Appearances can be deceptive. The day was crisp and clear. Although there was a frost overnight the sunlight was thawing the ground. The wind was almost at a standstill, and the waters of Benfleet Creek were unmoving, looking like a mirror. This was going to be a great day for walking…
…or not! It actually turned out to be quite a challenging day; a day when quite a few mistakes were made, both navigational and otherwise. The first mistake came before we even left the car park at Benfleet. I dutifully put £4.70 into the Pay & Display ticket machine and printed my ticket, but then realised it was a Saturday and parking was free.
Never mind. The day was gorgeous. The tide may have been out, but the sun basked even the mudflats in glory. We set off.
We left Benfleet Station and walked along the northern bank of Benfleet Creek and then East Haven Creek, looking over to Canvey Island where we had walked the southern bank the week before. Today we had to leave all waters behind, cutting inland to walk over to Pitsea and then down to Fobbing. Following the coast here is not possible, as there are no rights of way.
We walked up to the A130 Canvey Way, and at this point, after only half an hour, said goodbye to East Haven Creek. Like last week, we had to walk underneath the road. The map at this point seemed to point us east, but the path clearly followed a direction which was more northeast. We saw some others on this path ahead, and as we knew we needed a general northeasterly direction, we decided to follow them. As we walked, I realised that we were not following the right of way shown on the map at all, but were going through what I thought was private farmland. However, the path was well worn, and the other party were also preceding us, so we carried on.
Eventually we reached a series of posts which marked our path as a right of way, though it did not appear on our (new) map at all. In fact, had we followed the path marked on the map we would have had to have walked twice the distance in order to reach our first waypoint, Rookery Farm.
Rookery Farm sits just south of the railway line linking Benfleet with Pitsea. West of Rookery Farm are the Bowers Marshes, where there are no paths. However, at Rookery Farm a road passes over the railway, so the tracks can be crossed. The path then runs west along the northern side of the tracks, all the way into Pitsea. The landscape on this side of the railway lines is farmland, and is in stark contrast to the marshes on the south side. As we walked, four aircraft flew overhead in formation, with what appeared to be a couple more off to one side, observing.
A short distance on, the path took us through the graveyard of St Margaret’s Church at Bowers Gifford, although the church is in fact quite a distance from the village. Seemingly standing in the middle of nowhere, it is an extremely attractive building. A church has stood on this site since Saxon times, and the building found there today dates back to the 14th Century when the main church was built by Sir John Gifford. The tower was added in Tudor times. In 1829 the vaults collapsed, due to graves having been dug too close to the church walls, causing the foundations to fail. Significant rebuilding was required. Foundation issues have not been the only problem for the church. At one point in time woodpeckers bored 40 holes in the roof.
This church was so peaceful, we decided to linger a little while. After spending some time reading some of the gravestones, including official stones dedicated to the fallen of World War Two, we continued on. Two fields along we saw a gun emplacement. It was not possible to explore this lawfully, as there is no right of way leading up to it.
The footpath leaves the fields and enters open land, eventually reaching the outskirts of Pitsea. Pitsea was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Picesia”, meaning “Island of Pic”. I had done some work in the industrial and retail warehouse areas of Basildon and Pitsea in the past, but knew nothing of the residential areas. As the footpath entered a narrow corridor between the back of some gardens and the railway line, I wondered what Pitsea was like to live in. Amongst the small amount of litter of the area I soon had my answer!
This packet was not the only one. I am rather pleased the kids didn’t see them. We have recently had to address the question of where babies come from, and that was troubling enough for us! At least, I suppose, we now know that if they want to ask any more in-depth questions we have only to send them into the alleyways of Pitsea for them to find their answers!
We carried on to Pitsea station and sat on the car park wall, eating our lunch. The children by this time were saying they wanted to go home, and we had a decision to make. We had only done a short four miles to get this far today, but if we continued it was over remote farmland. The next cut-off point was at Fobbing, our final destination, and another four miles hence. We decided to continue rather than to head home. This was not a popular decision with my son, who could not even be tamed by the production of walkie-talkies to provide entertainment while we walked.
Heading back out of the station approach, we crossed the main road and turned off into a rather unattractive looking industrial site, looking like an empty storage yard, through which the footpath ran. We then followed the boundary of an equally unappealing derelict piece of land, before turning off to cross the railway line again via a pedestrian level crossing.
The path then leads into Vange Marshes and an RSPB reserve. This area was occupied during Roman times, and a coin once found here dated back to approximately 375 AD. Today, however, there is little here save for some industrial buildings and a farm. We walked on, at one point being directed to the right style by a pleasant man who owned the horses in the field we were walking in. At other points we trod uncertainly, looking for the next signpost to show us that we were still on the right path. The problem was the sun was getting low in the sky, making it difficult to see indistinct paths in the fields. Some ran around the edges of fields, whilst others cut straight through. At one point we took a wrong turn, costing us almost half a mile. At another point, however, we saw a rather beautiful sight of cobwebs shimmering in the grass of the field we were crossing. The photo below does not do the sight justice, but clicking on it enlarges it and shows things as we saw them.
In most fields, the mud clung to our boots, making our feet heavy. The kids weren’t sure whether to find it funny or frustrating, so made do with both emotions at once. At one point they both grew by several inches and looked like they were wearing birds’ nests for shoes.
We plodded on, eventually reaching the village of Fobbing. There is a dam protecting the village now, but less than 100 years ago Fobbing Creek used to flow right up to the houses at the bottom of the gentle slope on which the village lies, and barges used to unload onto a wharf to serve the local brick and tile industries.
As it is, Fobbing today seemed to us to be a quiet and pleasant village. We stopped at the White Lion to wait for our taxi, where I had a very good pint of 6X and where the friendly patrons gave me the number of a local taxi firm to take us back to Benfleet. Whilst waiting for the taxi to arrive, we sat in the garden with our drinks, industriously trying to wipe the mud from our boots and generally clean ourselves up so the driver would allow us into his car.
When we got back home I put the map we had used back up on the map shelf of my bookcase, and took out the next one, for we have now walked onto our next map, the third in our walk around the coast of Britain.
Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Benfleet Creek: N 51° 32.627 E 000° 33.630
- East Haven Creek: N 51° 32.756 E 000° 33.030
- A130 Canvey Way: N 51° 32.836 E 000° 32.612
- Rookery Farm: N 51° 33.276 E 000° 32.176
- St Margaret’s Church: N 51° 33.409 E 000° 31.894
- Gun Emplacement: N 51° 33.533 E 000° 31.551
- Pitsea Station: N 51° 33.620 E 000° 30.380
- The White Lion, Fobbing: N 51° 31.700 E 000° 28.390
Walk #7 Statistics:
- Date of Walk: 14 January 2012
- Walk #7 total distance covered: 8.28 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 46.88 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!