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.


I wanted to save this penultimate blog entry for the last day’s activities. I had initially planned  a last long run for Wednesday 25th, but a look at the weather forecast told me that there were impending flash storms throughout the day. Although I’m used to running in all weathers, given the choice, I’d rather not be running in a thunder storm so I decided to postpone the run to Thursday when the weather looked more favourable. It would be more symbolic in any case, I thought, to mark my last day with a final long run.

On a previous discovery run I had done back in March during my first visit, I had discovered and partially run round the sea wall and flood defences that encircle Canvey Island. These were constructed in the 1980s to replace a previous ones built following the famous North Sea Flood of 1953, which killed 58 people and led to the evacuation of 13,000 others. The island has always been under threat of flooding due  to its distinctive geography (most of the island is built on reclaimed land and is below the mean high water mark of the Thames Estuary), and whilst the new flood defences offer significant protection, rising sea levels and the deterioration of  the concrete from some of the walls, mean the island remains under constant threat. I was intrigued by this place that is in effect below sea-level and having previously run along part of the flood wall, I felt I should take on the complete circuit. I had previously chanced on the wall on an extended run from Chalkwell and had pushed myself to c0mplete 13 miles before stopping. This time I would begin and end the run from Benfleet rail station, which lies at the end of the main c0nnecting road from mainland to the island. Different accounts had told me differing lengths of the circuit, which varied between 14km and 14 miles. I concluded that the worst case scenario would have me completing a 14 mile run, which was only one mile more than I had previously done.

The last part of this Blog Entry is dedicated to Ryan Williams, one of my students on the MA Fine Art course at Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University, who died suddenly in the early hours of last Friday 27th April. He was a dedicated artist and superb individual, who had much ahead of him and he will be sorely missed by many. My condolences go out to all his family and friends. RIP Ryan, you will not be forgotten.

Last Thursday 26th April I set off for Benfleet station where I would begin my circuit of Canvey Island. The weather was coolish and cloudy with a few menacing rain clouds. Leaving the station I took a path along the north side of Benfleet Creek, which joins the B1014 road connecting the mainland to the island. I had decided to start the circuit from a footpath on a grassy ridge off right hand side of this road that would take me anti-clockwise. It was the end of the section I had previously missed and is where the separation of the island from the mainland is most apparent in the network of marshland and grassy creeks that dominate the landscape, along with a number of abandoned boats. I climbed onto the grass ridge/flood defence, which gave me a soft, but firm ground for running on and a great vantage-point of the landscape around me, following the south side of Benfleet Creek on the north side of the island and then East Haven Creek on the west side. This area of mainly marshy rural farmland lay in marked contrast to the more residential/ holiday areas I had seen on my previous visit, and is also an important site for nature, including West Canvey Marshes, acquired by the RSPB in 2007 and Canvey Wick Nature Reserve. It also has an important role to play in the Environment Agency’s Thames Estuary 2100 flood defence plan.

The flood defence system consists of complex system of sewers, culverts, natural and artificial dykes and lakes which feed seven pumping stations and gravity sluices that discharge the water into the Thames and creeks. This has created a unique landscape and ecosytem, but has also been controversial due to the effects of the proposed plans which would allow the western side of the island to be developed as a site which is either temporarily flooded at times of risk, or transformed into a permanent wetland. This naturally worries island residents, and also creates potential problems for freshwater wildlife.

I felt privileged to be running alone near to such precarious habitats, not least Canvey Wick, formerly the site of an oil refinery that was never completed and now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and haven for endangered wildlife. As you approach the site you are very aware of the presence of a number of rusting, abandoned oil jetties, and white circular oil storage tanks, presumably relics of the refinery and the petro-chemical shipping industry. The tanks at Canvey Wick are diminutive compared to what you see across the water at Shell Haven, Coryton, the site of a former gas across the other side of the creek and now part of the developing superport at London Gateway. As I ran I was continuously amazed at the changing landscape, seemingly at odds with its neighbours; not long before reaching the abandoned jetties at Holehaven Creek at the southwest corner of the island and the view of Shellhaven opposite, I had been running alongside fields of grazing cows and seen warning signs of the presence of a bull. Now my view was whole-heartedly industrial.

