I was looking forward to today’s walk mainly because it involved no road walking. I should say that I don’t mind road walking per se, walking along even busy roads with wide verges or quiet backroads can be quite appealing. The real danger is the B-roads which are generally straighter, busier, faster and with few, if any, verge or refuge areas, particularly in this part of the country.
Today I would actually be filling a gap in my progress around the Essex coastline, or to be more precise the Dengie peninsular, which is one of three peninsula’s running east-west and bounded by rivers north and south. The Dengie peninsular has the River Blackwater to the north and tothe south the River Crouch. At its eastern boundary is the North Sea and with the sea wall running its entire length it is probably one of the most isolated parts of Essex.
The only real concern I had with today’s walk was getting from Burnham-on-Crouch, where I had parked, to Bradwell Waterside. The only bus service was the Dart 4, which I had issues with when I last tried to use it. My concerns were allayed when I arrived at the Clock Tower in Burnham to see two Dart minibuses waiting at the bus stop. By 09:00 I had been dropped off close to the Sea wall at Bradwell Waterside.
I set off along the sea wall walking towards the Bradwell Nuclear Power Station. Bradwell had been decommissioned back in 2002 and was now shrouded in white cladding giving the appearance of two gigantic storage barns. I was amazed at how small the site was, but dismayed to learn that a new power station was in the design stage for possible commercial operation by 2030.
Walking along the sea wall was very pleasant, with short cropped grass and little if any mud. I gradually bid goodbye to The River Blackwater and with it the view over to West Mersea on Mersea Island. I soon arrived at what appeared to be a large stone barn, which in fact, was the remnants of a monastery built in 654AD by St. Cedd. The building called St. Peters on the Wall Chapel was built on the site of a Roman fort called Othona, with most the fort had been lost to the sea over the centuries.
The next 10 to 12 miles was quite an isolated stretch of the coastline, with the actual shoreline about 300 metres away over salting’s. The area was quite featureless and flat, with occasional drainage outfalls being a key indicator of where you were on the wall. I later came across a book online called The Essex Coastline – then and now by Matthew Faultley & James Garon, now out of print but available free to read online.
I discovered reading the book that this area was used as a bombing range during the Second World War, with little evidence of that today. The book provides a tremendous amount of information on the Essex coastline. As the salting’s gave way to a proper shoreline I continued along a concreted section of the sea wall, wide enough to drive a car along. I was now near Shell Bank, which was true to its name with the shoreline made up entirely of cockle shells. By the time I reached Holliwell Point I had entered the Crouch Estuary and could look across to Foulness Island. Owned by the MOD I could see a series of red flags flying and it was not long before I heard a series of very loud explosions coming from that direction.
By this time the sun was out and the day had a lovely spring feel to it, although the low sun was blinding as I walked into it. I passed a series of Pill boxes from the Second World War that had been built into the sea wall itself. I did wander which came first, the sea wall or the pill boxes, but the “Polderisation” of this land had been going on for centuries. I also found that in true Ministry fashion the hexagon shaped pill boxes had a design classification namely – Fortification & Works (FW3/22). One of the fortifications was a very strange construction, built on the marsh side of the wall it had to be built high enough to see over the sea wall. Jon Combe, fellow coast walker, described it as resembling a Dalek – I would not disagree.
As I approached Burnham-on-Crouch, I could make out the high rise buildings of Southend -on-Sea, a sign that the Thames estuary lay just beyond. The path also became increasingly muddy, principally from dog-walkers. I walked along the quay into Burnham, with its small collection of cosy pubs and buildings. Perhaps one of the best Essex walks to date.
Distance today =18 miles
Total distance = 5,665miles