The Mardyke is my local river (ignoring the fact that the Thames is actually nearer), and I’ve done many walks along and around it. This time last year I even took Little Miss Hillplodder for her inaugural wild camp in its environs. It’s about as close to wild land as its possible to get in South Essex (ie not at all close to wild land). A week back from the Lakes, and the desire to stop the legs losing any small fitness gained. The forecast was glorious for the day with a mild night and no rain. It seemed like the day for a walk and an overnight bivvy.
It was nearly 2pm when I set off from the station, making my way towards Davy Down, a low-lying area of grass and woods alongside the lower reaches of the Mardyke. Having walked here recently, I tried to take paths not used much before.
Nevertheless the end result was the same – a crossing of the Mighty Torrent to join the Mardyke Way. Today all was pleasant and dry, but last time I came along here it was a swamp.
I cut up through the woods, aiming to revisit the route of a previous afternoon walk that explored the margins of the M25 (exotic, eh?). A path took me around the edge of an industrial estate and some fenced-off land owned by one its occupants. It was pleasing to see signs suggesting they may be opening it up for public access.
A short stretch along a road and then I was heading for Belhus Woods Country Park.
I meandered through the park, sauntering around the lakes, seeing if there was a route to join up with the public footpath that runs alongside the M25. There wasn’t.
I found myself heading north and leaving the park, then missing the unsigned footpath that would take me where I wanted to go. A bit of sneaking past a farm, a bushwhack the last few yards to the road, and then I was dodging the late afternoon traffic. I crossed under the M25 and took to the fields again, heading for North Ockendon and the lane that would take me to the planned bivvy spot.
The sun had gone, and so had the legs, by the time I stepped off the tarmac and headed down a familiar track to the Mardyke Tree, a distinctive tree at a path junction. From here it was a short walk to the target spot, itself close to Clay Corner where Little Miss Hillplodder and I camped out last year. If the new Lower Thames Crossing goes ahead this will be obliterated by the new road linking it to the M25, so it seems sensible to make the most of this lonely spot while I can.
I just about had enough light to pick a flat spot devoid of prickles. Down went the bivvy, with mat and sleeping bag pre-rolled into it. I lay there a while watching and listening to the planes overhead heading for London City Airport. In the background a faint hum of motorway traffic. This is about as quiet as it ever gets here.
Dinner, and the chance to complete the testing of another dehydrated meal. This time it was the Lamb Tagine, and it didn’t go well. I at least judged the water ok this time, but the lamb itself had hardened in the dehydration process to the point it was inedible. Still I had some nice cous cous with dried fruit in it, at least until I got bored of the monotony of it. When I make this again, I’ll be shredding the lamb or using lamb mince. Chocolate, as ever, came to the rescue, replacing the missed calories.
First light came and I looked out to a greyer day. A cup of tea was needed to prise me from the bivvy.
I packed up, the whole exercise taking moments, and was walking shortly after 6:30. Not walking fast mind – the legs were still sluggish.
I crossed the raging torrent that is the Mardyke and followed it south, the lure of second breakfast and more tea willing me on. Soon I was back at the station and making my way home.
I’m going to need a lot more of these if I’m ever to shake off the winter lethargy and get my carcass in some sort of shape for the TGO in May. At least this walk also brought the issue of my boots to a resolution. My Salomon Quest 4Ds which have been steadily losing lace eyelets since August have now lost 3 on the left boot and lost the first one on the right on this walk. I got home and decided to put them out of their misery, stripped them of the laces and consigned them to the bin. They’ve done well in staving off having to use the replacement pair in the hope that they’ll be in as new a state as possible for the TGO. But I have been becoming increasingly aware that unable to lace the boots evenly isn’t going to be good for my suspect ankle, or general walking comfort. I just hope the replacement pair last a bit better, and that the new X Ultra Mids I bought yesterday also work well.