We couldn’t have had a more beautiful day for our first Thurrock 100 walk on Thursday morning. 30 walkers were joined by people from all over Thurrock and the Mayor, Cllr Sue Gray, who gathered to wish the walkers well and to enjoy a sneak preview of the 10 Thurrock 100 flags.

We all met on the village green, and admired St Nicholas Church, which Father Peter had kindly opened for the walkers. Local building firm HW Wilson donated water and fruit for the assembled walkers, who were already hot under a blazing sky, before they’d even taken a step!

After a few words of welcome from the Mayor of Thurrock, and some celebratory photos, we were off, carrying the magnificent South Ockendon flag with us. The flag was designed and painted by local people under the watchful eye of community minded Maggie Pollock, who was sporting a spectacular embellished hat specially for the occasion.

We began by walking round the perimeter of the new Little Belhus Country Park, which Maggie explained had been arable land when she was a girl, but was more recently gravel pits and a landfill site. Now, though, Rural Arisings are beginning work to turn the contaminated land into a new 86 hectare country park.

Heading back towards the village, we passed Little Belhus House, a gorgeous Elizabethan house sitting rather incongruously in the middle of a 1970s housing estate, before Heading to the South Ockendon Centre, where a fantastic welcome had been laid on by the centre manager Wendy Curtis. Children from the Sure Start Centre waved and cheered, and a gorgeous restored Dutch street organ created a celebratory atmosphere. The walkers, tired and hot by this time, enjoyed a restorative cuppa and a biscuit or two before continuing on our way.

After our break, we headed for the Mardyke Woods, and then on to Davy Down, where we admired the new sculptures and walkways, as well as the lovely Victorian viaduct and Stifford Pumping Station.

I chatted to Helen Oakley and her son Luke on the way. Helen took up walking in earnest 5 weeks ago to lose weight for her friend’s wedding later this summer. “I’ve gradually built up the walking and I can now make it up the hill where I live without puffing” she told me, “I’ve already lost 1.5 stone, but I feel so much better too. I’m going to try to do all 10 walks if I can!”

At our half way point we stopped for a drink at the Dog & Partridge, North Stifford, where we were joined by some new walkers who’d decided to come along after work, including Petr Wiffen, Managing Director of HW Wilson, his sisters and even his 5 year old niece, who impressed us all by walking the remaining 5 miles! Peter explained that Wilson’s, in business for 85 years this year, has always enjoyed strong links with the community, which is why he decided to support the project. Contracts Manager Sam enjoyed carrying the flag some of the way!

The second half of the walk took us on a loop around the village, down the historic Mardyke Way, an ancient route marking the boundary between the Chafford and Barnstable hundreds. The quiet footpaths running beside fields of ripening wheat felt miles off the beaten track, and were a wonderful surprise for many of us. Pam, who has lived in South Ockendon for more than 50 years, told me she had never been all the way down the route before.

At around 8pm we returned to the village, tired and hot, but triumphant all the same!

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