307. Burnham-on-Crouch to Battlesbridge

I decided I needed to get two more days of walking in, preferably along the Essex coast, to complete my travels for 2019. For the last two days  the weather in the south of England had been particularly wet, but I needed to get my days in before Christmas. Because one of the walking days would be on a Sunday, I would also need to select a route where public transport was available. The most logical solution was to skip ahead and use the railway service between Battlesbridge and Burnham-on-Crouch. Today was the Winter Solstice which meant that at least the daylight hours would begin to increase from this point on. I decided to maximise the amount of daylight availability by driving to and parking in Burnham-on-Crouch and begininng my walk in the very dull light of early morning. It had rained most of the way down on the drive from Shropshire, but the forecast was for a dry-ish day.

I started off on the sea wall, walking westwards along the banks of the River Crouch. It did not take long to realise there would be an awful lot of mud to plough through. I was wearing my trail shoes, gaiters and water-proof trousers which kept most of the mud and water at bay. I was soon walking into a stiff breeze, which together with the mud made for tough going.
I soon reached the small village of Althorne where the lump of Bridgemarsh Island appeared in the River Crouch. Although not really an island it was more a case of disparate salt marsh clumps with two channels of the Crouch running on either side. By the time I reached North Fambridge I had to make a 2.5km detour inland, as there is no footpath along the Crouch for at least another 2km. I followed the road north out of North Fambridge over a farm track and then crossing the railway track for the first time. When I came to the main road, the B1010 there was no way I was going to walk along that. With no verge in many sections and very heavy traffic, even for a Sunday morning, I chose to continue along a quiet lane towards Pantile Wood. Here I joined up with the old disused Maldon to Woodham Ferrers railway branch and now a bridle path. I was only on the bridle path for a short distance before I headed back towards the river estuary, following paths over fields.

Early morning looking back to Burnham-on-Crouch
Don’t have a clue what this is used for? [PS. I later learned from a friend that these contraptions are used for Frisbee Golf – How bizarre!]
Looking up the Crouch estuary
Brent Geese with Ringed Plovers amongst a flock of Dunlins
Heading inland

I crossed over the railway line for the second time at Little Hayes Farm. I then headed back onto the sea wall which carried me towards South Woodham Ferrers. I then entered Marsh Farm Nature Reserve, where I started to meet more dog walkers and the path became very boggy again. The car park was quite busy and sat just opposite the slipway to Hullbridge, just 70m across the Crouch, it would be possible to walk across the river at low tide and with waders on! I did spot some youtube footage of vehicles being driven across it.

South Woodham Ferrers appeared to be a huge mass of modern day homes, bounded by Fenn Creek, an offshoot of the River Crouch, which I still had to cross. I crossed over Fenn Creek at Woodham Farm and then the railway line for the third time. The whole area here was very boggy and very noisy with the adjacent A132 close by.

Is was not long before I had to cross the busy A132 which only took a few minutes of waiting. After passing a few nurseries I picked up the long distance 70+ mile Saffron Trail which runs from Southend-on-Sea to Saffron Walden. This trail led me across fields back towards the A132, which I crossed again and then the railway for the fourth and final time. I entered the small village of Battlesbridge and made my way to the railway station. I had about 35minutes to wait, which gave me plenty of time to clean myself up for the short train journey back to Burnham-on-Crouch. Although, the first bridging point of the river Crouch is at Battlesbridge, I was still some 150m away, but that could wait until my next trip to the area. All that remained was to drive the 26 miles into Southend-on-Sea to my cheap hotel room for the night.

Crossing the railway line the first time
Heading back towards the River Crouch
Back on the sea wall near Little Hayes Farm
Heading towards Woodham Ferrers along the Crouch
Looking across the Crouch to Hullbridge
Now following the banks of Fenn Creek
Crossing over Fenn Creek
Now on the Saffron Trail
Waiting for the train back to Burnham-on-Crouch at Battlesbridge

Distance today =19.5 miles
Total distance = 5,608.5 miles

 

306. Findochty to Lossiemouth

Today’s walk should have been a straight forward affair of simply walking along the coast, not so!

I had opted to walk this route in reverse because of the availability of buses, meaning I would be able to gain an hour of daylight by walking east to west. It also meant getting up very early and driving back to Lossiemouth then parking up. I caught the 6:38 #33C bus into Elgin and then the 07:00 #35 bus to Findochty. It cost £7.40 for the latter journey, probably the most expensive bus fare I have paid on my coastal walk. I knew that the bus fares in this neck of the woods would be expensive and I did look to buying a weekly Mega-Rider ticket. The total cost of the 6 bus journeys, I made on this trip, came to £26; a Mega-rider may have saved me money> I did look into this and found I would have been travelling through 5 or 6 zones and the online information did not cover the complexity of doing this. Anyhow, £26 is much cheaper than just a single taxi fare and the Stagecoach service availability in this area was excellent….so no complaints from me.

