303. Mersea Island

I don’t normally walk around tidal islands, but Mersea is certainly different. And the reason why I chose to walk around it was its size, the fact it has a village and one small town on it and really it’s not that tidal! The causeway linking it to the mainland is called The Strood and only floods at high tide and even then only when high tide is over 5m. I have seen a lot of YouTube footage of cars, cyclists and pedestrians passing over the Strood at high tide. However, I was still mindful that today there wasto be  an high tide of 5.19m at 14:18 and I certainly would not risk driving through it in my car.

I made a very early start from the Travelodge I had spent the night at. There had been a very hard frost overnight and it took a good tem minutes to defrost my car. I drove towards Mersea and parked near The Strood on a rough car park on the island. Because I was doing a circular walk, it did not matter really where I parked. But the deciding factor was that I still had almost 2 miles to link up with a previous walk along the B1025 towards Langenhoe Hall. First I needed to circumnavigate the island.

I set off from the car park walking in a clockwise direction. The ground was frozen and although still only 6:45 the sky was clear and quite light with the heavy frost all around. The start of the footpath from the road and still marked on the OS map is wrong, with the sea bank breached a few years ago. The new path was really overgrown for the first mile. When I joined up with the established path it was very easy to walk on. I kept up a good pace, which kept me warm and ensured I did not panic too much about high tide. It was extraordinarily beautiful walking along the sea bank on this frozen morning. It was not long before I had turned off my head torch, as it was no longer needed. I was following the Pyefleet Channel with the water level quite low as there was still almost 1.5 hours to go before it was low tide. On the opposite bank of the channel I could see the warning signs for Fingringhoe Firing range which I had walked around a few walks back.

I soon approached Mersea Stone and the Colne estuary were I could look across to Brightlingsea and Point Clear. From this beach a summer foot ferry runs to both of these destinations. I turn around the tip of the island and soon take to the shore along a line of clay cliffs about 4m in height. I come across the carcass of a grey seal, I was expecting there to be a bad smell, but there wasn’t and I hurry past.

A different view now opens up with the angular grey shapes of the Bradwell power station drawing the eye and the white-washed houses of Tollesbury visible in the distance. The beach walking becomes more difficult, with the soft sticky grey clay now prominent I revert to the sea bank. I pass a holiday walk and amazed that a whole stretch of the sea defences have long since been destroyed. It looks to me like they were not constructed that well. I come to another section of the path where the path disappears at the top of the sea bank and there is a flooded section to try and walk around. I took a few minutes trying to get back onto the small sandy bit of the beach, over rubble from the sea wall.

I meet other walkers now, mostly walking their dogs as I enter West Mersea. Because, I stay on the beach I do not see much of the town. I make a quick detour to visit St Peters Well, which was to put it mildly – disappointing. Just some decking and a plaque! By this time it had begun to rain, not heavily, but verging on sleet. The footpath out of the town was already quite boggy from its constant use. As I near the road I pass a chap who is foraging for herbs. He is a chef from Mersea and is collecting Purslane. I had heard about this plant before, but was surprised when I read further of the associated health benefits of this ‘free’ food.

I arrived back at the car and I had over 3 hours before high tide. I now had to link up with a previous walk 2 miles up the B1025. As I did’nt intend to walk there and back I had brought my bike with me. I pushed my bike along the footpath over the Strood until I came to a footpath which veered off and away from the road. It was easy pushing the bike along the sea bank and after about 1.5 miles I turned off to an unsigned footpath back toward the road. When I reached the road I had  joined up with my previous walk. The road was very busy in both directions. I would have  hated to walk along this road as there was little or no verge. I cycled back along the road to the car, it only took 1o minutes and  I had now  ‘plugged’ this gap.

