Another week, another walk and another gallery to add to the pathways project. On this occasion, an overcast walk around Wickford, in the heart of Essex.
This is my first walk in rural Essex since March. I had walked the Essex coast recently, but this was my first jaunt into the countryside for a while. We’re now deep into spring and the recent weeks of rain have turned the countryside into a lush, green landscape. This transformation has been pretty sudden and, with not many people going out recently thanks to the poor weather, many of the paths are overgrown and sometimes difficult to locate.
This wasn’t one of the most joyous walks I’ve ever been on and that wasn’t really down to the cloudy skies. My last walk in these parts had also been pretty gloomy, the sky was overcast then too with the soggy grey, clay soil underfoot adding to the dismal picture. But now, like then, my downcast feeling was more to do with human impact on the landscape, than that of nature.
This part of the southeast of England is heavily populated. Unless you plan your route artfully, you won’t walk far through fields or woods before you encounter some sort of built-up area. Even the more rural parts comprise little more than a few fields, small woods and meadows interspersed with working farms, paddocks, big houses and housing estates.
There are some grand old properties around here, nice old churches and handsome cottages, but much of the building in this area is relatively new, constructed in the last few decades or so. Much of it in a gauche pastiche of the vernacular (often a parody of styles from beyond these shores) in clunky, hard-faced, engineered brick. Frequently, especially in domestic settings, these properties have been embellished with statuary, fake cast iron lamposts and mailboxes, water features, quirky signs, picket fences, balustrades, weather vanes, clock towers and so on. All of it an affirmation of the owners’ taste and wealth. Forget two-car garages, you need parking for three, four or more cars around here. It’s a depressing demonstration of the material aspirations of the UK populace. Given the preoccupations of the media nowadays, it should come as no surprise. However, when you see it writ large like this upon the landscape, it causes one to reflect on our society and wonder where the hell we are going (hell it is, then).
Adding further to the depressing picture are the measures people take to protect this, their property. High walls, security cameras, IR lighting, barbed-wire fences and signs warning visitors of surveillance, rights of way, private property etc, etc. Everywhere a reminder you don’t belong here.
And then there are the dogs. Every few hundred yards one unseen hound or another will sense your presence and remind you that you’re not supposed to be here. A relay of calling, growling and barking all along the route. Occasionally, you get to see one (or more) of the dogs – slavering, angry brutes, fiercely defending their territory. You pray that the fence between you and the dog is substantial enough to keep it from backing up its threat with physical force. On one path, actually on the public footpath, there was a sign that read “beware of the dog, enter at your own risk”, which, to me, summed up the whole day’s experience. It was all the more sad as I am a dog-lover and I’m actually thinking about getting a couple of mutts soon.
Ironically, the few people I encountered on the walk were friendly – and so were their dogs, However, the feeling of unease, the unwelcomeness of the landscape and sometimes the actual fear I felt, means I probably won’t be visiting these parts again, at least not on my own. I’m glad I’m not the postman around here.
The local architecture, except where it impinges on a path is not part of my project, so you won’t see any social commentary here, maybe that’s another project.