The Thames estuary and Leigh Folk Festival

Man in nighty

Despite it being so close, I've never really explored the Thames estuary (except for my trip to Margate last year, and driving through Essex to get the ferry from Harwich) so the Leigh-on-Sea folk festival was a great excuse to visit that part of the coast. I stayed in Southend, which has attractions of its own, at my first ever 'boutique' hotel, Hamilton's, on the recommendation of TripAdvisor. I wasn't disappointed... but first, back to the trip itself.

Seasoned festival goers

I'd very stupidly booked a ticket to Victoria - I should have gone to London Bridge - cos crossing London was a nightmare. First the tube only went as far as Embankment, so I had to detrain and drag my bags up to Trafalgar Square which was in complete gridlock - waste of an Oyster card credit. Eventually it cleared and I pushed my way on to a Routemaster 15 to Tower Hill, along with hundreds of perplexed American tourists. On the way it bucketed down, but eventually I got to Fenchurch Street station where I took the train to Southend via Basildon. After leaving my bags at the hotel, I searched out the funicular, but it was out of order. So I got the new lift down to the pierhead and bought a (return) ticket for the train to the end of the pier. Southend pier is supposed to be the longest pleasure pier in the world - it's long, but there's not much pleasure at the far end, except the thought of getting out of the high winds and back to shore. Then it was on to Leigh-on-Sea. I got the wrong bus (only went to Leigh Elms) but caught another one to the church, where Modeste was singing under a small gazebo. I had a pint of Hobgoblin from the beer tent and watched The London Bulgarian Choir bopping along to the African beat. Then it was down the steps to the Old Town and a fish supper (hake) at the Crooked Billet, along with a pint of Brewdog Alice Porter, and outside it was raining stair rods again! A walk to the station past the cockle sheds and home on the train.

Sunday lunch

On Sunday, after a great veggie breakfast at the hotel, I caught the first bus to Canvey Island, only it went nowhere near the seafront! Hmm, so I caught it back to Leigh and alighted at the station. The High Street was one big street party with Morris men and clog dancers everywhere - and every pub car park had a stage. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly who I saw... but I did enjoy the Punch and Judy at the east end of the Old Town. After a £2 tray of Leigh cockles in the Peterboat car park, I was joined by Nick to see John Otway, who is always good value. Martin Carthy had apparently lost his voice so as Nick headed back to the smoke for a gig at the Barbican, I sat myself down in the Clarendon scout hut to watch Helen Arney. Unfortunately after Matt Boulter (of the Lucky Strikes) finished his set about 2/3 of the audience left! Being top of the bill isn't always what it's cracked up to be! So it was back to Sarfend on the train and some sweet chilli noodles and a pint of Brentford Best at The Last Post, a good old Wetherspoons pub.

Gravesend ferry

Monday I waved goodbye to Southend and got the train to Tilbury. The 99 shuttle bus to the ferry terminal was not well signposted, but after I asked at the station I was told it was outside the dentist's over a footbridge containing many steps to lug my bags up. Now, if you like urban decay, take this trip! I found the actual ferry terminal by following two chaps who seemed to know where they were going, over an ominous iron bridge down to a wooden car park. The ferry Duchess M was about to leave, so I jumped on, paid my £2 and enjoyed the journey from the bow (I love ferries!). Gravesend ferry terminal, near a Victorian looking pier, was no better, with piles of rubbish dotted about and no signage to the station. But I found it and got the train to Rochester, then a new high-speed train to Sittingbourne, then finally a train to Whitstable where I dragged my bags down a straight boring road to the harbour and Maxine's lovely house. We had lunch at the Tudor Tea-rooms, haunt of actor Peter Cushing (I had soup) then it was back to the station (another one with a footbridge!), thence to Victoria and back to Brighton, and finally the short hop to London Road and home. Seven trains and a ferry - the Thames estuary in a day!

Many more photos on Flickr.

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