Early morning on a frosty Mersea
Onto the sea bank at Maydays Marsh, the wooden stakes were probably to reduce erosion at the channel apex or a means to catch fish using the tide
Heading eastwards
Looking across the Colne Estuary to Bateman’s Tower and Brightlingsea
A Wigeon near Mersea Stone
On the beach below the clay cliffs heading SW
Destroyed sea defences
Destroyed sea defences near West Mersea
Digging for bait or food on Mersea Flats with Bradwell Power Station across the Blackwater Estuary
St Peter’s Well – a underwhelming experience!
Crossing The Strood

Distance today = 14 miles
Total distance = 5,523 miles

 

302. Tollesbury to Maldon

We have had some dreadful grey and wet weather throughout November, so the chance of two days walking in Essex without rain was very appealing. But first I had to organise an overnight stay somewhere.

I have been using Airbnb for a while now, particularly in the far north of Scotland. They had provided great value for money in those areas where available accommodation is both thin on the ground and sometimes excessively expensive. However, my ‘love affair’ with Airbnb is now over for two reasons. The First, is that I pay Airbnb using PayPal, no money is exchanged between myself and the person letting the room. Airbnb required that they keep my PayPal login details, they say to “save me having to do this, each time I pay” – hardly an onerous chore! What you can do on your online PayPal account is to examine all of the Active automatic payment firms and when I did this on my account I found a number of firms having automatic payment access through my PayPal account. I considered this a potential security threat so I made all of this access Inactive. This included Airbnb. So when I finally found an Airbnb place to stay last week I went through PayPal to pay them. I then had to go through a protracted process to actually pay them AND had to make active future payments automatic. My main gripe here is not having the choice and dealing with an agency that makes it very difficult to pay unless you allow automatic payments. The whole purpose for having and using PayPal is for a degree of protection from firms having your credit card details. Anyway, I made the payment and cancelled the automatic payment again. However, I was not allowed to complete the transaction without a mandatory requirement that I submit an ID check, in the form of a photograph of my passport or driving licence. This was the final straw, I cancelled my ‘pending’ booking’ with them. They had my PayPal login details and other personal details, details that even my own bank does not have! I doubt I will be using them again, which is a shame really because I did meet some very interesting people on some Airbnb stays.

I booked a single night in a Travelodge, which was actually cheaper than the Airbnb. So enough of yet another rant about something I feel quite strongly about.

I left Shropshire very early and this time tried to do something different by avoiding the  lower reaches of the M1 and M25 traffic. I thought I would hop across country heading SE after Bedford setting up route points to ensure my sat Nav pointed me in the right direction. It worked quite well until I passed into Hertfordshire and came to a road that was closed throwing me and the sat Nav out. However, I still arrived in Maldon at a similar time to that if I had gone further south.

For my first day I had opted to continue on from Tollesbury to Maldon, leaving until the following day the gap I had left behind at Mersea Island. I parked in an industrial area of the neighbouring town of Heybridge, then walked the mile into Maldon. As I entered the High Street I was approached by a BBC Radio Essex reporter. He was seeking to gauge local opinion about an FA cup tie that was taking place in the town later that evening, when non-league Maldon & Tiptree took on Newport County. The game was sold out and was also to be televised live on National TV.

I caught the 08:35 #95 bus to Tollesbury and  made good time. By 09:00 I was making my way around the marina in Tollesbury. The morning was lovely and sunny, with only a few clouds in the sky to be seen. Today’s walk would be almost entirely along the sea bank. The sea bank provided excellent underfoot walking conditions, being for the most part dry and with short grass. In no time I arrived at Shinglehead Point where I had great views across to Mersea and  Bradwell on the shore of the River Blackwater. Apart from the odd dog-walker I had the Sea bank to myself.
After passing around the Tollesbury Wick Marshes, I was almost back at Tollesbury, albeit a short distance to the south. I was now heading upstream along the River Blackwater. The sea bank here, although easy to walk on was never a straight line, making numerous incursions, which made for a more interesting walk. Because everything here is quite low-lying it is always difficult to know what is mainland and are islands. Looking down the Blackwater I could now see the privately-owned 385 acre Osea Island emerging in the distance.

After passing a large caravan park I began to meet more and more walkers on what had now become the sea wall as I drew closer to Heybridge. Here the River Blackwater made a sharp turn around another tidal island called Northey, owned by the National Trust. Passing behind numerous boatyards and marinas I walked over the locks of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. The Sea bank was now just a short distance across The River Chelmer from the historic town of Maldon. Its position on a small hill (38m) is probably what gave it status and prominence over the centuries. After 18 miles this was the end of today’s walk.

