Stanford-le-Hope – Mucking – Muckingford – East Tilbury – Tilbury
17th August 2012
South Essex is rubbish. Walking the Essex Coast proudly links into the wasteland literary tradition by traversing an area that is undoubtably the well-spring for the theme, because Essex has, since the 19th century, been the recipient of about half of London’s shit (no wonder Londoners take the piss out of Essex). We have on previous stages, passed the operating landfill sites at Barling and Bowers Marsh, we’ve walked beside the capped landfill that is Canvey Downs, and today we trek across the former Mucking landfill site, as well as crossing what is surely the best place to study the wasteland closely; the beach that lies to the east of Tilbury power station. Approaching from the East, into the afternoon sun, the beach glistens. It is a long strip of fragments of glass and ceramic; an uncapped Victorian rubbish dump. Some of the shards seem to be recent, although most are clearly tide-worn and much older. I lived in Grays during the 1980s, and was brought to here by a friend who, according to the fashion of the time, collected Victorian/Edwardian bottles as ornaments. It was popular for beachcombing then, and there are still intact bottles to be found, although I’m not completely convinced of their antiquity. The low mud ‘cliffs’, about six feet tall, that fringe the beach are a series of rubbish strata and some of the waste must be more recent than Victorian, for I don’t think they had plastic and polystyrene in those days, and these materials are clearly seen protruding through the upper layers. The lower the strata, the more murky and uncertain the content becomes.
Nowadays, London is expected to get its act together by disposing of its own rubbish with the residue being shared more evenly between the south-eastern counties. The new traffic from the capital is earth. Tons upon tons upon tons of it, and you would have no idea that earth moving was such big business until you saw the scale of it in these parts. We had seen on previous walks that Wallasea Island is being re-formed with gravel extracted from the cross-rail project, and that the ‘London Gateway’ is being built from the contents of the river bed being dredged on to the shoreline. At Mucking, the contents of the Thames Tideway excavation – twenty miles of sewer, twenty five feet wide – are arriving on the Essex shore in the form of white clay, being used to cap the remainder of the Mucking landfill site.
Further down the estuary, as we close upon Tilbury power station, above the glass beach, there is a new fence lining the marshes and, at the end of the fence, a long series of piles of earth. Lorries are plying to and from a jetty where the earth is being unloaded, and I assume, but do not know, that this site is earmarked for large scale housing development, but as yet, there is no hint of even so much as a single footing having been dug.
As we discovered on our last walk, wildlife reserves are emerging full-blown from the Essex wastelands. The first part of Mucking Marsh is now ‘Thurrock Thameside Nature Park’, the biggest project Essex Wildlife Trust has ever undertaken. 845 acres, and, the trust promise, an ‘avian hotspot’. The trust invites you to explore ‘wild Essex’, but actually, its sites are well pathed, the people you meet are friendly, bird hides are strategically placed and on this particular site, there is a magnificent visitor centre, brand new and still to have its official opening, sitting on a rise in the land overlooking the Thames estuary. We are however, about to enter a different kind of wild Essex…