Walk 55 Thorpe Bay – Little Wakering

Walk 55
Thorpe Bay to Little Wakering
Essex
Tuesday March 28th 2017

Today was to be the longer of the two walks and the route when we set out was somewhat uncertain. A large swathe of the land fronting the sea in this area belongs to the military and our route would be dependent whether the ranges were in use or not.

If the range was open we planned to follow the coast all the way round to Haven Point and on to Oxenham Farm passing the bridge which leads to Foulness Island and taking in Wakering Stairs on the way. We were keen to see Wakering Stairs as they are the access point for the notorious Broomway.

The Broomway is a six mile track running out to sea parallel with the coast leading to Foulness Island. Until the bridge was opened in 1922 it was the only way to access the island but it is very dangerous as it is under water at high tide. The tides are quick and the unpredictable current here means that water covers the path from all directions faster than a man can run. Although it is easy to walk as it is on firm sand it is equally easy to lose the way and end up in the mud that surrounds it. The path has claimed many lives over the years when people have lost their way or been beaten by the tide. Given all that, we had no intention of walking the Broomway – far too dangerous – but we would have liked to see it.

We set off from the hotel and the first few miles were very easy as we were on tarmacked prom beside a main road through Thorpe Bay and into Shoeburyness. Here was a long row of beach huts, of varying designs, all painted differently. Some had fancy names such as Shangri-La and Evening Retreat. Some were more prosaic; Arthur’s Hut and Grandad’s Shed. On the other side of the road were huge houses, some now hotels some flats but some apparently still individual dwellings.

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We needed to buy food for lunch and the receptionist in the hotel had assured us there was a small Morrison’s on the way. However, we reached the end of the prom with no sign of any shops on the front or in any of the side turnings. We asked a man and he pointed us up a road which turned inland here telling us that there was a parade of shops not far along it.

It was here that the military land began and with a red flag flying horizontally in the stiff breeze on the sea wall, our hopes of walking through the range were dashed and we were going to have to follow that road inland anyway. We found a church on the map and reasoned that where there was a church there may well be a village centre with shops so we set off. All along the road were parked cars with sale details in their windows; apparently some sort of unofficial car showroom. After a while we found the church and just after it the promised Morrison’s – closed down and empty. However a long parade of shops was hopeful and the ladies in a charity shop directed us to a mini-mart just a bit further up the road.

Having stocked up with food, we set off for a period of urban walking to avoid the danger area with the first path leading off beside the empty Morrison’s and between some factories. The path ended with a bridge over the railway between Shoeburyness Station and its railway depot and emerged into a residential street.

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At the end of this street was Shoeburyness Fire Station – one engine in a sort of garage attached to a house. A left turn at the fire station brought us to the outskirts of Shoeburyness along a road with bungalows on one side and the high fence of the army range on the other. At least we knew we were in the right place. Finally at the end of this road we turned right towards the sea again along a lane, thankfully quiet, with no pavement. Soon we reached Candles Corner, home of Candles Country Club and the track leading to Wakering Steps. However the gates here were firmly shut and the red flag flying so we were not going to be able to get any closer.

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A very narrow path turned off between the fence and the backs of houses and we followed it for a mile or so until it ended at Samuel’s Corner. We were back on a road again and were amused to see a bus ahead of us waiting time outside the next set of gates. The bus does go into the base and over to Foulness Island but only for those with, as it says on the timetable, a valid MOD pass.

We had reached the end of the ranges and the town now and easily found the track heading for Oxenham Farm.

The farm was quite big with three houses and extensive buildings and a right of way passing between its barns to end at a flight of steps onto the sea wall. Actually that should be creek wall because the seaside we had so enjoyed yesterday had been replaced with marshy, muddy river again. We were now on the edge of Havengore Creek and the rest of the day’s walking would be on this embankment, easy on the feet and the navigation.

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We had started the day in thick fog which had slowly lifted and the sky now was almost clear. We sat on the grass just past the farm and enjoyed some grapes and a drink then set our feet along the embankment path. There was a ford here which led over to Rushey Island and the mist we could just see the bridge which leads over the Foulness Island.

We left Havengore Creek to pick up Potton Creek and in the distance could see moored boats. This was Wakering Boatyard which is home to a community of houseboats as well as a working yard where people keep and work on their boats. We missed the path here and ended up walking through the middle of the boatyard but no-one stopped us and we soon found a flight of steps up onto the bank again.

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The next landmark was a swing bridge which is the access to Potton Island, more MOD owned land. There was a substantial road leading to it, traffic lights and a building on the other side but not a sign of life anywhere. After we left the bridge behind we should have taken a path which led off to the left but there was no sign of it. The path just cut off a headland so our alternative was to follow the bank around the headland and to another creek – Barlinghall. It added perhaps a mile to the journey and, for the sake of completeness we probably should have done it anyway.

We didn’t feel the need for lunch until quite late having been well fuelled in the hotel by quite the biggest and most delicious portion of porridge I have ever eaten. So it was about 1.30 when we found a suitable patch of grass and plopped down. By then the sun was out, it was warm enough to take off our coats and there was not another soul to be seen anywhere, apart from a tractor driver in a field below us. Glorious.

The final stretch was along the last creek into Little Wakering. We had been watching three church spires appear and disappear as the creeks meandered and we knew that the middle one was Little Wakering.

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Finally we emerged on a path by some houses and could see the end of the creek at the main road through the village. We had just finished the walk at the end of this path when from nowhere came a sudden heavy shower. April showers a few days early.

When it had stopped we wandered down the lane to the pub, right opposite the church, for a very welcome drink and loo stop. We had decided during the day to abandon Southend Pier as we would not be back in time to enjoy it properly. We also decided that we would like to catch the train back to London at Shoeburyness so that we had travelled the whole line. So we called a taxi from the pub back to the hotel to collect our belongings then caught a bus from the stop outside all the way to Shoeburyness station to begin our journey home.

Miles 11.3
Running Total 700.7

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