Looking back to Tollesbury from the Sea Bank
Looking across to West Mersea from Shinglehead Point
Looking across the Blackwater to the decommisioned Bradwell Nuclear Power Station
Looking west down the River Blackwater
Brent Geese on the Blackwater shores
The nearby village of Goldhanger
Recently updated and refurbished beach huts with a difference near Heybridge
Looking across the Heybridge Basin towards Maldon
Crossing over the Chelmer Blackwater Navigation
The gaff-rigged fishing Smack “Telegraph” built in 1906 in Boston Lincs.
The Moot Hall in Maldon high street

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,509 miles

 

 

 

301. Inverness to Nairn

Today’s walk would be predominantly on roads, some busy some not so busy.

I started early, leaving my B&B in Inverness at 06:00 and driving to and parking in Nairn. As I waited for the 07:00 #10 bus back to Inverness I could see that the A96 was really really busy particularly going into Inverness. I got off the bus at the Inverness retail park. It was still very dark so I decided to pop into Tesco’s to get some food and more importantly kill some time until it got lighter. After drinking my coffee I knew I could delay no longer. I set off from the Retail Park in my hi-vis vest and flashing head strobe. I knew the first couple of miles was along a paved footpath as far as the Milton of Culloden turn-off.

The footpath finally disappeared and I was left with verge walking, the heavy traffic had not ceased, but fortunately the verge was ok for the first mile and it was reasonably light now. Soon the available verge on either side of the road disappeared or was too narrow to safely walk on. I continued alongside the A96, albeit in the adjacent field. It was relatively easy walking through the fields that had not yet been ploughed, containing just stubble from the recent crop. The trouble with walking in fields is invariably the field boundaries have barbed wire fences or impenetrable hedgerows to get through. I was lucky and managed to get to the B9039 turn-off for Ardersier without much trouble.

I thought the walk along the B9039 would have enabled me to relax a bit. I was wrong, the traffic although not as heavy as the A96 was fast and frequent. After less than a mile on the road I decided to try and get onto the shoreline which was about 400 meters away. I turned down a track just after Castle Stuart and continued through a sort of quarry which then brought me onto Castle Stuart Golf course. I followed the links until I could no further, I faced a huge area of mature gorse. There was no way of getting through it and down onto the beach, I could either backtrack or head onto the main road. Cursing myself I cut across a field to get back onto the main road, I had probably walked twice the distance with this diversion.

I had been aware over the years that walking along roads is a dangerous business. I have always tried to mitigate the risk by being visible to motorists, whether that is what I wear, when I walk or being able to read the road ahead. The Rules given in the Highway Code for pedestrians walking along unpaved roads is at best sketchy and in certain cases could get you seriously hurt. As a walker the most crucial aspect is to make yourself visible to ALL traffic on the road, use the verge if available and always the BEST verge i.e. the widest and easiest to walk on – ignoring the rule about walking on the right. Similarly read the road ahead, the HC talks about thinking about crossing the road at “sharp” bends only, which again could get you seriously hurt. If you encounter a sharp bend or otherwise always aim for the outer apex of the curve, where you can be seen by both sets of drivers. The reason why I have given my two-pennies worth on road safety is 5 minutes after returning to the B9039 I was almost killed by some inpatient, stupid, reckless and dangerous driver. Near to Wester Fisherton, I was walking on the right hand side of the road i.e. facing oncoming traffic. The road had did not have a verge to speak of and if oncoming traffic had come towards me I would have stopped and stepped off the road or just pushed myself into bushes. However, I heard traffic coming from the rear and ignored it, as I was walking in the gutter on the opposite side of the road. The next thing I saw was a red flash of a car that overtaken two cars on this straight and passed between the second car and myself before returning to its proper side of the road. It happened in a flash, I did not record the number plate or even think about the make of the vehicle. My first reaction was shock then anger, I cursed the driver and shock my fist, but he or she was long since gone. The road here is not particularly wide and I estimate that this !$&* was only 24 to 30 inches from wiping me out, especially with the speed that they were travelling at. It took me a while to settle down as I continued onto Ardersier. I resolved to approach the driver if I passed the vehicle, but without a number or even make of vehicle I could not even contact the Police.

Walking in fields alongside the A96
Heading up the golf course at Castle of Stuart
Arriving at Ardersier

I made it ok into the village of Ardersier and found some comfort in a lovely Border collie that was very friendly, licking hands and being glad to see me. I continued along the shoreline outwards Fort George. The fortress garrison of Fort George was completed in 1769 replacing the earlier Fort George which was destroyed by the Jacobite’s in Inverness. The Fort is still an active military establishment as is evidenced by the large rifle firing range adjacent to the Fort. The rat-at-tat of machine gun fire and red flags flying told me that the large range was operational today. I took a few quick photos and retreated to a minor single-track road that ran along the range perimeter.

The single track road was quiet, which was a relief, and I could relax and enjoy the walk across the Carse of Ardersier. The odd car or two that passed me on the road were safe and considerate. At the back of my mind I knew this road would ultimately lead me back onto the A96, even though I would be only be on it for about a mile, I decided I would change my route and attempt to cross the Carse of Delnies and get onto the shoreline. To do this I turned off the minor road at Muir of Balnagowan and picked up a track through an Old Scots Pine wood. After 300 meters I emerged on a deserted wide road. This must have been a military road at some point in time, I crossed over the road and continued to  a sheepfold. I was now following the base of a scarp slope which would lead me to Hilton of Delnies and then the coast. The Carse of Delnies did not look a great place to walk across, being full of gorse, large pools, salt marsh and bog. Just as i reached Hilton of Delnies I followed a fence line that led me to a farm track that emerged on the shoreline of the Moray Firth, the beach looked beautiful. It was pure joy to walk along the beach and into Nairn. Not the the happiest days walk, just glad to be here and in one piece!

 

Looking across the Moray Firth to Chanonry Point
Fort George
At Fort George
Heading through woods at Muir of Balgnagowan
Crossing an old military road
Heading towards Hilton of Delnies along the Carse of Delnies
On the beach near Hilton of Delnies
Walking into Nairn

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24763

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,491 miles

 

 

300. Rosemarkie to Inverness

Today should have been a simple day regarding the logistics of getting to the start of my walk at Rosemarkie, but instead it turned out to be a bit of a trial, although it all came good in the end.

I left my car at the B&B in Inverness and walked towards the bus station. I was hoping to catch the 07:00 #424 bus run by D&E coaches. I was a bit wary as the vast majority of bus services run in and around Inverness are operated by Stagecoach. The fact that the bus left from a stop just around the corner from the main bus station was further cause for concern. By 07:10 my concerns were beginning to be realised. I was slightly annoyed with myself for not getting one of two much earlier coaches run by Stagecoach, but that would have meant hanging around for almost an hour while it got light. By 07:30 I had given up on that bus coming, the only trouble now was I had to wait another 90 minutes until the next Stagecoach bus. Because of the number of miles I had planned to walk today, using the available light was key in getting the route done. I waited at the designated bus stanceat the bus station, keeping a watchful eye open for the #26C bus. Even though the bus station was extremely busy, I remained alert. At the time the bus was due to depart I was becoming concerned again. As I turned around I could see the #26C in a queue of buses that had departed the bus station and were waiting for the lights to change to join the main road! How did I miss that? I ran after the bus and managed to get the driver to open the door. The driver insisted he departed from the bus stance that I had been waiting at. Very confused I sat down and pondered how the hell I had missed that. Looking around I recognised some of the passengers that had been waiting with me. I then ‘twigged’ that the bus had come into the station under one service number and then changed its number to another service. Because I had positioned myself at the front of the stance I could not see any number change.

By the time I had reached Rosemarkie, it was almost 09:45. I knew I would struggle with the light if I kept with my original route, so I would need to shave 2 or 3 miles off my intended route. I set off along the shoreline walking towards Chanonry Point, one of the best places to view at close range Bottlenose Dolphins. Unfortunately, no dolphins were visible today. Apparently, there are certain times when you stand a much greater chance of viewing them, particularly during a flowing tide. I rounded the lighthouse and headed along the other side of the spit into Fortrose.

