Walking was interrupted again with a final WRNS100 meeting back in Portsmouth, after which the Essex escapade continued: walking up and down 3 rivers – the Crouch, Blackwater Estuary and the Colne which was bridged at Colchester.
First, on the narrow River Crouch, for the sake of a channel barely 150 yards wide, where years ago a ferry used to run, the choice was a very cold muddy swim, or a detour. I chose the 7-mile detour which took me via Battlesbridge, the renowned Antiques Centre.
We were fortunate to be offered various overnight stops in marinas, with Burnham-on-Crouch being particularly helpful. During WW2 Burnham-on-Crouch became home to HMS St Matthew, a Combined Operations Training Centre. Today, the name lives on by way of the St Matthew (Sailing) Challenge Cup which is competed for annually by the four local sailing clubs. The cup was presented by the officers, men and ‘wrens’ of the establishment as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the locals who vacated various buildings in 1943.
After leaving the Crouch mouth there was a long walk-in before reaching the Blackwater Estuary. That Sunday I walked 13.5 miles to church - the ancient Chapel of St Peter on the Wall. Beyond, the Bradwell nuclear power station (decommissioning) was visible for miles, on both the up and down estuary banks.
At the estuary head, Maldon, famed for its sea salt, offered a fine display of preserved flat-bottomed London Thames Sailing Barges; with a shallow draught and leeboards, these were built specially to cope with the shallow waters of the Thames Estuary. Nearby, at Heybridge Basin it was interesting to observe the complicated replacement of the sea lock which links the Blackwater to the Chelmer Canal.
Amongst the more unusual sights seen this week there has been a domed Minefield Control Tower, allegedly only one of two in the entire country – I’ve to look out for the other when I get to Scotland! Nearby, on the Dengie mud flats, old metal Thames barges are now being used to help prevent tidal erosion and protect sites of historical interest. Also observed in the Blackwater Estuary was Merchant Vessel Ross Revenge, alias Radio Caroline. Nearing Tollesbury I came across Curly’s Perch – a vast bench more suited to Royalty. Whoever Curly was, he certainly was held in high esteem.
The seemingly endless grassy (and muddy) Essex sea walls have continued. Meanwhile, Trail names such as Saffron, Saltmarsh Coast and St Peter’s Way are ones that have been and gone. Frustrations have included very strong head winds, being peppered by hailstorms (always at the remotest point!), and Network Rail workmen not allowing me to use a level crossing; this resulted in a long detour which saw me walking after dusk in high visibility clothing, complete with flashing headtorch on a busy main road during Friday rush-hour. Not recommended and not much fun.