Stage Three of our Coast of Britain Walk took place on a somewhat chilly day. The receding tide exposed the wet mudflats. The wind blew. Walking was fine, but whenever we stopped it was not long before we became cold.
Today was our goodbye to Southend. It had served us well, keeping the kids interested with the promise of a roller coaster ride at Adventure Island after each walk. The tide had only just started going out when we began our walk, but despite the wind the sea was relatively calm. Individual boats sat patiently, waiting for the waters to recede and for the sands to take their weight.
The walk out of Southend follows west along the Western Esplanade. The sea is on one side of the pavement and a busy road on the other. Whilst, for a time, some pleasant public gardens with a cliff-railway lie opposite, the area gradually becomes more built up as the centre of each of Southend’s suburbs is reached. These are Westcliff-on-Sea, Chalkwell, and Leigh-on-Sea. Each is served by it’s own railway station, linking up to feed into Southend centre. Some of the houses lining the coast have impressive gallery windows facing the sea. Along this stretch the beach is lined with groynes. On the day of our walk the uprights of the groynes were lined with seagulls, one bird to each post.
We were pleased the tide was going out, as this allowed us to visit the Crowstone. Situated between Westcliff and Chalkwell, the Crowstone is an obelisk standing some 100 yards or so out to sea. When the tide comes in about half of the Crowstone is covered and there is a clear watermark on it.
The existence of the Crowstone dates back to 1197, when Richard I needed to raise funds for an expedition to the Holy Land. He sold the Crown’s rights over the River Thames to the City of London, and the limit of the City of London’s authority was marked by two stones; the Crowstone on the Essex coast and the London Stone in Kent.
The original Crowstone was placed in 1285, then replaced in 1755 by a new obelisk. However, this one cracked, and so was replaced again by the current obelisk in 1837. Made of granite, it stands 16 foot high. It is inscribed on each side with the names of Lord Mayors, and also has a plaque:
Its predecessor bore the inscription, “God Preserve the City of London”, and names of Lord Mayors were added at various intervals. In the 1800’s, once every seven years the Lord Mayor of London would attend the stone, accompanied by a Recorder and sheriffs, water bailiffs and other dignitaries. These visits attracted crowds and festivities. A ceremony was held (I believe the first one was in 1842) where the Lord Mayor would uphold the City of London’s jurisdiction at this outer limit. The City Sword and Colours would be held against the stone which was then circled three times on foot (or, if the tide was in, by boat). After this wine would be served, to the toast of, “God preserve the City of London”; the very inscription on the stone itself. Fireworks, dinners, dancing and other entertainments would then go on into the night.
In 1857, when the Thames Conservancy Board took over the control of the River, the visits and festivities stopped. The Crowstone has remained ever since, waiting patiently for the next visit. We left the Crowstone and continued, stopping only for some lunch. There are lots of paddling pools constructed along this stretch of beach, though the weather was too cold for swimming today for anyone but passing dogs, all of whom took delight in plunging in. One foolish owner threw a ball right into the middle of the pool. The dog didn’t realise and the man spent the next ten minutes trying to get his dog to fetch it, throwing various sticks and stones close to it in order to show the dog where it was. The dog didn’t understand, and simply watched these various bits of flotsam and jetsam fly by, staring at its owner in complete bewilderment, knowing a game of some sort was being played, but not knowing what it was being asked to do. It made for good entertainment as we ate our sandwiches, wondering if the man would have to go in and get it or leave it as a lost cause, but eventually the dog made the retrieval.
After Chalkwell the beach comes to an end and a pathway takes over, adjoining an art college – the South East Essex College. On the wall of the art college is a mural. It consists of various “panes”, some showing silhouettes, some showing other things. About half of them have been added to, with the more traditional style of street graffiti, which is a pity. Just further on the is the Essex Yacht Club, whose club house is a converted minesweeper, the HMS Wilton. The path continues, with the suburban railway line running next to it, eventually entering Leigh-on-Sea.
Our journey through Leigh-on-Sea and beyond will be described in the next post.
Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Southend Pier: N 51° 31.966 E 000° 42.950
- The Crowstone: N 51° 32.153 E 000° 40.650
- Essex Yacht Club and HMS Wilton: N 51° 32.320 E 000° 39.547