We found a national trail path on an OS map we bought so we could find footpaths, trails, and bridleways, just two miles up from us near a place called Sutton. Access to the path is found just before Rochford (conveniently next to a pub). The area covered is obviously large. However initially we were just looking for what was on the doorstep ... Taaaa Daaa, tick that box.The section of path we followed itself follows the river Roach. The Roach from what I’ve seen is mostly a stream that then meets the tide, it’s not over long, not overly wide and even the tidal bits only deep enough by my eye to float a very shallow draught boat down. There is a marina at the Sutton end; a boatyard come fix it marina, not a posh yachts marina (which isn’t a judgement, just a fact). The marina has that quaint other worldliness to it, with a mix of speed boats, sailing boats and (I think) Inshore cockling boats (they look like miniature trawlers). The river itself runs east for a bit, then doglegs up and joins the River Crouch before they both discharge into the sea. Parts of this section of Essex coast is reclaimed land (mostly arable farmland), some salt marsh and mud flats (some firm and stable and some entirely lethal; such as the Broom Way). From north of the Blackwater to the Medway in Kent these rivers, inlets, islets and islands have been formed by man latterly, and formerly by the scraping erosive force of glaciers, and in-between the two the meandering of the various streams and rivers that help keep the channels flowing between the tides. They are the Meadway, Thames, Roach, Crouch and Blackwater and countless other small streams and tidal creeks, with names like New England Creek, Narrow Guts, The Fleet and so on, some of these creeks and channels are manmade and maintained, designed to keep the reclaimed land drained .
We trundled a mile or more east along the dyke on the north side, you could still see the boatyard through the heat haze, and a few distant houses but you find yourself in that enviable position of feeling like you are totally alone. You can see the high tops of the office blocks and blocks of flats in Southend, and you’re only maybe a two miles in a straight line east from the main road that took you north two miles out of Southend, but all the back ground noise is gone. The corn in the field is silently ripening; it’s at that stage where it’s every shade of green to gold (when one assumes the farmer wanders out everyday to guesstimate when he needs to get the combine in). The only indication of life aside from us are birds various, gulls, rooks (a rook on its own is a crow, and crow in a crowd is a rook ... one must learn the difference), Wood Pigeons, Waders various, Collard doves all sorts of small unidentifiable birds (I say waders various and unidentifiable because , I forgot to pack the binoculars again ... remembered a flask full of hot water for making tea and mini stove to bring the water back to the boil on a 31 degree heat day, forgot binoculars), I think Bellend sums it up nicely.
Looking south across the River Roach the only other evidence of the living were the distant kite sails of kite surfers in Shoeburyness eking the last dregs of the slackening tide. It must be said though, that there are some diehards who follow the tide out to the deep water channel, which by eye must be two miles offshore (I assume in total ignorance that they must have a boat to bring them up the creeks, or that they just stay out there until the tide comes back in), I digress.
It never ceases to amaze me that you can travel such a relatively short distance from a populace place like Southend on Sea, that in itself is inundated with thousands of visitors every sunny weekend, and still find almost absolute solitude and quiet a short bus or bike ride away (to flip that coin I can see why some people would find the process eerie). For myself and Amanda the absolute absence of people is the reward, no distractions, an entirely new place to us, a landscape like others we’ve seen but unique in and of itself, new to our eyes, that selfish part of us that needs and yearns to see as much of everything before we fall into eventual decrepitude and death, to be amazed while we still can satisfied. Sounds morbid, but isn’t if you think about it the other way round, having the want and the means to achieve it and living in fear, and not doing it ... I said somewhere else in an earlier post “if you’re willing to shovel shit, you’ll always have a job”, so we go we lose all our money and have to walk home, better that than not going, not trying.
As I wrote most of the above on the Monday morning commute, I thought about that latter part of the day before. We got back to the flat at around 5pm, the sun was still high in the sky and the flat just wasn’t the place to spend the rest of the day, so we went out across the mud east of the pier following the near fully ebbed tide. The contrast between our 2pm and our 5pm couldn’t be more stark. We moved quickly through the heaving multitude along the seafront at Southend and out onto the mud flats.
That strip we call a promenade was heaving with people of all types colours and ages; groups, couples, gangs, gaggles and everything in between. We crossed the sand without stopping, hit the foreshore mud that had been churned by thousands of feet from the time the tide turned ... mostly children’s from the myriad impressions.
In front of us for two miles shimmering mud, rills of rapid runoff water, that for maybe centuries, maybe only decades have cut channels in the hard packed silt of the less well walked mud. In places these rills and streams form micro confluences; that in turn, turn into rapid and quite powerful runoff streams that could snatch an unwary person legs from beneath them ... not lethal by any means to an adult, however you would likely wear the abrasions from the encounter for some time. The heat haze and the mist of evaporate blend the horizon into a mirage of blurred blue and blue grey, a mix of streams, huge inch deep silver blue tidal pools, and wavy ripples in the undisturbed silt. Among all this, the reason a fall in a tidal pool or stream would leave you looking like you’ve been mauled ... Cockles, Oysters and Mussels (I deliberately tried to avoided Alive Alive Oh here), beds like green and black islands strewn across a strange sea where we are giants. The molluscs are what provide the hard structure and stop you sinking too far ... around the corner heading north a bit to the Broom Way, you would only venture onto the mud with an experienced guide unless you could levitate.
On that seemingly far horizon were ill defined specs that could have been birds at two hundred metres remove or people at 2000 metres remove, floating in and out of the eye. We knew they were people, because when the heat haze settles or the objects move in a certain way, an indeterminate grey dot changes to red and white, or green and black, the colours of clothes. Whether the wanderers were bait diggers or those that followed the tide from first ebb to neap and turn, we won’t know, we turned west half way up the pier to go under it following one of the widest tidal ebb pools, where we discovered the power of hundreds of thousands of gallons of the remaining water running off the foreshore mud in tiny streams. Trying like Ping the duck to catch up with the main body of water before the tide turned back and swamped the mud again.
All this before us, almost as empty as the fields on the north bank of the River Roach, quietly empty two miles and bit north. However, from the promenade came the distant rattle and hum of the small amusement park, coupled with the screams and woops of the easily pleased, and the over loud noise of amusement arcades, trying to draw in mugs to play Penny Falls (nowadays Ten Penny falls), and slots, and time critical Shoot Em Ups, desiring a pound a play or replay depending on your previous skill or luck.That stream of concrete, block paving and tarmac populated by the easily thrilled band ... the locus of attention of the most, while the few search for “far other worlds and other seas”.
Be wary of arrogance Finch be wary of judging the throng, wish instead they had yours and Amanda’s eyes.