Saturday July 16th 2016
Today’s walk proved to be the most challenging coast walk we have yet undertaken, partly due to weather, partly to footpath problems and partly due to Jen’s health.
We set off in good spirits on a route which was completely new to us. From Waterloo, we caught the Jubilee line to West Ham then changed onto a C2C train to Stanford-le-Hope. It was quite fast and by 9.15 we had arrived in Stanford. We called into the local Tesco express then made our way to the edge of town to pick up our route again.
The first footpath was very easy to find as it wound through a cornfield and out the other side onto a track called Rainbow Lane.
We were a little uncertain after this as a new road had been built to serve the London Gateway Port and we were not sure whether the old footpaths would still be open. However we crossed Rainbow Lane and followed a small roadway past a farm. Suddenly the new road loomed in front of us and, sure enough, the path opposite had a sign proclaiming it to be private property. We decided to investigate, crossed the empty (being a Saturday) dual carriageway and approached the path. There was a sign with its back to us which pointed to a right of way running south parallel to the new road. We reasoned that in order to see this sign, it must be possible to walk towards it so we set off down the track. It soon spilt and we took the path we wanted and met up with some local walkers. They promised to show us the way through to Corringham village then promptly missed the turning! It was very well concealed and overgrown but after a few yards fighting through brambles we arrived at the back of a park. Here were Saturday morning footballers and their families enjoying the sunshine. The park is new and was not on any maps but we took the chance of a break under the trees for a few minutes.
At this point we realised that neither of us had packed the sun cream so we asked some ladies where the nearest shop was. They directed us and one offered her own cream. We took a little but decided to buy some anyway. Once across another dual carriageway a short path took us into Corringham and a small parade of shops which furnished drinks and sun cream.
From the shops we walked back down the road towards the church and found a delightful ancient village centre. We stopped to admire the church and a man mowing the graveyard asked if we needed directions. We didn’t but it was kind of him and we chatted for a few minutes. Corringham is a very old village with connections to smuggling and part of the church dates back to Saxon times.
The path to Fobbing ran beside The Bull pub and was rather urban and unpleasant but short and brought us out at the bottom of a hill!
Rather unexpected that. At the top of the hill was the centre of Fobbing Village and a few yards up the road a recreation ground with some big shady trees. We were intrigued by the monument here.
It was erected in 1981 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the peasants’ revolt which began in this area in May 1381. Villagers from Fobbing, as well as Corringham and Stanford refused to pay their taxes and were summoned to Brentwood to explain to the commissioner. He told the villagers that if they did not pay they would be arrested. They refused and a riot followed. The unrest spread and led to the now famous march into London.
Fobbing’s history is also linked with smuggling. The village used to be on the waterfront and the church was well known as a hiding place for illicit goods. But after the 1953 floods, the land was drained and Fobbing is now stranded a few miles inland with a main street which goes nowhere.
We were quite worried about the next leg of the walk. From Fobbing we needed to strike out across Vange Marsh, which is a wild piece of land almost rectangular in shape bounded by the road into Fobbing to the west, the A13 to the north, Vange Creek to the east and the River Thames to the south. A couple of paths were marked on the map but every blogger who had walked this stretch said that they were impassable. I had the app from the new Thames Estuary Path on my phone, however, and this clearly marked a route across. So we set off along Marsh Lane and out into the wilderness. There should have been a path heading almost directly north at this point but there was no sign of it. A field of crops stood where it should have been. We thought about walking round the outside of the field but it was planted right up to the edge.
The alternative path on the map headed east then north, but was a lot longer and looked a little more complicated, which is why we had planned to take the quicker one. Again there was no sign of it but The Thames Estuary Path was well signed here also going away towards the east although it appeared to be on the opposite side of small water course. However, we decided to try it. Using the GPS on my phone and Memory Map also on the phone, we quickly established that we were indeed walking on the “wrong” side of the ditch but we were on a proper path. At the end of this footpath we had a rest under a tree and considered our options. The Thames Estuary path was signed again quite clearly heading north but on no route which was on the map. We came to the conclusion that this route must have superseded the old paths and that following it was the only way to get across the marsh.
We continued for another couple of miles, were overtaken by some faster walkers who were cheerfully just following the signs and soon found a tree for a lunch break. After lunch we continued but the path became very difficult. It ran between a drainage ditch on one side and Vange Creek, which was protected by a 12 foot high bank, on the other. It was airless and very overgrown with long grass. It was a very much longer route than we had planned – at least an extra five miles as the Estuary path followed the winding edge of the creek instead of heading straight up as the old path had done.
Jen began to struggle with the humidity and the conditions and with muscle spasms in her legs and we were forced to take frequent breaks. I was rather worried about her particularly given the distance we still had to go and how far we were from any help. We poured everything into her that might possibly help – sweet biscuits (she is a diabetic), water, ibuprofen, Ventolin (she is an asthmatic). While she rested, I clambered up the bank to survey the creek and the possibility of rescue if it became necessary. On the opposite side of the creek was The Wat Tyler Country Park and what appeared to be some sort of boatyard with small boats sitting in the mud. The tide was out, but if it really came to it, we could possibly wait for high tide and get out that way with assistance. However, Jen insisted that if we took it slowly she would make it. So we just plodded on very gently, for a while stopping after every twenty steps for a rest, but secure in the knowledge that it was high summer, it would be light well into the evening and there was really no hurry.
Eventually we came to a sign pointing away from the creek edge and here the Estuary path joined up with the mapped paths which made it easier to navigate. On the edge of civilization we found a patch of woodland, possibly an old orchard, and we had a long break under the trees. The heat of the day was wearing off and Jen was feeling better so we were able to make faster progress as we approached the northern end of Vange Marsh.
Here was an RSPB reserve and we walked alongside the railway line and found a possible way out. We had been forced to divert behind a small industrial site and the gate onto the road was open. It would have meant crossing the A13 dual carriageway and finding our way through a housing estate to a bus stop in Basildon. But, having checked the maps, we decided to carry on into Pitsea as it was not much further than the escape route.
Finally we passed the head of Vange Creek, which had caused this inland detour, crossed the railway line and walked through another industrial area to emerge onto the road near Pitsea Station.
We took the final photos then found our way to the huge Tesco store just over the railway bridge. We had run out of water several miles back so bought some food and six bottles of drink. Two bottles each went down us as we rested on a wall in the car park of the store! After that we felt strong enough to make our way home from Pitsea back via West Ham and Waterloo.
Stanford-Le Hope 09.45
1 65 miles
Pitsea Station 17.58
Time 8 hours 13 minutes
Running total 676.18