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A Walk by the Crouch

A windy, muddy but most enjoyable walk from South Woodham Ferrers this afternoon.

Commencement was somewhat delayed by a bit of trouble with the train. Just outside Billericay there was a lot of noise and a sudden stop. A tree had fallen onto the third coach and caught fire on the power lines. Fortunately it soon extinguished itself but after a while four firemen appeared having made their way to the track through someone’s garden. What looked like being a long wait and transfer to another train was avoided when we managed to coast free of the tree and the best part of a mile almost to Wickford. Here there was another problem, the train coming to a sudden stop once more, this time because the air reservoirs had emptied and the brakes come on. Having now just reached a powered section the air could soon be replenished and on our way we went.

Fortunately it wasn’t necessary to break into my emergency KitKat but after all the excitement on arrival at South Woodham Ferrers a number three breakfast from the local café (for lunch) seemed to be in order.

I was checking Walk 31 in 50 Walks on the Essex Coast, in case anything has changed prior to the next reprint (probably during 2020.) It’s a pleasant walk, initially along Clementsgreen Creek, where the remains of quays show where sailing barges once called.

Turing left after a mile or so I reached one of my favourite spots on the Essex coast – the remote point where Clementsgreen Creek meets the River Crouch. Today however wasn’t a day to stop and sit. I turned right, heading into the wind up the Crouch. A chap on a mountain bike overtook me – just. It wasn’t the weather for cycling but he was the only other person venturing out onto this wild bit of Essex coast.

There are good views across Marsh Farm Country Park and a large number of birds to see.

The full walk is 7½ miles but with the sun falling I wasn’t going to be able complete it before dusk, so opposite Hullbridge (where a ferry once crossed the Crouch) I turned inland to return to the station by road.

In the book I’ve mentioned Marsh Farm as a possible place for refreshments, so thought I’d pop in for a cake. It’s some years since I last visited and the place is quite different. Gone is the nice little café by the entrance. The café is now further into the farm and you first have to pay to get in. Wanting only a cake and drink I wandered in unchallenged and made my way to the café. It’s in a play barn. What a din! Kids everywhere and families at every table. Not really the place for a middle aged bloke (or does 59 next week make me old) on his own. I made a hasty retreat and sat at a remote picnic bench to eat the emergency KitKat. It wasn’t as far out the way as I’d thought, and while I sat trying not to look like a dodgy man with a rucksack and muddy trousers on his own in a children’s farm, a succession of families came to look at Santa’s sleigh in a shed by the bench. If anyone said anything, which they probably did, it was out of my hearing.

All that needs changing in the book is to take out reference to the farm café. Marsh Farm also need to change their website. It took me 23 minutes fast walking to reach the station., They state 20 minutes – and presumably expect their visitors to be families, not men with rucksacks.

Peter Caton 14.12.19

Breich Station Revisited

When I went to Breich in 2017, one of the forty stations visited for my book Remote Stations, I wrote that the station looked abandoned, its platforms resembling a wild flower garden. It was a sad, sight, run down and ready for closure. Only Network Rail didn’t get their way. By starting a petition I played a small part in the campaign which saved Breich from closure.

Electrification of the Shotts Line meant that the footbridge had to be replaced and Network Rail appeared to have quoted an excessive sum to rebuild the station. My objection suggested that a new footbridge was not necessary and that money could be saved by building a path from the road to the eastbound platform. This is just what Network Rail have done. Had the idea of a footpath never occurred to Network Rail, or did they include an expensive footbridge in order to inflate the cost and exaggerate their case for closing Breich?

Services had been cut to two a day and only 48 passengers recorded in the previous year, a common British Rail tactic for ‘closure by stealth’. Fortunately the Scottish Government reprieved Breich, saving the station for current and future residents and giving a message to Network Rail that in the 21st century people will not accept closure of our railway stations.

Recently I went back to Breich. What a transformation.

I’d travelled on the sleeper to Edinburgh (also a transformation with the new stock) and caught an early morning train to Glasgow. Most now stop at Breich, providing an almost hourly service. One person joined the train I got off and two others boarded the one I took back to Edinburgh. So that’s 10% of the total passengers in 2017 on just two trains. Now that trains are stopping here passengers are returning to Breich – a message that should be taken heed of elsewhere, notably at Pilning where the footbridge has been removed and the station has just two trains a week – both in the same direction!

