In 1986 Correlli Barnett wrote The Audit of War. he believed that war speeds up innovation. Obviously not every innovation is successful and some look ridiculous in the cold light of day.1 Barnett’s said the stresses of war creates an atmosphere where creative people can ‘think the unthinkable’ and they get an influential audience. Havering’s concrete barges, which are rotting adjacent to the Rainham Riverside Thames path are a wonderful example of bizarre innovation. “They are the remains of concrete, iron rod-enforced ships from World War II. Despite appearances, they are lighter than the water they displace, and so can float.”2
The Americans developed concrete shipsbut ours’ were barges meant to transport material across the Channel for D-Day.They were invented to overcome a dangerous shortages of steel, which was used for strategically important munitions.
The Rainham Riverside walk starts at a small car park and the concrete barges are adjacent on the edge of the Thames. These16 historical curiosities are part of Havering’s heritage. If you continue walking eastwards (towards QE2 bridge) you reach the RSPB reserve, which has a visitor’s centre, cafe and fascinating wildlife with accessible paths and viewing points.3 This is an easy walk but there aren’t many benches.
“The medieval marshes of Rainham, Wennington and Aveley are one of the very few ancient landscapes remaining in London.”*
Rainham Riverside is an idiosyncratic gem. If you’re hoping for chocolate box beauty you’ll be disappointed. Approaching the car park you pass through an industrial area. Once beyond that there’s a narrow road with lush vegetation on either side. The last half mile or so prepares you for the small car park and the Thames in front of you. You’ve entered a different world.
Once on the riverside footpath, which is a good, sound surface, you can choose to go east or west. We took the eastwards route towards the RSPB site. Immediately you notice the sweep of the river. It isn’t glorious, it’s a working river. There are hulks from WW2 left in the mud. Their glory days supporting the Allied invasion on D-Day long gone. Numerous hand painted signs and information boards are scattered on fencing adjacent to the path.
One reason we didn’t get to the RSPB was that it was shut. The other reason was it was too far. Younger people could easily walk it. We needed more benches. Not very ambitious is it? A walk based on the distance between benches, but there you are. We did about a mile each way and found it to be most satisfactory.
It’s very popular with cyclists, many of whom have bells, unlike the ones who populate Hornchurch pavements. Small groups of walkers and families enjoyed the day as well. Recommended especially for the wonderful fresh air.