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It’s a wonderful walk round Mersea Island; in many ways a microcosm of the Essex coast. I first did it in 2011 when visiting all 43 tidal islands which can be walked to from mainland UK. Mersea is the largest of these and No Boat Required describes my walk and much of the island’s history.
There was then a path along most of the southern sea wall but when I repeated the circuit for 50 Walks on the Essex Coast in 2015, a section was closed. Storms and high tides in the winter of 2014 had damaged coastal defences and the sea wall. I have to admit to ignoring the closed sign and walking with care on the damaged path. Then I went back and worked out a temporary diversion in my route instructions. When checking the walk for the 2016 reprint the path was still closed.
With 50 Walks on the Essex Coast being reprinted again shortly, this week we went back to Mersea. Not only is the path still closed and the sea wall damaged but now it has been breached. It was just after high tide and water was pouring back into the sea.
Clearly it has been decided to allow (or at least not to stop) the forces of nature to take back this small piece of Mersea Island. As sea level rises and climate change brings more severe storms it is no longer viable to maintain all of our defences. A natural barrier is sustainable and allows the waves’ energy to be dissipated harmlessly.
The diversion inland will be permanent but the bonus for nature is that salt marsh will soon be created – a habitat for birds and breeding ground for fish. And a bonus for walkers is that the path now passes the beautiful East Mersea Church where Sabine Baring Gould, author of Onward Christian Soldiers, was once rector.
2015 – Sea Wall Damaged by Storms
2020 – Just before the closed section but how long will this path survive? (There is an alternative beside the field).
2020 – Path diverts inland from here (by the youth camp).
2020 – Looking towards the breach and the tidal lagoon that has formed inside the sea wall.
2020 – Water pouring out through the breach
2020 – Path closed Westbound
East Mersea Church – Safe from the sea half a mile inland. But for how long?
Peter Caton 7/8/20
In the last couple of weeks I’ve completed seven more Dartmoor walks. Some were checking previously walked routes and two were new ones – all for my next book.
Unfortunately as coronavirus has curtailed visits to the West Country the book won’t be completed until sometime next year. I’m having to walk each route multiple times and in different seasons, but this is also giving the opportunity to add extra points of interest to visit on each walk.
Some of the places of interest in these walks –
Sourton Tors Ice Works – An ice factory which was set up in 1875. Pools in the dips were fed by a spring and ice formed in winter on the cold north facing slopes. This was taken to Plymouth by train for use in the fish market, but unfortunately much melted on the way and the venture didn’t last long.
Broken Apple Crusher – These were cut from granite on the moor and used for cider production. A horse would walk round turning the stones and juice flowed from a groove in the middle. This one must have been broken in manufacture or transporting, so was left on the moor near Sourton Tors.
Sacred Pool – One of many small pools on Dartmoor, some of which may have been ancient Sacred Pools, associated with Bronze Age remains. This one near Sourton Tors is popular with ponies.
Rattlebrook Tramway – Remains of a tramway to the Rattlebrook Peat Works. To prevent the need for a long curve as the track descended, the line was built with a reversing point.
Sourton Church – Attractive church on the edge of the moor. Still holds regular services.
Cist – A cist or kistvaen, a Bronze Age burial chamber. This fine example is near Postbridge.
Braddon Lake, looking to Hartland Tor. Lake is a Dartmoor term for stream. I enjoyed my lunch at this pretty spot.
Waterfall – A very attractive spot on the East Dart.
Hurston Ridge Stone Row – A double stone row from the Bronze Age. Dartmoor has the largest concentration of stone rows in the UK but their purpose is unknown.
Vitifer Mine – One of Dartmoor’s largest tin mines, now returned to nature.
Welstor Rock – Looking to Buckland Beacon.
Abandoned Building on Welstor Common – It may have been used to keep the horses, (or possibly explosives) for a nearby quarry, or as a store for the rifle range that was once on the common.
Sheep Creep – Hole in wall, small enough to allow sheep to pass from one field to another but not cattle or horses.
Boundary Stone – One of many boundary stones on Dartmoor, this is one of a line erected by the wonderfully named Edmund Pollexfen Bastard.
While the beaches at Clacton, Frinton and Walton were packed, last week I enjoyed a far quieter walk beside Hamford Water, the large inlet south of Harwich also known as The Walton Backwaters. It is a hugely important site for birds and was the setting for Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water.
Beaumont Quay is at the end of a man-made cut along which boats were engaged in flourishing trade. It was built in 1832 using stones taken from the old London Bridge. The wreck of The Rose, originally a 42 tonnes Thames sailing barge, has lain here since the 1960s. It has deteriorated significantly since I first saw in in 2007 when I came this way writing Essex Coast Walk. The first photo was this week and the second is from 2016, so it hasn’t changed much in four years. The lime kiln photo is also from my 2016 visit. The quay was taken last week when I returned in evening light. The fish who had been swimming by the wreck were long gone.
Kirby Quay is a picturesque spot where smuggling once thrived. The quay house was originally a granary. The little cottage was ‘Witch’s Cottage’ in Secret Water.