Fortrose sits on the southern side of the spit of land that juts out into the Moray Firth, forming Chanonry Point. I walked past the ruins of Fortrose Cathedral, founded in 1200, the cathedral has been in ruins since the late 16th century. However, the ruins still look recognisable as a church or abbey and are impressive. I knew the road between Fortrose and Avoch is not pedestrian friendly with a huge cliff on one-side and sea wall on the other with no footpath or verge available for refuge from the busy traffic. Fortunately, there is a cycleway/footpath following the route of the old Black Isle Railway which used to run freight and passenger services from Muir of Ord to Fortrose up until 1960. The footpath provided a high level walk through the trees and above the main road below. I would make further use of the old railway route later in my walk.

At Avoch I dropped down to the shore and followed a row of houses along Avoch Bay. The minor road turned inland and it was here I trimmed my first bit of the planned route. Further up the road I met a lady dog walker and asked if there was any paths to avoid having to walk along the A832 into Munlochy. She said a friend had told her of a route and what she described which was spot, albeit for the start of the route. Looking at the layout of the minor roads I had my suspicions that the course of the Black Isle railway must have passed very close to where I intended to walk. So I headed towards Ord Hill (not the Ord Hill close to the Kessock Bridge). Sure enough I managed to pick up the old rail track and from Ord Hill I could see the raised embankment running alongside the main road all the way into Munlochy. I walked through the village and then entered fields full of stubble as the road section here was treacherous with sharp bends and no verge on a busy road. I returned briefly to the road at Littlemill Bridge to cross over a small burn.

Looking NE up the Moray Firth from Rosemarkie
Looking across to Fort George from Chanonry Point
Looking towards Inverness from Chanonry Point
Heading towards Fortrose
The ruins of Fortrose Cathedral
On the route of the Balck Isle railway at Fortrose
Heading towards Wood Hill along Avoch Bay
Heading towards Munlochy on the route of the old Black Isle Railway
Approaching Munlochy on the old railway line route

At this point I cut my second section out of the route where I had planned to walk around Drumderfit Hill and then onto Craigiehowe Mains; instead I kept to a minor road through to Drumsmittal and then onto Ord Hill. Ord Hill is a popular walking and cycling hill to the active people of Inverness. I now started to pick up the constant roar of  traffic that told me I was getting close to the busy A9. Examining my OS map and Streetview carefully I could see that a footpath dropped down through the trees to the A9 at the approach to the Kessock Bridge. I emerged alongside the A9 and I knew that I had to cross over the dual carriageway to the southern side of the bridge, as the footpath on the northern side disappears at the first roundabout after the bridge. I easily managed to cross the carriageway during gaps in traffic.

The Kessock Bridge was another of those iconic bridges which I had driven over many times and wishing that I could have a “proper look” at the views. The late afternoon stroll over the bridge did not disappoint despite the incessant noise from the four lanes of traffic. I continued on a footpath alongside the very busy A9 which soon dropped down a slip road to a roundabout below the A9. Here I joined the A96. My final destination was the out of town Inverness Retail Park, where I knew had many services heading back into the centre of Inverness. With the light fading fast I caught a #10 bus back into Inverness.

I later found out that the #424 Bus from D&E coaches which had not turned up at the start of the day only ran on school days. Although today was still part of the term, it was the first of two “In-service days”, Inset or Baker days that had caught me unaware.

Looking back to Moray Firth over Munlochy Bay
Looking towards Beauly Firth from Ord Hill
Dropping down to the A9 and The Kessock Bridge
Emerging on the A9
The Kessock Bridge

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24762

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,471 miles

 

299. Balblair to Rosemarkie

It was time to get back to the far north east of Scotland and continue with my walk around the Black Isle. I gave myself three days of walking in which I would walk over the Kessock Bridge and go some way to completing the coastal part of the Highland Region. I knew that most of the walking would be predominantly along roads, with some farm tracks and footpaths, perhaps even the possibility of some beach walking!