I got off the bus in Findochty and walked through the small fishing village. It was just getting light, but I could see my way around ok. In the far distance I could make out the twinkling lights of Lossiemouth. I crossed over a golf course and soon entered the outskirts of Buckie, passing the smaller settlements of Portressie, Ianstown and Gordonsburgh. Buckie is quite a large town and its port is still used to land fish and repair boats. The whole town is quite strung out along the coast, being composed of a number of smaller individual settlements. I passed through Buckpool and headed towards Portgordon close to the line of the old dismantled Highland Railway line.

I now left the small towns behind and set off towards the mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay. The River Spey is one of great rivers of Scotland, being the ninth longest river in the UK, as well as the third longest and fastest-flowing river in Scotland and is still important for salmon fishing and whisky production. Today it was in full spate and difficult to see its main channel. I was able to cross the river via the old Garmouth railway bridge. The local golf club in Garmouth has borne the brunt of the Spey in flood having parts of its course washed away in the past. I walked through the small village of Garmouth and noticed a Polling Station – a reminder that today was the General Election (I had already voted by post).

Early morning at Findochty with the lights of Lossiemouth in the far distance
Cluny Harbour at Buckie
The old Highland railway line heading towards Portgordon
The rather drab harbour at Portgordon
The mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay
The old Garmouth Railway viaduct across The Spey
Crossing The River Spey
Garmouth village
Polling station in Garmouth
Looking back towards Buckie with The Bin of Cullen visible
Oh bug^*r!
Looking towards Lossiemouth

I headed back the short distance to the coast and through the small village of Kingston. Here my coastal walk ended as I was confronted with a large sign that said that the footbridge at Lossiemouth was closed and to use Arthur’s Bridge on the B9103. This bridge was off my printed maps and I did not know if I could get there by walking along the coast. It was very frustrating not being able to make decision which would be the easiest, safest and best route to get me to Lossiemouth. I could see the houses of Lossiemouth some 7 miles away, meaning that I could walk all the way along the coast almost into Lossiemouth and then be thwarted by a bridge from the sand bar over the River Lossie into Lossiemouth itself. I asked a few people on the beach where Arthurs Bridge was, nobody really knew, so I was on my own. This had been the second time on this trip that I had experienced a missing segment of my printed map. My phone is a ‘bog-standard’ voice and text and I vowed that I would look at getting either a GPS with OS 1:50/1:25k or upgrade to a smart phone with an OS app. [I have since upgraded my phone with the OS subscription to use as a back-up to printed maps.]

I headed in land and knew the direction I needed to travel to get towards Lossiemouth. After 3 miles of road walking I picked up a signpost to Lossiemouth indicating the town was still 7 miles away. By coming this route I would have walked an additional 4 miles. I checked my watch, it was a bright day and I knew i would have enough hours of daylight to complete the walk. I eventually arrived at Arthurs Bridge, which was the first bridging point over the River Lossie. Not long after I came back on grid with my printed maps. The B9103 was quite busy, but had a reasonable verge for most parts.

I then had one of the most bizarre encounters of my whole coast walk and the first instance of ‘Road Rage’! As I was walking along a wide 2m grass verge, on the left hand side of the road, a white car stopped next to me sounding its horn and a woman wound her window down and said that I should be walking on the right-hand side of the road. She had obviously not noticed that there was no verge at all on the right-hand side! I blurted out that she should read the Highway Code, but to be quite honest, the guidance contained within it, is poor for pedestrians walking along roads with no pavement. Before I could get my next sentence out this mad woman drove off. What she also did not understand is that if I was walking on the right hand side, I would have been walking on the road itself and any vehicle approaching me would have had to slow down or stop if traffic was coming the other way. The whole encounter was over in seconds, but it really annoyed me. I could not believe that someone had sounded their horn for no reason other than to alert me to their intended rant, stop their vehicle in the carriageway creating an obstruction and then driving off. I had decided to call her Mad Lady of Lossie.

Soon afterwards I entered a forest path and I came upon a sign giving information about the Moray Coast Trail diversion. I could see that I could have easily walked along the coast and then cut inland towards Arthur’s Bridge. Soon after passing the cemetery I was able to follow a footpath all the way into Lossiemouth. I emerged close to the bridge that was closed and the cause for all the extra miles I had walked. I could see Heras fencing on either side of the bridge, the bridge looked complete and ok but obviously there must have been a valid reason for its closure. However, if i was starting my walk here I would have been sorely tempted to climb around the fencing and continue my walk along the coast.

