Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Benfleet to Leigh-on-sea, Essex

One hour from Harringay by train and you have a seaside walk, with boats, a castle, glimpses of the very much alive Thames cockle industry and time it right, a swim in the sea with fish & chips to finish. Definitely one of my favourite summer walks. 

How to get there 
Catch the overground from Harringay Green Lanes to Barking, where you change and take the train to Benfleet. 

The Walk 
The walk below is about 6 miles, you can extend further by continuing on to Southend or creating a circular route by taking the path back along Benfleet Creek. 

At Benfleet station take the exit on the left and make your way up station road. As you reach the top of the hill, on your right you'll see the entrance to Hadleigh country park and the beginning of the walk. 

A little way into the walk you hit a fork, take the path on the left as it rewards with better views. 
Boats on Benfleet Creek 

In the summer wild bramble flowers, grasses and wild flowers line the walk and butterflies dance among them. 
Hadleigh Country Park 

Paths criss-cross the woodland and more routes are currently being created by Essex County Council. We just tried to keep our height and didn't take paths which drew us down the hill until after the woodland.  

When you reach the 'field' the castle is in,  you take a path just after the hedgerow, keep going until you reach the top of the hill and then a lovely wide grass path leads you into the castle remains. Walk through the castle and on the far side gates take you out onto a nice but short ridge walk towards Leigh on Sea.
The ridge walk from Hadleigh Castle to Leigh on Sea 

The last bit of the walk into Leigh is a bit trudgey. When you eventually hit a road turn right and a walk the short distance to Leigh on sea station and turn right into this road.  As you pass the station cross over and take the stairs down to another road. Go straight ahead and pass rows of green cockle huts. One is usually open and sells ready to eat shell fish. 
Cockle Sheds at Leigh on Sea 

At the end follow the pavement round to the right (there is a fish and chip shop here) and walk along the creek front, passing several pubs and more sea food stalls. Wiggle your way through an alley and along the old High Street 
Leigh on Sea 
and eventually you'll arrive at a small sandy beech, perfect for swimming but only at high tide.

Leigh on Sea looking over the Isle of Grain
As the tide goes out, vast mud banks are exposed, brilliant for mud sliding. 
Leigh on Sea 

Leigh on Sea 
Leigh Fisherman's Co-op at Leigh on Sea 

You can either catch the train back to Harringay from Leigh on sea or walk back. To walk back, when you hit the road with the station, follow it round to the left (towards the creek). Before the bridge over the creek  the footpath you want goes off to the right and follow this back to Benfleet station. Watch out for large number of waders including avocets, in a large pool at the end of the small island across the creek. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Riverside Country Park, Gillingham, Kent

1 1/4  hour drive from Harringay and a lovely walk along the Medway estuary awaits. The smell of the sea, boats bobbing, oyster catchers crying over mudflats, long views with industrial landscapes in the distance and the occasional rusting barge sinking into salt marsh. In season there's even a lido and miniature railway. 

How to get there
By car via the Blackwall Tunnel  or A13/dart crossing/M25 to the A2. As it becomes the M2, off at J1 to Gillingham and through the Medway tunnel. Then follow signs to Rainham (not Gillingham) and at the roundabout turn left, following the sign to the 'The Strand'. 

You could get to this walk via train from St Pancras, catching a train to either Gillingham or Rainham, and walk a mile to the park, but like any fare along Eurostar's route it's pricey and make the journey from Harringay almost 2 hours. 

The Walk 
A 'there and back' walk along the Saxon Shore Way, the one below is 4 miles in length so 8 miles in total.  If like me you still use maps, the one you want is Ordnance Survey Explorer 163. 

These estuary walks seem particularly beautiful in the Autumn. Early mist on the water, the sun's slanting light creating sparkly black and white vistas as you walk into it and soft warm landscapes as you look back. 

When you park up at The Stand, you arrive at a rather seasidey flat grassy municipal area, the lido giving it a slightly old fashioned feel.  

Always tempted by an outdoor swim, I've made a mental note to return between the end of May - early Sept to take advantage of  adults only 'lane' swimming from 8:30- 9:30 am before the walk. 

The Strand Lido, Gillingham, Kent

The Strand Lido, Gillingham
I wish I'd known about this place when the kids were little, the lido has a lazy river, there's an outdoor kids pool and loads of other stuff.

As you walk in front of the lido to begin the walk, the Medway opens up. We sat there for ages drinking it all in as we sipped our breakfast coffee and biscuits. 

Early morning, looking out at the Medway from The Strand Gillingham Kent. 

The Medway estuary is full off small islands. As you walk along the estuary quickly opens out, its vast mudflats scarred with channels. 

The massive decommissioned Kingsnorth power station comes more clearly into view and in the far distance you can make out the cranes of Thames Port on the Isle of Grain.

Medway mudflats from Riverside Country Park looking over to Kingsnorth Power Station. 

After a short detour around a small industrial estate, you continue along a causeway. 

Saxon Shore way running along a causeway alongside the Medway 
Around 2 miles into the walk you come across a  peninsula ending at Horrid Hill.

Looking towards Horrid Hill from the Saxon Shore way at Gillingham. 

The beginning of the causeway to Horrid Hill looking across to Kingsnorth Power Station. 

Remains of Horrid Hill's industrial past, part of the cement works which closed in 1913

View from Horrid Hill across to Motley Hill 
At the end of Horrid Hill you look back at Sharp's Green where you have just walked, famous for smuggling in the past. 

The view from the end of Horrid Hill back to Sharp's Green . 

We haven't yet ventured as far as Motley Hill, another day. The new tower blocks at Chatham come into view as you return.

Back near Gillingham you can also  clearly see Hoo fort, build on the island of Hoo Ness in 1871.