I got back into the pathways project last weekend, with a visit to Southend-on-Sea, followed by a walk from Great Wakering to Rochford, along Barlinghall Creek and the River Roach.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a pathways walk; weather, allergies, the Olympics and domestic activities have got in the way of the project, so it was good to get out again to do some more walking and research.
The area north of Southend is a strange part of the country, it’s pretty close to London, yet it feels a million miles away. Foulness Island is as far east as you can get in Essex, without getting your feet wet and is only accessible via a bridge over Havengore Creek. However, the entire island is owned by the MOD, it’s Qinetiq’s testing range and access is limited, so there aren’t a lot of visitors, although Shoeburyness has recently been in the limelight thanks to Robert MacFarlane’s recent book.
So Foulness Island, will be left for future pathways walks. However, it’s possible to walk along the the opposite banks of the creeks that separate the island from the UK mainland, without any restrictions and that was the course of today’s walk.
on the levee
The landscape here is flat, very flat. On Foulness Island, the appropriately named Hill House is built on the highest point on the island – six feet above sea level. Much of the landscape here is at sea level or lower and is protected by levees. Paths generally follow the tops of these dykes, which, surprisingly, are not as easy to walk on as you’d imagine. With so few visitors, the paths are not well-trodden and are consequently broken and uneven. The slippery tufts of grass and frequent potholes mean you are frequently sliding and twisting as you walk along the banks, I’ve walked highland peaks that have been easier to traverse.
Walking through this landscape is an unhurried process. With so few vantage points, the scenery changes very slowly as you make your way along the dykes. It’s rare one is surprised by a stunning vista opening up. Levees, marshland, mudflats and tidal water, punctuated by a few trees, boats and farm buildings are all you’ll see for miles around. This extended, self-similar landscape is unusual in Britain, where walking a few hundred metres is usually enough to change the view substantially. However, whilst the land does little to contribute to scenic interest, the sky more than makes up for it. The area is dominated by the sky. Particularly on a sunny day, such as today, when the effect is doubled by the reflections of clouds and sky on the water and damp mudflats. It’s an uplifting panorama and it’s a welcome contrast to the claustrophobic horizons of the city.
With such a constant landscape, the gallery from this walk contains relatively few images, given the distance covered. Choosing one image over another for this collection was a fairly arbitrary process, with each photo looking pretty much like the next. I could have chosen any of a thousand combinations of photos for the final selection and you would have been hard put to spot the differences between any of these collections. However, there is a final gallery, of twenty-one images, and you can view it here.