I drove up the day before to my very cheap B&B in Inverness. The following day I drove to and parked in Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. I caught the 07:00 #26A bus to Cromarty. I was rather annoyed because the bus arrived 10 minutes early and departed straight away! Nice, but tough luck if you arrived 9 minutes before the bus was due to depart. At Cromarty I caught the 07:25 #21 bus to Balblair.

At this time of the year the light disappears very quickly, so it is always a balancing game trying to arrive just as it begins to get light and also safe to walk. Making the best use of the available light is key at this time of the year. It was still dark when I arrived at Balblair, I walked down a quiet lane towards the Cromarty Firth.

I headed past Newhall Point and continued along the single track road to the ancient burial ground at Kirkmichael where the lane joined the main road – the B9163. The old kirk, now fully restored was a fascinating place to visit and I was able to gain access to chapel. Amazing gravestones were on display both outside and inside the chapel, spanning some 800 years. The site reminded me of my visit, a few years ago, to Kilmun, just north of Dunoon which also had a varied and interesting selection of stones on show. It would have been nice to explore the site more closely if time had allowed.

I continued along the road with my head torch flashing a red strobe. The traffic was also quite light and I was able to hop up onto the verge when any traffic approached. I called into a large RSPB hide at the roadside just before  the intriguingly named village of Jemimaville, taking its name from the wife of a former laird. I continued on towards the village of Cromarty, again it would have been nice to explore this charming little village. I passed by the small cottage of Cromarty’s famous son, Hugh Miller, stonemason and self-taught Geologist, where there is a good collection of the fossils that Miller collected during his lifetime. I headed out of the village towards the wooded hill forming The South Sutor. I noted a hand written piece of cardboard attached to the finger post, saying “Shooting in progress”. Unsure of the context of the message I ignored it. The climb up to South Sutor was a steep one, but I was rewarded with excellent views across Cromarty Firth and across to Nigg Ferry.

Dawn – looking down the Cromarty Firth towards North and South Sutor
Medieval gravestones at Kirkmichael
The Grants of Ardoch Mausoleum, Kirkmichael
Entering Jemimaville
Approaching Cromarty
Hugh Miller’s cottage Cromarty
Looking towards North Sutor from South Sutor

I headed across an unnamed hill and continued onto Gallow Hill (154m) where I had a superb viewpoint across the Moray Firth and also down Cromarty Firth. I descended the hill to join a single track road and head south westwards. I past another of the shooting signs, just as I spotted a chap firing, what appeared to be  a high velocity rifle. The farm track I was now on joined up with a quiet lane and I continued onto  Eathie Mains.

Just further on from Eathie Mains I had intended to walk about a kilometre and then descend down onto the beach to an old salmon fishing station. From there I would continue along the beach all the way back to Rosemarkie. The problem with this route was that it was tidal. I knew the route was passable at low tide, but I did not know what margin I had. I checked my watch and could see that the tide had been “flowing” for almost an hour. By the time I had walked down to the beach and then some three miles along the beach to where the tidal “pinch-point” was, the tide would have been flowing for three hours. Escaping up the steep-sided cliffs through gorse or back-tracking was not an option. I decided not to risk it. I continued along the empty road along the spine of the wooded Black Isle hills.

The minor road eventually led me out onto the busy A832, with no verge or path for the remaining two miles into Rosemarkie. However, I was now able to drop down into The Fairy Glen, descending into the wooded gorge of the Rosemarkie Burn, where a great footpath lead past a series of waterfalls all the way into Rosemarkie. This was a great way to end the walk after the disappointment of not being able to walk along the coast.

Looking over Cromarty village and Cromarty Firth – a haven for stacked oil drilling rigs
Looking SW down the Moray Firth towards Eathie Hill from Gallow Hill
Looking across a murky Moray Firth towards Whiteness Head and the Carse of Delnies
In the Fairy Glen near Rosemarkie
Waterfall in the Fairy Glen

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24761

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,453 miles

 

 

 

 

298. Langenhoe Hall to Tollesbury

I have set myself a target to complete my coastal walk in 2020. To achieve this I will need to walk at least 5 days each month. At the moment I am hoping to do at least 3 days in Scotland and 2 in the South East. The first two weeks of November had seen torrential rain, which had kept me indoors and added to my frustration at not being able to get out.

