Hadleigh & Two Tree
Along the Thames between Benfleet and Leigh
Summer or autumn/winter
Wild flowers, songbirds and flying insects in summer; overwintering birds on the estuary and grazing marsh in autumn/winter.
It can be very cold along the seawall, even on a sunny day and especially if windy – check the forecast and take warm clothing.
Fenchurch St line train to Benfleet, returning from Leigh, or vice versa; or park on Two Tree Island.
2½ hours each way
Steep paths up and down the hillside but, of course, flat along the bottom; mostly well-defined unsurfaced footpaths; short road walks at each end.
Click on a marker on the map for route details
Stage AB: Benfleet stn to Benfleet Downs
Leaving Benfleet station, turn left into the subway and head up Station Road ahead of you, then right into Hadleigh Country Park at the top of the hill. Follow the main track roughly straight ahead through the centre of Benfleet Downs, at first rising slightly then more or less level, with views across Benfleet Creek to Canvey Island opening out on your right. Bear left to pass above a solitary house, then continue until the second path on your right, following it steeply down to the grazing marsh.
Stage BC: The grazing marsh
Go through the gate at the bottom of the slope and turn left to walk along the edge of the grazing marsh, crossing several creeks and passing a number of ponds. After half-an-hour or so you meet an intersection with a path coming down off the slope on your left, 100m or so short of where the country park ends and grazing marsh gives way to arable fields. Turn right to follow the path across the grazing marsh, then over the railway and towards the seawall, walking up to the footpath and cycleway along the top.
Stage CD: Seawall to Two Tree Island
Turn left to follow the seawall path towards Leigh and Two Tree Island, with a view up to Hadleigh Castle on your left. On your right at first is Benfleet Creek, but before long Two Tree Island comes into view. After you have passed the lagoon and if the tide is low enough, you can walk down to a causeway and cross on to the island, but if you prefer and/or want to save time continue along the seawall path to the road bridge.
Stage DE: Two Tree Island
After crossing the causeway continue straight ahead past the lagoon and its bird hide on your right, and bear left to follow the surfaced path along the southern edge of the island, overlooking Hadleigh Ray and its fringe of saltmarsh. When you come to the parking area walk on past it then turn right across the road about 50m down to take the footpath leading along the seawall into the eastern section, with a broad dyke on your left and saltmarsh on your right. Continue across open ground after the seawall ends and soon you join a loose-surfaced track. Turn left to follow it for 100m or so, then turn right to follow a footpath across scrubby grassland that brings you out on to the road near a parking area. Turn right and follow the road down to and across the bridge.
Stage EF: Two Tree Island to Leigh-on-Sea station
Just over the bridge turn right on the seawall path and follow it back towards Leigh station, shortly before which the path joins the road.
Stage FG: Leigh-on-Sea station to Belton Hills
From the station exit go straight on across the forecourt and road, and up the steps and slope opposite. Take the first branch left and follow it up to Marine Parade. Turn left and then, a short way along, half-left on a track leading down past buildings that becomes a path through trees and scrub. The path climbs back up to Marine Parade shortly before the junction with Belton Way, which you cross to continue along the mown grass. About 100m on, a footpath turns off left opposite Marine Close. Follow it down the slope and turn right on the footpath that runs along the foot of the slope.
Stage GH: Belton Hills to Chapel Lane
At the end of Belton Hills arable fields take over, with a hedge on the right. Soon you cross a stile on the right through the hedge and continue through a flower-rich meadow grazed by cattle, with the ruins of Hadleigh Castle visible up on the right. Continue on a grass track across arable fields until you come into another meadow, and turn right on to a footpath that runs up the slope beside a fence. Follow the footpath all the way up to the top of the hill, where you pass some blockhouses, then the grass bank surrounding a reservoir. Over a stile, turn left to follow the path round the reservoir and out on to a road. Follow the road past buildings and turn left on to a grass path that leads on to Chapel Lane, the access road for Hadleigh Country Park, at the end of which is a car park and information point.
Stage HI: Hadleigh CP to Benfleet Downs
Go through the kissing gate and follow the surfaced footpath into Hadleigh Country Park, bearing right down steps when you reach them and taking the righthand path across the open grassland, with a belt of trees on your right. Ignore footpaths leaving on the right until you come to the loose-surfaced horseride. Turn right to follow it for about 50m, then turn half-left on to a track marked with black-ringed posts.
Stage IA: Benfleet Downs to Benfleet station
Follow the path through scrub and clearings, keeping roughly level and ignoring turns that take you steeply down, or up to the horseride higher up the slope. Your path narrows, then converges with a loose-surfaced track, with views across Canvey Island on your left. Follow the track up to the exit on to Station Road, turning left down to Benfleet station.