The London Countryway – Day 16

August 2, 1987: West Horndon to East Tilbury

Jolyon, Bill, Jennifer and Dorothy at the Harrow pub near Bulpham

Jolyon, Bill, Jennifer and Dorothy at the Harrow pub near Bulpham

Only a week passed before we were ready to tackle day sixteen of the LCW. Two new walkers (numbers 52 and 53) were making their first appearance on the trail, M.S.U.’s Jennifer Banks, who was to spend two nights with us before returning to the States, and Jolyon Vincent, only two days into a holiday reunion with his father. Bill was now on his fourth day on the route (though still upset that he couldn’t rival Howard’s figures). Dorothy was making it two in a row. Toby was on the tenth day of his walking career.

The weather was problematic, but dry and bright conditions were expected in the afternoon – this encouraged me to shrug off the morning rain and to aim for a 10:30 rendezvous at Fenchurch Street. Jenny arrived from her hotel at 9:25 and I called Bill to let him know we would be leaving shortly. We drove to the tube stop and had good luck with the underground. Bill, naturally, was late – having gotten off at Moorgate, for some mysterious reason – but we missed only one train. Having discovered that Pitsea lay to the east of both of today’s stations we bought return tickets to a place we were never to see. Laden with camera bags and brollies, the Vincents arrived at 11:00 and we took the 11:10 to Upminster as Jolyon fell asleep. I banged my knee leaving our carriage. We again had to transfer to the emergency bus service for the short ride to West Horndon. Fortunately Toby kept his breakfast down.

Jolyon was adjusting the earphones of a cheap walkman as we prepared to set off shortly before 12:00. Ordinarily I would have objected to the tinny intrusion of this pulsing noisemaker, but a fourteen year-old wasn’t to know. Throughout the day he insisted on holding conversations while the machine was bleating into his ear – and I got tired of shouting at him.

The weather was indeed cloudy bright as we set off – it never looked like serious rain, though it was rather humid and warm – I wore only a t-shirt all day. The sun rarely peeked out; when it did it was quite hot and it was a pretty comfortable walking day for August. We returned to last week’s junction and continued east past brilliant blue hydrangeas to an alley turnoff from the main drag. We crossed several suburban streets and went under the currently disused railway line to begin a walk along the first of many muddy field boundaries. Jolyon complained about the effects of this on his white Reeboks but Bill reminded him that no whinging was permitted on this trip and he obediently packed it in. He never complained again and he did very well – often breaking into a jog and frequently getting too far ahead.

We approached Field House and continued on a track made muddy by recent rain, using the ruts of farm vehicles. A half-right brought us across an open field to a ditch filled with cattails. Then it was forward at a very good pace to Slough House and out to the Bulpham Road – where we could knock some of the mud off our boots.

Fruit and veg were for sale at a nursery across the street and we paused to buy pears and grapes. A wooden doghouse was advertised as though it were a detached home. We then headed west on the North Ockendon road – a rather unpleasant stretch – and turned off on a little side road leading to the unadvertised Harrow Pub and Fen restaurant.  Several dogs came out to greet Toby and the car park was full of Sunday visitors. We took an outside table and had drinks. No food was served so we ate our own sandwiches with impunity. Toby had an egg. It was shortly after 1:00 and we had a very leisurely repast before packing up and heading off again. Jennifer, like Jolyon, was doing very well on her first walk.

We turned left after leaving the Harrow and headed south on an overgrown track, pausing so that three cameras could shoot some desolate Essex barn on our left. Chesterton warns us that the next section is difficult to follow and this proved to be so – in spite of his own maps and the presence of inviting paths and helpful bridges. I followed one track that seemed to be going off at the half-left angle recommended by the guidebook, but it reached a dead end in a grassy field full of hay bales and rabbits. After retracing our steps to the original track we soon found it swallowed up in a luxuriant wheat field; another track in this vegetation also headed half-left into a large golden field, but thereafter nothing computed with Chesterton’s maps. I made my troops wait while I scouted in several directions.

Interestingly enough I knew exactly where I was. To the north I could see the farm buildings associated with the moat on the OS map (622847). To the south a small rectangular wood dominated the horizon: we had to come out northeast of it.  What I needed to find was any evidence of a path snaking south from the farm buildings. After whistling up the troops we crossed a ditch and headed first east then south along the boundary of a muddy field. The effect of this passage was to add saucer shaped wedges to the undersides of our footwear – Bill, in his duck shoes, looked most peculiar, as though he were wearing cowpies. The reward for this struggle came when we cleared the last of the trees on our left and I could see cars whizzing by on the Bulpham-Orsett road. I brought us out, after a junction with the original route – coming at us from the right – at the exact bend in the road, as required.

