Saturday, 27 February 2010

Gravesend to Southend - 6 February 2010 - 26 Miles

It was a misty morning as I drove to Hampton in Arden to catch the 0632 train to Coventry on the first leg of my journey. I needn't have worried, because the train was on time, arriving at Coventry at 0647. A London train arrived soon after, but I was not allowed to board as I had an advance ticket. There was some delay due to trespassers on the line which delayed its departure by about 10 minutes.

I was relieved to see the 0711 train I was booked on arriving on schedule. The journey was punctual and the almost deserted train arrived at Euston at 0814. It was then only a 10 minute walk to St Pancras Station which has now been completely restored. Work was continuing on renovation to the hotel. Finding the train was no easy matter, but I eventually found the right person to ask and made my way to the South Eastern Platforms situated at the North East of the station.

The new Javelin train was impressive on the outside and very clean and functional on the inside. To my delight, there was sufficient stowage space to accommodate my folding bike without impeding the gangway or inconveniencing other travellers. Again, the train departed on time at 0852. Although the train can travel at up to 150 MPH, there was little noise and almost no sensation of movement. The train arrived on schedule at Gravesend at 0918.

Gravesend is a clean attractive town which has been developed with much thought to its history. I cycled through the town to catch the 0935 ferry to Tilbury, a venerable but smart craft manned by friendly crew. The crossing took no more than 10 minutes, depositing me at Tilbury Pier.

My route took me along the side of the Thames to Tilbury Fort which dates back to Henry VIII. Next to the fort is an attractive pub in white clapperbord. Its name "The World's End" was prophetic, at least with regard to the next part of my journey. The route took me over West Tilbury Marshes which, in the morning mist should have been really atmospheric, but the effect was totally ruined by the vast amounts of rubbish that had been dumped by the roadside. The only attractive points were the sights of West Tilbury Church on a hill emerging from the mist and the attractive antique seed drill and cart in a field close to the road.

East Tilbury was reached at 1020, but the poor quality 1960's developments along the main street gave me no reason to linger. Stanford le Hope (1045) was entirely different and well cared for, although The Green has disappeared under tarmac. The village is surmounted by an attracive church with a tower that dates from 1180.

A ride along a muddy lane brought me to Corringham at 1105. Corringham was a fairly pleasant, well kept place. Unfortunately the lovely church which dates from 1100 was not on my route. Fobbing, with its illustrated sign, pub and castelated church that dates back to Anglo Saxon times was the only "real" village I passed through. Lacking the time to explore further, I pushed on through Vange to Pitsea where I arrived at 1150. This was a depressing place with large volumes of traffic, industrial style retail outlets in the middle of the town and a generally run-down feel.

Swiftly onwards to South Benfleet (1230) which was largely unattractive post-war development except for the area near the station which retains some charm of a bygone era. The fast descent into South Benfleet was a prelude to a stiff climb to regain the A13 cycle path near Hadleigh. Navigation of Hadleigh was difficult because the roads had been dug up to relay the gas main. Having negotiated that obstacle, I was quickly descending through a pre-war residential development into Leigh-on-Sea (1320).

I then followed the seafront road into Southend, since cycling was strictly forbidden on the promenade. To compensate, the road was provided with a generous cycle lane for much of its length. Chalkwell was a dump, with derelict buildings littering the town centre. A renovation, rather than replacement project is sorely needed. THis would fit in very well with the attractive, steep cobbled roads that lead away from the sea. At Westcliff, I came across a row of small eateries set into the promenade wall. Each had a different colour of awning and were doing a brisk trade in the February sun which had just made an appearance and remained with me for the rest of the day.

Southend was reached at 1350 and I treated myself to some excellent fish and chips at Marriotts on the esplanade. Apart from the pier and the grand Palace Hotel, Southend is like any other British town with an extensive pedestrian precinct containing the shops of the usual national retailers.

Victoria Station remains reassuringly original, but it could do with a make-over. Transport was courtesy of National Express, leaving Victoria at 1446, arriving at Liverpool Street by 1543. I decided to cycle to Marylebone, utilising the route planning service on the Transport For London website. To my delight, the route passed through many attractive areas of London and the majority of the journey was along well kept cycle tracks or narrow lanes.

My train left Marylebone at 1750 and arrived at Birmingham Moor Street early at 1950 after a very noisy journey. I was in good time to catch the 2013 from New Street to Hampton-in-Arden (2032) where my car was waiting for the short journey home.