwich Ferry looking across the Thames to North Woolwich
Zoomed shot looking towards Canary Wharf
Covered in scaffolding the entrance to the Foot Tunnel
Decending to the Foot Tunnel
Heading along the tunnel underneath the Thames
Looking across the King George V Dock towards Central London
Two BA flights taxiing in preparation for take-off
A flight about to land at London City Airport
Quite a few shrubs had their blossom out on The Greenway

I soon picked up one of the many interconnecting paths forming The Greenway, which in turn led onto the Cycle Superhighway termed the CS3. The CS3 led onto the very busy A13, a key arterial road heading eastwards out of London, with 6 lanes of traffic separated by high fence on the central reservation to prevent pedestrians taking a dangerous short cut. I was now heading eastwards on the CS3, painted blue with two cycle lanes and a walking lane. The early morning traffic although very busy was not that fast, having to observe an average speed of 40mph. The only way to cross this road was either by the odd subway or a set of irregular spaced footbridges.

As I neared Barking I had to cross the A13 and proceed along the A1306, a far quieter road. I was now in a mixture of suburbia and industrial factories/premises. At Beam Park I passed out of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham into Havering Borough. The huge Ford car plant lay just to the south of me, but I could see little of it. As I approached Rainham I took another quiet road, the B1335, where I passed through the village. The land now was getting more rural as I criossed over the railway tracks at Rainham railway station.

I was now heading across Rainham Marshes along a good cycleway. Rainham marshes is a huge area of marshland, together with the adjacent Wennington and Aveley Marshes. I was accompanied along most of this route by a service road that carried a continuous train of lorries carrying waste to the landfill site just south of me. The smell from the rubbish tip was quite strong and I finally emerged onto the banks of the Thames for the first time since I set out and also entering the unitary authority of Thurrock.

Heading eastwards along the A13 on the CS3
Crossing over the A13 near Barking
The memorial clock in Rainham Village
The view over Rainham Marshes
Heading over Rainham Marshes
Lorries queueing up at the landfill site on Wennington Marshes
Back alongside the Thames near Alveley Marshes

I soon reached the small town of Purfleet, site of a large Nature Reserve building and famous in the past as a place where gunpowder was stored in 5 magazine warehouses. Only one of the magazines still stands today, but unfortunately was all locked up. Despite a very brief incursion inland I would be on the river bank for another 6 to 7 miles. My path would be along a very narrow corridor sandwiched between the river on my right and a collection of industrial sites on my left guarded by high barbed-wired fences. There was little or no opportunity to escape this corridor because of the lack of public footpaths leading to it. What did draw the eye though was the approaching Dartford Crossing, the A282 or Queen Elizabeth 2 bridge carrying the southbound M25 traffic at a snail’s-pace some 60 metres above me.

The narrow corridor of public footpath continued eastwards with its colourful array of graffiti, which I did not mind, as the “canvas” was just a dreary grey sea wall. It wasn’t a Banksy, but some of the art was quite good. As I continued along the northern shore of the Thames I could see to my left a small church, St. Clements, dwarfed by the warehouses and factories. Although appearing out of place a church of some form had existed on this site since before 1066 and recently was the setting for the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The last of the jetties and wharfs disappeared as I entered the streets of newer housing in Grays, West Thurrock. My next two miles involved heading inland weaving in and out of residential streets along various  footpaths. I finally emerged just north of Tilbury at Tilbury Marshes. I followed the busy A1089 into Tilbury passing the large dock complex and the immense Amazon factory building and then into Tilbury Town itself. I continued on past the ferry terminal and onto Tilbury Fort where the walk ended.

The 7.5 hour walk had been very interesting and not as bad as I had imagined. It was a first for me actually walking under a river and the location of the London City Airport was very unique. All that I needed to do now was head to my hotel for the night in Basildon

The RSPB centre at Purfleet
Gunpowder Magazine No.5 at Purfleet
M/F cargo ferry ship ready for sailing to Rotterdam docked at Purfleet
A very boggy public footpath between the docks and the river
Approaching the Queen Elizabeth II bridge
Below the QEII bridge
Heading towards Grays on a grafitti strewn sea wall
St. Clementines church amid warehouses and factories in West Thurrock
Approaching Tilbury Fort

Distance today = 22 miles
Total distance = 5,823 miles




317. Canvey Island

Today would be a simple affair by walking a complete circuit of Canvey Island along its sea wall.

Canvey Island is a rather unique place, bounded by the River Thames to the south it has a tidal creek running around its northern border, making it an island. The island is served by two roads which cross over the Benfleet and East Haven Creeks. The island has been occupied since Roman times and today has a population of some 38,000. However, the effects of flooding have been a constant danger, no more so in 1953, 5 days after I was born, there was a huge tidal surge in the North Sea. Some 307 people lost their lives along the east coast, 59 of them were on Canvey Island.

As I lay awake in my motel room on the final day of my three days in Essex, I heard the rain beating down outside. I checked the forecast and it said the rain would subside by 07:00. I left Basildon at 06:00 and drove to Canvey Island. It was still dark when I set off along the sea wall. I was using my head torch, mainly to avoid the large puddles which had accumulated with the overnight rain. I tried and failed to take some photos looking across to the bright lights of Leigh-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea. By the time I reached the Canvey Heights Country Park is light enough to turn my head torch off. After rounding Smalling’s Creek I was soon back on the shoreline of the Thames.

I passed a number of pumping stations, each proudly displaying an info board explaining how the drainage system worked. Additional construction to the sea defences took place after the devastation of 1953 and as recently as 2005. The residential part of the island accounts for about two-thirds of the land with the rest given over to pasture for livestock and horses. There is also a large and part redundant oil storage depot, with a series of jetties alongside the Thames.

I made excellent progress along the sea wall and was soon joined by the early morning joggers and dog walkers. As I passed around the large oil storage depot I left these behind. I passed the famous Lobster Smack Inn (formerly the Worlds End Inn) and mentioned in Dicken’s Great Expectations.

After passing the Lobster Smack Inn the sea wall passed into the rural part of Canvey Island. On the opposite bank of Holehaven Creek another large oil storage depot/refinery drew the eye until I finally turned eastwards along East Haven Creek. Near to a tidal barrier, the sea wall disappeared and I continued along a raised earthen sea bank. I passed under the busy A130 which was raised upon pillars to pass over the West Canvey Marsh. After crossing the B1014 road to Benfleet I emerged back on a proper concrete sea wall passing alongside the golf course and back to my car.

And that was it for Essex! I had been walking this coast for quite some time with its convoluted shorelines of estuaries, rivers, creeks and channels making it the county with the longest coastline in England. For the main it had been quite enjoyable and surprisingly quiet, particularly on the sea walls.

Walking around Smallings Creek, a lot darker than the photo depicts
The amusement arcade at Canvey Island seafront
Canvey Island beach
LPG tanker at the Oil storage facility
Oil storage depot
The Lobster Smack Inn
Looking across Holehaven Creek
Walking actually on the sea wall
Tidal barrier on East Haven Creek
Heading towards Benfleet
About to cross underneath the busy A130

Distance today = 14 miles
Total distance = 5,801 miles



316. Benfleet to Tilbury


Today would be the start of my convoluted walk into London. Although, I had begun my walk down the Thames estuary yesterday it was predominantly a straight forward walk along the shoreline. From Benfleet onwards I would not only have to bypass natural obstacles such as the myriad of small channel, creeks, streams and rivers that feed into the Thames; but also weaving my way around oil refineries, docks, ports, quarries, landfill, power stations and other large industrial sites and premises. The walk into London will not be simple and will require a good of planning and reconnaissance.

After clearing the ice away from my car after another night’s severe frost I set off from my hotel in Basildon to park at Tilbury Port. Around the Fort is a fair amount of free parking right at the Thames edge and just a kilometre away from the Tilbury Town rail station. I walked to the rail station and caught the 07:19 to Benfleet, with a quick changeover at Pitsea. The train was packed with hundreds of schoolchildren setting off to school. The train from Tilbury Town had 8 carriages, but when the train terminated at Pitsea, everybody went over the bridge to catch the Southend train, which only had 4 carriages. Needless to say I could barely get on the train, which was packed to the rafters; the question on my mind was why they did not continue on towards Southend with the same train. I was not too bothered though, because Benfleet was the next stop along so I only had to put up with it for a few minutes.

