Five Corona Lockdown Walks in Southend’s Parks
We are approaching one year since the Corona virus hit us big time and began to significantly disrupt all of our lives, and as things stand, we are still some way from getting back to normal, whatever that is. I write, having just a short while ago turned down an offer from my GP surgery to take the vaccine because of my reservations, but which some see as the way to go. I am one of the lucky ones – while missing going out opportunities to see friends and family, I feel I have got away pretty lightly as far as deprivation goes. One of the noticeable things I do miss though is my regular visits to the local gym, but in line with government guidelines encouraging regular exercise, while acknowledging their message of “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”, I have found a number of places (I presume, given how touchy some folk are, are local enough) where I can do this, notably walking in our excellent local parks, four of the five I am going to talk about, as places to visit during lockdown, I have been acquainted with ever since my childhood. I should add that the Council, given their limited resources, do a good job looking after our town parks, and those who do the looking after know their stuff and are some of the nicest people you can meet.
What follows is my basic guide to five walks I have done (some many times) during the lockdown period. While I usually walk in ordinary footwear, I might suggest if you go off the well-marked tracks during the rain sodden winter months wearing something more substantial. The days I could do a ten or more mile walk in undulating terrain and think nothing of it are now long gone. I am down to one or two miles, slow and steady and no inclines. The walks I am going to suggest fit the bill entirely and as is often the case can be extended for the more energetic. Also, in every case you can park your car somewhere near to where the walk begins. I should add there are other parks, e.g. Southchurch, Southchurch Hall, Cherry Orchard, also worth checking out, but these five are the ones I frequent.
If pressed, I would say Priory is my favourite park, although the others might rightly contend for that accolade. I first became a frequent visitor to Priory Park when we moved to the east side of the town as a twelve-year-old, spending countless hours in it. Its central feature is a mediaeval priory, adding to its old worldly charm as well as a huge selection off beautiful trees and plants, attracting different birds and wild life. My walk begins after parking my car, having gained entrance to the car park via Victoria Avenue. My idea is to walk the perimeter, although I confess to leaving out bits. Generally, I walk by the edge to Victoria Avenue and turn left near the ornate gates making my way to the lake, seeing various ducks as well as squirrels and rats even. Often there is people fishing. Over the brook and following the edge by Priory Crescent until near opposite the new Aldi. I then double back to the museum and into the old garden and the secret garden (impressive all year round) where depending on weather and mood I spend time serenely in contemplation with the occasional robin as company, after which it is back via the museum and bandstand to the car. It is convenient, for the Park is on my way home after dropping off my better half at the hospital.
I recall visiting Chalkwell Park with my parents, as a young child when the annual week-long fete was held there, and have visited the Park regularly ever since, including playing hockey and watching cricket in my younger days. Then as my son was growing up, with its TWO children’s playgrounds, a pondy streamy area and lots of places to play hide and seek, this was a superb place to come. When I do my walks, I enter the Park via Chalkwell Avenue and then loiter around some amazing gardens and the temptation there and then to find a secluded bench to meditate. But as far as walking goes, having exited the manicured garden area with its fascinating plants and trees, not to forget the rose and memorial gardens, I usually head for the pond area where once I collected frog spawn for a different pond and depending if I feel adventurous and energetic enough, then to go round the park perimeter and finding myself on the path that goes by the big house, past a wild garden and back to the car park.
Blenheim Park holds special memories for me because it was where I spent many hours playing, growing up as a child. Always, as I walk in the Park, some childhood memory comes flooding back to me, including the adjoining Blenheim School, which I attended from aged 5 to 11. My walk invariably starts off from the car park that is beside the fire station and my route is around the perimeter of the Park, heading first in the direction of the children’s playground and along the edge past the Pond toward St. Christopher’s school and then following the perimeter fence that includes that surrounding Blenheim School, not forgetting the ditches are nowhere near as foreboding as I remembered as a child when we played tin can copper, as well as football and cricket. Then along the edge joining Blenheim Chase, back to the car park. While lacking some of the variety and breath-taking beauty of Priory and Chalkwell Park, Blenheim has its attractions, including awesome mature oak trees.
(not to be confused with Belfairs Park, opposite side of the road) I recall my first visit was a school trip when in the infants, to its nature reserve and then as a teenager, having been introduced to the game of golf by a school friend, thereafter playing many a round on its eighteen-hole golf course (and losing many a golf ball in the woods). My walk generally includes from the car park that is entered from Prittlewell Chase and doing a circular tour that takes in the woods either side of the 18th, 17th, 16th, 15th, 14th and 10th holes that then leads me back to the car. Whatever the season, the woods are awesome. I have a favourite contemplation bench between the 16th and 15th holes although be warned the many dogs who walk that park with their owners gravitate there also. It should be added that for the more energetic there is a lot more to explore in Belfairs Wood, including the nature reserve and blackberries to pick in season. There is an impressive children’s adventure playground and if no lockdown a worth visiting visitor centre.
Unlike the four aforementioned parks, Gunners Park has only appeared in recent years. It was before then part of the land owned by the MOD and which housed the Shoebury Garrison. It has during lockdown become my second most frequented walk after Priory. While having a rugged, basic feel, it has its own charms, and credit goes to the Council for its transformation. There is a car park conveniently placed near by and from there I cross between a skateboard park and a basketball court and take a narrow path through thicket that passes by a lake where there are loads of worth watching ducks and then onto the sea wall. Views over the Thames Estuary are invariably fantastic, especially on clear days which we see more of during lockdown. My walk continues by the sea wall, passing some WW2 bunker arrangements, ending up with some contemplating benches (if you want to go inland a short distance and then onto Shoebury East beach you can) before either doubling back or taking a different path back to the car. In the Council’s wisdom and to deter visitors from visiting the sea front during lockdown, the car park may be closed. A recent discovery is to take the turning after to the car park into the residential, was garrison, area and find some road parking (possible despite private roads). You can then walk further eastward through the East beach area.