I could have called this post “East Tilbury to East Tilbury”, for all we did today was a short loop. In fact, we were lucky to do even that this weekend. Heavy snow was forecast for Sunday, and we had a party to go to on the Saturday evening. My wife was of the view that the kids would be too tired to walk and party. Still, on Saturday morning, we all got up, and started wondering if in fact we might be able to squeeze a walk in. I had planned for our next walk to get us all the way to the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry, a distance of some 7 miles or so. However, I saw that there was a break point at Coalhouse Fort after about 3 miles, and after a short discussion we decided to go for it. A speculative short-notice call to Auntie Jenny confirmed she was willing and able, and so, in the cold and wintery morning sun, off we set.
We parked on the roadside at East Tilbury, and headed off east, along the south boundary of Gobions Park, a small area of green with playground and skate park in it. We quickly left the park behind, continuing east, turning south and then east again, following a narrow track which ran between some palisade fencing, fields and ponds. We encountered very few people, but the number of birds we saw and heard made it feel like a chill early Spring morning. After about a mile, the ground started sloping upwards, and we saw the welcome sight of the sea wall. We had finally finished our detour inland which had lasted for the last two walks, and were at last back on the coastal path.
I have to say we all found the walk along the sea wall to be incredibly peaceful, and I would highly recommend it. We saw only three other people whilst we were there, and we had good views. There was the coastline of Kent ahead of us, and behind us a large jetty, which was servicing a container ship of some sort. The waters lapped gently, and flocks of small wading birds (sandpipers I think, but cannot be sure) searched the mudflats for food, before flying off together to set down somewhere else nearby. There was some heavier activity, such as the occasional passing ship, but these were distant, slow-moving and silent.
As we continued, we started to notice more than a few narrow ramps, leading up the inside of the sea wall to its top. These were each clearly marked “Duck Ramp”, and exist to help shelducks to make their way landward, though there were no ducks we could see today. Still, these ramps gave the kids no end of pleasure; when one was spotted a shout of “Duck Ramp” would go up, and the kids would rush off to climb it. This was good – it kept them going!
Eventually, we saw a distant structure begin to emerge hazily as we rounded the sea wall. This was Coalhouse Fort.
There has probably been a fort at Tilbury for as long as Tilbury itself, for in 1086 at the time of the Domesday Book the village was recorded as Tilibria, meaning “Tila’s Fort”. Although nothing is known today about the early fort, records exist of a rampart with towers here dating back to 1410. In 1539 a blockhouse (a small, isolated fort in the form of a single building) was built, as part of a general plan to fortify the Thames.
In 1558, with the Spanish Armada threatening an attack, the blockhouse was quickly improved, although the main focus of defensive measures in the area was at Tilbury Fort, just along the coast. Indeed, Elizabeth I inspected her troops in August of that year at West Tilbury.
East Tilbury saw some significant action in 1667, when the Dutch raided the area during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. They overran the defences at East Tilbury, and then, it is said, destroyed the tower of St Catherine’s Church which stands behind the present-day fort. The website of the Thurrock Local History Society is not so sure, suggesting that the tower was in such a state of disrepair that it may have simply fallen down. Whether or not the Dutch destroyed the tower, however, once they had taken East Tilbury they turned their attention south and attacked Kent at Sheerness, before heading north to Felixstowe, where they were finally defeated.
After the Dutch invasion, the East Tilbury blockhouse was demolished and a large fort, Coalhouse Fort, built on the site. This was reconstructed in the late 1790’s, just in time for the Napoleonic Wars. It was enlarged in 1850, and then completely rebuilt again in 1861. Coalhouse Fort was withdrawn from active service in 1920, but then brought hurriedly out of retirement during World War Two. Some of the guns from that time can still be seen today. In 1957 the fort was once again retired, with the disbanding of the British coastal artillery, and in 1962 the local council took control of the site.
Coalhouse fort is sometimes open to the public, run by volunteers, but opening times seem to be sporadic. It was closed when we walked by, though the WC’s by the entrance were available for use! We turned inland at this point, walking up the road to The Ship freehouse. Here we were welcomed by friendly staff and had a refreshing pint and sausage, egg and chips which, it has to be said, really hit the spot! I left the others relaxing there and walked another mile or so up the road to collect the car and bring it back to the pub. I suggested we might have time to walk another four miles to the ferry, knowing full well this would be a futile suggestion. We headed back home, in the hope that the country will be clear of snow next weekend and allow us to return for the next stage of our walk.
Points on this walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Entrance to Gobions Park: N 51° 29.092 E 000° 24.810
- Reaching the Sea Wall: N 51° 29.181 E 000° 26.366
- Coalhouse Fort: N 51° 27.899 E 000° 25.975
- St Catherine’s Church: N 51° 27.986 E 000° 25.820
- The Ship: N 51° 28.059 E 000° 25.643
Walk #9 Statistics:
- Date of Walk: 4 February 2012
- Walk #9 total distance covered: 4.91 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 58.08 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!