|Windmills give Canvey a Dutch feel.|
Canvey Island. The name has a potency - but it's not really an island, more a chunk of Essex jutting into the Thames estuary that's below sea level. It was disastrously flooded in 1953 which led to 58 people dying. There is a history of the east of England 1953 floods here. As a result a massive cement wall was built shielding "the island" from future spring tides. It's a bit strange walking beside the sea wall because you can't actually see the sea.
You may be here a long time
There's a 15 mile barrier which makes one feel as if you are in a prison.
The effect is magnified when a tannoy from the local football club announces "good afternoon". But fortunately near the sea front the sluice gates are open so you can go down to the slender beach and play in the paddling pools... And further around the sea wall becomes a grassy mound which is a pleasure to walk along.
We're visiting because my husband Pete is a Dr Feelgood fan, but I'm curious about why the Dutch were here, back in the 17th century, when making hay (not processing oil) was the big money-earner. You can still see cows grazing in the hay meadows at Canvey Wick, admittedly with today's income generator, a vast oil refinery first put up by Occidental, as back drop. There are also a couple of wind-powered water pumps that make it look more like a Dutch pastoral. Best of all are the tiny, one/two bedroom thatched, hay-bale shaped houses dotted around the so-called Dutch Village, some dating back to 1618. There are also rumours that the Dutch drainage engineer Cornelius Vermuden helped drain Canvey (we know he did the Fens) probably because in 1623 around 300 Dutch men were on the case to make the island habitable.
All easy to see from the bus which runs frequently from Benfleet train station.
Canvey Island has many claims to fame besides it's relationship to oil. See more here. Wikipedia points out:
"The island was the site of the first delivery (1959) in the world of liquefied natural gas by container ship, and later became the subject of an influential assessment on the risks to a population living within the vicinity of petrochemical shipping and storage facilities."It's also a long-established holiday park for the East End: one of my friends always went there every year for her summer holidays and she's not yet 40! Despite the big skies this is not really a holiday destination to show-off about to your friends. Instead expect a dormitory town of 38,000 people, many still with stories of working for the Occidental oil reprocessing centre that dominates the island's skyline, despite being closed in 1975. And it's the home of Dr Feelgood, Britain's best-known R&B band from the 1970s made that bit more famous after the film, Oil City Confidential came out. Extra respect if you also know their hits, Back in the Night, Down to the Doctors or their best-selling single Milk and Alcohol (jointly written with Nick Lowe).
We made up our own walk, along the grassy sea wall protecting Canvey Wick reserve via Islanders fish and chip shop (with sustainable MSC fish!), but here is another good route from Essex specialists - which gives you a chance to visit the Lobster Smack pub, starring Pip and Magwitch at the close of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
As for going Dutch - well Pete kindly paid for the whole trip, he even made us sandwiches for the train. So clearly I owe him big time for a surprisingly enjoyable trip to Holland.