At high tide the footpath is covered. I got there just in time. An inland section makes a loop or a shorter walk starting at Kirby-le-Soken.
It is hard to believe that when writing No Boat Required I walked the mile from this slipway to Horsey Island which is just visible in the distance. The causeway wasn’t the driest (fishes were swimming in little pools) but it was an exciting walk across the mud. The island is private but unlike Osea I wasn’t thrown off. The full story of my visits to both islands and much about their history is included in No Boat Required.
The routes from Beaumont Quay or Kirby-le-Soken are both variants of Walk Six in 50 Walks on the Essex Coast.
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Another Essex Coast Walk checked; a very enjoyable route from Canewdon along the River Crouch. The full route (Walk 34) starts at South Fambridge but I completed only the circular section.
The tall tower on St Nicholas Church can be seen for many miles and a light used to be maintained here as a guide to shipping. It was said that the village was bewitched and according to legend as long as the tower stands there will be six witches in Canewdon but I was disappointed to spot not one broomstick, or even a black cat.
Outside the churchyard is the village lockup and stocks which date from around 1775.
Paths run across countryside to the river, which was at its best with the tide high and sun shining. I had a pleasant chat with a family who should have been walking the West Highland Way this week, concurring as to the beauty of the Essex coast and the few people who venture out to enjoy it.
The circuit is completed heading inland at Upper Raypitts Farm, although I have on occasions found this section to be problematic. The way is now clearly marked with orange posts that roughly coincide with the OS map but I have seen the route across the field vary according to its use and once when crops were growing the only way through was to squeeze round the edge.
Blue discs were tied to the gates but their significance appears to be only to mask the sign below. I did once walk through the field when the bull was in residence but it was a relief to find he was elsewhere today, although it looks as if he may have had a nibble at the sign before moving on..
Back in Canewdon I passed The Anchor, said to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman named Sarah who was murdered here after giving birth to the child of a wealthy landowner whose wife had been instructed him to lock her up when she found out about the affair.
There are some excellent walks in this little-know corner of Essex and routes in 50 Walks in the Essex Coast cover the whole of its coastline.
Today’s walk, in weather more like October than June, took me around the military firing range at Shoeburyness. The area east of Shoeburyness, including Foulness Island, has been used by the military since 1858 when the British School of Gunnery was opened. It is still an active range and the footpaths can only be accessed when red flags are not flying (usually evenings and weekends).
Many signs warn walkers to stay on the paths.
This is Walk 42 in 50 Walks on the Essex Coast and starts from Wakering Steps from where the Broomway heads out across Maplin Sands. This six mile low tide route to Foulness is extremely hazardous and one should only venture onto it with a guide. Over centuries many people have drowned as the tide comes in faster than a person can run. Today the tide was high but when it goes out a huge expanse of flat sand and mud is revealed. There is much more information about the Broomway in Essex Coast Walk.
The path crosses two disused military railways which served the site. It must be a long time since a locomotive came this way.
An interesting selection of signs at the tiny settlement of Oxenham.
Havengore Creek. The uninhabited Rushley Island is on the far side.
The bridge to Havengore Island which leads to Foulness. Access is severely restricted and there is a military checkpoint at Landwick Gate.
Beyond the bridge the path re-enters the range.
Haven Point, arguably the mouth of the Thames. The river’s 215 mile length is measured from a line drawn from here to Warren Point in Kent. There used to be some disused guns here pointing out to sea but they’ve been removed in the last few years.
A few years ago I took part in a BBC Countryfile programme which featured a walk on the Broomway. I was filmed on this section of sea wall talking with Julia Bradbury and mentioned my book – which may be why they didn’t show that bit. I did however get to walk on the Broomway, although despite what the programme implied, not all the way to Foulness. The following year however I joined a guided walk across the sands and set foot on the very edge of Foulness Island.
The only change needed when 50 Walks on the Essex Coast reprints is that one gate as disappeared.
In Essex Coast Walk I wrote that the coast path from Grays to Purfleet may be the least scenic in Britain. Today I walked part of it, from Purfleet to the QE2 Bridge.
Whilst not what one would typically call scenic, it’s an interesting stretch of the Thames, with industrial archaeology, industry and shipping terminals.
Few people walk on the path and get to enjoy views of the QE2 bridge. The path passes under the bridge but few who drive over know it exists.
Disused railway pier. I wonder how long it is since a train ran along the pier.
Ships still regularly dock at Purfleet Wharf, but this jetty has long been out of use.
Instructions for operating the floodgate from the days that signs were written on wood. A real museum piece but still in its original setting.
More modern but clear in its instruction. Definitely no trespassing here.
Disused dock and hut.
Very different to most of the Essex coast path but interesting none the less.
And still some natural beauty.
View up the Thames to Docklands. Rain on its way.
Former site of Purfleet Board Mills, now returning to nature. Redevelopment has been stalled because the land is contaminated.
And finally some graffiti. There is some interesting graffiti on the Thames wall, particularly east of the bridge.
Despite being close to towns this is one of the least walked sections of the Essex coast. I didn’t meet any walkers today. Perhaps not surprising but it is an interesting walk and remote in its own way.
