“Which would you prefer,” asked Tigger, “Kent or Essex?”
That was last night, and as we had been to Kent recently, albeit for a funeral, I responded with what was for me unusual decisiveness, choosing Essex. This morning, bright and (relatively) early we set off. Essex covers a large area and it wasn’t until we reached the ticket office that I learnt our exact destination. Tigger likes to surprise me and I like being surprised, so this is the game we play: Tigger leads, I follow, and I find out where we are going at some point along the way – often only when we arrive.
It was a fine day for a trip but the low morning sun showed up very clearly the haze in the air, as you can see in the above photo. Perhaps it is the lack of rain or the high levels of pollution, but this is the general state of affairs these days.
One of the good things about computerized ticket sales is that you can buy tickets for practically any inland destination from practically any London railway station. We took the bus to Liverpool Street station so that we could have a porridge and croissant breakfast at the Camden Food Co cafe there.
We bought tickets for Leigh-on-Sea and the ticket clerk (a lady from Bulgaria) reminded us that the trains for Leigh left from Fenchurch Street. We went there on foot, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of a Saturday morning in contrast to the frenetic rush-hour crowds in the week.
This beautiful old imperial elephant, complete with mahout and howdah, hangs outside a pub in Fenchurch Street. No prizes for guessing it’s called The Elephant.
I always think that Fenchurch Street station is a pleasant little station, nestling shyly among tall buildings and other city clutter, but maybe that’s because I only go there when we’re off on a trip. Perhaps if I came through it daily as a commuter I would admire it less.
The journey was not very long and took us through some pleasant green countryside. As the train reached Leigh, we saw the ruined Hadleigh Castle perched on its hill and decided to visit it. By the time we disembarked at Leigh-on-Sea station, the day had warmed up considerably under a sun that burned down from a clear sky. Distant and not so distant views were still affected by a grey haze.
A path leads across the fields to the castle and this would be a pleasant walk in cooler conditions but today, in the unrelenting heat, it was tiring, especially as there is a long slope to climb to reach the level of the castle.
At first, there is no sign of the castle. You have to take on trust that the path actually goes there. There seems to be an “official” path, which is overgrown and lost among the bushes, and an unofficial one along field edges. That is the one we took.
It was a relief when the castle appeared at last. The sun was so hot that Tigger was using an umbrella as a sunshade and we were looking forward to sitting down for a rest.
We climbed the castle mound to find that there were already people on site. As time passed, more and more people came, families with young children. I often wonder why parents think that museums and ruins are of any interest to young kids. They would do better to take them to the beach or the amusement park.
On arriving, we spread a rug, took a few photos and sat down, content to relax and take in the scene. The peace did not last, of course.
Hadleigh Castle, originally built by Hubert de Burgh in the early 1200s and later refurbished by Edward III, must in its heyday have been a powerful and imposing edifice. Today, only fragments remain, though there are information boards and signposts to help you find your way around. On a quieter day, it would be interesting to examine the site more carefully and try to gain an impression of its layout. For more on its history see here and here.
As time passed, more and more people arrived and more and more games of football got under way, directed by fathers operating under the illusion that they were professional football coaches tasked with imparting essential football skills to 3-year-olds. Having for the second time been hit by a ball kicked by unapologetic idiots, we decided it was time to move on.
We left by the top end of the site which leads to a nearby road and were there cheered by the sight of a terrace with sunshades. This turned out to be the Salvation Army’s Hadleigh Farm Colony, attached to which is a cafe that is open to the public. We started with tea and continued with a moderately priced lunch.
From Hadleigh, we took a bus to Southend-on-Sea. I have to say that Southend is not my favourite town, especially on a hot day like this when just walking about is tiring. On the other hand, I must admit that Southend has plenty of facilities, even for a curmudgeonly SilverTiger. We stopped for refreshments and then went to the seafront.
Southend developed as London’s seaside playground. Easier to reach than Brighton, it is the archetypical popular seaside resort whose mainstays are fish & chips, pubs and funfairs. There is nothing pretentious about Southend; it is not sophisticated (Westcliff-on-Sea is the posh bit) but it is honest in what it provides.
Southend also has a pleasant sloping seaside garden, providing cool shade in sunny weather like today’s. Finding a shady spot, we spread the rug and tarried here a while.
Mindful of the need to return to Leigh-on-Sea for the train back to London, we took the bus and got off in the waterside district. The contrast with Southend could hardly be greater.
Situated in the tidal Thames Estuary, Leigh is a place for boats, whether working boats or pleasure craft. They sit quietly stranded on the mud until the water creeps in again and brings them alive. It is also a place to observe water fowl, but at this late hour it was difficult to catch sight of any.
It is also a place of characterful old waterside pubs whose terraces become crowded to overflowing on warm evenings.
There is also an extensive fish market where fish and sea food – not all caught locally, I would guess – are sold wholesale and retail and even to be consumed on the premises. At this time of day, though, the bustle of the day has died away and closed shutters cover windows and doors open earlier for business.
We were not entirely sure of the direction of the station and had to trust to Tigger’s inner pigeon to guide us. We found the railway line but which way should we turn, left or right? Right, said the pigeon. We followed its advice and found our way to the station.
From Fenchurch Street station we walked to Liverpool Street station, through a London transformed by darkness and electric lights.
Though still nowhere near completion, the Shard already dominates the skyline, at night as well as by day, its monstrous presence towering over everything else.
We passed through Leadenhall Market which, wrapped in the quietness of nighttime, resembled the high street of a Victorian town as much as a market. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a horse bus come around the corner.
In Bishopsgate, the Heron Tower dressed in lights beckoned us towards Liverpool Street station where we caught a bus for home. You might just be able to see the red light at the tip of its mast.
We have covered a lot of ground and nearly 800 years in our explorations today, from an early 13th-century castle, through a modern seaside resort and a quiet estuary quarter to a Victorian market in a modern city increasingly dominated by skyscrapers. What is big attracts interest but so does the tiny.
For example, we saw these flying insects with long antennae during our walk to Hadleigh Castle. They flew in clouds above the bushes and settled only briefly, making them hard to photograph. I have no idea what they are but perhaps someone can tell me.