We stamped around on the tarmac and stood in puddles trying to get the mud off. Jolyon had picked up a walking stuck that proved to be quite useful in this process. Then we headed south on the road for a while and took another path at the next bend. This soon became just a slit in the grain – but very straight. We warned one another of puddles underfoot as we made our way toward a band of trees just north of Orsett village. Toby, who must have found such going wearying, was picking up burrs, seeds, and bits of chaff that would take days to get rid of. We reached a small traffic island at the corner of Pound Lane and sat down in the grass for a rest. The sun was out now and a Tudor farmhouse was standing at the east of a nearby track.

After ten minutes we continued south to the Orsett village green, with pound and lockup. Here I congratulated Dorothy on the completion of 400 miles of long distance footpath walking in Britain! We now headed east along the village’s main street, passed the church (locked) and a fine Georgian house and took seats on benches at the World War I monument on the corner. We faced the flowering baskets of the Whitmoor Arms and a 16th century thatched cottage. It was a lovely sight. People waved to us as they came around the corner. Forty-one of the village men had died in the Great War – including a lad named Greygoose. Jolyon, who seemed to be eating constantly today, wandered off and took a seat at a tea shop across the street before being marched back to the group, in sullen disappointment, by his father.

We had now had two long rests in the last half hour but it was time to continue. We had to rejoin Rowley Road and turn south to walk past the large Orsett Hospital. A recreation ground at the end of the tarmac offered a cricket match and locked toilets. We edged our way around the boundary rope and ducked through a gap in the hedge to reach some allotments. The official route now required a half-left across a large field to a road junction at the A13. I suppose we could have done two sides of this triangle but there was nothing growing in the field and we decided to head directly for the specified corner. This was very heavy going indeed – the field had been ploughed recently and it was very soft and you sank in with every step. We made it to the corner at last (footpath sign but no stile) and climbed a fence.

Toby was hooked (I preferred Jennifer to Jolyon as his custodian on such occasions) and we crossed over the A13 and took a path south along a line of trees. Progress seemed to be quite slow here – with many pauses. Bill had the walkman on now and was commenting on what he was listening to. I was not particularly happy with the guidebook instructions here – I have the impression that much of what we were seeing ahead of us – including some tower blocks and the north end of Chadwell St. Mary – had materialized since the book had been written. We reached a dismal spinney (where Toby had a drink) but there seemed to be no path to follow after passing through it – for everything here was tarmaced and there were garages (an advertised feature) everywhere.  I looked for a way to get us over the A128 but the flow of the streets on the estate we were walking through took us too far to the south before we were at all successful. Essex’s version of Brookside louts were throwing a football at one another at the corner, but none of them had heard of Courtney Road – our next landmark. I felt we needed to go back up the A128 to look for it – unfortunately many of the streets in the estate on the east side of the road were unsigned.

Two old codgers were sitting on a bench watching the traffic. The least deaf of these told me that Courtney Road was the street right behind us, paralleling the highway. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite certain whether I should follow it up or down – it seemed to twist into the estate but Chesterton’s directions, written perhaps in more bucolic times, didn’t compute. We passed through the estate, headed east, crossed a large field, and here I found a track heading south. I hoped that this was the lane to High House and Mill House but we needed to go further east for this. Our southerly track followed the eastern border of the estate for some distance and I had trouble finding a route here that would take us east – though I could now see where we were on the OS map.

A small footpath enabled us to cut a corner to the East Tilbury Road, where an old Boxer came out to greet Toby. We could now head east on this road all the way to our destination, though this made for some unpleasant road walking. We passed Mill House and reached the West Tilbury turnoff at Blue Anchor Lane. It was nearly 7:00 o’clock.

 

Toby was knackered. I took over his lead at this time and he kept up a brisk pace against the onrushing traffic but Jolyon kept getting in front and this made the dog strain to keep up. I had figured out that we had a chance to make the 7:16 train so we charged along quite briskly, entering the precincts of Linford village with only a very few minutes to go. The way forward to the train station did not seem obvious at all but a lady working in her front garden showed us an alleyway short cut.

I was just approaching the level crossing of the East Tilbury station when I heard the first warning bell. I waved the stragglers forward, just as the guard approached to close the road. We clambered up to the platform with only a minute to spare and were soon slumped in our seats for the ride back to Fenchurch Street. This had been a very strenuous nine miles through, frankly, some rather second rate scenery. I was very happy to have completed this stage, for I expected better things on the Kent side of the Thames – we had seen the river at a number of points today. The Vincents departed at King’s Cross (I played bowls with them the next day) and we stopped for kebabs at the Lokanta before driving home.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 17: East Tilbury to Sole Street