Simon Calder: A question of travel to Essex and beyond

The man who pays his way

What's going on? In travel, that is the daily puzzle. From ever-tighter aviation security to the eternal enigma of whether any guest has ever used a hotel trouser-press, the business of transport, hotels, and holidays is never short of questions that demand answers.

As part of a never-ending bid to unravel travel, on Wednesday I went to the town of Burnham-on-Crouch to find the answer to the question: what happens to the soil dug from the Crossrail project? It turns out that the mud dug out daily during the tunnelling for the fast railway beneath central London is being spectacularly recycled.

Big barges laden with mud from the project sail daily from the capital down the Thames and around to the River Crouch. Their contents are unceremoniously dumped on an island across from pretty Burnham. It lies amid the indistinct, muddy blur between Essex and estuary. But within a decade it is intended to become a tourist attraction.

The island is being built up and will then be flooded with sea water to become one of the biggest wetland reserves in Europe. The plan is that both millions of seabirds and tens of thousands of nature-loving tourists will converge on south-east Essex.

One question answered: but on my way back, another was posed.

The air of mystery that seems to prevail in Essex intensified when I reached Shenfield station. Not the quotidien matter of "Where's the 7.37pm to Liverpool Street when you need it?", but something much deeper.

On Platform 1, a large sign has been put up with the message: "? Romford". Is it a statement questioning the value, or the very existence, of this outer-London suburb where the footballer Frank Lampard was born? Or could it be a clever marketing slogan, signifying in just eight characters the thought, "Have you ever considered visiting Romford? We have East London's last remaining greyhound track and a newly refurbished Travelodge with double rooms tonight for just £50." Neither of the above. When a London train finally turned up, the friendly driver explained that the sign comprises a helpful reminder for him and his colleagues on the Southend-Liverpool Street line.

There are three trains an hour. All of them call at Southend airport, Shenfield and other eastern treasures, but one in three stops additionally at Romford. The sign reduces the risk that drivers might pause in error, adding a couple of unplanned minutes to the journey –and to prevent trains inadvertently whizzing through Romford at 90mph to the consternation of passengers hoping to get on or off. Yet it really should become the suburb's slogan.

Lots more Scot hops

At the top end of Essex, Stansted airport is soon to be snowed under with Scottish flights. Just when you imagined everyone should be travelling by train between Scotland and England, Ryanair is going head-to-head with easyJet from Stansted to both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Now, there have been flights from London's third airport to the two biggest cities in Scotland for years: first with Air UK, later with Go – BA's short-lived budget offshoot, later bought by easyJet. The present schedule has two easyJet flights each way to Glasgow, three a day to Edinburgh. Attempts by other airlines to compete have always failed. But now along comes Ryanair, which from late October will add three return trips daily to both cities from Stansted.

The one-word question for the Irish airline's chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs is: "Why?" (or, in Romford-speak, "? Why").

"It's great to be back running domestic routes," he says. Ryanair cut its British teeth 20 years ago on a Stansted-Prestwick link. Until now, Ryanair has avoided Glasgow's main gateway in favour of the Ayrshire coast airport. But, says Mr Jacobs, "We've got a good deal from Glasgow." He insists "There's plenty of demand," and has a message for rival airlines: "We expect some of our competitors will have to reconsider their schedule."

You will find very few other "airport-to-airport" pairs on which easyJet and Ryanair compete. Despite Europe's two biggest low-cost airlines' apparent antipathy, they prefer to avoid straight fights of this kind. Past experience suggests that you can expect some very low fares this winter, which will ripple well beyond Essex to other London airports. But I don't expect the price war to last more than a year.

An absent friend

On the day I turned 15, my father sat down at the breakfast table, wished me happy birthday and said: "When I was 15, I hitch-hiked across Europe. What are you going to do?"

Nigel Calder loved the world. He wanted personally to go out and experience as much of it as possible, and he encouraged us five fortunate children to do the same. From mission control in Crawley, he and my mother, Liz, invited us to set off and explore, and do our best to enrich lives –including our own.

While as a father he unlocked the planet for us, as a science writer he sought to unravel the universe for everyone. The main purpose of many of his voyages was to meet scientists. He traced the frontiers they were exploring, then transmitted their discoveries to the world: from continental drift to climate and onwards to the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

In contrast, when I was 15, I hitched no further into orbit than North Wales. Yet it helped to open my eyes to the Earth's possibilities.

My father passed away peacefully last week, aged 82, surrounded by the continental drifters he nurtured so wisely and generously. He was a wonderful man and is now, sadly, an absent friend.

For Simon Calder's Q&A about enhanced airport security, see bit.ly/WellSearchMe

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone