Day Twelve: Section 24

Yesterday we walked the official ‘last’ section of the London Outer Orbital Path aka the London LOOP, from Rainham to Purfleet (5 miles/8 km). Of course as we did not start at section 1 we still have 4 sections to do!

Travelling across London this weekend has been quite an experience, as so many people are travelling to the area around Westminster where the Queen is lying in state. Edit: today was the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Although I am not a Royalist, I did watch the ceremony on television. It was an amazing event. The music was absolutely beautiful and the final goodbye from the Sovereign’s Piper was emotional.

My eye is always drawn to this umbellifer shape, especially in silhouette.

At least the weather has been dry and sunny for all those queuing for hours, as well as those visiting Westminster, Green Park and the Mall. However it has been colder, and I was wearing more layers than I’ve been used to on the last few walks.

Buddleia and red admiral butterfly. This was right next to a huge industrial estate. I like to think that people come out in their breaks to enjoy some nature…
Looking across the mighty river Thames to the south bank.
The next section starts at Erith on the opposite bank! No ferry here now, and to be honest I’d be a bit nervous crossing in such a vessel as the one depicted!

This section definitely highlights contrasts of landscape and land usage. Rainham marshes and the river Thames were the main natural sights, but it was impossible to ignore the industrial sites and huge area of Rainham Landfill that we also walked past or through. Impossible not to see the huge factories and warehouses, and certainly impossible to ignore the smells of the nearby sewage works and the gases escaping from the landfill site. Unfortunately there was also a lot of litter and plastic waste, much of it washed up on the path by high tides. The contrast between this and the leafy golf courses of northwest London was marked!

So much plastic washed up by the tides ☹️
Imagine how much rice.. 😳

As this is a London walk it was good to walk a considerable way along the Thames, as the only other place we have encountered it was at Kingston when we crossed it at the beginning of section 9. The tide was low and the soft mud was dotted with gulls pecking for worms. Soon after the massive Tilda rice factory we saw the strange sight of 16 concrete barges lying in the watery mud at odd angles. There is debate about what they were intended for, and what they actually ended up being used for. There are some great photos and more information on this blog. They certainly were intriguing – like something out of a film set.

The concrete barges

Just a bit further on was another odd sight – The Diver by John Kaufman is a metal sculpture set on the mud flats which is partially submerged at every high tide, and completely under water in high spring and neap tides. It commemorates his grandfather who worked as a diver in the docks, a difficult and dangerous job I’m sure.

The Diver
Not my photo – it’s from here, and shows the sculpture partly under water at high tide.

After walking along holding my nose for certain stretches where the smell from the landfill blew straight in our direction we reached the RSPB Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve. Just in time for lunch! There is a very nice cafe serving light lunches, snacks and drinks. After a very tasty ham and cheese toasted sandwich and a visit to the shop we headed out for a walk around the reserve.

Beautiful red rose hips.

Michelle commented that when you’re not looking for birds you see them, and when you are actually consciously looking for them they’re nowhere to be seen! True. But – then we saw a marsh harrier slowly and majestically making a 360 degree loop around the reserve. We also saw a peregrine falcon, lapwings, martins and many Canada geese and other water birds. Unfortunately we also came across one of the rangers rescuing a young kestrel that had flown headlong into the window of a hide. It seemed to be ok, just very dazed.

The RSPB centre

The Reserve had a long history as a Ministry of Defence location for artillery practice and defence exercises. It was bought in 1906, and during WWI played a part in protecting the city of London from attack. Decoy buildings were erected on the marshland, and set on fire to distract German airships. One such airship was shot down in 1916. You can still see firing ranges from the beginning of the 20thC where riflemen practised shooting at targets. There is a rather charming video/blog here which has some more detail and some good photos.

A mural on the side of one of the semi derelict buildings telling a little of the history of the site.
The rifle ranges. The bricks are pock marked with stray bullet holes, and the steps below were covered in sand to catch the bullets.

In the distance you can see the rail links to London, and the high speed track which carries the Eurostar. But all is now peaceful in the Reserve, and there were lots of people out for a Sunday stroll with their binoculars.

Looking downstream to the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

A short walk from the Reserve is Purfleet station where the section ends. One last look of the Thames on the north side – next time we’ll be heading for Erith.

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