In my objection to closure I’d written that with a regular service people could travel to Breich for walking in the surrounding countryside. I spent my time here on a freezing morning enjoying a walk along a deserted lane and a track to Woodmuir Plantation. I look forward to returning for a longer walk and to publication of usage figures which will show that if trains are provided people will use them.

Peter Caton
December 2019

Message to Voters

2019 General Election –

Dear Resident

I would like to introduce myself as your Green Party candidate for Hornchurch & Upminster Constituency.

A local candidate, I’ve lived in Upminster for 55 years, attended The Bell & Coopers Coborn schools, work part time in my small business based in Purfleet and am an author of local walking and travel books. As a member of Upminster Methodist Church I’ve run or helped with youth clubs for more than 30 years.

I’d like to take this opportunity to set out policies on key issues:

Climate Change – Our country faces many issues but the greatest of these is climate change. If we fail to act the consequences for the world, its people and wildlife will be catastrophic. Resources are finite. We must invest in renewable energy, phase out fossil fuels and reduce our need to travel. Public transport has to be affordable and reliable, and measures taken to encourage people to work and shop locally. We must force governments to act not simply pay lip service to saving our planet. Individuals, companies, local authorities and governments can all make a difference and we must all do so.
Housing – It is scandalous that every night in 21st century Britain thousands sleep on the streets. Homelessness is no longer restricted to big cities; we see it in Hornchurch & Upminster. New socially rented homes are needed to allow everyone access to an affordable place to live. We do not need the large houses that make maximum profit for developers, but small homes that our children can afford so they do not have to move away from the area.

Air Quality – Air pollution causes 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. Young people are the most vulnerable yet pollution outside some of our local schools is at dangerous levels. We must have cleaner cars and public transport, car free areas and safe routes to walk to schools.

Brexit – The 2016 referendum gave a small majority for leaving the EU, however it is now clear that Brexit will have a considerable negative impact on our economy. The Brexit process was initiated by a referendum so it would not right to simply revoke Article 50. Now that we all have more information a further referendum should be held, to determine how we should leave (deal / no deal), or if the will of the people is now to remain.

High Streets & Local Communities – Our high streets are dying. Whilst the Green Party seeks to encourage use of public transport, cycling and walking, we appreciate that there is a need for some people to be able to drive to our town centres and that increased car parking charges are having a negative impact on our high street traders. High parking charges will result in more people driving longer distance to out of town centres, with a greater environmental impact. The recent local car parking increases should be reversed ensuring that there are reasonable initial free periods.

Green Spaces & Trees – The green spaces in our towns and the Green Belt that surround them are under constant threat. We must continue to resist attempts to build on these spaces which add so much to our locality. New housing should be on brownfield sites. Our trees are vital in helping to limit climate change and a crucial part of the beauty and character of our towns. We should be planting more and unless there is very good reason, keeping all of our beautiful mature trees.

Animal Welfare – We should not be legalising the killing of animals for enjoyment. All forms of fox hunting should be banned and the law enforced. Penalties for animal cruelty should be greater and banning orders properly enforced. Factory farming should be phased out.

Crime & Policing – There is understandably much concern at the spate of street attacks, often on children. Action must be taken but the government’s huge cuts in police numbers are having a real impact. Green Party policy is for greater community involvement with our police service. Too many officers are being diverted to major events in London. We must also look at the causes of crime and be proactive in working to provide role models, youth facilities and to divert those who may be led into offending. Rehabilitation of offenders needs far greater priority.

Fair Votes – We need a fairer electoral system so that the make-up of Parliament more accurately reflects the votes cast; government should be by consensus, not conflict. Our first past the post system stifles democracy – it is ludicrous that the result of the General Election will be decided by only around a hundred marginal seats.

Spending & Taxation – As the world’s 6th richest country we should adequately fund the NHS and education services and accept our moral duty to provide our fair share of targeted aid to those less fortunate in other countries. Immigration must be controlled but Britain’s proud tradition of providing sanctuary to a reasonable number of genuine refugees should be maintained. Taxation should be simple and fair, and based on the principle that those who can afford to contribute more pay a greater share than those who cannot.

Equality – Everyone should be treated equally and fairly and have the same opportunities, regardless of race, colour, religion, sexuality, education and wealth. Someone educated at their local comprehensive should be no less likely to become Prime Minister than an Eton scholar. Everyone should have access to legal aid and being able to afford an expensive lawyer should not increase the chances of being acquitted in court.

