In a coffee bar in the shopping centre, I had a conversation with a middle-aged women that brought home to me the fear that people down here feel about immigration. We were discussing a recent terrorist actrocity (Manchester Arena) which for the lady, was as a direct consequence of UK immigration policy. I realised early on in the conversation that I should keep my opinion to myself because this was pretty Right-wing stuff and you could feel the anger from her, bubbling away under the surface.
Rettendon is a scaterred community with the main part of the village slightly to the north of my location. On 6 December 1995, Rettendon was the scene of a triple murder when the bodies of three drug dealers were found down a farm track. Two men were subsequently found guilty of their murder. Slightly North East of Rettenden, the Royal Horticultural Society Hyde Hall Gardens can be found. Started from an almost empty hillside in 1955, it grew to become an exciting and colourful garden with a wide range of plants thriving in the difficult hillside conditions. As you walk through the village of Rettenden there are a number of small plant nurseries that I would have liked the time to visit as they displayed a large and interesting range of plants.
It could only have been about half to three-quarters of a mile long but it was like an army assault course. Long brambles criss-crossed the path, interspersed by nettles and thistles. There were fallen trees across the path and live trees growing out of the middle of it. More than once I was on my hands and knees crawling to go round, pass under, fight my way through heavy growth. With a large rucksack on my back with my water-proof jacket loosely hung over one of the straps it was a struggle to get through. As well the physical difficulties the smell was attrocious where the rain water had gathered in muddy pools that never saw the light of day. And in a nutshell, that's the English system of public footpaths. No-one seems to have responsibility for their upkeep and you never know what you are going to find; at times, they can be completely unpassable.
The village, located at the extent of the tidal stretch of the River Crouch (where fresh meets salt water), has a long history and today is a conservation area. The conservation designation primarily emanates from the villages connections to the river and associated industries. It is now primarily known as an antique and collectables centre with over ninety dealers in the various centres but previously it was a busy port with freight arriving and leaving on barges on the river. There are three small industrial locations and there is a rail connection to London. To the right of the bridge as I cross over there is a old multi-story (five stories) antique and craft centre, previously a granary. It would have been a busy place in the past as the various cargoes arrived and left on the barges and ships that visited. From the bridge it is possible to see the old tidal mill. Powered by the tide, the mill was used to grind corn. The photogrpah is borrowed brom a council publication.
Just beyond the village I was able to access the seawall just by Beeches Farm. It was nice to get away from the sounds and smells of traffic. Back on the river, I enjoyed the solitude, watching birds, butterflies and moths rather than Audis and Ford Fiestas. This was easy walking compared to what I had been clamberiing over a mile back and it was nice to walk leisurely and enjoy the sun on my face.
From here I was not sure what lay in front of me. Because of the length of my trip overall, I was using OS 1:50 maps, as opposed the usual 1:25 you would use for hill walking. Even so, I was still having to carry half a dozen maps to cover my whole journey. Had I been carrying the more detailed maps I would have been carrying double that number. But it was at times like this I missed the detail of the 1:25 because I had a suspicion that I might not have a through path here.
Nothing for it but to turn back and try to find an alternative route. I had passed a boatyard and went back there to ask for local advice and to refill my water bottles. The guy in the yard advised me to walk through his yard to the fields beyond where 'he thought but couldn't be sure' I would be able to access the top road. I should have known better, but didn't. After an hour of wandering around in fields with eight-to-ten feet hedges that blocked any view of the landscape that might give me direction, I eventually had to turn back and retrace my steps.
It was a long detour and another long time period walking on a busy road. By now it was late afternoon, blistering hot and, walking on the road there was no shade. At one point I stopped at the bottom of a driveway of a garden centre just to take in some water and sit in the shade of their roadside sign to get some little respite from the heat. After re-applying the sun cream, it was back on the road until I reached the turnoff for Lowlands Farm. Going through the farm I acessed a public footpath, this one in reasonable condition, to drop down to and go through the hamlet of South Fambridge and from there it was a short distance on to the seawall. There had been a river or ferry crossing at South Fambridge since Roman times, with the crossing also used by monks travelling to and from Canterbury however, the crossing is long gone and there is no evidence ofbridge or ferry to be seen now.
South Fambridge enabled me to locate myself very accurately on the map and I knew that I still had a fair number of miles to go to where I had originally hoped to camp. The way I felt I knew that I would not be able to reach my chosen destination. However, given that I was wild camping, I could choose to alter my bivvy spot for the night to little consequence other than carrying the miles forward. From my planning I knew that I could carve out a different route by missing out Clements Marsh the next day thereby clawing back some of the mileage.
After walking for another couple of miles on the seawall I found an ideal camp site and decided to take it, rather than run myself in to the ground. Even with stopping early, I had walked sixteen miles with a forty pound pack in extreme heat, so I did not feel too bad about the decision.
Before I setlled for the night I had one more task to complete. My right foot required some treatment for a very bad blister at the end of my second toe. I tend to leave blisters rather than burst them and the fluid usual goes back in to my body. It had not worked on this occasion and my toe was hugely swollen, the toe nail hanging off the end of the swelling and sure to cause me problems tomorrow. I boiled up water in the Jetboil and sterilised my small scissors and a needle and set about bursting the blister, removing the excess skin, putting on antiseptic ointment, sterilised dressing and cushioned plaster. Job done, I settled down for the night, lulled to sleep by the last call of the sea birds and the quiet murmurring of the river.