Monday, April 21, 2003

Walk 63 -- Burnham-on-Crouch to Othona Roman Fort

Ages: Colin was 60 years and 348 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 125 days.
Weather: Fine and sunny, and much warmer than yesterday.
Location: Burnham-on-Crouch to Othona Roman Fort.
Distance: 14 miles.
Total distance: 429½ miles.
Terrain: Occasional concrete paths, but mostly grass-topped sea wall. Some of them were narrow and uneven, so we had to walk on grass tracks at the bottom out of sight of the sea which wasn’t much fun.
Tide: Coming in, then out again by the time we finished.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The Star Inn at Burnham where we had lunch, I had a shandy and Colin grumpily drank Bass – “You can get that anywhere!” – and the Station Arms at Southminster where Colin drank ‘Ploughboys’ stout & Mallard IPA and I fell asleep!
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove – with bikes on the back of the car – from Isleham to the car park a quarter of a mile inland from Othona. It was a long cycle ride back to Burnham-on-Crouch, and we had gone right through Southminster and down a hill before we realised we had missed the road where the ‘real ale’ pub was situated. We carried on to Burnham, Colin stopping to look in several pubs but none met his criteria. We chained our bikes to a post on the front by the defunct ferry terminal and decided to have lunch in the pub there which did sell ‘real ale’ but “only Bass!”
At the end, we were exhausted after such a long walk. We had several cups of tea and loads of sandwiches and biscuits before driving to Southminster to seek out the real pub. It was 9.15pm before we left there to collect our bikes and drive back to Isleham in Cambridgeshire where we were staying with Paul & Caroline.

