(Continued from previous)
Back in June, when we were walking underneath the sea wall at Canvey, the scarcity of graffiti had seemed a missed opportunity, but here, between the perfume works and the QEII bridge, the seawall is an illuminated gallery, dedicated to graffiti art. Master F. is reminded of the Berlin wall. It is so professionally done, so evenly spaced, that I suspect sponsorship and regulation. It’s only visible from the river (this path is not well walked) and I had thought that it might be Thurrock Council’s attempt to divert the local artists from their municipal offices, but I found this blog from someone who lives locally and who reckons it changes all the time and none of it is legal.
Nice photos, better than mine. Is there a story behind all this?
An oil terminal to our right, the Eurostar tunnel plunges towards Ebbsfleet not far away, and, above us, the QEII bridge carrying M25 traffic from Essex to Kent. In the late 80s, whilst the bridge was being built, the local council north of the Thames vied for it to be called “The Thurrock Bridge”. Dartford had its name on the tunnels, and Thurrock wanted a piece of the action. Naming the bridge thus would, it was felt, put the borough ‘on the map’. A campaign was engineered; the local paper issued free car stickers proclaiming “We’re heading for the ThurrockBridge”, an excruciating televised encounter between the mayors of Dartford and Thurrock was filmed on the unopened bridge. All to no avail. The bridge became the QEII, and the crossing as a whole remains, colloquially, ‘The Dartford Crossing’.
The nearest supporting pillar, about thirty yards from the shore, emerges massively from the mud and a sprinkling of graffiti and the bridge itself dwarves the shamble of nearby jetties, piers and pipelines that run out to the river. Passing under and looking up, the stanchions lose the light, spider’s web quality they have from a distance and they too, look massive. The bridge curves toward the Kent shore, gradually assuming a degree of elegance as it diminishes.
Not much else of elegance hereabouts. Oil storage tanks, shopping trolleys in the mud, the graffiti has dwindled. The only structure that matches the bridge in terms of scale is the Littlebrook power station opposite (A robust station with high plant redundancy and black start capability. Wikipedia.). There are couple of container boats unloading up ahead, and we have to pass through a dank tunnel to get by the jetty. My phone rings, Master F.; “Which side of the wall are you on?” – we’ve hopped between the river and landward sides of the wall several times. He and Claire Balding have dropped behind about quarter of a mile, so Ebb Tide and myself have a break while they catch up and we take the opportunity to watch the workings of a large container yard. A stream of lorries is bringing containers off one of the boats, which are then craned off, and the empty lorries queue to get back for more. Two cantilever cranes (Max operating load 40 tonnes) are lifting more containers from a huge pile three of four high that runs down the centre of the yard.
The riverside path comes to an abrupt halt; I’m not sure what’s so special about the Yara Terminal (Cornwall Site) at Purfleet, but, unlike every other riverside terminal we’ve passed in the last few hours, it does not allow riverside access, and we are diverted onto a patch of wasteland that runs behind the railway. Pausing only to pose for photos behind some discarded estate agents signs, we are through a gap in the fence and into Purfleet. We head for the hotel up the hill for refreshment. Claire Balding reveals a motley collection of artefacts that he has picked up along the riverside and hidden under his coat, and which he intends to turn into a sculpture; some pieces of formica and fibreglass, a flattened can, the glass from a rear cycle lamp plus a mystery substance that Ebb Tide thinks might be conducting foam. He begins to build a speculative structure on the pub table; a figure with flattened can eyes, cycle lamp nose, conductor foam body. If Claire Balding had come with us on all our journeys, we could have left a trail of commemorative sculptures to mark our progress. Perhaps a project for the future.
Back on the train from Purfleet to Grays, and a final drink in the White Hart on Grays High Street, a friendly pub that sells nice beer and, although we didn’t sample it ourselves, the food looks good. Apart from the ceremonial lap of Mersea Island, we have finished with this mode of walking for the time being, although the Essex Coast is not really ‘finishable’, with docks, chemical works, artillery ranges, marshland expanses, lengthy creeks all providing barriers and no-go areas, and whilst we could have continued until we reached a sign that said ‘Welcome to the London Borough of Havering’, we are content to view the landfill swell of Aveley and Rainham marshes, and beyond that, Canary Wharf and the City, from a distance.