I have just started a residency with METAL Southend located in the beautiful Chalkwell Hall and surrounding park, just outside Southend.

This week is a preliminary “reconnaissance” week to find my feet and bearings, as it were and also to do some reading. I’ll be back in April for a block of 3 weeks for period of proper planning and development for my next epic running art project: The Great River Run. It follows on from previous live endurance running projects, but at around 220miles, this will be the longest yet so needs careful planning. As well as the planning of the run that will take place over a number of continuous days, I hope to further develop the means through which it will be relayed as a live event.


(Written Saturday 17th March) The weather couldn’t have been more different from yesterday’s as I woke up to my final day’s residency at Metal Southend. I knew that there was an anticipated cold snap, but I hadn’t expected to see snow as looked out of the window. It looked bitter and cold and I was pleased to have completed my final long run yesterday, in beautiful, spring weather. Instead, I had taken the opportunity during the POP-UP Essex Writers House that METAL is hosting during March, to book myself a place on a one day creative writing workshop relating to situated practice and notions of place, led by author Lee Rourke.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I don’t really see myself as a writer as such, but I was glad to be indoors and out of the cold for the day. Aside from that, the subject certainly interested me and I thought that it could be helpful, because I do write at times, but I was a little worried that I might be out of my depth or feel out of place. I needn’t have worried; the group was small and mix of writers of all kinds, with more or less experience and also a couple of people a bit like me,  who didn’t really consider themselves writers: another artist and a photographer.

The atmosphere was very open and relaxed and our host easy-going, knowledgeable and generous. Although the emphasis tended towards writing novels as a genre of writing, which was the author’s experience, the advice given , short writing exercises we were asked to do and information shared could easily be applied to other forms of writing.  It was interesting and useful to be predominantly with writers and to be placed slightly outside my comfort zone. It certainly made me think even in that short space of time, about how I approach my own writing.

The day was nicely punctuated by a lunchtime reading by Clare Currie – Poet Laureate for the city of Peterborough, who was also one of the participants in the workshop.

I’d like to end this post with one of the most evocative short pieces of writing about place, that I’ve come across over the last week, concerning this part of the world, the Thames Estuary, an extract from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I first came across when reading Rachel Litchtenstein’s Estuary and which was referred to again in today’s workshop. It seems a fitting end to this first part of the residency, but I’ll be back in April.

“The sea reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished spirits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness.”


Today (yesterday) I did my 3rd and final run of the week whilst I’m on residency here. I hadn’t been entirely satisfied with the first run I had done going west and felt the urge to go further and see if I could at least make it into Canvey Island or beyond. I had also wanted to make some additional sound and image recordings of the route. What’s more, it was my opportunity to try out some live tracking. I set that up using the LocatoWeb app on my phone using a track called From Chalkwell towards London’. I could also use the map on it as a means of navigation, although I didn’t really need it. The weather was glorious, a far cry from Monday’s rain.

Since I had made a point of seeking out the Crow Stone yesterday, I made sure not to miss it out on the way. This time the tide was in and it was half submerged.

The route into and through Leigh on Sea was much the same as before, except that due to the good weather there were more people about. I decided to bypass Two Tree Island as I felt it has been more of a detour on the previous run; instead I carried straight on, following the footpath sign to Benfleet that would take me onto the grass ridge overlooking the island. This went on for straightforward 3 and a half miles in somewhat easier conditions than previously, when I had had to contend with waterlogged paths, thick with slippery mud. An encounter with an over-enthusiastic Alsatian off its lead, slightly alarmed me, but not as much as its over- defensive owner, who seemed to think it was not okay for me to question his level of responsibility.

I was starting to tire a bit as I came towards Benfleet and the turning across the bridge to Canvey Island. At that point I had run about 6 miles and I thought that I might take it to about 10 miles maximum, before calling it a day. However, I had not anticipated finding a path right next to the flood-barrier that almost encircles this town, creating a boundary between it and the water. Once I was on it, I felt obliged to follow it as far as I could. It lead me along the other side of the inlet towards Hadleigh Bay, back to the river proper and then round and along Canvey’s Eastern Esplanade and beyond. I finally hit a dead end, near an industrial looking jetty, after 7 very long painful miles. The walls of the flood barrier were so high that I had no idea what was on the other side, but at least I had been running river side most of the way with pretty amazing views. I walked back along to find a set of steps up and out to the other side and found myself close to a bulk liquid storage facility on one side and a caravan park on the other. The latter would be my way through towards the train station, which was back at Benfleet, another 3 slow miles away. I decided to break the journey halfway by stopping at a café for a rewarding two egg, beans and chips, which i devoured ravenously.



The following images are in place of yesterday’s post. They are of the Crow Stone , which stands on the foreshore at Chalkwell. Erected in 1837, it marks the seaward limit of the City of London’s jurisdiction  over the River Thames. Another stone, the London Stone, stands opposite, almost due south at the mouth of Yantlet Creek on the other side of the Thames, one mile east of All Hallows. The ‘line’ connecting the two is known as the Yantlet Line. Both stones are said to mark the eastern boundary of the Port of London Authority’s jurisdiction and as such could be said to be the point which the river stops being the river and becomes the sea.