I opted to do a single days walk in Essex and decided that I would skip my original planned trip to walk the island of Mersea and instead do the next sequential section onto Tollesbury. The reason for this was the high tides of 5m+ meant that the causeway road – The Strood- linking Mersea to the mainland would be under water when I expected to finish my walk. I would therefore wait a couple of weeks until the tides had dropped to below 5m.
Having read other “coasters” accounts of the section I had planned today it was apparent that footpaths near the coast were few and the roads had little or no verges for safe refuge from the busy traffic. I decided to minimise the road walking to three short sections, using the available inland footpaths.

I drove to and parked in the small village/town of Tollesbury at the free car park close to the coast. I walked into the town and caught the 07:50 #50 bus into Colchester, where I only had a short distance to catch the 8:46 #67 bus towards Mersea. I got off the bus where I started my last walk from – at Langenhoe Hall. The weather was a beautiful sunny autumnal day, with few clouds in the sky and a gentle breeze blowing. My first section of road walking was about half a mile. The road was busy and I managed to make use of a narrow verge. I set off across fields using the fairly well marked signs. I soon made the village of Peldon, where I encountered the second section of road-walking, just over a mile, although not as busy, I had to be alert, constantly crossing the road to get the best and safest side to walk on.
At Little Wigborough I set off across fields leading towards the church at Great Wigborough. The church stands on a hill and although the land is 25m at this point it does give a commanding view over the low-lying farmland and marshes. I continued on field footpaths passing through Hill Farm and then back down to the third and final road section, which was just less than a third of a mile. From there I set off down another footpath taking me towards the village of Salcott – here I met my first obstacle.

Heading over fields near Peldon
Looking down a Salcott Creek

I knew that I would need to pass through a working farmyard, but on arriving at the stile I was confronted by a marker direction pointing somewhere entirely different to the map, a council letter and map tie-wrapped 12″ from the ground – which I had to bend over the stile and read upside down! I got the gist that this was another famous Essex Council diversion, but the map was virtually impossible to read and understand. I crossed over the fence and headed towards a sea bank that contained Salcott Creek and followed this around the periphery of the farm before emerging at the other side. Apparently this was in preparation for the England Coast Path. I suspect that the Essex Council footpath people are idiots and do not have a clue when it comes to displaying signage or imparting diversion information to normal people!

I arrived in Salcott and spoke to a chap, who sounded foreign – Australian in fact; he pointed to the house he was born in – about 30 metres away and said the house behind him was the one he had built some years ago. He said that most people thought he sounded Australian, but he was Essex born and bred.

I set off towards Old Hall Marsh, a large nature reserve that jutted out into the Blackwater estuary bounded by Salcott Fleet and Tollesbury Fleet. I would be walking along the sea wall almost in a complete circle. The walking in the afternoon sunshine was a delight and the short grass footpath was very easy on the feet. Towards the east, the small town of West Mersea, was visible and but a short distance off across the Virley Channel. To the south across Tollesbury Fleet and The Blackwater I could see the blocky incongruent shape of the disused Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, which I would be walking past over the next three walks. At the tip of the peninsula I spoke at length to a bird watcher, I had been keen to know if he had seen a Marsh Harrier, he said yes and there was one back along the reed beds. On my walk back towards Tollesbury I met a few more bird watchers, but try as I did, I did not see a Marsh Harrier. I suppose you need to just stay in one spot and wait, something I am not particularly good at!

I walked around the head of Tollesbury Fleet, still on the sea bank. I passed someone carrying a gun, although sheathed he was heading to the part of the marsh with no public access. I soon found the turn-off back to the car walking past the sewage works. The journey home was slow – I really need to take 2 days walking on future trips.