By the time I had reached the point where the creek starts to meet the estuary proper I had covered at least 6 miles. It would then be another 2 or 3 miles of precarious ducking and diving underneath the old oil jetties positioned between the now concrete sections of the flood wall before I would reach the more populated south side of the island. The tide was high, and though it was starting to retreat- a slip on some wet algae caught me unawares and I had to be extra-careful on the remaining small areas of rocks and stones next to the wall, which after all, were not far from the water. As I reached just over halfway at 8 miles, I was starting to the effects of what would become a long run, but I had come prepared with fluid and energy bars to keep me going and slowing down a bit across the rocks and stones, gave me  some respite. It also allowed me to take pleasure in the site and expanse of the widening estuary, with more distant views of North Kent and the occasional presence of industrial shipping.

The grey concrete wall suddenly became a sky blue as I approached the south side of the island. It was a welcome sight to the darkening sky that was threatening rain, as was the small ochre-coloured sandy beach at Thorney Bay, where I could run on the still damp, compacted sand. A row of potted palm trees standing against the flood wall marked the start of the Western Esplanade, where there were a few people walking and benches for people to sit at regular intervals. This led to the midpoint section of the seafront at Labworth Beach, site of the amazing Labworth Café, a modernist International style reinforced concrete building built in 1932–1933 by the engineer Ove Arup. The restaurant was closed so I was not tempted to stop for a cup of tea and I continued onto the Eastern Esplanade and the eastern part of the seafront called Concord Beach. Here there were a series of distinctive colourful murals, from a project commissioned and funded by the National Lottery and completed by artists and locals that tell the story of the 1953 floods and the subsequent building of the sea wall. I enjoyed seeing this piece of local history in a flash as I ran past, which really well done and I hope it remains well-maintained. There were the odd fragments of previous, less-well conceived murals as I continued to the end of the esplanade, where the distinctive blue paint on the wall abruptly ran out and the wall returned to its concrete grey. Here, the view ahead was of the yacht club and marina on the turn into Oyster Creek, which would be the start of the final section of my run following the east side of the island.

I was really tiring now and with still about 5 miles to complete, I was beginning to struggle, but determined to continue. The turn into the creek was unkempt and on very rough, dry ground. As I approached the marina, the route on the outside (estuary side) of the wall ended and I had to follow the path on the inside. This took me around the marina and the other side of the creek and to Hadleigh Ray, a wider creek, leading in from the estuary at Two Tree Island, into Benfleet and East Haven Creek. This part of the route was a contrast of wild grassy marshland that made up the shores of the creek on the other side of the flood wall on my right, whilst on my left there densely-packed rows of identical houses that lined the edge of the island’s residential area. By this time I was half running and half walking and just wanted to get through this run; the last 2-3 miles alongside the golf-course seemed dreary and interminable. Finally, I could see trains in the distance coming into Benfleet station and I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I was there. As I approached the station I checked my Garmin watch that told me I had completed almost 15 miles.


I’ve just returned to London after a fabulous 3-week stint for the 2nd part of my residency at Metal Southend. Due to a very full day and an evening spent with the complications of packing (not least taking down and folding the 10 metre long map/drawing chart I had put up around the walls of my room), I didn’t have time to write an entry on my last day yesterday, so I’m writing it now. This will be in two parts.

Since the beginning of the week I’ve been acutely aware of how little time I had left and was mindful of how I should use it productively. It’s been great to have this 3-week block, with few distractions and I have done alot, but I have not done as much as I thought I would – perhaps I was being a bit ambitious, or working in such a focused way has made me realise just how much I need to do in relation to the planning of this work. At the same time, I knew I was going to not going to complete this in the time-frame of the residency and that it will continue for some time beyond it.

Being at Metal Southend, allowed me to get a sense of the particular landscape around me, north of the River Thames, as it meets the sea; my excursion over to the other side at the weekend, allowed me to experience a little of the estuary landscape on the south side. As I sat working on the large map/drawing on the wall and calculating  distances to be run each day using the distance calculator on the Thames Path website, I realised that I no longer knew which side of the river I would end up favouring as it widens and that I would probably plan for two possible routes. I had initially thought that I would opt for the south side, for no obvious reason other than thinking that access on that side of the river would be better. However, there are barriers to get round there too and getting round barriers is also part of the work. Now I have a better sense of the estuary landscape on the north side, I feel that both options are equally valid and it will probably come down to which side of the river the work is eventually shown.

