Any trip around the edge of England has to include a trip to the end of the country's longest pier. So, even thoiugh the pier railway, which would have fitted nicely into the itinerary being only the second I would encounter, was closed I couldn't resist going right to the end, even though it meant I would have to walk a total of 4.3 kilometres there and back.
It's a surprisingly utilitarian structure and completely different from the pleasure piers found around the coast. It's main purpose appears to be to give access to the lifeboat station on the end and as a calling point for occasional steamers, of which Paddle Steamer Waverley was due several days after my visit.
My pier visit meant that I didn't leave Southend until 10.33 on the most coastal of the various routes that link the resort with Shoeburyness. I returned by the most circuitous on the basis that it went nearest to the estuary of the River Roach, which also forms part of "the edge". Even so, I didn't - and couldn't - get right to the very edge in this part of the world. Bus service 14 includes two journeys a day out onto Foulness Island to serve the isolated communities of Churchead and Courtsend.
|The route is very tempting!|
|and there is a timetable. . . .|
BUT, a little note at the foot of the table suggests that casual passengers such as myself might not be welcome!
The whole area is Ministry of Defence land and used as a weapons testing range, but right in the middle of it all live approximately 150 local people, although as this Wikipedia entry shows, the community is slowly ebbing away.
Meanwhile, back in Southend I just had time to call back into my hotel to pick up the 'phone charger I'd left behind before catching the third bus of the day - another rural service that ran due north, past the small town of Rochford and out into the countryside.
I was due to remain on the bus at the terminus and then return to Rochford, where I had
a lunch break planned. However, on the way out we got stuck behind two young lads on a horse-drawn cart which our very patient driver followed for several miles on narrow roads. Eventually they pulled over and let us by, but on the way back to Rochford we found ourselves behind them once more, and again our driver excercised extreme patience, resulting in my break in Rochford being reduced to a measly 8 minutes!
|Held up by a horse and cart|
I had longer in Rayleigh, a pleasant enough but not particularly interersting town and as it was by now mid-afternoon the next bus on to Wickford picked up the obligatory load of schoolchildren, although I have to say they were very well-behaved.
|South Woodham Ferrers|
South Woodham Ferrers is a strange place, which gives the impression that it sprang out of nowhere in the 1980s. A large area of low-density housing, that buses loop around by very indirect routes, surrounds a huge ASDA supermarket and a modern pedestrianised town centre that gave me the impression of being a film set for some sort of science fiction film set in a dystopian future.
I wasn't sorry to get away on the bus to the village of Danbury, where the 36 to Chelmsford meets the 31 from that town to Maldon. I had a 14 minute connection here, but when the second bus arrived several minutes before I was expecting it I realised it must be the previous journey running about 20 minutes late. In the end, the bus I should have been on caught us up and we arrived in Maldon almost simultaneously.
Maldon was my destination for the night, but as I had been unable to secure any accommodation there I had one more bus to catch - on to Colchester, which would be my base for the next two days.