Crossing The River Lossie at Arthurs Bridge
The closed bridge at East Lossiemouth

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=24783

 

Distance today =23 miles
Total distance = 5,589 miles

 

 

305. Kinloss to Lossiemouth

Today would be an easier day with virtually all coastal walking, with little road intrusion. My use of public transport over the days of walking would involve the use of two bus services on each of the three days. In order to make use of the available daylight I had to make an early start each day. From my hotel in Buckie I drove down the coastal road and parked up in Lossiemouth. There I caught the 07:07 # 33A bus to Elgin. I then caught the 07:53 #31 bus to Kinloss. As I travelled on the bus it began to rain quite heavily. I dreaded getting off the bus and becoming soaked even before my walk began. I had successfully dried gear from yesterday’s rain overnight in my bedroom. So I was relieved to see the rain cease just as I got off the bus in Kinloss.

The 2 miles to the village of Findhorn fortunately had a good footpath all the way, although there was little see there and I was soon walking along the sea wall out of the village and on the Moray Coast Trail. I looked down onto the beach and could see very little of it, consisting only of  large cobbles making up the shoreline, which would have been murder to walk along. After about 2 miles out of Findhorn I happened to look behind me and could see the sky getting very dark. By the time the bad weather hit me I had entered the fringes of a large forested area that followed the coastline in a long sweeping curve around to Burghead, the next town on my walk.

The last remaining Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft now in private hands and based at Kinloss. This particular aircraft saw service in The Falklands War and the Piper Alpha disaster
Entering Findhorn
The view along the coastline towards Burghead
Looking back towards Findhorn and being pursued by bad weather

The Moray Coast Trail disappeared inland but I was able to keep close to the forest edge next to the shoreline for most of the way. The forest also shielded me from the worst of the showery weather that that was blowing horizontal rain and sleet. Fortunately after 40 minutes the rain ceased and the sun came out for the rest of the walk.

I re-joined the Coastal trail and entered Burghead as the wind picked up coming in very strong across the Moray Firth. The sea was very choppy splashing waves over the sea wall, along the promontory that Burghead sits on. Once the centre of a large Pictish settlement, this small town is dominated by a large malting’s site and one of the largest drum malting’s in Europe which seemed to dwarf the rest of the town. Known as “Brochers”, the people of Burghead have a number of local customs and traditions, including the Burning of The Clavie. I joined the route of the old Burghead railway, which was a branch line of the Aberdeen to Inverness line, although the line to Burghead closed recently, the section onto Hopeman closed in 1957. I followed the cycle path out of the town towards the village of Hopeman. On the way I checked out a couple of holy wells, including St. Aethan and Braemou. I also came across something I had never seen before – a bicycle repair station composed of a rack to hold the bike, tools and a tyre pump. By the time I left Hopeman I felt very confident of getting the walk done in daylight.

Heading along the forest fringe towards Burghead
Squeezing along the beach towards Burghead
A very choppy Moray Firth at Burghead
Heading past the maltings at Burghead

I was now walking along a real coastal path which made for excellent walking. I started to hear the roars of very loud jet engines which told me I was nearing RAF Lossiemouth. The coastal path rose high above the shoreline with some impressive cliffs below me. I had brilliant views across the Moray Firth and to the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness. By the time I reached the lighthouse at Covesea Steading I had dropped down to the beach and would remain on the sand all the way into Lossiemouth. This had been a great day’s walk along a superb section of coastline, with the weather in the main being sunny and the wind at my back.

On the old railway route heading towards Hopeman
St. Aethan’s Well
A bicycle repair station
The harbour at Hopeman
Braemou Well
Looking back towards Burghead and Hopeman above a working sandstone quarry
Headings towards Covesea lighthouse
Large previously inhabited caves below Covesea Steading lighthouse
Heading along the beach towards Lossiemouth

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=24782

Distance today = 19 miles
Total distance = 5,566 miles

 

 

304. Nairn to Kinloss

I decided I could just fit in a three day trip to the NE coast of Scotland before Christmas. I managed to get a really good deal with a hotel in Buckie where I would operate from for the three days. My route up to the NE, on this occasion, would not see me travel up the A90 from Perth and not the A9. I would also be able to make use of the new bypass around Aberdeen. In the end it took me a lot longer than if I had gone up the A9. I think it was the many roundabouts around Dundee, the Aberdeen traffic and the state of the A96.