The penultimate evening of my residency saw me join the Leigh on Sea  Striders once more, this time for some hill training. This is something that something that I’m not good at doing regularly and it certainly showed. I straggled towards the back of the group and turned around at the first mini bollard, which was the shortest distance we had been set. I was also concerned about not over doing it as I was due go a last long run the next day. Six reps. later and I vowed to build this into my weekly running schedule- it’s not like I don’t live near any hills, I just tend to choose to run on the flat mostly, but I’m aware of how important it is in terms of strength training.

This was my last evening training with this group and I’m sorry that I won’t be joining them for next training session on Monday evening. I’m touched with how welcoming this group has been over such a short time- I felt very at home in a way that was completely unexpected and they seem to be genuinely interested in what I’m doing. I will definitely keep in touch and keep them posted about the work’s development. Perhaps I ‘ll consider joining a running group closer to home.


I’m still catching up on the weekend’s activities on the south side of the river, when I took part in the Night Walking North Kent Festival organised by Inspiral London. It was fortuitous that this event was taking place during my residency at Metal Southend and a first opportunity to explore a section of the Thames Estuary on the south side.

Saturday’s events were focused on the Hoo Peninsula, a unique area of marshland and an important nature conservation area located on the South Thames Estuary. Popularised by Dickens in his novel Great Expectations, it is also an area that until recently, was under threat as the site proposed by Boris Johnson for a new airport. Thankfully, this is no longer likely to happen, but the area remains vulnerable to other proposed new developments, not least from the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, which should it go ahead, will cut right across the internationally protected wetlands by 2025.

The pre-walk series of talks were hosted on LV21, the distinctive bright red former lightship, moored near the ferry pier in Gravesend. Now an arts project space, this was also the setting during the afternoon, for a series of video installations by Richard Couzins, Sarah Sparkes, Anne Robinson and the Inspiral group, as well as Caroline Gregory’s Talismans, John Whitfield’s photographs of Abandoned Wrecks on the Hoo Peninsula and Alan Ball’s Estuary series of objects.

The first of the evening’s talks was given by Grant Smith, a sound artist and London coordinator of SoundCamp, a London-based artist collective who develop site-responsive work and research around ecologies of sound and place. They also coordinate a network of soundcamps around the world and produce the Reveil 24 hour broadcast on International Dawn Chorus Day each year. This was a fascinating presentation into how to make live sound streaming accessible in a way that seemed relatively low-tech and feasible in a range of situations. It immediately made me wonder what the possibilities could be for Thames run work I am developing and I will be definitely contacting Grant for some advice. If I can get my act together, I may even try joining the Reveil 24 hr SoundCamp on International Dawn Chorus Day on May 5th-6th 2018, using my mobile phone.

The second talk was an in-conversation between writer and conservationist Carol Donaldson and artist, educator and ecologist Jane Trowell, who lives near the marshes at Higham, east of Gravesend. The focus was Carol’s recent book On the Marshes which follows the authors journey walking across the North Kent Marshes, examining landscapes, wildlife and people who have chosen to live in unconventional ways and to make their home in this particular environment. This too, was a great insight into the area, told from a personal and insider’s perspective. I will definitely be purchasing a copy, but I’ll have to wait until the paperback version comes out next month as the hardback is out of stock.

A short gap followed the talks and we set off on the Long Hoo Night Walk, conceived as a ’26km slow walk through the night in 3 parts’ and inspired by Deveron Art’s Slow Marathon , taking place on the same night, which is actually 26 miles long. Following in the literary footsteps of Dickens, the walk was also intended as an exploration of the unique flora and fauna of the marshes and led in part by Inspiral’s ornithological expert J D Swann (aka Calum F Kerr). Unfortunately the premises of the Port of London Authority restricted immediate direct access to the riverside, so Part 1 of the walk took us through some rather salubrious alleyways of half-decaying industrial warehouses to get onto the Saxon Shore Way, along river’s edge. It was then quite a stretch of uninterrupted access as the sun went down, walking directly along the river’s edge- quite a magical experience.

