16: Langdon Hills, Thurrock

Field near Hall Wood
Field near Hall Wood, the one part of the route free of trees.

Date: 31st July 2020.

Weather conditions: At the end of my last post I suggested that moving further south might prompt the appearance of some sunshine. This tactic delivered in spades. Today was sunny and very warm, and in that regard I was glad of the shelter provided by woodland for much of the walk.

County Top bagged: Langdon Hills, which is (or are) the summit of the unitary authority of Thurrock.

The highest point is unmarked and not easy to determine with specificity.  The Times Atlas of Britain suggests the summit of Thurrock lies at a height of 117m/384 feet above sea level. The 1:50,000 OS map shows a spot height of 118m/387’ at grid reference TQ681865, but the mapped route of the county/authority border shows that this point is just within Essex. Tracing round the 115m contour shown on the 1:25,000 scale map, relating this to the mapped border between Essex and Thurrock, and drawing also on my experience on the ground, I reckon the path south of St Mary’s Church reaches about 117m at roughly TQ678863, so we can call that the summit.

Probably the summit
Probably the summit, and thus, the highest tree in Thurrock. The fence marks the boundary with Essex.

Despite the obscurity of the actual summit, the map also makes apparent the prominence of the Langdon Hills. This is the highest ground for many miles in every direction and there is a considerable drop-off on all sides. As far as I can tell from my Geological Map of Great Britain, this pimple is constituted of ‘Barton, Bracklesham and Bagshot beds’ (a type of sandstone) lying above the underlying Essex ground of London Clay.

Until 1998 the Top lay within Essex and while not too far off being the highest point of that county, the Hills had to wait until Thurrock achieved its independence to become a modern Top. The summit ranks 143rd of the 172 modern tops by altitude, and 166th of the full list of 196. This is the lowest Top I have reached so far.

[ << Billinge Hill, St Helens/Crank Road, Wigan (14/15) | (17) The Wrekin, Telford & Wrekin >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Laindon railway station. This can be reached by regular trains from London Fenchurch Street, the journey from there taking about half an hour. The walk took me just over two hours.

St Mary's Church
St. Mary’s Church.

Pub at end: The only pub passed en route, marked on the OS map just north of the summit, did not want my business today (something to do with my not having booked about three weeks in advance, despite the fact there were many free tables). Bugger it then. There are other establishments in Laindon, but none of them are very near the station. So I waited until my return to London to find a pub — I understand that city has one or two good ones (some of which are even open at the moment).

Distance walked: 5.25 miles/8.5km approximately.

Feet of ascent: 410 feet/125m approximately. My route lost quite a bit of height around Hall Wood, which is then made up again.

Glimpsed through trees
Views vaguely glimpsed through undergrowth and barbed wire are a feature of today’s wak.

Difficulty: ★. This is an easy ramble which I completed in my Converse sneakers. I guess some parts may get a bit muddy in wet weather, but even then, two stars cannot possibly be justified here.

Ease of access: ★★★★. A simple day trip from London — in fact, a half-day trip, as I left Fenchurch Street on the 10:04 train and was back there before 2pm. Although, this is probably the least accessible of London’s rail termini. (And doesn’t seem to actually be on Fenchurch Street.)

Scenic qualities: ★★. A somewhat grudging two stars. The map makes obvious the prominence of Langdon Hills and this gave rise to hopes of fine views, but thanks to tree cover these are only evident at certain points, and then only west, to London, rather than south to the Thames estuary. Perhaps alterations to my route might reveal more. Most of the walk takes place in unexciting woodland. The best aspect is the vast store of blackberries: in season, bring collection vessels.

Thurrock county sign
Welcome to Thurrock. It has natural hazards, but don’t worry: you are being watched.

The area: There is not, and never has been, a town or city called Thurrock. The district that bears the name was formerly the southernmost local council of Essex, and was promoted to local authority status in 1998. Its Wikipedia page is full of workaday info about demographics and transport links but light on anything resembling history, possibly because the place doesn’t really have very much, at least not since its peasants revolted in 1381.

Laindon, where the walk begins and ends, is still in Essex and now a suburb of Basildon, which has grown substantially in the last few decades as a designated ‘new town’, a status that doesn’t imply a great deal of history either. My overall impressions from today’s (admittedly brief) visit were of inoffensive but bland suburbia.

Map: OS map Explorer 175: Southend-on-Sea and Basildon covers the area and might be useful, but you don’t really need it.  On the summary map here, the railway station is at the top, and I completed the circuit in a clockwise direction.

Map of the walk

Route: No one is going to claim that this walk offers anything more than a bit of healthy exercise. It’s not bad on a nice day if you are in the area, or in London, but I wouldn’t travel great distances just to do this.

