Route 66-Lakeside-Tilbury-Chadwell

25 Jan. Ensignbus, omnibus suppliers to the world since 1972, provided this week’s iconic road trip. Shorter than last week’s – I got off about half-way – but man did we make up for it in time. Ninety million years between shop and trolley on the ice of a former chalk quarry in Grays. Grays Gorge

I wasn’t as frisky mind you. Too angry to look at the news. Instead my eye glanced down to a story about a new GM apple. It grows partly segmented and when ripe only has to be tapped with the wrong end of a teaspoon and you’re good to go.

On the plus side: Grays museum and library had an interesting temporary display on the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, who lived in the town from 1872 to 1876.

In the afternoon I bought a Polish pastry the size of a frisbee and skirted round Morrisons and through a housing estate, to enter the lower shelf of the quarry, Grays Gorge, which is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust.

I had lunch on a bench and spent an inordinate amount of time finding where my phone had hidden my waypoints instead of checking my guide book which in any case I hadn’t brought with me.

The ice was weird. The water, I supposed, must contain a lot of chalk in suspension as the edges had a mottled, milky quality as though a cloud had been sucked into it and drowned.

Forty minutes before sunset on top of another quarry further west I could just about make out the outline of a ship on the river. No sign of the North Downs which a small fold in the rocks below London pushed up here in what otherwise might be a clay fenland, like the fields either side of another iconic route, the Southend Arterial Road, after it passes under the M25.

From Chafford Hundred Station I watched a cormorant flying north. The only light was from the Primark sign winking across the empty tracks.

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