The ground was a predominantly grassy ridge, which was soft on the feet until we reached a small pebbled section, which was rather harsher underfoot. On the way we passed a strange police training centre to our right, which looked like a deserted film-set, complete with fake high streets and banks. There was also an old fort, which I have now identified as Shornemead Fort, built in the 1860s to guard the entrance to the Thames from seaborne attack.  As we walked and as it got darker, we became more a tune to the sounds around us, particularly those of frogs in the nearby marsh ponds. I had never heard such a loud chorus before- it was quite amusing.  A diversion across footpaths through Higham Marshes took us into Higham and to St Mary’s Church, where this first part of the walk was ending. This was to allow for some sustenance and for those returning to London to take the train back from Higham Station.

As is inevitable with a group of mixed ability, people were walking at different paces and there was some some difficulty over some high stiles and some very muddy paths, which slowed us down and consequently the group arrived at the Church later than intended. The original plan had been to stop for some brief refreshment and for the hard-core walkers to continue with Stage 2 of the walk from Higham to the village of Cooling, before embarking on Stage 3, the long return back to Gravesend. Due to our late arrival and also perhaps the realisation of the ambition of the long walk, after already 2 days and nights of intense activity, an executive decision was made by Charlie Fox, one of Inpiral’s directors, to abandon the walk to Cooling and to make the return from Higham to Gravesend along the path running along the former canal.

I was disappointed at first, as I had been in it for the long haul and had specifically opted to do this walk due to its length and location. However, I completely understood the Charlie’s decision- he must have felt responsible for the welfare of the group and I think was also pretty exhausted himself. The walk back felt much slower and relentless, following a hard chalky path along the canal, but it was straight forward and there were some highlights of nocturnal animal and bird sounds as we passed through the marshlands. Eventually I saw the guiding lights of a huge industrial light ship moored on the other side of the river near Tilbury Fort, that told us we were nearly back in Gravesend, where most of us had booked rooms at the Clarendon Royal Hotel. I must say, my legs and feet were feeling it by that stage and I was quietly relieved that we had cut the walk short. It was already around 12.30 am and the original walk would have taken us another 3-4 hours or so.


I’ve just returned from a fantastic couple of days attending talks and taking part in 2 Night Walks on Friday and Saturday night as part of the Night Walking North Kent Festival organised by Inspiral London. I was particularly interested in this event as it was taking place in Gravesend on the south side of the river, where I would be passing through should I decide to take the latter stages of my Thames run onto that side.

The event also marks the launch of the unique Inspiral Trail Map, an ambitious artist-led project and collective that has worked to create a new walk trail ‘spiraling out through London, from Kings Cross, ending and beginning again at Gravesend.’ It was fortuitous that this event should be taking place during my residency at Metal Southend, just across the water and that I could take the opportunity of attending as part of my research and initial exploration of the area.

On Friday evening I took the ferry from Tilbury Ferry Port for a 5 minute journey across the river to Gravesend. It was then a 5 minute walk , past the distinctive bright red 40 metre steel-hulled lightship that is  LV21 (an amazing art space and performance facility), to Gravesham Arts’ St Andrew’s Arts Centre, a former missionary church almost next door, where the evening’s talks were taking place.

These were themed as GHost Hosting 19: Of Ghosts and Sprites Walking by Nyght, led by artist Sarah Sparkes and intended as a prelude to the evening’s walk. Contributions from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society, Storyteller Giles Abbott and a participatory sonic performance by the Breathing Space Collective, set the scene admirably for the night ahead. Those of us taking part in the Night Walk were then led off by Inspiral Director Charlie Fox and collaborative duo Mollett & Morris for a Hilight performance walk to Northfleet that explored the history and glory days of the former Rosherville Pleasure Gardens via a traveling magic lantern show. Although this was not directly linked to my research, I learned something new about the area that I had not previously known and it was a privilege to take part quite a special and magical event through the streets of Gravesend.

The second part of the evening was a collaborative ‘light action’ dotdotdash, by artist Birgitta Hosea, taking place inside a disused tunnel before the return walk to Gravesend. Unfortunately I had to miss this as I had to take the last train back to London. I had always planned to only do the first part of the walk to save my energies for the next evening and had expected to encounter Birgitta’s work before leaving. Somehow I misread the information, which was a little ambiguous and since I didn’t want to be stranded in Gravesend in the early hours of the morning I had to forgo the experience.