I followed a good path across playing fields before joining up with the rail track I had just travelled along. I soon arrived at the rather isolated St. Margaret’s Chapel. The path continued to follow the railway line, but became increasing muddy. I thought at first it was down to irresponsible horse-riders using the footpath as a bridle path. The path was really churned up and I soon discovered the reason why as a number of free ranging horses and ponies emerged from the scrub. I passed Pitsea railway station and made a quick right down over derelict land. I passed around a factory and then some paddocks that were really muddy. I then walked south for a couple of miles, following a few vague footpath signs. The ground was extremely flat and I ended up surrounded by stream that I could not cross. I decided to make use of my mobile phone locater software, which worked quite well and I was able to backtrack a bit to get onto the right path.
I entered the village of Fobbing and spoke to a chap who was planting some Rowan trees. We had a good chat for about 20 twenty minutes before I said goodbye. I was now quite some distance from the Thames having to get around Vange Creek, a large Oil storage facility and the London Gateway Port. I walked through some residential streets in Corringham and then out across very quiet lanes and footpaths.

St. Margarets Chapel on Bowers Gifford Marsh
Heading over derelict land at Pitsea
On Marsh Lane looking down on Vange Marsh near to Fobbing
Looking over to the London Gateway Port near Stanford-le-Hope

I was heading for Mucking Marshes and the Thurrock Thameside Nature Reserve. I had hoped to pick up a public footpath marked on the map to walk along the sea wall of the Thames. I could not see a way through, just as Assistant Ranger appeared, he said that large plant was using the adjacent land, which originally was one large landfill site and that I would have to retreat about a kilometre and follow the Thames Estuary Path. I had seen these signs a few times today and I wondered by it too did not try and link up with the path I was heading. Reluctantly I retraced my steps around Mucking Marshes. The route I was now on was badly flooded in a few places but I just to plough on regardless, wet feet and all. The path eventually led me back to the sea wall.

On the sea wall I could see that the path marked on the 1:25k was not there at all. However, I was now on a concrete sea wall which made for some rapid progress. I soon arrived at Coalhouse Fort which together with Tilbury Fort, a few miles upstream, were originally constructed during the early 19th century to guard the eastern approaches to London. As I left Coalhouse Fort, an ominous note was stuck to a tree telling me that in 300m the footpath to Tilbury was closed due to damage. A detour from this point would have quite significant, so I decided to investigate the closure. I passed another sign warning of the closure and I then came to a 30 metre section of the path which was under plastic and probably having something drying underneath it. I simply stepped onto the rough grass and walked around it. Thank goodness I investigated, health and safety gone mad………again!

The only obstacle between me and Tilbury Fort was the large disused Power Station at West Tilbury Marshes. I could see lots of disturbed earth and active plant ahead. Fortunately there was a crossover point, where the plant were taking the soil from the power station and dumping it on a large barge tied up at the jetties. As I could see no evidence of the power station I climbed up onto the sea wall and could see nothing of the power station, just a construction site for something quite large. In fact the old Tilbury B power had been demolished by 2019 and a new power station called the Tilbury Energy Centre was being built. I followed the sea wall past the old power station and then towards Tilbury Fort set in bright green fields with horses nearby. I dropped down to the Fort entrance, but it was closed. Tilbury Fort in fact was on the site of a former fort dating back from the late 16th century. The Thames estuary had narrowed quite a bit now and I could look across to Gravesend on the far bank. There is a pedestrian ferry here which I may be able to make use when I come back along the other side, together with the free parking plot!

Earlier in the walk I had passed out of Essex and into the smaller admin district of Thurrock. However, I would be back in Essex tomorrow for my last walk in the County when I hoped to circumnavigate Canvey Island.


Flooded footpath on East Tilbury Marshes
Looking towards Thurrock Thameside Nature Reserve over Mucking Marshes, with no sign of the footpath shown on the map
Heading along the sea wall at East Tilbury Marshes with Kent visible across the Thames
Just in case you wondered what the ramp was for!
Coalhouse Fort
Closed footpath, I just stepped three paces to the left and continued on
Approaching the site of the old Tilbury B power station
Passing under the power station jetties
A zoomed shot across the Thames to Gravesend and the impressive Guru Nanak Gurdwara (a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs)
Tilbury Fort

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,787 miles



315. Barling to Benfleet

I had planned to get back to Aberdeenshire for 3 days of walking but the arrival of storm Ciara meant my last day would be in very high winds. I opted therefore for 3 days walking in Essex. I had booked myself into a motel in Basildon for three days that would take me out of Essex and to the fringes of London. I drove from Shropshire and parked on Canvey Island. It was the closest place to my walk end where I would not have to pay the exorbitant parking charge of £8.

