Circuit of Canvey Island

Essex has the longest coastline of any English county.  Essex Ramblers, frustrated at the lack of open country in the county, have long campaigned for access to the county’s sea walls.  

In 2004, Essex Ramblers proposed a motion to the Ramblers’ AGM (general council), which was carried: This general council calls on the government to take such action as is necessary under section 3 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to amend the definition of ‘open country’ contained in section 1 (2) of the act to include a reference to coastal land as defined in section 3 (3); and calls on staff to prepare and implement a campaign with this action as its desired outcome.

22 Sea wall

Walking the sea wall, soon to become the England Coast Path

Ramblers’ staff did indeed campaign for access to be extended to the coast, resulting in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the England Coast Path and adjoining ‘spreading room’.  Thus, in the next year or so, the England Coast Path will give people the right to walk around every bit of Essex’s coast, with freedom to roam on some land alongside it.

9 Across Hole Haven

The view across Holehaven, on the south-west side of Canvey Island

I sampled some of the emerging route last week on a walk around Canvey Island in the Thames estuary, led by Simon Swanson of the Ramblers’ South-East Essex Group.  This was part of the Essex Ramblers’ walking festival, which ran from 26 October to 2 November, to encourage its 4,000 members, and the public, to enjoy some walking in Essex.  They put on 34 walks, all with a water theme.

Ten of us met at Benfleet Station, a busy commuter hub.  I arrived early and had time to walk up the hill to South Benfleet twelfth-century church (locked) and wander around the churchyard.

1 Benfleet church

South Benfleet church

We set off along the causeway and, once we reached the island, turned off to the right, to walk anti-clockwise.

2 Canvey Island sign

Sign marks the entrance to the Island.

Around us were marshes, the only high point being the hill behind Benfleet and the Hadleigh country park.

3 marshes and Benfleet

Benfleet Downs

Once we had gone under the A130 road it all became much quieter, and very flat, the marshes are below sea level.  West Canvey Marshes are an RSPB reserve.  I caught a glimpse of a cattle egret flying across.

4 W Canvey RSPB reserve

West Canvey Marshes RSPB reserve; the pools were made to attract waders

We stopped for coffee at the moveable flood barrier at the juncion of East Haven Creek (which we had been following) and Holehaven Creek, and here we turned south-east to follow the latter.  Now the land was muddy and good for waders: lapwing, black-tailed godwit, curlew, redshank and shelduck.

5 looking across the creek

The view across Holehaven Creek to the container port, under construction

It is very much an industrial landscape, and it was pleasing to see the waders there.

8 Black-tailed godwits

Black-tailed godwit


7 Hole Haven

Holehaven Creek with the Kent coast beyond

To our left was the Canvey Wick reserve, with lovely autumn colours, the only brownfield site managed by Buglife and a home of the rare Shrill Carder Bee, a species of bumblebee.

6 Canvey Wick nature reserve

Canvey Wick

We rounded the corner of the island and came to the Lobster Smack pub, a lovely clapboard building just south of Canvey village.

10 Lunch

The Lobster Smack

11 Pub info

Some information about the pub

After an excellent lunch we continued along the sea wall on the south side of the island, looking across the Thames to north Kent.

12 sea wall

Walking the sea wall on the south side of Canvey Island

Ahead of us was Southend pier, at 1.3 miles the longest pleasure-pier in the world (Essex is good at ‘longests’—although Southend is now a unitary authority and not officially Essex).

13 Southend pier

Southend pier

There is a lot of new development taking place on the south side of the island.  We came to Thorney Beach, which has been renovated by local volunteers and now looks splendid, with benches and murals.

14 Thorney Bay

Thorney Bay

The new development just behind is called Sandy Bay rather than Thorney Bay, presumably to make it sound more attractive.

15 Sunny Bay housing estate

Sandy Bay estate

For nearly two miles the sea wall continues with a blue wall on the landward side, much of which is covered in murals.  There is a series which tell the story of Canvey Island (which was originally five islands before the Dutch came and built sea walls and reclaimed the land).  In 1953 there was a devastating flood and many lives were lost.  People climbed onto the roofs.

18 Mural

19 Mural


20 Mural


There are murals of local features, and of birds.

16 Mural

21 Mural







We passed the elegant Labworth café and restaurant, a grade II listed building which resembles the Queen Mary; made of reinforced concrete it was opened in 1933 and is the only building to be solely designed by Ove Arup.

17 Labworth

Labworth café and restaurant

We rounded another corner of the island and came to a park, where we posed for a goup shot.

23 Canvey Island walkers

Our group

We were next to the memorial to the tragic collision between two American planes in the Thames estuary on 19 June 1944: there was only one survivor.

24 Aircraft collision

Memorial to the aircraft collision in June 1944

We passed Smallgains Creek which was full of boats though it all seemed very quiet.

25 Smallgains Creek

Smallgains Creek

Simon pointed out the football pitch on the south side of the track which had been reclaimed from the creek by building a sea wall.

25 Football pitch

Football pitch

We then rounded Canvey Heights country park, a former landfill site which is now a wood.

26 Canvey Heights ex rubbish dump

Canvey Heights is the woodland behind

Our last, long, stretch was along the sea wall on the north side of the island, beside Hadleigh Ray with views across to Leigh-on-Sea and Southend.

27 To leigh

View across Hadleigh Ray

There were houses on the south side, some of it behind locked gates to which residents had keys.  From humble beginnings, Canvey Island has become quite upmarket, although it still has an aura of gritty industrialism.

28 sea wall

Sea Wall beside Hadleigh Ray

We returned to the station as it was getting dark, seven hours after we started and having walked 14.65 miles.  It was an interesting and varied walk, made even better by Simon’s local knowledge and stories.





About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, Birds, campaigns, Coastal access, Natural history, Ramblers, walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Circuit of Canvey Island

  1. histman says:

    Thanks for a very interesting read. Hadn’t realised that Essex had the longest coastline of any county.

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