As I slept in my hotel room I could hear the wind outside, it sounded really rough. The following day I drove the 27 miles down the A98 and A96 to Kinloss, where I would end my walk. I caught the 07:41 #31 bus to Forres, it was an expensive 6 minute ride costing £3.05. I got off in the centre of Forres and then caught the 08:05 # 10 bus to Nairn. This was a 25 minute ride and cost £3.50. I got off the bus in Nairn and immediately headed for the harbour. I was very pleased and relieved that I would have a very strong tailwind for today’s walk. By the time I started walking it was quite light, but I was still concerned as I had originally planned to walk 20 miles today, which would be quite tight with the light available.

After passing the harbour I made my way down onto the beach. Most of today’s walk would be along the shoreline, with some forest tracks and a few miles of road walking. I had excellent views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle and the Tarbat peninsular, with the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness flashing at its regular beat. For most of today’s walk along the beach and salt marsh I would have the Culbin and Lady Culbin forests on my right side. There would be few physical features to plot my exact position, however I did pick up an offshore sand bar, called The Bar. Where The Bar joined the beach I would be able to pin point my position. This position I later found out marked my transition into the Moray Council Region and out of the Highland council. I had been walking through the Highland Region for over 2 years since 2017 when I passed from Argyll & Bute in Appin.

I was now walking along an indistinct path on the salt marsh and I wanted to cross the marsh area and scale the line of sand dunes that now stood between me and the beach. When I reached the dunes I was able to look down their length and see that they provided a continuous line all the way along the coast……or so it seemed! My printed out 1:25k map seemed to indicate a continuous line, but I was missing out a crucial 1km square, which I did not include my print. I took a gamble and found that the dune was not continuous but had a 150 metre section where the sea had come into an inlet called The Gut. In fact I later found out that this was the old route of the River Findhorn, which was now located 5Km to the east. So this meant walking back some 3Km back along his spit of land, before continuing along the salt marsh at the forest edge. It also meant walking into the head wind which had been assisting me for most of the morning. I was really annoyed at having to re-walk the section, but I was more concerned now because the extra 3 or 4 miles would mean me finishing today’s walk in the dark and on roads!

I walked back and after about 1.5hours was back at a similar position but this time on the opposite side of The Gut. Another 45 minutes of walking saw me getting close back to the beach, but the path had disappeared and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get through some 6 – 9ft broom down to the beach. Here I was defeated again, not by the Broom but the Dog Rose that was growing amongst them! Dog Rose is really nasty stuff and will destroy your jacket and trousers if you get caught by their barbed thorns.

Crossing the River Nairn near the Harbour
Looking down The Moray Firth towards the Black Isle
Looking towards the mouth of the Cromarty Firth with Cromarty on the left and Nigg on the right
Heading eastwards along the beach
Easy walking along the tidal sands with Culbin Forest on my right
The offshore sand bar
Looks can be deceptive and there is break in this dune line further up
About turn!
Large area of dead Silver Birch

I picked up a path of sorts and made my way through a large area of deciduous forest where every tree, nearly all Silver Beech, where dead. The trees were just a grey/white colour which contrasted with the dark green of the nearby conifers. I found the beach again, but with time marching on I decided I needed to get through the massive Lady Culbin Forest. I followed a forest track for some distance but then came to area where logging operations where underway. It had been difficult following the tracks seen on my map, because they had long-since disappeared. After fixing my point on the map I set a bearing on my compass that would see me emerge on the western banks of The River Findhorn. Walking through the forest was very easy as the trees were all Old Scots Pine and well-spaced apart. After 20 minutes I emerged near Binsness and the track that I wanted to be on. I soon picked up the public road just as a heavy squall blowing horizontal rain hit me. I was soaked and the light was now beginning to fade fast.

I headed down the road past Mains of Moy and then onto Broom of Moy, where I picked up the Moray Coast Trail. The Bridge or rather bridges, took me to the outskirts of Forres. Here I skirted the newly constructed railway station and passed around the Distillery for Benromach. I was now on quiet roads which would take me the 3 miles back into Kinloss. It was now dark so I donned my hi-vis jacket and put my forward facing Petzl head torch to strobe and another Petzl to strobe red at my back. There were a few cars along the road, but they were not driving fast and I made it safely back to my car.

Back on the beach for a short distance
Arriving on the banks of the River Findhorn
Crossing The River Findhorn near Broom of Moy
A lot darker than it appears while looking across Findhorn Bay towards Kinloss

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=24781

Distance today = 24 miles
Total distance = 5,547 miles

 

 

 

 

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