As I sat and wrote the previous posts, I was snatching glances out the windows of the trains on the way into London. I watched Westcliff, Chalkwall and the Leigh parts of the estuary pass by on my right from my backwards facing seat (you get to enjoy the view recede and it stays with you for longer from this position).
The estuary and Thames river side (the flood plain) of Essex is an insanely varied and attractive landscape ... if a little flat here and there. Even the bits being crossed by the army of pylons, looking like giant automaton striding across the land away from Tilbury power station, casting their wires back from man to man like explorers not wanting to get lost in a blizzard.
People moan about pylons, (and I understand why, if where you live is virgin land and thus far unspoiled). However I’ve known pylons all my life, from the ones strung along the Thames near my parents home in East Ham, to the ones strung across Wanstead park, where my first forays into camping and survival started and to my nans old home near Frinton on Sea ... these pylons were special, they were the first ones I ever heard buzzing and hissing in the drizzle of a wet afternoon.
We travel by train every day, and ride past all those places that were treat days for me as a kid, and it just doesn’t seem to lose its charm. I know it’s only been a week or two, but there is something about the mud flats on the foreshore between the pier and Leigh in the morning that bounces the light around even on a cloudy day. And then there’s the clouds and the land of Kent across the estuary, giving perspective to everything, and there’s intense blue skies in every shade the sky sees fit to impress us with. I’m almost going to regret not seeing the same skies run through with low Autumn and Winter sun and golden dawns, and vermilion sunsets and sun rises
We haven’t even had a high tide yet, that little treat is yet to come (and every stage within the tides range). And therein lies the reason the train journey is such a pleasure, (why all train journeys are such a pleasure). The tide changes, the light changes, the crops in the field change. For instance: early flowered Rape has gone over, but in several fields we go by its only just coming into flower. Salt marsh pasture is turning a very dark green, but shimmers to a white green when the wind lays it low, spring leaves in woodland and golf course trees have lost their spring growths delicacy and have now hardened off to their summer fullness. The Hawthorns blossomed like a second wave of Blackthorn all along the slopes below Hadleigh Castle. Some of the Hawthorn was the less common pink variety or possibly the even the Midland variety which is natively pink (crataegus laevigata, for those interested in such things ... as I am). Amongst the long grasses of the salt marsh there is a multitude of what I think is yellowist yellow, Meadow Buutercup dotted in clumps, splashed like paint flicked off a brush, to some pattern of seed dispersal known only to the wind.
The ponds and rean/reens, in the rural parts of salt marsh reclaimed from the estuary are full to the brim from last years rains, and these carve up the marsh in places from Benfleet through to Tilbury. They are straight lines of glistening water verged by long grasses and reeds, penning in cattle or horses here and there. There is an odd order to things even in the wilder parts ... I know without a shadow of doubt that the entire area is almost entirely the product of man, except of course the underlying structure of flat land suddenly edged on both sides of the river by a gentle slope that mark the edge of the flood plain, (visible if you know what you’re looking for even in the heart of the city of London).
Wherever there is water there are birds, either in flight in mini flocks flitting from shrub to shrub or clump of reed to clump of reed or in little mixed clusters bobbing about on or promenading by the water. Where the train line runs the inland route, the added elevation gives sweeping mobile vistas over a distance of five miles or more gently down slope to the rivers edge, where until recently we walked. This land is variously marked by hedgerows or roads cutting straight lines across and through tracts of land turned over to isolated homes or farms. At the edge of our side of the river from Canvey to Tilbury you see the signs of industry, the rivers edge sprouting machines and gantries many meters high, higher by far than the pylons mentioned above.
There is a thing I have observed inwardly many times, as I have taken to the higher places overlooking the flood plain, and that is this: The works of man seem so small from a distance, even more so when you have stood next to great edifices of concrete, or massive structures of steel and been a little in awe up close. You stand back, look at the unending sky miles and miles across before it blurs with the land, and see the land itself losing all form, except for the base structure of hills and undulations, once in a while the indistinct straight lines of a transmission mast, pylon or chimney ... yes we are still there, but in the overall scheme of things, very small.
All things being equal, you have to wonder why you need to travel so far and so wide, when you have all this on your doorstop.