I must admit we were a little worried about today’s walk. Only 10 people had booked in advance, and there were looming black clouds and rain promised for later in the day. In the event we needn’t have worried: 27 people came along in the event, including several people who had enjoyed previous walks and decided to explore a different area. Today’s walk was led by Danny and Adam from the Snow + Rock store in Romford, who endeared themselves to our participants by offering everyone who takes part in the project a 10% discount on outdoor gear!

We met at the Visitor Centre at Chafford Gorges Nature Park which is operated by Essex Wildlife Trust over a 200 acre site right in the middle of Chafford Hundred itself. The walkers admired the flag, which features designs by children from Tudor Court Primary School, including some lovely representations of the natural world on their doorstep. After some photographs, we set off into Warren Gorge, admiring the chalk cliffs and lakes, as well as swathes of wild flowers.

Leaving the gorge, we walked past Tudor Court Primary School, where it happened to be lunchtime, and were greeted by the children in the playground who whooped and cheered as they saw the flag go by, before being shooed away by the dinner ladies.

Next stop was Grays Chalk Pit, accessed by some steep steps down into the gorge below with such dense foliage surrounding us that it was almost as if we were in a rainforest in the middle of Essex. Immediately the noise of the traffic disappeared, and it was hard to imagine that we were only a stone’s throw from the main road into Grays. Chalk was quarried here for hundreds of years, and the site is now an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific interest). We followed the route of a small tramway, which presumably used to carry chalk out of the gorge, with sleepers and even rails occasionally visible along the path.

Returning to the town, we visited the tiny St Clement’s Church, dwarfed by the enormous Procter & Gamble factory behind it, and made famous when it featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. There has been a church on the site for almost 1000 years, and we were all pleased to have the opportunity to visit it.

Leaving the church, we followed footpath 16 along the edge of the quarry, enjoying the panoramic views over the Lakeside shopping centre and the industrial units nearby, and meeting a rather sleepy slow worm on the path. Crossing the A13, we enjoyed a break in the Dog & Partridge pub, North Stifford, where Adam and Danny entertained us with their top tips on what to carry while hiking, and a comparison of different walking footwear!

We made our way down the hill from the pub and along part of the Mardyke Valley, before heading back to Chafford where we went our separate ways, pleased to have completed the fifth walk in the series.

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