Now that we are permitted to travel for our exercise I’m back to checking walks for the forthcoming reprint of 50 Walks on the Essex Coast. Sales have picked up again and Amazon keep running out of stock but Swan Books have copies for quick despatch, without postage charge and in buying from here you will be supporting a local independent business.
Today I checked Walk 21 from Heybridge (near Maldon) to Goldhanger across fields and along lanes, then back beside the River Blackwater. There is some information on the places of interest in the book and much more in my earlier publication Essex Coast Walk but here are some photos from today.
One of six fishing shacks on stilts above the beach
The Mill Beach pub. Sadly now closed so that will need to be changed in the next edition.
One of several attractive cottages on the quiet Wash Lane.
Plenty of wild flowers around the edges of fields. Some of the paths are narrow but there were adequate opportunities to step off them for social distancing without damaging crops, although I only met one group of other walkers on the outward part of the walk.
Goldhanger is a pretty village which used to support a number of fishing boats.
St Peter’s church dates from the 11th century and includes some Roman bricks in its stonework.
A pleasant spot for lunch. Bradwell Power Station can just be seen in the distance.
The path by the Blackwater has a hard surface and easy walking. It was busier than usual today but still a peaceful walk. It’s probably at it’s best when the tide is high but the expanse of mud, sand and shingle has its own beauty and provides food for a host of bird life.
Causeway to Osea Island, one of the six major tidal islands in Essex. I visited it when writing No Boat Required but was thrown off. It’s private. Full story in the islands book. It seems that uninvited visitors are still not welcome.
I walked just a short way along the causeway to get a photo showing its remoteness as it winds across the mud. Of course the sea completely covers it at high tide. The island has an interesting history. It was occupied by the Romans and a ‘Home for Inebriates’ was set up here in 1903. That failed, not least because boatmen from Maldon used to row over bringing beer for the ‘inmates’. The full story is covered in a chapter of No Boat Required and is also included in Essex Coast Walk.
30th May 2020
Some ideas for walks in the Essex countryside around Upminster and Cranham as coronavirus limits our travel opportunities.
Updated 26/4/20 –
I’m glad that so many people are enjoying walks in the countryside around Upminster. Sadly a minority are not behaving appropriately and I have been asked to give some more guidelines with my walks. Actually they should be more than guidelines as they really must be followed.
Stick to footpaths. If the path is too narrow to pass within social distancing rules, wait for people coming the other way, or walk back to a passing point but don’t trample crops.
Do not approach horses and do not feed them anything. Horses can die from colic if they are fed unsuitable food.
Do not pick or trample wild flowers (many bluebells have been trampled).
Do not cycle on footpaths unless you know the landowner permits this.
Do not walk or congregate in private fields.
Please use common sense and think of others.
A circular walk across farmland and beside woods, passing All Saints Church & Cranham Marsh Nature Reserve. Approx 2 miles.
A circular walk across fields and through a wood notable for its displays of bluebells. 1 – 2 miles.
A circular walk across farmland, passing All Saints Church and Pike Pond. Approx 2 miles.
A varied walk on footpaths and roads, passing the hamlet of Pot Kilns and the historic Great Tomkyns. 3 – 4 miles.
A circular walk on footpaths through woods, beside the River Ingrebourne and around fields. Approx 2 miles.
A circular walk across fields, through a wood notable for its displays of bluebells and with a little-seen view of the M25. This is an extension of Walk 2. Approx 2 miles.
A circular walk across farmland and through woods. Short and longer options. 3 / 4 miles.
A circular walk crossing farmland, through woods, parts of Thames Chase and passing the historic Parklands Lake. Approx 4 miles.
A few years ago I considered writing a short book describing walks around my home town of Upminster in Essex but it was thought that the market was too small. I often walk the footpaths in this Essex countryside and until recently rarely saw more than one or two other people.
Now things have changed, coronavirus lockdown means that we can only walk locally and it has been good to see lots of people enjoying country walks. I’m often being asked where we can walk and there seems to be lots of interest in routes and the places they pass, so I’m writing up a number of walks, all starting in Upminster and Cranham. These will be posted in this blog over the next few days.
Each walk will have route instructions, a bit of information about points of interest, a few photos and a map. The routes are drawn on Ordnance Survey maps but for copyright reasons these will only be shown for the period of the coronavirus restrictions. The OS Explorer map covering Upminster can be bought from their website https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/maps/explorer-map-southend-on-sea-basildon.html
Obviously in the current climate we must follow government advice and use common sense.
Only walk with members of your household and keep two metres from other people. Most of the paths are wide enough for this, or allow you to wait in a safe spot for others to pass, however please try to avoid stepping on farmers’ crops.
Try to not touch any surfaces that others may also touch. Most gates are small and wooden and easily opened with a knee. I will note any points of concern at the start of each walk – for example stiles that not everyone will be able to negotiate without touching the hand rail.
The paths for most walks can be accessed from several points and I have shown these in the walk descriptions. Current advice is not to drive to our exercise, so it will be necessary to walk to the starting points. Depending on where you live this will of course add to the length of the walks.
Take care but enjoy our lovely Essex countryside.
Peter Caton 15/4/20