Roach Valley Way, Foulness Island Recce Walk – 2nd April

In preparation for her IOG walk along the Broomway (http://www.broomway.org.uk/) on August 6th, on Sunday Miriam organised a small reconnaissance trip to Rochford/Foulness Island in Essex to deal with issues like parking, route, lunch and drink spots, potential hazards and hitches, and general familiarization. This is a vital prerequisite for all new routes, especially one as potentially hazardous as walking the Broomway – an unmarked  public right of way over the tidal Maplin Sands off Foulness Island, a restricted MOD testing ground which is mostly closed to the public.

As the Foulness Island part of the walk is planned for the afternoon, we began by taking in a section of the Roach Valley Way along the River Roach estuary – beautiful views and plenty of birdlife – see map of route above (reproduced from OS Maps, © Crown copyright, 2017). Sandwiches in a pub garden that shall remain nameless as they weren’t entirely happy about it despite drinks being bought (don’t blame them, really) – this will not be the lunch spot when the big group is doing the walk.

Then onto Foulness Island which is an odd experience: it feels distinctly like stepping back in time – hard to believe it is so close to London. Once a fairly thriving farming community, the island was bought up by the government in 1914 for military testing and its inhabitants – of whom there are only about 140 left – rent their farms and homes  from the MOD. The public is allowed to visit on the first Sunday of each month, though residents can sign their guests in at other times. We did a gawping tourist trip on hay bales on a trailer towed by a tractor along the bits of road open the public, which was a lot of slightly shamefaced fun. The farmhouses are reminiscent of Dutch clapboard houses, little has been done to maintain or update anything on the island, the school, pub and post office have closed, and there is a lot of disrepair – a bit like visiting a patch of pre-perestroika eastern Europe. Very quaint apart from the ugly military installations and prominent warning signs.

As the Broomway walk pretty much requires a guide we went to the Foulness Heritage Centre to speak to one whom Miriam had arranged to meet. Unfortunately, a bad back had taken him home early – so fingers crossed that he will have recovered in time to lead the way along the shifting sands in August.  Lovely cakes in the tea shop, lovely day out altogether – thanks Miriam. On both counts.