The Green Party – Whilst the environment is at the forefront, The Green Party has a broad spectrum of policies, promoting social justice, equality, grassroots democracy and a fairer society. Green councillors across the country have been successful in working closely with local residents and holding councils to account. Often behind the scenes, in Hornchurch, & Upminster constituency we have been actively campaigning on local issues such as air quality, the Lower Thames Crossing and saving our green spaces.

No vote is wasted and every vote for the Green Party tells our government that they must act now to care for the world.
We owe it to our children to put the future of the planet first.

Yours sincerely

Peter Caton

2019 General Election – Green Party Candidate

I am proud to once again be representing the Green Party as candidate for Hornchurch & Upminster in the coming General Election.

I am standing for the Green Party because I believe that climate change is the greatest issues facing us all. If we fail to act now the consequences for the world, its people and wildlife will be catastrophic.

Gigha’s Tidal Islands

Last week my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful, if often wet holiday in Scotland; two nights on the Isle of Arran, two nights on the Island of Gigha and two nights in Oban – and two new ‘tidal islands’. Being islands off islands they wouldn’t have qualified for my book No Boat Required and we found that one of them would now come under the ‘nearly tidal’ category.

The remote community owned island of Gigha is off the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula, between the mainland and Islay. It’s 7 miles long by about 1½ miles wide, has a population of 31 and with many white sand beaches is a truly wonderful island.

Off the north west corner is Eilean Garbh, which many photos show connected to the main island by a strip of white sand. One photo even accidentally found its way into a holiday brochure for a Caribbean island and no one noticed that it was actually in Scotland. With just two days on Gigha we had to ignore the weather, so having walked down paths from the island’s only road, we arrived soaked through. It was then that we found that this is no longer a tidal island. Marram grass has grown up across the centre of the sandy tombolo that linked Garbh to Gigha, leaving beautiful white sand beaches either side (they look whiter when dry).

We walked across to Garbh but the ascent to its summit is steep and I didn’t need too much persuasion that to climb the slippery ladder fixed to the rocks was a risk best not taken. Returning to the Gigha Hotel for dry clothes and warm lunch we learned that the marram grass became established some years ago and the spot is now known as the Twin Beaches. Beautiful even in pouring rain, this must be an idyllic spot when the sun shines. We will return one day.

On mentioning No Boat Required to a lady in the craft centre we were told that Gigha does still have its own tidal island; Eilean a Chui in Ardminish Bay. We could see it from our hotel bedroom window. With long Scottish evenings we could visit after dinner, by which time the rain was lighter, but still wet enough to keep the midges away. There’s a short rocky causeway by a tiny harbour but it was easier to walk across the sand. The island, which is accessible most of the time (Gigha’s tidal range is remarkable small) is quite small (but bigger that it appears on the photo) and a true tidal island to add to my list.

Should anyone get the opportunity to visit Gigha we can thoroughly recommend this little known but beautiful Scottish island.

I would have liked to post some photos of Gigha taken in better weather but the cloud didn’t lift for our entire stay, so just to show that the sun did shine in Scotland here’s one of Holy Island off Arran.

Walkers Are Interesting People

In Essex Coast Walk I asked if it is walking that makes people interesting or that interesting people choose to walk.

Today on the sea wall between Leigh on Sea and Benfleet I met another interesting walker. Jim, originally from Galway, has completed many long walks, a day at a time, either travelling from London by train and bus, or basing himself in a B&B and taking public transport to and from each day’s walking.

He posts videos of the walks and some music on a YouTube channel – Huggie Huggie2love – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhhR9khVLC8

Worth a look.

CRANHAM BY-ELECTION RESULT

We came second to the Residents Association, who defending a huge majority again won by a long way. But I beat not only Lib Dem, UKIP & Labour, but got 21% more votes than the Conservative candidate, in one of the most Tory & Brexit supporting areas of London. Second place is the Green Party’s best ever result in Barking Dagenham & Havering. People are starting to understand that we simply must act to minimise climate change.

Cranham By-Election – Standing for Green Party

Following the sad death of Councillor Clarence Barrett I’m honoured to be standing for the Green Party in the Cranham by-election on 9th May. Here’s a copy of a letter to local residents:

Dear Cranham Resident

I would like to introduce myself as your Green Party candidate for the Cranham by-election.

I’ve lived in Cranham for 55 years, attended The Bell & Coopers Coborn schools, work part time in my small business based in Purfleet and am an author of local walking and travel books. As member of Upminster Methodist Church I’ve run or helped with youth clubs for more than 30 years.

