Storm approaching across the Roach

‘As remote as anywhere in Essex’ says the AA Illustrated Guide to Britain’s Coast in 1984. If it was true then it certainly still is I reckon as I walk along the top of the sea wall that’s offers resistance to the highest of tides in the Roach estuary. To my left are the salt marshes with the myriad of channels gradually drying with the receding water before giving way to the mudflats and then the thin channel of deep water.  A few yachts sitting just outside the channel are pulling at their moorings as white horses stream past them. To my right is a wide band of tossing and writhing reeds running parallel to the wall and beyond that huge, empty fields with a few trees and hedgerows in the distance.

The wall is an earth rampart covered in concrete slabs on the seaward side and in grasses on the landward. I estimate it to be about 7 meters high and twice as broad at its base. It narrows on both sides to the top where the path runs along. The wall has been built in long straight sections as a demonstration of the intent to tame the ever encroaching seas – and presumably to reduce those areas where a big storm could concentrate its force to devastating effect.

I have chosen to walk upstream, towards Rochford and in to the wind – directly into the wind as the wall heads resolutely towards it. What a wind! A westerly whose force engulfs and dominates me with a constant roaring that rises to a shriek when the gusts hit. Walking is challenging – effort is required to push each foot forward and then concentration a must to avoid overbalancing as I transfer my weight from one leg to the other.

But hey! The sun is out and the views across the estuary to Foulness Island are stupendous. I stop to sweep the horizon and that’s when I see it – or that’s when the distant high rises of Southend, away to the south west across the marshes disappear. They are lost in an inky blackness that just oozes ominousity*. That’s not just rain, that’s pelters and it’s being delivered in my direction at over 50 mph (met office weather warning).

I look round, ‘bugger remoteness’; one of those double sided wooden Victorian sea side shelters you see at places like Eastbourne wouldn’t go amiss now. But there is nothing, not a tree, not a bush, not a wall or even a fence – just me atop this bloody sea wall 2 miles away from the boat yard where I started the walk. I am going to get well and truly soaked.

I resolve to remain calm and to do what I can to mitigate the impending deluge. I find a slight kink in the wall and scramble down a couple of metres into what passes as the lee and review the situation. I know I can’t sit it out here, but I can get prepared. My wallet, phone, camera, glasses etc all go into a plastic bag which is stuffed down inside my very non waterproof rucksack. I take my fleece off to go in the sack and even consider taking off the leg bits of my trousers – but decide that is probably beyond me as the zips always get stuck. Then on go the waterproofs – oh so easy to say but such a struggle perched on the steep slope of the sea wall in a howling, buffeting wind! The zips inevitably stick in the legs of my over-trousers and then one boot gets stuck as I race to get the bastards on. I fall over, cag billowing inside out as I try to get my arms in and  just catch my rucksack as it overbalances and threatens to roll down the slope and into the mud. I’m nearly done – but where’s me hat? In the rucksack of course – so that has to be unpacked only for me to realise that I’d put it in the pocket of my cag. No matter, with it now rammed lopsided on my head I truly am ready to battle the demon coming down the estuary at me.

I sit down to enjoy the view whilst I can and am able to appreciate the sun caught whiteness of the hulls tossing wildly in the churning waters against the dark, almost black backdrop of a racing sky.  I feel the first drops hit my hat. I’ll sit here till it’s impossible and then start the long walk back – at least it will be with the wind, although I’m not sure how much help that will be. I withdraw into a jumble of thoughts that include Madgwick running across the mudflats, Titty and Roger discovering the Northwest Passage and smuggling.

After a bit I begin to feel really warm and unzip my cag. Then off comes the hat – I even wonder whether I should use those pesky zips in the over-trousers to provide some ventilation. This sun is really hot! When is this rain arriving? I stand up and poke my head over the top of the sea wall. The wind slams into my face making me gasp – and then gasp again – to the west are blue skies and that rain is racing away along the southern shore of the estuary. As I start the process of taking the wet weather gear off (yes getting my foot stuck again, jamming a zip etc) I understand what has happened and begin to grin. Ed’s law has worked again. Good work Ed! Good Man.

* I know…… but it sounds good!