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Tilbury Riverside

A riverside walk from the home of the Bata Shoe Company, where boots were made for walking, to Tilbury Fort.

Distance 8.5 miles (13.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 34ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Riverside path, field paths, sections of road, 1 stile

Landscape River, estuary, marshland, industrial installations, residential area and historic forts

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 163 Gravesend & Rochester

Start/finish TQ 689768

Dog friendliness Check times of high tide beforehand, some difficulty on jetty beside power station

Parking Free parking at Coalhouse Fort

Public toilets Visitors' Centre, Coalhouse Fort

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1 From the Visitors' Centre, turn left keeping the moat on your left. Bear right and walk along the sleepers of the disused railway track to the grassy embankment with the river on your left. Follow the footpath above the shingle of the river, towards what appears to be a water tower, but is in fact a radar tower of World War Two vintage. Near by you can see the remains of the jetty used when transporting ammunition from Purfleet and also the site of the 1540 blockhouse.

2 After 1 mile (1.6km) with East Tilbury marshes on your right, a favourite place for migrant wading birds, cross the metal gate beyond which are the remains of World War Two concrete jetties surrounded by grassy banks, popular with fishermen. The path is mainly concrete and the power station looms large. On both sides of the path, earth has been dug up, seemingly by giant moles. The giant moles are, in fact, treasure hunters foraging for discarded bottles, ceramics and other paraphernalia, some of it dating back to the 1930s. Flotsam on the foreshore provides beachcombers with similar opportunities. Continue along the concrete path following the high sea wall fronting the power station and Bill McRoy Creek, where the Thames flooded much of the area to the north in 1953, until you reach metal steps leading to the car park at Tilbury Fort.

3 Turn right into Fort Road and after 1 mile (1.6km) you can see houses at the southern end of West Tilbury village. Looking ahead, to the right, is the church, originally built by the Normans, strategically placed on the escarpment for views across the estuary. Turn right into Cooper Shaw Road. To the right, across Tilbury Marshes, the twin chimneys of the power station dominate the landscape.

4 At the T-junction, turn left into Church Road and walk about 500yds (457m) into West Tilbury with its picturesque green overlooked by the Kings Head pub. Walk past the pub and about 100yds (91m) on the right, take the cross-field footpath until you reach Low Street Lane where you turn left. Walk along Low Street Lane for 300yds (274m) and take the footpath on the right. Walk towards the houses of East Tilbury on the cross-field path and emerge at Beechcroft Avenue. Cross this road into Stenning Way and, after about 200yds (183m), take the path on the right to Princess Margaret Road. Turn right, passing East Tilbury railway station, and return to the car park at Coalhouse Fort.

East Tilbury seems like the end of the world but this village, on the Essex shore of the River Thames, is best known for being the home of the British Bata Shoe Company, and is a fine example of a complete planned urbanisation centred upon an industrial concern. In 1933 the first Bata building was opened by Czech entrepreneur, Tomas Bata, who also built a housing estate and provided funds for the construction of East Tilbury Station. His enterprise developed into a 'garden village' which included over 300 houses, a hotel, shops, swimming pool, memorial garden, orchard, sports facilities, a college, fire station and its own 300 acre (121ha) farm.

He may never have intended that the houses should look like shoeboxes, but they certainly do. You'll see these uniform cube-shaped, beige and cream pebble-dash dwellings with flat roofs in Coronation Road, King George VI Avenue and Thomas Bata Avenue, and there's no escaping the fact that they demonstrate a distinct eastern European influence. Nowadays, the factory manufactures industrial wellington boots with steel toe-caps.

On days off, workers would scramble around Coalhouse Fort (1874), probably the best armoured casemate fortress in the south east, or stroll along the river to Tilbury Fort, a fine example of 17th-century military engineering, with its star-shaped bastion fortress. Today you can trace Tilbury's defences, enjoy river views across to Kent, see World War Two gun emplacements and even fire a real anti-aircraft gun.

You'll get the best views of Tilbury Fort from the sea wall near Tilbury Power Station. Here ships bring coal from all over the world, to fuel the generators. The fort, now an English Heritage attraction, housed Scottish soldiers rounded up after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, many of whom died within its walls or on prison ships bound for the West Indies. It was also the scene of a bloody battle in the 18th century between Essex and Kent cricketers, during which an Essex man died and the fort commander was shot dead.

Along the river you can spot prolific bird life, amazing when you realise that you are only a few miles from the M25. You'll also discover that the area has had more than its fair share of environmental abuse with gravel extraction, refuse disposal, uncontrolled motorcycling and rough shooting, all leaving their mark. Leaving Tilbury Fort, you'll see herds of horses, abandoned over the years. On balmy summer evenings foals frolic across the marshes adding a touch of rural surrealism on an otherwise stark industrial landscape.

What to look for

In the common lands around Tilbury Fort look for grey heron, swan and pied wagtail. Other species include tern, which feed near the power station outflow. Look for flocks of black-headed gulls and starlings at the sewage works, and cormorants, which sit on the railings by the station jetty. You may also spot curlew and plover.

While you're there

No time to tour the inside of Tilbury Fort? Then pop into the main entrance, known as the Water Gate, recognisable by its central archway and narrower flanks framed by columns. Reminiscent of a Roman triumphal arch, and built in fine Portland stone, you can at least peer into the inner courtyard and get an idea of the defences.

Where to eat and drink

The World's End pub makes a fine watering hole and is conveniently located beside Tilbury Fort. Some parts date to the 15th century and are reputedly haunted. The famished should go for gut-busting steak and kidney pie washed down with a pint, before heading off across the marshes and back to Coalhouse Fort.

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