As I’ve talked to Cranham residents several issues have been repeatedly raised and I’d like to take this opportunity to set out how I would deal with these.

Green Spaces – We value our green spaces and the countryside that adjoins Cranham but time and time again see these under threat. Until recently it seemed that we were able to stop the most harmful developments but now the Council have taken part of Upminster Park and want to build on the miniature golf course. I spent many hours on the pitch & putt as a child, took my children there and one day hope to take grandchildren. The facility is financially viable but has been deliberately run down by the Council. I submitted my personal objection to its sale and another on behalf of the local Green Party, and would fight to save this and all our valued green spaces.

Climate Change & The Environment – It has been heartening to talk to so many people who care about what is happening to our planet. Many watched David Attenborough’s recent programme and fear for the world’s future. We simply have to act. Individuals, companies, local authorities and governments can all make a difference and we must all do so. If elected I would aim to have a Climate Emergency declared in Havering with appropriate action taken to reduce our impact on climate change.

Crime & Policing – There is understandably much concern at the spate of street attacks, often on children. Action must be taken but the government’s huge cuts in police numbers are having a real impact. Whilst Havering Council have limited say in policing, Green Party policy is for greater community involvement with our police service. Too many officers are being diverted to major events in London. We must also look at the causes of crime and be proactive in working to provide role models, youth facilities and to divert those who may be led into offending. 

Parking – Whilst the Green Party seeks to encourage use of public transport, cycling and walking, we appreciate that there is a need for some people to be able to drive to our town centres and that increased car parking charges will have a negative impact on our high street traders. High parking charges will result in more people driving longer distance to out of town centres, with a greater environmental impact. I would therefore fight to reverse the parking charge increases and ensure that there are reasonable initial free periods

Save Our Trees – It seems that long established trees are being treated with reckless indifference. Where simply trimming or removing a branch would suffice, whole trees are being cut down by the Council’s contractors, often with no consultation with local residents. Our trees are vital in helping to limit climate change and a crucial part of the beauty and character of our towns. We should be planting more trees and unless there is very good reason, keeping all of our beautiful mature trees.

Consultation & The Council – Many people have expressed dissatisfaction or even anger that we have a Conservative led council as a result of ‘independent’ councillors either switching to, or supporting the Tories. I can assure everyone that I would put the interests of Cranham first and that if you elected me as a Green Party councillor you would get a Green Party councillor. Living in the ward and active in the community, including on social media, I would be accessible to all residents and would seek the views of the people of Cranham before voting on matters affecting our town.

The Green Party – Whilst the environment is at the forefront, The Green Party has a broad spectrum of policies, promoting social justice, equality, grassroots democracy and a fairer society. Green councillors across the country have been successful in working closely with local residents and holding councils to account. The Green Party has stood at every Cranham Ward election since 2002 and I have been the candidate for the last three elections. Often behind the scenes, we have been actively campaigning on local issues such as air quality, the Lower Thames Crossing and the pitch & putt.

Time for a Change – Talking to residents, many agree that it is time for a change and that we should elect a councillor who lives in the ward and fully engages with the people of Cranham. I would be honoured to represent you and to put the people of Cranham and our environment first.

Yours sincerely

Peter Caton

My Teeth, the Dentist and Me

No one likes visiting the dentist. I’m fortunate that Mr Anand is a very nice chap with good sense of humour, and an excellent dentist. Even so I’d have preferred not to have made six visits in the last five weeks.

I suspect it goes back to the standard of dentistry and dental education in my 1960s childhood and that teeth filled then have always been vulnerable. My parents took me to their dentist, Mr Blaney, widely known locally as Butcher Blaney. His stark surgery, grinding drill and gruff chairside manner were understandably scary to a young child. Like too many dentists he seemed to delight in waving the syringe in front of the patient, so they could see exactly how long that needle is. I wasn’t an easy patient. On one occasion I threatened to get him with my chemistry set. After that he refused to treat me.

At school we had a yearly visit from a dentist and following one of these my parents received a letter saying that treatment was required. An appointment was made at the local clinic with Mr Wight the school dentist. What a nice chap he was. For several years he kept my teeth in order but then he left. His successor was a small but formidable lady, who scared the children. She soon left and rumour had it that the dental nurse, a lovely lady who knew everyone, had a part in it. Mr Wright came back but on leaving school I was no longer eligible to attend his surgery.