The main consolation about today’s walk was that the wind had veered round to the south, and therefore it was much warmer. We knew in advance that this walk was going to be long (14 miles) and that it would be a bit of a route march – and so it proved to be. Somehow we didn’t get going as early as we should, and there was more traffic to contend with on our journey from Isleham. Then there was the fiasco of missing the ‘real ale’ pub in Southminster – we realised we hadn’t turned down the right road in the town after we had whizzed down a long hill which brought us out into the countryside again. Neither of us wanted to climb back up again to find out where we had gone wrong. After missing the pub on such a cold and miserable walk yesterday, Colin was beside himself. (He always maintains that the pubs are just an added bonus and not that important, but he gets into a foul mood if we don’t find real ale which is kept in good condition and is a different brand from that which he can get at home – quite a high criteria.) He stopped to look in every pub between Southminster and Burnham, but none came up to scratch.
After we had parked our bikes, I suggested the ‘Star Inn’ because it did reasonably priced lunches, we had a very long walk ahead of us, it was just there in front of us, our whole walk would be away from civilisation after we left Burnham, and it did ‘Bass’ which is a real ale he likes. I was quite happy with all that reasoning, I even sat him down at a table and collected the lunches myself after queuing up in the bank holiday crowds – but he just sat there moaning because, “You can get Bass anywhere!” HONESTLY! I could scream sometimes! (But then, I don’t have to contend with wearing a catheter all the time, and he never makes a fuss about it, even when it leaks.)
As a result of all these shenanigans, it was TWO O’CLOCK before we started the Walk. First we read the notice stuck to the gate where the ferry from Wallasea Island would have come in. It ‘regretted’ that the service was no longer operating, and thanked everyone for their patronage over the last ten years. Next we passed the lifeboat station where we were warned that loud guns may be firing overhead. All too soon we left Burnham-on-Sea, and that was the last we saw of civilisation for the full Walk. Fortunately the path was clear and flat for the whole fourteen miles.
And boring! The Essex marshes are so tedious – a grass-topped sea wall, flat reclaimed marshland to the left and a river with flat reclaimed marshland to the right for miles and miles and miles………. Not a hill in sight! At least the major part of today’s walk was with the sea to our right and we were walking northwards, but it was still disheartening because we knew we will have to walk south-westwards again once we reach the next river. However, we strode eastwards from Burnham, and watched the sailing craft ply their way up and down the river. Being that it was Easter Monday, there was a lot of river traffic which added to the interest.We also met a surprising number of people – we weren’t expecting to meet anyone in such a desolate spot. The reason I had planned to do this whole fourteen miles in one go is that there didn’t seem to be any access points to the coast between Burnham and Othona. There is the occasional track marked on the map, but you never know with tracks. One or two people, obviously with local knowledge, had driven their cars down them and parked next to the sea wall. We met a few people walking their dogs. There was a group of young people playing with their pooch in the marshes to our right at one point – they were having a good laugh and they all looked a bit wet and muddy. And there was the occasional fisherman. One had brought his family in a minibus-type vehicle – the kids were obviously bored, and I heard the enormously fat Mum shout into the van, “Stop that –NOW!” in that delightful ‘Council Estate’ timbre that you hear so often in Tesco! You can’t get away from it anywhere!On the other side of the river we could see the nether end of Foulness island – far away from anywhere. There seemed to be all sorts of interesting looking masts and industrial-type buildings, none of which are marked on the map. After about five miles, our path swung round to the north and we turned our backs on that mysterious island which we are not allowed to visit without applying for a pass in triplicate and answering a lot of damn-fool questions. And we had the sea back! For the first time since Wakering Stairs, we were walking along a true coastal path, not a river bank.We settled into ‘route-march’ mode. We strode along at a steady pace, and I had planned exactly when and where we would stop, for how long and what we would eat and drink at each break – it was the only way I could cope. Sometimes the path was good – occasionally we had a stretch of concrete which was very good – and sometimes it got narrow and lumpy. Then we had to walk on the track on the landward side of the sea wall which was not so good because we couldn’t see the sea. We passed the occasional Second World War pill-box, taller here because they are situated behind the sea wall, and they look like ‘Daleks’!
We really hadn’t got time to stop and look at wildlife, but we did manage to see and hear quite a bit as we were stomping along. We saw a heron, oystercatchers, a reed bunting, and heard cuckoos so it must be Spring. In fact, we saw some swallows – more than one – so it must be Summer! But the highlights were a short-eared owl which was flying around looking for prey, and a hare sitting in a field in the distance.
We could see the Saxon chapel, which was our destination, from several miles back but it didn’t seem to get any nearer although we were marching fit to bust. There were two places on our route where a rectangular section of marsh had been reclaimed. The original sea wall and lower track went on in a straight line, but to walk the ‘nearest safe path to the coast’ we had to walk round three sides of these sections – which were long and narrow so it was no great shakes. We did the first one OK, it was just the same as the walking we had done all afternoon. As we approached the second one, it was almost the end of the trek and we were both very tired. I was on the lower track, and Colin was on the lumpy sea wall ahead of me. Having previously warned him to look out for it, I called out, “Is that it?” He answered, “like shit it isn’t!” I wasn’t going to argue with that kind of mood, so we missed it out. Later Colin claimed he had misheard me, but in truth he was still chuntering on about missing the pub!
In fact we made excellent time, and at last reached the Saxon chapel on the Roman fort of Othona before the sun went down. We were far too tired to explore this ancient site, and decided to leave that until the beginning of the next Walk.

That ended Walk no.63, we shall pick up Walk no.64 next time at St Peter’s Chapel on the ancient Roman site of Othona. We walked the half mile inland to the car park where our car was waiting for us full of hot tea and food! Colin was insistent that we then call in at the pub in Southminster which we had missed. I didn’t want to at all, but conceded in the interests of World Peace! He enjoyed his beer, I didn’t want any and kept falling asleep. (Later, he did say how he appreciated me going along with him although I really didn’t want to.) It was 9.15pm before we left there to collect our bikes at Burnham in the pitch dark, and 11.30pm before we got back to Isleham – thank goodness tomorrow is a rest day!

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