Walking the Mardyke Way from Purfleet to Bulphan

A couple of weeks ago I returned to the border of Greater London to walk the Mardyke Way. This ancient river has followed the same course for over 30 million years. Today it carves a path through the Essex countryside on the edge of London. The route I took from Purfleet was around 11-miles followed by around another 3 miles to West Horndon Station. This is great walk through fields, meadows and fens.

Aveley - Mardyke Way

I started at Purfleet to capture the point of the Mardyke’s confluence with the Thames. It has an impressive wide mouth, partly marked by the huge brick 18th Century gunpowder magazine. From here there’s a path beside the river for a relatively short distance before I needed to embark on a wide detour along Tank Hill Road to the village of Aveley. The Old Ship Inn marked the start of Ship Lane with its impressive St. Michael’s Church, the oldest parts of which date from the 12th century.

St. Michael's Church Aveley
St. Michael’s Church Aveley
Mardyke Way sign at Aveley

A mile or so along Ship Lane from Aveley you can find the start of the Mardyke Valley path to Stifford. From here the route closely follows the course of the river passing through fields and fringing woodland.

Mardyke Way

It appeared that the walk had two sections – from Aveley to Davy Down then Stifford Bridge to Bulphan but there’s a walkable path the entire way with only short overgrown areas. There were vast expanses of farmland to the East of the river leading up to Orsett Fen and then beyond into Bulphan and far fewer walkers and cyclists in these upper reaches. It was blazing hot, my neck and calves toasted in the sun.

Harrow Bridge Bulphan - Mardyke Way
Harrow Bridge Bulphan

Harrow Bridge at Bulphan marks one end of the Mardyke Way but it did appear possible to follow the river little further north along the roadside. The promised footpath across fields to West Horndon Station didn’t manifest in reality on the ground despite signs at either end (or at least I could’t find it), meaning I had a precarious at times 2.5-mile walk along Dunnings Lane. An incredible walk that has added to my understanding of the landscape around the fringe of London.

Walking the Essex Coast from Frinton to Walton-on-the-Naze

A half-term escape to the sea. Not just any sea but the North Sea which had been calling me all summer. So we boarded the train at Stratford bound for Frinton-on-Sea and walked along the coast, past beach huts piled high along the seafront, to Walton-on-the-Naze. Reaching the Naze Tower on the crumbling coastline, Felixstowe in view to the north, we turned and headed back for the early evening train back to London.

Walking the Thames Estuary from Thorpe Bay to Wakering Stairs

The Broomway is regarded as Britain’s most dangerous path, claiming over a hundred recorded victims and many more undocumented. It’s considered incredibly unwise to even attempt to walk out across the treacherous Maplin Sands without an experienced guide, but I wanted to stand at that point where the path leaves the land.

The walk in this video starts at Thorpe Bay and heads through Shoebryness to the point where the Thames flows out into the North Sea. An incredible walk that will live long in the memory.

Walking the Dengie Peninsula

I was haunted by a walk left unfinished along the River Crouch that I’d undertaken in May 2019. Getting off the train a stop too early I ran out of food, water, daylight and stamina just before reaching Burnham-on-Crouch. So the other week I finally embarked on the next leg of my walk along the Crouch and around the Dengie Peninsula, and then inland to Southminster. It was a walk unlike no other. Hours of solitude – then dense clouds of birdsong punctuated by gut trembling booms of artillery fire from across the estuary at Foulness. Long stretches of sea wall with the North Sea (or Sebald’s German Ocean) lapping up over the stones. The long straight road across fields the only sound the peculiar low hum of the wind turbines. It’s a walk I will never forget.

Walking the Essex Way – Manningtree to Harwich

The Essex Way is an 81-mile long distance path starting in Epping at the end of the Central Line. I walked that first section from Epping to Chipping Ongar in September 2019 and what a glorious walk it was.

Taking advantage of the hot weather last week, I decided to return to the Essex Way to walk the final section from Manningtree to Harwich – a walk that had been on my radar for a while. It certainly didn’t disappoint. From the beguiling streets and harbour at Manningtree on the banks of the Stour Estuary, where the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins wrote his Discovery of Witches in 1647, to the Mistley Towers and down through Wrabness then out to the North Sea, every footstep was majestic. There was even a windmill near the village of Ramsay and a friendly horse that followed me across a field.

Arriving in the sleeping town of Harwich as a ferry slid out of the Harbour was the perfect end to the walk.

Walking the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

A walk from Chelmsford to Maldon

Chelmsford, the town where the great Elizabethan astronomer, occultist, master magician and advisor to Elizabeth I, John Dee, was educated. And where Guglielmo Marconi produced the world’s first wireless sets, was a great place to start a walk. There’s something in the waters of Chelmsford, the confluence of the Rivers Can and Chelmer on the edge of the town producing a curious Magick, that is channeled into the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and flows out to the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon. You could sense it in the landscape lining the watercourse, it oozed through the muddy path and stirred in the channels and tributaries that fed the canal. It whispered in the swaying reeds and grasses and rattled the bare boughs of the trees. Maybe it was something the Romans left behind.

Along the Chelmer

My walk began at Springfield Basin just on the edge of Chelmsford where new blocks of flats rise on the sites of the warehouses and wharfs where softwoods from Maldon would have been unloaded and stored. The navigation opened  in 1797 and the last barge floated into the basin in 1972.


It was a wet and misty late morning as I left the town behind and headed through a field of tall dead teasels and beneath a motorway flyover. I was entering the landscape of The Essex Serpent. Progress along the Chelmer was marked by a series of locks – Barnes Mill Lock, Sandford Lock, Cuton Lock. Paper Mill Lock notable as a filming location for the brilliant BBC TV show Detectorists, which is set in the North Essex countryside.

Ulting Church appeared through the denuded trees on a bend in the river where swans munched on greens in the field. The present church dates from 1150 and was once a site of pilgrimage, said to be as significant as Walsingham (although I am unable to find out why).


The mist rose off the river in the last hour of daylight and I wondered if The Chelmer had a deity like the rivers of London in Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent series of books. If such a god/dess does exist they dwell in those reaches near the Langford reservoirs around the point where the Blackwater joins the Chelmer before it breaks free of the Navigation and heads through Maldon to the Blackwater Estuary.

River Chelmer

I followed the Langford Cut as far as the Tesco Extra the size of a village, on the edge of Maldon, and followed the Chelmer to the dock. It was pitch black, the only illumination coming from a lamp on a sail barge moored at the quay. It feels like an unfinished journey – I need to return to walk the Blackwater Estuary out to the sea. On the bus back to Chelmsford I started to plot my return.

First Walk of 2020 – Beyond King Harold’s Tomb at Waltham Abbey

It seemed apt somehow to start the decade with a visit to Waltham Abbey Church and the tomb of King Harold. The supposed burial place of the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, a notable site of medieval pilgrimage and sitting on the Greenwich Meridan. But these weren’t the things that brought me to Waltham Abbey on the 2nd January 2020.

Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey WW1 anti-aircraft gun emplacement

A ridge rising on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey had caught my eye on a number of walks, usually at the end just after sunset where it tempted me to climb its summit to catch the last of the light. Then a recent comment on my YouTube channel informed me of a site of interest near Kennel Wood, a First World War anti-aircraft emplacement, which just happened to be in the vicinity of the hill that had called me so many times. This is where I headed after paying homage at the Abbey and Harold’s tomb.


Watch the video above to see the hike into the hills above Waltham Abbey around Monkhams Hall.