A Slow Start to the Year

Plans for the year have been formulated, potential weekends for escapes to the hills have been identified, but still it feels like 2016 is yet to get off to a proper start walking-wise. The New Year trip to Dartmoor was almost a wash out, with only one walk of a respectable length, and then I came down with the bug that was going around. Half of January was gone before I felt like venturing out again.

The weather has been poor on the weekends I might have conceivably been able to make it to the hills, so I’ve stayed home. Time to do a few more local walks then.

I started out with a Saturday afternoon explore of a bit of the Mardyke valley, investigating the woods and the spots away from houses for their potential for a sneaky overnight. It was slim pickings though on a cold and grey day. Water was spread over the low-lying ground, the paths were heavily puddled. The woods were slopey and too open. A more remote spot was too close to the noise of the M25.

Exploring the woods
Mardyke Sunset

The most discreet spot found was tarnished by its location next to an unofficial graveyard for white goods

Where fridges go to die

It was good to get out though, and the 8 and a bit miles was the longest walk of the year up to that point. Eight miles is the distance at which my legs start to feel like they’ve had a walk. In hindsight this was probably a bit much considering the plan for the next day…

East Haven Creek

I met Col (@colinastbury) and his brother Neil (@NEILASTBURY) at Benfleet station. The goal was the circumnavigation of Canvey – a walk of 14 or so miles. I actually did this solo back in 2013 when I was exploring the riverside terrain, but I was up for doing it again, especially as it was as much a social occasion this time. In all of the excitement I remembered to switch my Spot on but forgot to actually activate the tracking. We headed out onto the desolation of the western side of Canvey Island unaware that the Social Hiking map was going to look a bit pants.

Following the sea wall

More grey conditions today, but now with the added bonus(?) of a light drizzle. The views weren’t that interesting either. Conversation distracted us from the walk and we found ourselves making decent progress on largely grassy paths. A few prickly patches and muddy bits were avoided. There was much talk of gear and wild camping spots – as always. There may also have been a bit of peer pressure being put on Colin to sign up for the 10-in-10. We stopped for coffee using the questionable shelter of an overhead gantry, the Astburys getting stoves out and making brews from scratch, me opening a flask of ready-made tea. It was piping hot still but the slight smugness was more than offset by the awareness that it would have been a good opportunity to bring and try out my new stove. I’d left it behind so as to not hold anyone up. Doh!

Hot drink time #sh
Brew Time

We continued on our way, passing what little there is in the way of civilisation, and following the sea wall on the sea side. At the eastern end of the sea wall, we found a spot on the rocks for lunch, the two stoves making another appearance. A few miles away we could now cleary see Southend and the pier. The grey had also lifted a bit giving views of the Isle of Grain on the other side of the river.

More sea wall
Lunch stop with @colinastbury by the sea wall #sh
Lunch stop on the rocks in sight of Southend

We crossed a creek and were now on the north shore of the island. Hadleigh Castle and the camp spot from my last walk with Colin was now clearly in view. Ahead of us Benfleet got bigger as we made progress. All too soon, we were back at the entrance to the island and walking around to the station, 14 miles under our belts. As is the rule, we nipped into the pub to finish off the walk properly.

Beer flowed and plans were made for future walks. One of the things that’s put me off doing much walking locally is trying to do solo what is pretty dreary in comparison to the walking I do in the hills. Today showed that a bit of company can raise such a walk to a more pleasant level and make the more mundane mileage pass more quickly. May there be many more.


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