A walk around Coalhouse Fort  Park in East Tilbury, a sublime mixture of industrial architecture and riverside nature

Distance: Around 3 miles

Time: Two hours, including time to stop, snack and stare

Naturally, this walk began with a delicious hot breakfast at the Engine Room Café in Coalhouse Fort Park. The hash browns were top tier. We sat outside next to the fort and the welcoming staff brought out a water bowl and even a sausage for Indy, our big black pollen-ball of a dog. What better way to prepare for a morning’s walk.

Coalhouse Fort is an artillery fort built in the 1860s to guard the lower Thames from seaborne attack. It stands on the northern bank of the river on Coalhouse Point with a panoramic view of the river – an area once vulnerable to raiders and invaders. It was only decommissioned in 1949 when it was then used as a storehouse for a shoe factory before being purchased by the local council. The land surrounding the fort was developed and rewilded into the public park which we have the privilege of enjoying today. Still, the fort still saw its five minutes of fame when it was used as a location for the opening scenes of the 2005 film Batman Begins.

Walking out from Coalhouse Fort into the surrounding park, rough and chalk grasslands, reed beds and small ponds stretch out to the Thames foreshore. What is now 18 hectares of grassland was once saltmarsh, but the deposits of sea dredging in the 1980s created a series of silt lagoons which evolved into the current landscape – a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Over 500 species of invertebrates call the park home, including 13 species of bumble bees and countless butterflies such as the Marbled White and Essex Skipper.

Ground-nesting birds such as the Meadow Pipit build their nests amongst the grass in spring and summer whilst skylarks shoot straight up into the sky and hang like dust spots – singing as they fly. At dawn and dusk, barn owls slip silently through the air hunting for small mammals rustling through the grass. Heading down to the foreshore, oystercatchers, avocets, black-tailed godwits, curlews and dunlins can be both seen and heard. The saltmarsh – accessible via the site ranger – and foreshore have RAMSAR (wetlands of international importance) and Special Protection Area (SPA) designations, revealing just how valuable this site is for wildlife.

Common seals are also regular visitors to this part of the Thames, as are porpoises – commonly mistaken for dolphins. In September 2018, a beluga whale was seen off Coalhouse Point which was the most southerly recorded sighting in the UK at that time! Down on the beach you will also find the WW2 Radar Tower, built in 1940/41 and disguised as a water tower. It almost certainly played a role in assisting allied ships through the minefield and into the channel during the war. In 2011, the tower even provided the setting for a secret MI5 base in the BBC TV spy drama Spooks.

Truly, this wild walk has a bit of everything: industrial architecture, dog friendly trails, intense biodiversity, historical intrigue, glitz and glamour from the worlds of film and TV and – most importantly – a superb breakfast from the Engine Room Café. With a trip out to Coalhouse Fort, you simply can’t go wrong.