John and I set off on the 0855 train from Liverpool Street to Burnham on Crouch and just over an hour later we were tucking into a full breakfast in a little café by the seafront. It is incredible to think that you can walk for 14 miles from here without coming across any houses or shops. This is the Dengie Peninsular which is perhaps the wildest place you can get to in an hour from London. Apparently it was the inspiration for both H G Wells “War of the Worlds” which features Maldon and for Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. In just a few minutes you have walked past the posh yacht clubs and are on the sea wall with reclaimed land to the left and mud and estuary to the right. Soon the few moored boats disappear into the mist and the mud turns to salt marsh. We had prepared ourselves for a fairly bleak walk and in some respects we weren’t let down. It was flat and grey but surprisingly interesting walking along the wall. A few twitchers strolled by. We were entertained by flocks of thousands of dunlins. Second world war pill boxes were strategically placed and eventually we came across what seems to be a secret radio establishment owned by BAe with strange ariel structures. At this point we turned inland towards Bradwell. We wanted to save visiting St Peters Church until Saturday when we would be joined by Selma and Grit. We would have walked 14 miles and it was quite enough for the first day.
We booked into the Green Man Pub where we had one absolutely massive room and one very much smaller one. There was a roaring log fire and we had a tasty meal. The Apprentice Ale was top notch. Altogether a good place to stay but perhaps a bit expensive for a simple walking holiday (Large double £80, small twin £70).
On Saturday we walked out to St Peter’s Church. It is Britain’s oldest church (654) and was apparently built in Syrian style! It is a simple square building which was once used as a farmers barn. Nearby is a small Christian Community built as a place of peace after the war. Anyone can stay there of any religion or no religion. After a brief stop at the church we carried on to the sea wall. There is a small copse and a sheltered Bird Watching Sanctury with benches overlooking the salt marshes. The salt marshes are gradually eroding and old barges have been sunk to act as wave breaks.
We strolled along the wall as far as the radio ariels, this time approaching from the north. We turned inland along the St Peter’s Way. The area is a Ramsar Site, named after a convention in Iran in 1971 to protect wetlands of international importance. The area is also an SSI, a special protection area, and a special area of conservation. Soon we found ourselves in Tillingham where a pub tempted us for lunch.
We stayed a bit too long and so we needed to keep up a fair pace as far as Maylansea briskly walking across some rolling low hills overlooking the Blackwater Estuary. We had walked for at least 11 miles and it was clear that it would be dark by the time we reach Maldon. Selma decided to sensibly opt for the bus while we plodded on. Instead of following the winding coastal path we decided to carve our own way through the field paths. To our surprise the paths all existed and even in the dark we found our way across ploughed fields to the bridges across the many ditches. The last field was the site of the Battle of Maldon. The Vikings were camped on Northey Island so Brythnoth decided to get an army assembled to defend Maldon from attack. It was easy to defend Maldon because the Vikings could not get across the causeway from the island. The Vikings complained that it wasn’t fair and they should be allowed into the field to have a proper battle and Brythnoth made the poor tactical decision to allow them across. They went on to defeat Brythnoth’s army but were too weakened to attack Maldon. They went on to attack Sheppy. I learnt this tale and lots of others from Peter Caton’s book “Essex Coast Walk”. The book is so entertaining that I intend to read it cover to cover over the winter. Highly recommended to anyone intending to walk around Essex.
Bang on time, we walked into The Jolly Sailor, Maldon to be greeted by Peter and Mara as well as Selma. After two pints of Doom Bar we headed of for a meal at a restaurant called something Italian. The meal was really enjoyable but no thanks to the food. My sardine starter was appalling and Peter complained about his courgette and lobster. The carrots were rock solid and the steak and wine was poor. I was ill afterwards and didn’t fully recover until Sunday evening. However the staff were a laugh and the company was wonderful.
The rooms in the Jolly Sailor were clean and good value. The beds were strangely low with a solid edge. I suspect IKEA has tried to redesign a standard bed to produce a less satisfactory version. Breakfast was great but the Full English for the third day was beginning to be too much of a good thing. We met up with Peter and Mara for coffee and persuaded them to join us for a gentle stroll to Heybridge Basin and along the canal. We decided not to continue to Tollesbury, or Witham, or Colchester as originally planned.
After a gentle four mile circular walk admiring the Thames barges we got a taxi back to Bradwell to pick up Selma’s car. A very pleasant and interesting weekend.