Stanford-Le-Hope to Gravesend 29.07.13

I remember walking down the hill to the station at Stanford last October – with tired aching feet. This morning I’m walking up the hill from the station to the church and there’s a bounce in my stride. Over confidence is never a good thing however and in my blind enthusiasm to get going I miss the turning off to the right which will take me over to Mucking Church. Having wasted 15 minutes I happily find myself on a lovely path walking through whispering reed beds, stopping briefly to learn about damselflies which (yes you’ve guessed it) are more delicate and fragile than dragonflies

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After a while the path takes me past a farm which boasts a solitary, bad-tempered cow with an impressive set of horns and a yard full of cooing doves.

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Realising that Mucking Church is now a private residence I take a look at the map to see how best to get back to the river. Taking advice from a passing local I follow the signs for the newly created Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, an area that has recently risen from the ashes of the Mucking Marshes landfill site. At the visitor centre I learn more about the plans to restore a much larger area by 2016, which partly makes up for the disappointment I feel when I’m told I cannot walk the seawall from here due to all the work being done.

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Where I could have walked…….

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So, back down the footpath I go, my frustration slightly tempered by an interesting sign which keeps me on my toes……..

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The tedium of the walk on the road to East Tilbury is slightly alleviated by the need to avoid getting run over. The traffic is moving fast on this narrow road and because there are quite a few bends I find myself zipping from one side of the road to the other like a fly trying to avoid getting swatted.

After a while I am relieved to see the footpath sign off to the left which will take me back to the sea wall. The first part of the walk is through a playing field and past the backs of some tatty looking houses, but soon I find myself alone on a narrow path stretching only to the next bend. With a high fence on one side and overgrown hedges on the other I cannot see out and I start to feel a little uneasy. To make matters worse I keep seeing single magpies and I’m getting very tired of saluting! Rounding a corner I see two young men in the distance, leaning on their bicycles. Although I realise I’m being silly my heart starts thumping and head down I start walking towards them. One of the bicycles is blocking my path but as I get closer one of the boys moves it to let me pass and says sorry. All my anxiety melts away and five minutes later I am scrabbling up a bank in a sudden strong wind to face the mighty Thames.

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I turn right and from now on it’s straightforward sea wall walking – in the sunshine. I am amazed and excited to follow the slow movements of the massive container ships grinding up the river out of Tilbury and happy to see the landscaped gardens of Coalhouse Fort ahead – I need a place to sit and eat my sandwiches.

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As I sit wriggling my bare toes in the soft grass a racing trap appears, the horse skittish and blinkered – when I take a picture the driver gives me a friendly smile.

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But it is now time to get going again, I don’t want to miss the last ferry from Tilbury to Gravesend. Packing up I head off back onto the sea wall which takes me closer and closer to the chimneys of Tilbury Power Station and after fending off the curious stares of a number of hard hatted workmen I take a path that looks like it was laid that morning.

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My footsteps are probably some of the first to crunch the virginal gravel. After a while the road stops and reverts to a grassy path which twinkles in the sunlight. I’m thinking this must be an old landfill site and the glass is from broken bottles. As I get closer to the power station I am directed down onto a path next to a very high concrete wall.P1030248The wall is covered in graffiti and crude drawings. Now I have no choice but to follow this wall and it seems never-ending – I just hope it is not a dead end. The powerful silhouettes of dockland machinery rise up out of the river as I approach Tilbury Fort, their inhumanity reducing me to the status of some lowly creature creeping along the riverbank.

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At last I see the guns of Tilbury Fort and a gate which I assume means the end of the sea wall. Looking down the bank to the right I see another path that looks as if it will take me past the back of the fort so, wondering only a little about the security sign, I head confidently down the path, round the fort, only to come to a dead end – a locked gate with very dangerous looking spikes on top of it.

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Sighing I turn around and walk back to take a look at the first gate which had stopped me in my tracks. Lo and behold the first gate is easy to deal with so I am now back on the sea wall again, resolutely walking past the World’s End where I could have gone for a pint if I wasn’t in such a hurry to get the ferry. And there she is – the ramshackle Duchess to rock me over to Gravesend and a train back to London.

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This has been a very enjoyable walk – all the more for my initial doubts.

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