Monday, 23 November 2009

South Benfleet / Leigh on Sea (circular) – (Essex) – 22/11/09 – 8 Miles – IVC.

Now I have a little confession to make. I did attempt to do this walk from Country Walking magazine (July 2008) on my own back in September, with a view to leading IVC around it at a later point. However after starting along the deserted estuary for about a mile, I got spooked by a combination of: having to share the narrow stretch of path with some angry looking cows, and seeing a group of youths heading in my direction with a couple of bull terrier type dogs running around off the lead. So immediately feeling somewhat alone and vulnerable, I basically bottled it and turned back. Whether that was right or wrong who knows ? However since my incident of 15th May this year (see earlier blog entry), I have become a lot more cautious when it comes to walking on my own in remote areas, without anyone knowing that I am there.

So why am I back then you may well ask ? The answer being that I had promised IVC I would lead this walk, before my (failed) attempt to check it out for myself. Now I did try to do it last week with Helen, however severe weather warnings for the region which in the event turned into a tornado fortunately put us off. On this occasion however there was no problem with any pitbulls or cows, but initially plenty of concerns caused by the weather.

Anyway a group of nine of us assembled at Benfleet station for the off, and after making our way into Hadleigh country park, down and across the railway line, and alongside the marina, we all began to speculate on the angry looking sky that was appearing to follow us. At that point though the weather was still holding fire, and we were all able to see up and away in the distance the tiny form of Hadleigh castle, as the regular train services hurried by. However once out on the completely exposed seawall path the weather let rip with everything it had at us, as we all frantically tried to put on waterproofs that themselves were threatening to be blown out of our hands and away. The driving gusts of wind and rain, soon turned into hailstones, which although fortunately coming from behind us, felt to me like small buckshot blasting against the back of my hood/head. So yes it was a definate ‘beam me up Scotty’ moment. Momentarily the hailstones did ease enough for us to pull our hoods down, before returning once again for a more severe barrage. However by the time we got as far as the the putting green on our left, the weather had begun to ease, and we were able to note the damage to that club’s fencing, which we speculated could have been caused by the previous weeks tornado.

By this time we had nearly reached Leigh on Sea, at which point the sky turned blue, the day brightened up, and the weather remained as good as gold for the rest of the walk. As we diverted away from the railway station into Leigh, one of our party recommended a pub called ‘Ye Olde Smack’ for lunch, which turned out to be a fairly good choice. Thus once inside we had a perfect window view of the estuary and the fast rising sea level. I thought I would try for a change some fish and chips, with one of our group even having a veggie version of this, which on a price wise and taste wise level proved to be fairly reasonable choice. Unfortunately the chocolate fudge cake pudding was a bit of a squashed mess, with some thin yellow liquid on the dish which we couldn’t decide on whether it was meant to be cream or custard. I decided to leave that as an open ended question rather than putting any of it in my mouth, and just ate the brown goo instead. I do like though to make allowances especially given the handy nature of the floor by the windows being made of stone. This being due to a large and embarrassing pool of water that was forming under my saturated rucksack (if it had been carpet I would had to have blamed it on one of the four dogs that were milling around).

Anyway once lunch had gone down two of our party decided that they had done enough for the day, no doubt fearing a repeat of the weather, and dropped out at Leigh on Sea station, as we headed back into the Hadleigh Marsh, now on the other side of the railway. This however turned into a real treacherous mud trail, which given my penchant for falling over these days, it was with some relief that I didn’t end up lying in it. Eventually we came to a stile in the hedge and began the long climb up the turf covered hill to Hadleigh castle. As we turned round we could see Canvey Island, as well as the Thames and Medway estuaries below us.

Once at the castle however the final climb up onto it’s mount was like the sort of mud slide that in the Seventies used to feature on shows like ‘It’s A Knockout’. Thus for several minutes three of us were stuck on it, trying to find a way to help each other up without all coming down together in a great muddy heap. Once that obstacle was overcome we were able to investigate the ruins of Hadleigh castle which turned out to be a lot bigger than anticipated from below. I had been telling everyone all day in my most authoritive voice that three of Henry VIII’s wives had lived there, a fact the information board conveniently ommitted, making me look a bit of a chump as it only really mentioned Edward III. A quick check just now on Wikipedia however proves me right, and also mentions the interesting fact that this is going to be used as the venue for the Mountain biking competition in the 2012 Olympics.

So by the time we had finished with Hadleigh Castle the light was starting to go, and we descended once more along Hadleigh Marsh with the railway and Benfleet creek on our left. When we eventually found a crossing by the marina to get across the railway, it turned out to be about 50 yards down from the one we had crossed earlier in the day causing me as walk leader some slight confusion. However the leader of all leaders soon came to my aid pointing out that we could reach Benfleet station from the road anyway (obviously done this walk before then), with us easily making the 1625 to Fenchurch Street. So overall an enjoyable winter’s walk despite the hailstones in the first half, and the mud in the second.

Walks since last blog entry:

1 x 8 miles – Putney to Osterley (Helen).

(Run) Walks
3 x 6 miles – Grand Union Canal / Osterley Park .
1 x 6 miles – Osterley Park / Grand Union Canal.

(Rucksack 9kg) Walks
1 x 8 miles – Putney to Osterley.

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