Last year I wrote a post about wanting to visit all of England’s counties, and so, we started with our own county, Essex. We decided to make the most of our weekends off, and would go for drives, and see where the world would take us. You can see things to see and do in Essex here. All photographs in the galleries can be clicked on to view larger.
We recently went to Chafford Gorges Nature Park in Thurrock, Essex to see what we could see. I love photographing nature and wildlife, so days out to nature reserves are always a great day out. They’re fab for children too, as you can look out for wildlife, birds and insects, as well as identify different trees, plants, flowers and fungi.
Following the sat nav we drove through a housing estate to discover the [small] car park for Chafford Gorges Nature Park – what a hidden gem! The Visitor Centre is situated at the top of the gorge, so there is a sloped walked down to the open space and lakes. The paths are good but there are some steep inclines – about 6 or 7 of them I think, and you don’t realise how far down it is! Remember that for when you have to walk back up!!
The centre is set in a spectacular position overlooking Warren Gorge. The park offers 200 acres of green space for wildlife and people of Chafford Hundred. A network of pathways take you around the lakes, meadows and woodland. You can get up close and personal with the wildlife, history and geology of the site. The visitor centre provides information about the park to help you make the most of your visit. – Essex Wildlife Trust
From 18th century to the end of 1950s a large proportion of Chafford Hundred was extensively quarried for Brickearth to make bricks, gravel and chalk, with flint as a side product. These were used to produce lime for mortar, whitewash and from 1870s, cement. The nature park was created within the disused quarries with the Chafford Hundred housing development built around the edges. Much of the area is formed from chalk, deposited from 97 to 65 million years ago, at the bottom of a tropical sea, which was around 300 metres higher than today. The sea retreated which allowed erosion of the resulting land surface before a shallower sea was re-established 60 million years ago, when Thanet Sand was deposited (best seen as the Mill Wood sand cliff). Visitors can walk a geology trail guided by a leaflet available from the visitor centre. – Thurrock Council Website
When we visited, it was very quiet and peaceful, and we were creeping along to get closer to the geese that were grazing on the grass… until a dog came bounding along and scared them all to take flight! We also noticed a lack of dustbins which annoyed me, as there were areas where people had quite rudely just dumped rubbish from picnics and even a barbecue – not nice at all, and complete disregard for a nature park.
There are 5 main areas in the nature park:
- Warren Gorge is the largest gorge and at its base there are meadows and lakes. Ideal habitats for chalk loving plants, kingfishers, house martins and orchids
- Lion Gorge has a large lake containing tench, rudd, pike and bream. This gorge is home to 4 different verities of bat. Dogs must be on a lead
- Grays Gorge contains 9 species of orchid and other wild flowers. There are reptiles such as adders, slow worms and grass snakes as well as birds, butterflies, bees and beetle species
- Mill Wood is an ancient woodland that supports a range of wildlife
- Wouldham Cliffs form the backbone of the nature park and has views over Lion Gorge. In summer butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies inhabit this area
We walked around past the lake, and sat down for a while as we spotted some goslings in the grass. Fortunately, dog walkers did keep their dogs under control here so as not to frighten the baby geese, although, judging by the fierceness of the parents, they had it all under control!
As well as the greylag geese and goslings that we saw, we also spotted swans, coots, Canada geese, mallards and a lone white duck.
We eventually made our way back up to the top of the gorge and were back at the Visitor Centre – with me taking photographs of flowers and plants along the way. You can buy trail guides for £1, which I think we would do next time as it would be fun to follow a trail around the nature park.
We didn’t really explore the visitor centre, but there is a gift shop which includes hot and cold refreshments, cake and snacks. They also sell toys, books, bird feeders & feed, greeting cards and much more. The toilets are wheelchair accessible and include baby changing facilities. There was also a lovely decking area where you could enjoy a drink and look out over the gorge, or watch the birds at the feeding station.
We really enjoyed our time spent at Chafford Gorges Nature Park and would go back there, despite the few areas of rubbish, which was such a shame. There are some picnic benches, so you can take your lunch (and please, take your rubbish with you!) as well as various habitats – including grassland, meadow, ponds and woodland, and a variety of plants and wildlife, including orchid, bats, newts and glow worms – which I really must try and see next time!
The Visitor Centre is within walking distance of Chafford Hundred railway station, and the car parking is free.