A Walk on the Essex Fens

After last week’s 14 mile jaunt around Canvey, the plan was to up the mileage a little bit – essential if I’m to have a hope at completing the 10-in-10 in June (feel free to sponsor me by the way). 16 miles was the target and I plotted a route of just about that – a mixture of familiar paths along the Mardyke and some new exploration.

An early start was decided upon, mainly because that fitted best into the day, but also with secondary benefits of being out before most other people. And so it proved – I saw one lone dog walker all morning. The last bits of darkness were dissipating as I set off from Chafford Hundred station. Normally busy roads into Lakeside were virtually empty and there was no need to play “chicken” with the traffic. I turned off the tarmac and onto the muddy grass path alongside the Mardyke, heading upstream this time.

Heading out along the Mardyke #sh
Heading out along the Mardyke

Already glad I’d opted for full-on boots rather than trail shoes today, I slipped and slid over the mud. The orange glow of the sun was just lighting up the sky behind North Stifford church, clearly having waited until I was in a position where I couldn’t photograph the sunrise itself.

Stifford dawn #sh
Stifford dawn

I came to the first decision point of the walk – a bridge over the Mardyke. The original plan was to continue up to Orsett Fen and then loop around and back down, crossing this bridge on the homeward walk. I toyed briefly with the idea of reversing this, doing the exploring first and leaving the end of the walk for a familiar dyke-side slog, but opted in the end to keep it as planned. I carried on, upstream to the last bridge before the Mardyke Way disgorges its pilgrims onto the road. Here I saw my dog walker, heading away.

Should be crossing this bridge later #sh
Should be crossing this bridge later

Across the bridge and I was on new territory. The usual Essex mediocre standard of signage alleviated by the most useful navigational aid around in this part of the world – pylons. A slight mishap seeing me arrive at a sewage farm and having to retrace my steps.

A good 8 miles in and I felt strong. It was still early in the day (10am) and at this point I decided on a small extension. Soon I found myself heading west along the B187 and crossing the M25. A few hundred yards on and I was in the Thames Chase Forest Centre – a country park with wide hard paths and all of the vegetation neatly behind fences. It was swarming with urbanites walking dogs and babes in pushchairs. I lingered only long enough for a look around and to scoff some lunch.

The path took me alongside and then back over the M25 to the hamlet of North Ockendon, far more picturesque than the sprawl of its southern namesake. Not what you expect when you consider the former is in London, and the latter isn’t.

North Ockendon #sh
North Ockendon

Reminders of a harrowing walk in 2005 in preparation for the 3 Peaks now came back to me and I found myself treading some of the same terrain. Clearly the owner of this land doesn’t want people there, and I suspect they have moved the public footpath signage to channel you between a fence and prickly trees and off their land earlier. Certainly this path didn’t correspond to the right of way marked on the map at all. Signs saying it is “dangerous to trespass beyond here” were liberally strewn about. Wise to the trick, I followed the map path and managed to avoid the error of 11 years ago and spotted the left turn. Except this too lay through undergrowth and prickles (and more trespassing signs). I can see now why I ended up last time in a field with no apparent path.

Soon, the other side of the B186 and joy returned. Somebody repairing the track who didn’t seem upset to see me and then a long wide open walk into nowhere. Spirits rose again. I reached the point I’d turned on the way out and this time took the other path. A short way on, I decided to stop for a brew. I’d been itching to try out my new stove.

Stopping for a brew and a test of the new stove #sh
Stopping for a brew and a test of the new stove

The track took me past old London Clay pits, which wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. It got worse though, especially as I passed Grangewaters. Huge amounts of rubbish, things discarded randomly, signalled that I was near what is euphemistically termed a “caravan park”, but which is in effect a living scrapyard. A torrent of near-feral dogs and similar people spilling onto the path caused some unease. But soon I was past and with no sign of pursuit. Across a stream with the “caravan park” still in sight, and as if to underline starkly the contrast, a golf course to cross. Short work was made of this and soon I was at the crossroads bridge from earlier.

Feet tired, I crawled back to the station and the end of the walk. My 16 mile walk had somehow turned into 18. Still a long way to go before the 10-in-10.
2016-02-07 Orsett FenMy Essex Walks collection on Social Hiking

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