After trying a couple of dentists near to my work, neither of whom inspired confidence, I signed up with Mr Hall in Romford. What a lovely chap he was too. He kept everything pretty much in order, other than a failed attempt at root canal treatment when the tooth had to go. When the adjacent tooth needed the same treatment he suggested a specialist, his referral letter describing the ‘spectacular failure’ of treatment in its neighbour.

Then one day Mr Hall told me the news I’d been dreading. He was to retire. He was the only dentist I really trusted and was gentle (well as gentle as one can be when armed with needles, drills and pliers). He had told me there was no excuse for dentists not to be. I wonder if he ever met Mr Blaney? He had great confidence in Mr Anand, his successor and assured me that I’d be in good hands.

Fortunately Mr Hall was right and Mr Anand has now cared for my teeth for more than ten years. I visit every 6 months or so, occasionally he finds a hole or a filling to replace, but we’ve had no major dramas. He always tell me that my teeth are very clean so I feel like I’ve been a good boy. My check up in February was fine and it was the usual ‘see you in 6 months’. Then it all started to go wrong.

A year or so ago Mr Anand did an x-ray and said that the tooth that the specialist had dealt with was resting in very little bone and would soon fall out. Apparently root canal doesn’t last for ever. At the check up I proudly showed him it was still there but was told its days were numbered.

They were indeed. The next week it started to hurt. I went back for antibiotics but before they took effect the tooth started to wobble. A strange feeling that I hadn’t had since baby teeth many years ago. So back to Mr Anand. It would have to come out. Out came the pliers and with a quick pull so did the tooth. But that wasn’t all. This was only the tooth. The root was still to come. More injections, much tugging and twisting with the pliers, quite a lot of pain and eventually it was all out. See you in six months.

Alas it was not to be. A few days later I was eating a Kit Kat and became aware of something hard in my mouth. A tooth had broken. Back to Mr Anand. Apparently Kit Kats from the fridge are quite hard so it wasn’t a surprise. The tooth was heavily filled and the filling would have to come out to be replaced. Those dreaded words ‘book a 45 minute appointment’. A temporary filling in place I did as asked and booked to return in two weeks.

Two weeks though was a long time to wait to see my mate Mr Anand but not to worry, another problem arose. A sharp piece of bone had appeared in my gum where the extraction had been. Mr Anand had looked at it the week before, said it was not unusual. He could numb it up and remove it but it would sort itself out in time. With a choice of needle or nothing, I obviously decided to wait. But now it was rubbing on my tongue and hurting. Back to Mr Anand. This was an appointment I wasn’t looking forward to. I feared it would give him an opportunity to use some of those strange but sharp looking tools that sit around the surgery waiting for unusual cases. I sat in the chair with trepidation. A minute later it was done. Simply pulled out with tweezers and no pain. Phew. But I’d be back next week.

Today was the 45 minute appointment. We greeted like friends. I told Mr Anand about Butcher Blaney and the chemistry set. I didn’t let on that I now have three whole labs of equipment that might be turned on any medical professional who pained me. I’d once asked Mr Anand why anyone would want to be a dentist. He replied that he sometimes wondered that too! Today though he told me how much he enjoyed the job and how rewarding it was. He would get the chance to use a full array of tools today. The 45 minute job was done in 25. See you in 6 months. Three hours later the numbness is subsiding and much as I like to see Mr Anand I hope it will really be six months before we meet again.

Next time I could perhaps do as the lady in a story told by the much missed cricket commentator Brian Johnston. As she sat down in the chair the lady grasped a delicate part of the dentist’s anatomy. ‘Excuse me madam, you’re holding my testicles’ exclaimed the dentist. ‘I know’ replied the lady ‘we’re not going to hurt each other are we?’

Peter Caton 19/3/19

Exploring Lesser Known Dartmoor

My next book is well underway. I’ve walked on Dartmoor since my father took me at the age of five and it’s one of my most favourite places. Whilst some people have a great knowledge of the moor, many others don’t venture beyond the ‘honeypots’ like Haytor, Postbridge and Dartmeet. There is so much more to see, from natural features, prehistoric remains, industrial archaeology and wonderful views, and the book will aim to show people where they can walk to discover some of Dartmoor’s lesser known spots. Like 50 Walks on the Essex Coast it will be a walking guide, but it will contain much more information and background than conventional walking guides, making it I hope a unique book on Dartmoor.

I’ve started documenting the walks and background but it won’t be until late next year that the book is ready for publication. Meanwhile I shall be enjoying many walks on what many consider to be England’s last wilderness.