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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. And inland section makes a loop or a shorter walk starter 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
In the mid – late 1970s, when I was still at school, every Saturday morning I used to visit an elderly lady called Mrs Patience. She lived in a cottage in the countryside a couple of miles away from my Upminster home (Essex). There was no mains sewage and the only water supply came from a standpipe by the front gate.
I used to tidy the garden, get her water and help her make her bed. Payment was a pound, plus a bar of Galaxy chocolate. Sometimes I’d go on a Sunday too and take her lunch. She loved vegetables and Mum would put as many as we could manage into little Tupperware pots. She wasn’t so bothered about meat.
Her side of the cottage had just two rooms, plus a sort of lean-to where she kept the Elsan toilet. There was a small range in the living room and a bedroom with just room for her bed. It was dark and even in the 1970s seemed to be from a bygone age.
Sometimes I used to be sent to another cottage down the road to see a lady called Daisy who kept bantams. She would give me eggs for Mrs Patience and occasionally a couple for me, which I had to take home on my bike.
Today, on one of my local Coronavirus exercise walks, I went past the cottage in Tomkyns Lane. There was a chap in the garden and we had a long chat.
His name was Eric and he told me that the cottage was built in the early 1800s for local farm workers. He used to work in a farm up the road, knew Mrs Patience and bought the house after she died in 1978. With the help of a builder he brought it up to modern standards.
There was much debate with the council over making the lean-to into a proper third room – he told me some of the walls were made of fish boxes. He won in the end because he could show it was already in place in 1947, so didn’t need permission to make it permanent.
It was nostalgic looking at the cottage and I think the story makes a little piece of social history that is well worth recording.
Today’s coronavirus lockdown permitted exercise took me past Pike Pond, a small pond in the countryside that surrounds Upminster. I walk past here every so often and it always brings back memories of childhood fishing trips.
From the mid 1960s to early 1970s my father used to take us here, initially using a rod and reel that belonged to our Great Great Uncle Henry who died in 1917, so must have been in the region of 70 years old. The end section has been lost but Dad made a replacement with a bamboo cane.
For a long time we didn’t catch a thing, then found that worms were no longer the fishes’ choice of snack but that they loved a paste that another fisherman had introduced us to – a mixture of flour, custard powder, sugar and milk that was carefully blended to the right consistency before each trip. Soon we were catching fish, mostly crucian carp, plus a few perch and the occasional trench.
Catches improved when we found that maggots could be purchased from Wards Sports in Upminster, our attempts to cultivate them in the garden by leaving out rotting bread being entirely unsuccessful. A little misunderstanding in the shop meant that our first purchases was far too large. Dad asked for 20, thinking that would be about the number of maggots required, but we were given 20 pence worth in a big pot. Now knowing that the chap in the shop didn’t count out a set number of wriggling maggots, ten pence worth proved ample for future trips.
Before long I was given my own rod for Christmas. It was only about six foot long but had a fixed spool reel, so tangles permitting, I could cast into the centre of the pond. Dad also bought a new rod and we were adequately equipped for fishing in our local pool.
Often we went early in the morning, arriving hours before anyone else. My sister and I would get up ridiculously early and try and persuade Dad to get out of bed far sooner than he’d planned. On one occasion I awoke even earlier and on investigating noises from my room, Mum and Dad found me getting dressed before they’d even gone to bed the night before!
Sometimes we’d take a little spirit stove and cook breakfast, Mum bringing our younger brother to join my sister, Dad and I. It was often a Sunday and we’d hear the bells from nearby All Saint’s Church and watch trains on the Upminster to Grays line passing every half hour.
Inevitably there where was a famous occasion when I fell in. Short wooden piers had been constructed around the pool and in my efforts to achieve a long cast I followed the line into the water. My boot had to be checked to see if it had caught a fish and my sister had to donate some of her clothes to keep me warm. I was cross that other people around the pond laughed at me and that we had to go home.
Sometimes my sister would catch a fish, or at least reel one in that Dad had hooked. ‘Poor little darling’ she said when she saw the first one. I maintained they weren’t actually her catches, an argument which was pressed strongly on the occasion when she caught more than me.
Pike Pond was a day ticket water but the bailiffs rarely came round to sell tickets and check that our yearly Essex River Board Licences were in order. Occasionally we ventured elsewhere, trying Parklands, a lake on an old Upminster estate and Stubbers, another estate with several ponds closer to South Ockendon. Once we took our rods on the train to Manningtree and walked to the River Stour near Flatford Mill, but we never caught anything away from Pike Pond.
Once at senior school I started fishing with a friend Glen. I took him to Pike Pond, which had now been stocked with a large number of tiny rudd and some reasonable sized roach. He took me to South Weald in Brentwood, then for some reason I stopped fishing for a while.
Deciding to take it up again, one evening after school I went on my own to Pike Pond. A plethora of notices now warned that it was private and before I could ignore them the farmer came along and made it clear I must leave. I fished at Parklands and South Weald for another year or so but it was Pike Pond that was my fishing home.