December did not allow us much walking, what with Christmas and illness, so we were all looking forward to doing a walk in early January, particularly as this walk was to get us out of Canvey Island and back to the main coast. My aunt, Jenny, joined us on this walk and I think we quite tired her out!
I must say thank you to my mystery Secret Santa at work who gave me a warm hat to walk in – this might make me look a bit silly, but it really does the trick. I must also thank my friend Mike who had the brilliant idea of walkie talkies for the kids. A bargain at under £40, the idea kept them happily occupied through the last half of the day. Indeed, at 9.18 miles the walkie talkies helped the kids beat their previous record by over a mile.
We parked just north of Canvey Island Beach, and made our way down to the sea wall. We passed through Labworth Park to do this, and were somewhat surprised to find a sculpture of a fly as the centrepiece of the park. I have to say, it was quite impressive, though I think a statue of a fly is rather an odd thing to commission.
On returning home, I have discovered it is not a fly, but a bee. I have also discovered that I am not the only one to make the mistake – the internet has quite a few pages referring to the “fly statue in Labworth Park”.
We continued to the sea wall, picking up where we had left off last time. The weather was overcast and a windy, though the sun was trying valiantly to get through. It continued to try for the rest of the day, but did not really succeed, which was a pity.
Today’s walk took us into the western half of Canvey. Whilst the eastern half is largely developed, the western half is not, save for its southern end.
Before leaving the beachfront shops and houses, we passed along Thorney Bay. This was once the mouth of a creek which reached deep into Canvey Island, however, the Dutch engineers who reclaimed the island in the 17th Century built a sea wall around the area and the creek is now gone. Thorney Bay today is a man-made beach, and I can see that it would be quite pleasant in the warmer weather. This is despite the several tidy piles of dog poop my wife noticed as we walked (she very carefully) along the sands, causing her to question if this may be the reason there is a giant fly sculpture in Labworth Park.
Immediately to the west of Thorney Bay is a caravan park, looking rather bleak and uninviting. It included, in particular, a burnt out caravan with police cordon around it. Like other parts of Canvey Island, the park is effectively sealed off from the sea wall by fences with locked gates.
Beyond the caravan park is Deadman’s Point. Here, heavy industry takes over, dominated by oil storage depots and large jetties. A strip of land between the industrial areas and the sea wall is reserved for the coastal path which is a good thing. On other parts of our coastal walk we will need to circumnavigate heavy industrial areas, cutting inland and bypassing the coast until we can rejoin it later on. One thing I admire about Canvey Island is that it is possible to walk around the entire perimeter.
The first oil storage tanks were built here in 1933. More industry and storage facilities quickly followed, including gas tanks to store liquefied natural gas shipped from Algeria. These depots were one of the first targets of German bombers in the Second World War. The area was extremely important in the war, and helped to protect London. To prevent enemy shipping reaching London, a large boom was erected, stretching almost two miles south to the Kent coast. It had a movable middle section to allow friendly ships to pass, and was protected by batteries and lights. After the war it was removed, and there is no sign of it today. The only reminder of the wartime importance of this area is the odd pillbox here and there.
After the war the oil companies wanted to expand further. In 1965 a joint Italian/American plan involved an Italian company buying up most of the western half of the island. After spending some £64 million on construction, the project was abandoned. The oil and gas depots have since been scaled back further, leaving some sites derelict. As we left the industrial area, we were greeted with the site of a Hamburg Süd container ship passing by, an impressive sight indeed, and one to which its photograph does not do justice.
Beyond the oil depots is the Lobster Smack pub, once a notorious smugglers’ inn, parts of which are said to date from 1510. The inn is mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and also in his Dictionary of the Thames from Oxford to the Nore, where he described it as “…comfortable and unobtrusive…”. Its reputation is pretty good, so I was told a few weeks ago by a local taxi driver, but it was before opening time when we passed, so we didn’t get the chance to put it to the test. It is at the Lobster Smack where there is a last opportunity to stop abort the walk; heading westward takes you into the wilds of Canvey, where there are no further cut-off points until the northernmost part of the island is reached. We continued on, looking forward to getting away from the developed areas. It was here that we also said goodbye to the Thames estuary for a while and turned north with the sea wall, into Holehaven Creek. We will not be rejoining the River Thames now for another two or three walks.
To be continued…
Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Labworth Park Statue: N 51° 30.803 E 000° 35.641
- Thorney Bay: N 51° 30.795 E 000° 35.144
- The Lobster Smack: N 51° 30.675 E 000° 33.170