Today I ventured out on my second run this week, heading down to the seafront and this time turning left to see how far it would take me. The weather couldn’t have been better for running : sunny with a cool sea-breeze.

The scenery couldn’t have been more different from that of 2 days ago, as I headed along the esplanade towards Southend. There were quite a few people about and a constant stream of traffic on the road to my left. I was testing a new sound recorder and mindful that the sound of cars wasn’t going to dominate the recording. As soon as I could I hit the beach to run on a mixture of pebbles and sand so I could be closer to the sea. It wasn’t easy – I was trying to find a non-existent stretch of firm damp, compacted sand, which can be great to run on, but which was not to be found here. Instead, the little sand there was was too soft and heavy and the pebbles also made the going hard-work and much slower.

After a while, I rejoined Thorpe Esplanade and some pretty rows of beach huts, to run on concrete again. As I headed towards Shoeburyness, there were signs saying there was no access to the beach due to military debris. I was able to get close to the sea wall and after a short while found myself entering a grassy common known as Gunners Park. This as the name would suggest, is a former military site, which is now a nature reserve maintained by the Essex Wildlife Trust.

I was able to continue my path through this park and then around the back of some swanky new developments, (presumably with private access to the beach) and then onto Shroeburyness Parade and beach, where from a distance I could see a display of kites in the sky that were attached to a group of kite surfers. This area its new beach apartments and designer beach-huts with grass roofs is surely where the money is and seemed a world apart from Southend and the mud-flats of the inner estuary.

As I continued I saw ahead of me what seemed ominously like a high military fence blocking the way ahead. As I approached, a red and white sign on the end read: DANGER: Firing Range. No Entry. As the fence dipped into the sea, it seemed to confirm not only the end of accessible land but the end of civilisation.

I decided rather than turn back immediately, that I would follow the perimeter fence to see if there was any point at which there would be a path back to the sea. I had wanted to reach a point called Foulness Island, not only because its name intrigued me but because I saw it being the outer most part of the Thames estuary as it reaches the North Sea. Unfortunately it was not to be; the perimeter fence continued for what seemed like an eternity (actually only about 2 miles), and I reached a dead end, which appeared to be another main entrance and further continuation of the MOD site beyond. I knew there would be no way in and tired, aching and hungry, I headed back towards rail station at Shoeburyness.

Back at Chalkwell Hall, I’ve been left in this big house alone for the night. With the wind up and the windows rattling, it is somewhat disconcerting. I’ll be alright but I’ve double checked the main back door is locked and I’ve put the snib down on the digi-lock at the entrance in the 1st floor, where I’m sleeping. The door to my room is also locked. Despite this, I’m not sure sure how well I’ll sleep…



I set aside today as a ‘reading day’ so that I can start making an in-road into some of the books I’ve brought with me. Some, I have some familiarity with and are with me for reassurance and dipping back into and others are more specific to the work I’ll be planning whilst I’m here.

In particular, I’m keen to read Estuary by Rachel Lichtenstein, who grew up in Southend on Sea and has strong connections with Chalkwell Hall, where I am staying. The book developed out of an inter-disciplinary art-project initiated by Ben Eastop and Simon Callery, who invited the writer to join them on an experimental journey by Dutch barge, along the Thames Estuary as an immersive exploration and experience of the waterway and its outer reaches. This voyage of discovery, adventure and potential risk particularly appeals to me, as does the detailed investigation of the territory.

I’m also keen to read Tom Chesshyre’s From Source to Sea: Notes from a 215 -miles walk along the River Thames, for obvious reasons. This traces a walk made by the writer from the river’s source in the Cotswolds to the North Sea, an extension of the Thames Path, not normally covered in maps and guides of the route, which generally don’t go much beyond the Thames Barrier. I was drawn the diaristic style of the book and also by the author’s quest to undertake it as a continuous journey over several days, stopping off overnight en route in various hosteleries. As an account of a walk the tone appears meandering, slow-paced and conversational, quite different to how I imagine my run of a similar route will be. I’m keen however to get a sense of a route and to also to see if at any point the author may have strayed from it.

Being here near Southend, I found myself drawn to Estuary and the strong, personal sense of place it evokes.  I had initially planned to read both books simultaneously; Source to Sea by day and Estuary as bedtime reading, but having started the latter as I was falling asleep last night I was keen to continue. I devoured the first section that describes the first attempt of the journey out to sea and I found myself reading from the back of the former book as a means of trying to connect the two. But these are two very different books and probably best read separately.

I’m not sure how I’ll continue but tomorrow (today, since it’s after midnight) I’m off for another run. This time I’ll take the road down to the seafront, turn left and outwards towards the wider reaches of the sea and see where it takes me…