Monday 25th October 2021
Following my recent outing to Sheppey and Grain on the north Kent coast, it’s time to replicate similar island exploring on the north side of the Thames Estuary along the Essex coastline – said surprisingly to be the English county with the longest coastline, mainly because of all its inlets and islands.
My first of two island visits was to Canvey Island which I’d seen across the Thames Estuary from the upper deck of my route 191 journey across Grain last month. Although I’ve been to Southend and Shoeburyness many times, my visit earlier this month to Canvey Island was my very first. And I have to say I was impressed, helped by a gloriously sunny autumnal day.
Canvey’s population is just over 38,000 making the island pretty much the size of a small town like Great Yarmouth or Newbury.
I took the train to Benfleet, the gateway to Canvey, with easy access on to the island from bus stops alongside the station exit with real time displays too. And working ones, which is a bonus.
First Essex are the main operator of bus routes on to the island with one tendered route operated by NIBS.
Routes 22 and 27 link Canvey with Basildon and Southend-on-Sea respectively both operating every fifteen minutes and together provide a coordinated 7-8 minute frequency between Benfleet and the terminus on the eastern side of the island at Leigh Beck not far to the east of Canvey’s main shopping area. Some extra peak hour journeys operate as route 27X.
Here’s a bus route map I’ve annotated taken from Open Street Maps which helped me plan a visit and cover all the island’s bus routes fairly easily.
Access to the island for most traffic is on the A120 but buses use the ‘old’ B1014 – a smaller road bridge over Benfleet Creek..
Double deck buses are the mainstay of route 27 with single decks on route 22.
Only route 27 runs into the evenings, every half an hour, and the same on Sundays together with an hourly service on route 21.
Both routes 22 and 27 serve the island’s main residential area to the west of the central shopping area and the frequency would seem to be more than appropriate for the numbers I saw travelling, if anything it’s on the generous side.
First Essex’s third route is single deck operated route 21 running half hourly from Southend-on-Sea via a slightly more circuitous route than the 27 as it does from Benfleet to Canvey’s shopping area before continuing to terminate at nearby Creek Road
The fourth route is the 21C operated by NIBS with a double decker on an hourly frequency from Hadleigh direct to Benfleet and then via a less populace route to the central shopping area, albeit operating via the large Morrisons supermarket to the west of the island (the loop bit on the map above), before heading down to the seafront road and terminating at Seaview Road.
It didn’t take me long to cover all these routes and getting a feel for the island. Timekeeping and reliability was good and passenger numbers were reasonable to a bit on the low side – especially on routes 21 and 21C.
After travelling along the seafront road on route 21C it was nice to take a break and enjoy the lovely sunshine watching a few large ships making their way up and down the River, but I was spoilt for choice on which seat to have my picnic lunch.
After that I took a stroll through to the Leigh Beck terminus of routes 22 and 27 and stumbled across the rather grand looking Transport Museum in the former premises still name checked of Canvey & District Motor Transport Co Ltd.
Built in 1934 the art-deco style building passed to Eastern National until it closed as a bus garage in 1978 and since then has housed a collection of around thirty preserrved buses looked after by the Castle Point Transport Museum. Sadly the museum is closed at the moment but does open on Sundays in normal times as well as having open days.
After Canvey, my next Essex island to check out was Mersea Island which i visited last week after my early morning shopping bus ride to Chelmsford.
Mersea is about the same size as Canvey – around three to four miles wide and two miles across from north to south and lies about seven miles due south of Colchester.
But its population is a lot less than Canvey at just over 7,000 with most living in the main town, West Mersea, which sits on the coast overlooking Bradwell on Sea on the other side of the River Blackwater.
The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway called The Strood on the B1025 which floods at very high tides cutting off the island, but fortunately was completely clear on my visit last Tuesday.
It must be one of the few places in Britain which has a note on the timetable about variations due to high tides – Holy Island’s route 477 being the other obvious one that comes to mind.
First Essex run a half hourly route 67 between Colchester and West Mersea with four single deck ADL Enviro buses providing a generous half hourly frequency for the number of passengers I saw travelling.
The bus I caught from Colchester at 11:30 on Tuesday morning last week brought about ten passengers into Colchester on its previous journey four of whom stayed on the bus and got off as it continued on its ten minute tour of the city’s one way system around the shopping area, where we also picked up six to travel south towards South Mersea. However these had all got off by the time we reached Blackheath about eighteen minutes south of Colchester leaving just me on the bus for the last eighteen minutes ride to West Mersea.
I enjoyed my walk around West Mersea and along the coastline on what was a glorious sunny day last week. it looked like a very nice place to live, albeit a bit remote.
There’s lots to see including some wonderful house boats moored close to the coast.
I returned to Colchester on the other bus route that serves Mersea, Heddingham operated route 63. This also links Colchester and West Mersea but runs less frequently – four/five journeys to West Mersea with extra journeys making for an hourly service as far as Monkwick.
It takes a more circuitous route too including the village of Peldon and then diverts through that part of Colchester dominated by barracks for the large military presence in the city. Some rather strange scheduling of the service saw the bus I was catching arrive from its previous journey into West Mersea at 12:26 and leave on its return journey at 13:37 – I assume the driver has a scheduled break for that period as otherwise it appears somewhat inefficient. A similar situation seems to exist on other journeys too – eg the 10:26 arrival departs at 11:37.
Three passengers boarded with me on the 13:37 but they all alighted ten minutes later in Peldon.
We picked up two mums with buggies from a new development on the edge of the barracks and another on the outskirts of Colchester.
Just to complicate things there’s a different pattern of service in the evenings, and on Sundays too, which makes for a rather complex timetable display at the West Mersea terminus in the High Street, for what is effectively just two bus routes.
A weekday evening route 68 (rather than a 67) takes a different route in Colchester and on Sundays a 67B does something else, including journeys which seem to run round the block in West Mersea itself. The timetable also shows three journeys which only run in summer school holidays over to East Mersea on route 63 – presumably filling in some of those long stand times.
It took me a fair time to work out what all the variations were and good luck to anyone else giving it a try.
But I thoroughly enjoyed my island hopping in Essex and recommend a visit to both Canvey and Mersea for some great bus rides and wonderful coastline.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.