After parking up I had decided to catch a bus to Benfleet station, then a train to Southend, however, because I was almost 30 minutes early I caught a #27 which would take me all the way to the bus station in Southend. The only trouble was, it was early morning rush hourand the bus was very busy, stopping letting people on and off. It took just over 1.25 hours to get to the bus station. I caught my connecting bus, a #14 to Barling, with just 60 seconds to spare!

It had been freezing overnight and a severe frost was on the ground, but the sun was out and it felt warm, just like a spring day. I got off the bus in Barling and began walking along the road towards Little Wakering. The land to NE was a collection of islands owned by the MOD, one of them Foulness required a permit to enter the island and there were restrictions on where you could walk. I could not be bothered with all the fuss that this involved so I was heading towards Shoeburyness. I passed through Great Wakering and followed a footpath across fields to the edge of Shoeburyness, here, I picked up the MOD perimeter fence which warned of firing ranges. The firing ranges have long since gone and most of the site is now run by QinetiQ. However, I could hear loud explosions coming from Foulness to the NE.

I passed the entrance to the Shoeburyness ranges and continued to the coastline. Bizarrely the sea wall and shoreline is still ‘out of bounds ‘and continues past Shoebury Ness. The whole area of Shoeburyness was once the site of a huge garrison for training and firing of large artillery pieces. There is a fantasic amount of military history surrounding Shoeburyness, to much to descibe here! As I passed Shoebury Ness and the nearby HM Coastguard lookout point I left Shoeburyness behind and entered the Thames Estuary. The estuary here was very wide, but I still make out the far bank in Kent through the mid-morning haze.

The church at Little Wakering
Heading across fields to Shoeburyness
The MOD perimeter fence at Shoeburyness
The end of the MOD land at Shoeburyness
Back on the coast and heading towards Thorpe Bay
A beautiful morning heading in towards Southend-on-Sea along the Thames Estuary
The Pier at Southend
The entrance to the pier (taken in 2008)
Heading out along the pier (taken in 2008)
One of the trains that run along the pier (taken in 2008)
Looking back towards Southend (taken in 2008)
Work still under way following the fire in 2005 (taken in 2008)
Small Turnstone(taken in 2008)
Looking across the Thames estuary towards Kent (taken in 2008)
From the pier end looking back to Southend (taken in 2008)
Evidence of the fire from 2005 (taken in 2008)

The Thames was like a mill pond and extremely calm. I would be following the sea front all the way back to Canvey Island and Benfleet along paths, sea walls and the promenade. It was not long before the trappings of most seaside town made an appearance, chief amongst which was the huge Southend-on-Sea Pier. Stretching out 1.3 miles into the Thames it is the world’s longest leisure pier. Today I would not be walking out along it, but I did do back in 2008 when my local football club AFC Telford visited Southend for an FA Cup replay. The pier is quite amazing and has its own railway carriages running backwards and forth. For a week day in early February, the day could have easily passed for a summer’s day, with the sun out and large amounts of people about.

I soon had the pier at my back as I made my way out of Southend into Westcliffe-on-Sea, then Chalkewell and finally Leigh-on-Sea, each merging imperceptibly into a single large seaside conurbation. Leigh-on-Sea was quite a charming small town, with the seaside part of the town retaining its cobbled streets and quaint pubs.

I left all the built-up areas behind me and set off along a very wide sea bank, which was in the main dry. The view now was not out towards the Thames but a small island called Two Tree Island. It certainly had more than two trees, as well as well as a large Nature Reserve. Eventually Canvey Island appeared, although it was difficult to see with all the water channels, still at low tide.

When I reached the main road out of Canvey Island I continued onto a short distance to Benfleet railway station, as I needed to fill a small gap in my walk, which would save me from doing it tomorrow morning. I reached the station and about turned heading over to Canvey Island and back to my car.


The cliff-lift at Southend
A very placid Thames at Westcliffe-on-Sea
The Crow Stone demarcating the limit of the Port of London River Authority
The wharf at Leigh-on-Sea
Looking back to Leigh-on-Sea and Southend
Hadleigh Castle
Heading towards Benfleet
The tidal Barrier at Canvey Island

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,767 miles