Fog and Marsh (Essex Walks 2/2)

After an evening of shimmering mist in March, we emerged from our hotel to thick fog to continue our walk east of Southend, back out into the marshes and islands of the Essex coast. Our final destination was only a few miles north as the crow flies, but the coast here curls around creeks and inlets.

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Looking towards the first stage of our walk from just outside our hotel on the edge of Southend.

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And out to sea from the same spot. Not only the far side of the estuary but even the edge of the water were completely invisible.

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Beach huts at Thorpe Bay, still closed up for the winter.

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Cutting inland to buy sandwiches for lunch, we found ourselves picking our way around and over this railway depot. Shoeburyness is the end of the line along the north bank of the Thames. I’m always vaguely fascinated by quiet rural termini and the way they are such an inverse of the great city behemoths at the far end of their lines.

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Winding out way back towards the water, we passed a rather striking scarecrow O_O

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Unfortunately the red flags were flying when we reached the edge of the military land which runs along the water’s edge, so we had to cut inland and meet the coast further up. As we did, the mist began to lift.

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And here’s the view from the seawall, once we reached it. Islands of mud barely rise above the tide. Most are uninhabited, or have a lone farm, or belong to the army. A network of low bridges now joins them to the mainland, but once the only routes in were along causeways at low tide. The most infamous is the Broomway, which connects distant Foulness with the mainland–running along a sandbank a mile out to sea, it is separated from the land by deep mud flats except for three narrow and unmarked paths to shore. If the army land had been open, we would have passed the end of the path. It was last used by vehicles to get aid to Foulness after the 1952 flood left the island nearly underwater and cut off from the road. 

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Here, in the distance, you can see one of the military bridges carrying the road across the inner islands towards Foulness. I think this is the one between Rushey Island and Havengore Island, but it’s hard to pick out enough landmarks to place anything on the map.

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Inland, looking back at the farm by the seawall. The light was soft and hazy all day, even after the thick fog lifted.

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Further along the coast lies this community of houseboats, few of them seaworthy, and only accessible via a rough road–or by boat.

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The coast winds in and out of creeks. Here we were staring ahead at our next walk, still several hours away.

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As the afternoon came on, the tide rose up between the islets and tussocks of marsh.

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And here, at last, the creek narrowed and we came back to land, in the village of Little Wakering.

Our plan was to return to Little Wakering in August and continue the walk back to the town of Rochford. Unfortunately it all went a little wrong. The first setback was in getting back to the start. We’d stayed in Rochford the night before and decided to get a taxi back to the end of the creek. The path comes out in the middle of a suburban street and you have to know exactly where to look, but our taxi driver was confident he could get us to the right road, and we didn’t mind walking down a bit.

His confidence was misplaced. It wasn’t until we’d spent a couple of minutes trying to spot something familiar that we realised he had dropped us off in the wrong village–not Little Wakering, but Great Wakering, a couple of miles south. We cut across the fields to get back to the start, but by that point the heat of the day was settling onto us. It was almost as hazy as it had been in April, but that day’s haze came with a late heatwave. If you’ve never tried walking around a marsh during the first really hot day after a week of rain: don’t. Just don’t.

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We left the road at Barling church, where the graveyard was full of wildflowers.

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The headland where the river met the waters coming out from behind the islands of the last walk. Those dots are midges.

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View inland from our lunch spot, a couple of miles out of Rochford. Also the spot where we decided to give up and head inland in search of a bus stop. One arrived just as we did and so we headed back towards Southend. We’ve worked out that it’s a landscape best walked in spring, so we’ll be back next year. 

 

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