Friday, 23 May 2014

A lovely walk in Essex

Well, maybe "lovely" is pushing it.

It's been warm.  I've been spoiled on cool-weather hiking, and was totally unprepared for this walk to be as exposed as it was.  I guess I liked it well enough, but it was far from my favorite countryside ramble.


We started in Rochford, about an hour from Liverpool station.  The footpath wound, rather nerve-wrackingly, across a golf course, past a church and a great hall.


Once past that nonsense, the trail crossed a really busy road and started to skirt the edges of dirty industrial ruins and junkyards, complete with mean dogs.


A graveyard of ships, a muddy creek filled with shopping trolleys, an abandoned housing complex.  This was the most gritty of walks I've done so far.



One thing about the trails, and generally outdoors, in the the UK is how respectfully clean things usually are.  There is very little in way of errant garbage and even cigarette butts on the trail.  Occasionally, you might see beer bottles littering a tucked-away area here an there.

This was was a bit on the grungy side.


Someone, please explain: of the one thing you find in dirty little creeks, why will you predictably always find shopping carts?






Once past all that, the trail got a bit more scenic.  The trail went across the top of a dyke with the salt marsh estuary on one side, and farms on the other, and it was like this for miles.  It wouldn't have been a bad walk except for the sun and heat and wind.  Despite much sunscreen and hats, it was really exposed and hot the entire time, with no shade at all.  Occasional planes would buzz quite low overhead on their way to Southend Airport nearby, and that was the only thing man-made you could see moving.


This entire walk made me contemplate why I own, and was wearing, a pair of hiking Capris.  England is the land of the stinging nettle.  It's a tall, multi-leaved greed plant that grows everywhere there might be a clearing.  They look innocent enough, with no obvious thorns or spikes.  Alas, their stings come from near-invisible hair-like needles that when you brush up against them or touch them, leave you thinking you have been cut by razors.  It's quite painful, and every time I had touched one, my skin got odd white bumps where every needle went in, and then very swollen and red until the next day.  Despite the heat, I will stick with full coverage pants next time I hike.  My legs looked rather beat up after a couple miles through the brush.    



It was also quite a boring walk, with none of the hills and woods and changing landscape of previous walks. It was endless.  It was a very flat walk (as most of Essex appears to be) but walking the overgrown marsh grasses on the trail was pretty tiring, as they pulled you back with every step.




This was also the first walk we've done where there was no one else on the trail.  At all.  We did not see a single other person coming or going until we hit a boatyard at Pagelsham, about 8 miles away.  It was actually quite nice to see another person- while I do like my nature and quiet, it felt creepy as hell to be that alone for so long.




The trail did not look often used.  I was hoping for more birds- I saw a lot of gulls, some oystercatchers, and one far-off bird of prey, but nothing really all that amazing.




We stopped at a local pub for a drink and a rest.  To our total surprise, it was 4 in the afternoon.  Despite having only done about 8 miles, it had taken us a much larger chunk out of the day than we anticipated.  I had drank four half liter bottles of water and I barely peed all day, I was red in the face even though I re-applied SPF three times, and I just didn't really feel the need to finish.  


We were only about halfway done- the walk looped back around an inland farmroad loop back to Rochford.  We had gotten going at an early hour, but it was just a slow, slogging walk on a very warm day.

An executive decision was made- we had dinner plans back in London and a friend couch-surfing for the next few days.  I felt like I could have gone on and finished the walk, but I just found it uninspiring, and not very comfortable without shade or trees along the route.  The sun stays up quite late this time of year, so daylight wasn't an issue, but just being out and exposed for so long is really tiring.

So we called a cab to bring us back to Rochford Station.  It was worth it- not only was the cab driver hilarious and chatty in his near-indecipherable accent, but we got home in time for dinner and even got a chance to shower beforehand.  Said driver, after getting over the fact that we had just walked to our destination, told us "e'vryone here who owns a pub claims to be cousins with Jamie Oliver", like that instills some magic genetic predisposition to better cooks in the kitchen.  We had a nice chat, we watched miles of dull, flat farm fields buzz past us, and we arrived at the station with not a two minute wait for the next train to London to pull in.


It wasn't my favorite walk so far, but it doesn't mean it wasn't fun.

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