From Laindon station, assuming you have arrived on the train from Fenchurch Street, use the footbridge to cross the railway, then go over the road bridge, before dropping down the stairway on the left onto the pavement beside the road below. Carry on along here for a few hundred yards before bearing right when given the chance, into the woodland of Marks Hill nature reserve (one of those places that I suspect has been designated as such in order to stop people building on it, rather than for any intrinsic natural value it might have).

Marks Hill woods
In the woods of Marks Hill, by the reservoir.

Try to keep going generally uphill, up a path decorated with signs calling it ‘Gladstone Road’. This winds through the trees before coming out by the covered reservoir indicated on the map. Cross the road beyond, then go down a short path onto another road where turn right then almost immediately left — this is marked as ‘Private’ for vehicles but a sign also indicates it is a public bridleway going to Westley Hall. Go past this building, bear right at the next junction and you come out onto the open common of Westley Heights.

This is the first part of the day where you have hints — but only hints — of the height of land and extensiveness of the views, and the only part where I could see the Thames estuary, as pictured; the docks presumably being those at Coryton.

View from Westley Heights
The view to the Thames estuary from Westley Heights.

From here bear generally right, aiming for the radio mast, and come out onto the lane of Dry Street. Here turn right. A cut through the car park/travellers’ camp site is possible but I carried on to the end of the lane and turned left down past the church (pictured further up the page). By the road sign for Thurrock (ditto), turn left again along the footpath that, as noted above, must attain the summit of the district, located right on the border which is presumably marked by the fence on the left.

In these woods there is a maze of paths, none of them signposted or seeming any more important than any other. I wandered for a while, hoping that at some point a view south would emerge, but it never did. I tried not to lose too much height and ended up coming out onto the road by the opulent dwelling of Goldsmiths. If the public footpath marked on the map here does exist it’s well disguised: instead, I turned right and followed the road uphill, back to the county signpost seen earlier. There turn left down the lane then, opposite the next houses reached, right along the footpath.

View to London
View to London from near Langdon Hall Farm.

This is the one part of the walk where the trees are absent and the views truly open up. The City of London is clearly visible on the horizon. This is also the best part of the walk for blackberries, which grow here in vast profusion.

Through the next field, by Langdon Hall Farm, turn right and follow the edge of the wood until reaching a gate in the fence. Passing through this returns you to Essex. I headed right, aiming for the pub, but as it did not want me, I then turned left and followed the road down. Bear left at the next major junction and this will take you all the way back to the station.

Commentary: I am on holiday from work and came down to London for a couple of days to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen for months. The trip was appended to the few days in the Lake District that I enjoyed with my family (see my Wainwrights blog) and all in all it’s been good to get away from home for a while.

Blackberries: definitely the dominant lifeform on the walk.

However, today’s walk was done in the shadow of the news that a sort-of lockdown has been arbitrarily remiposed on swathes of the north-west of England, including my home district of Calderdale. Let’s think about this. Yes, there has been a slight, but noticeable rise in cases over the last couple of weeks. But what else was expected after the lessening of restrictions on 4th July? Put it this way, if there had been no rise in cases as a result — wouldn’t this have been evidence that lockdown had actually made no difference in the first place?

Numbers of COVID cases (and it is still far from clear that people are dying of the virus: which is different from dying with it) have become the only measure of public health which Authority cares about. They don’t care about the rise in suicides, domestic violence, cancers and other conditions going untreated because no one can get a doctor’s appointment. Not to mention the long term economic effects of this farce. London was eerily quiet over the last couple of days, lacking both workers in the City and the flocks of tourists who should have been here today, enjoying the sunshine. So many shops and businesses displaying ‘we’ll be back soon’ or ‘closed until further notice’ signs. Losing your job or livelihood is hardly conducive to long-term good health, is it? And then there’s Brexit to come.

Beacon Hill car park/campsite
Camping out in the car park near the summit. More of us may be doing this kind of thing soon.

The insidious racism of the ruling Tory party and the whole pigheaded mindset that also led to Brexit was evident when my lovely local MP, Craig Whittaker, immediately played the race card in comments made about the sort-of-reimposed lockdown, blaming it all on the Asian community, which is bullshit of the highest order. Seeing as Calder Valley is one of the few Tory constituencies to be affected by this announcement (which is why Johnson can get away with it), he clearly felt a need to deflect attention. Regions are being played off against other regions: Scotland and Wales doing whatever the English are not, blaming them: south now blaming north, residents of Calderdale looking suspiciously at Bradford and so on. ‘We’re all in this together’ is just a hollow joke, empty words.

I don’t know if anyone reads all the way down these commentaries and maybe all this political ranting seems irrelevant to a hiking blog. But the point of this project is to explore more than just the geography of my country, and the ‘United’ Kingdom seems to have fragmented dangerously, even in just the 13 months since I started this. The more I try to familiarise myself with my home, the more some aspects of it seem alien. What will these landscapes be like in ten years’ time? The worrying thing is that I can see no easy route to recovery.


7 thoughts on “16: Langdon Hills, Thurrock

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s