Looking back towards Salcott from the sea bank
Brent Geese in Salcott Creek
Looking across Virley Channel to West Mersea
Looking down Tollesbury Creek to Tollesbury
Looking across The Blackwater to Bradwell
Twe old Lock-up or Cage in Tollesbury
The square in Tollesbury

Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,433 miles

 

297. Langenhoe Hall to Brightlingsea

I decided that I would need to reverse my walking direction today as I could see no legal or safe place to park my car near Langenhoe Hall. I left my Airbnb in Colchester very early and drove the short distance back to Brightlingsea. I caught the 07:56 #62 bus service into Colchester and alighted near to Colchester Castle. I had about twenty minutes to spare so I managed to find a Greggs and got myself a sausage/bacon bap and a cup of coffee. I then caught the 08:06 #67 bus towards Mersea and got off on the B0125 at the road end to Langenhoe Hall. There was already a queue of traffic behind the bus and I knew that this area was notorious for no footpaths or verges, which I would have to contend with on my next visit to the area.

I set off eastwards towards Langenhoe Hall, walking through a large farmyard and then onto farm tracks. I was heading towards the Fingringhoe Firing ranges where I would walk around the periphery of the range on a designated footpath …or so I thought. I noticed that new infrastructure had been installed and I soon reached a very confusing set of arrow directions. I managed to find a footpath that continued onwards north, but soon came to a kissing gate that in fact had a padlock on it. I was now close to the main entrance to the firing range. I could see no further way north, a chap emerged from the buildings and told me that the path had been diverted some time now, so I headed down the approach road for a few hundred meters to pick up the path again. As I was doing so a car pulled up and I spoke to the Range safety Training officer. We talked awhile and he said he would take a look at the confusing directions that I mentioned to him. I asked why the diversion was in place and he said it was to move the path off MOD land as part of the England Coast Path route. We both agreed that the local Council should have put diversion maps / notices at various locations, also the OS should have amended their online 1:25k maps.

I continued around the firing range and onto the small village of Fingringhoe, where I joined a road, which again was quite busy. Just after the village I descended a farm track past an old mill and crossed the Roman River then walked across fields into the village of Row Hedge. I walked through a huge building site in Row Hedge and emerged on the banks of the River Colne on the opposite bank to Wivenhoe, which I would be passing through in a couple of hours. The walk into Colchester was along the levee above the River Colne. The footpath was hard-core and I made excellent progress to the first bridging point in Colchester, or more precisely Hythe.

Walking around the Fringringhoe Firing Range
Crossing The Roma River at Fringringhoe
Looking across the River Colne to Wivenhoe from Row Hedge
Walking atop the levee above a low tide River Colne
Black-Tailed Godwit near Colchester
An old Lightship now used by the local Sea Cadets in Hythe
Looking back down the Colne at Hythe

I crossed the Colne, which because it is still tidal was no more than a small stream. I began heading southwards along the Colne. On my left was the large campus of Essex University which dominated the skyline. After two miles I entered Wivenhoe. I tried to get a closer look at the Wivenhoe Tidal barrier, which was built 20+ years ago to prevent tidal-surge flooding up river, but a security fence prevented me getting too close. I continued along an excellent footpath along the river which seemed to be very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists.

I soon reached a subsidiary of the Colne – Alresford Creek which I would have to walk around. On the OS map a ford is marked, but I suspect it has been many years since any one last crossed over the creek by foot. There have been a number of 4×4 crossings. This YouTube footage from 2008 shows a plough device on the front of a land rover moving the mud away. I suppose with waders on I could have crossed on foot and saved some mileage!

I continued eastwards along the northern shore of Alresford Creek towards the tidal mill on the B1027 near Thorrington. After reaching St. Andrews church on the outskirts of Brightlingsea, I had a bout of laziness and decided winding my way through a myriad of roads, lanes and paths out to the sea bank at Alresford was not for me, preferring to take a more direct route back to my car.

 

Looking across to Row Hedge from Wivenhoe
The Colne Barrier at Wivenhoe
Looking down The Colne, now at high tide
Alresford Creek ford
Tidal Mill at the head of Alresford Creek
The Millenium Oak at Brightlingsea
Batemans Tower at Brightlingsea, with its slight ‘lean’ to the right

Distance today = 16 miles
Total distance = 5,417 miles