Instead, those of us who were taking the train were led by Charlie on a precarious route over a series high-level zig-zagging, caged walkways that led from Northfleet Church towards Ebbsfleet station. The notorious 60ft high pedestrian bridge at Church Path Pit in particular, was a vertiginous experience, better undertaken at night in poor visibility where you couldn’t see the view below too well, than during the day. The whole route appeared severely neglected and was strewn with litter and over grown vegetation. A likely breeding ground for misdemeanours, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have taken it alone, even during the day. Apparently the route is due to be resurfaced and improved with lighting as part of a £3.4 million redevelopment programme by Kent County Council. This won’t be a moment too soon, as apart from the safety issue, it is absurd how the whole route appears completely abandoned and disconnected from its surrounding environment, and especially from the from the nearby Ebbsfleet International Station. The path leading from the bridges was completely overgrown, almost to the point of invisibility and although we could see the lights of Ebbsfleet Station ahead of us, it was a long indirect walk round and through the car park, before we finally reached it. I was relieved to have made it in one piece and was looking forward to getting back to London, where I had planned to stay at my partner’s in Waterloo, as it was too late to get back to Southend.

Saturday night’s events will be the focus of the next blog entry.


This is a continuation of the last blog entry from which I had to pause momentarily for a trip across the water from Tilbury to Gravesend for series of ‘Ghosting’ talks and a Night Walk from Gravesend to Ebbsfleet, as part of the Night Walking North Kent Festival organised by Inspiral London. (There will be more about that in a later blog entry).

Picking up from the last blog entry, I momentarily found myself disoriented on my route from Tilbury Ferry Port on my way towards Thurrock Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, on a stretch of dry turned over mud, a site being cleared, I think, as part of a landscaping and redevelopment programme of brown field sites in the area. Eventually, this will connect up to the other footpaths so that there is a continuous path from Tilbury to the London Gateway Port along the river. Clearly, this wasn’t at that stage yet and I found myself running towards a construction site on a pontoon with cranes, at the edge of river. A tall wire-mesh fence surrounded the worksite and although the entrance was wide open (presumably for trucks to go through), a number of signs told me this was a no-access area. I paused for a moment to contemplate my next movements before deciding I had no option but to continue on my way around the outside of the fence. This area was completely barren and there was no-one in sight, but I was in view of the river so I knew I was going in the right direction.

After a few moments of running on lumpy, uneven dried mud I finally caught sight of the Visitor Centre on the other side of a mound of cleared earth and a wire fence. Getting around this to where I wanted to be was easier said than done: clearly the area I found myself in was still a work in progress and there appeared to be no connecting paths into the Nature Reserve on the other side of the fence. I back-tracked a little and decided to follow the mound of earth running alongside the fence, where I thought I might soon find a way in. Frustratingly, as I reached the top of a slope, I could see a footpath just the other side of the fence, but still no open way in ahead of me. To avoid an unnecessary detour I decided that I would chance it and scale the fence, after all it was only waist high. I worked out that if I could climb onto one of the supporting wooden posts I would be able to avoid my clothes catching on the barbed wire at the top.

This strategy worked and after a bit of careful manoeuvring, I was back on track on the footpath that would take me through the meandering paths of the Nature Reserve and onto Stanford Marshes. This brought me back to the edge of Estuary where the river a wide expanse and I could soon see the white outline of the London Gateway Port next to a stack of colourful containers on the horizon ahead. The last section took me past a railway crossing and back along the inside of the river wall, where after a short stretch I could go no further, except into the water and the Super Port and a myriad of busy roads loomed before me. At the railway crossing I had passed a very helpful man , who had told me that there had previously been a path through to the edge of the port to the jetty on the other side, where people used to fish but that access had now been closed off. He also told me the quickest route back to the nearest rail station at Stanford-le-hope: although I had realised it previously, he reminded me that it would be a good 2 mile walk to get there.

As I walked slowly back towards rail station I pondered on how I would get round the port with out having to tackle the busy A1014 that encircles it, should take this route on the north side of the river.