Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Walk 68 -- Heybridge Basin to Tollesbury

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 54 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 196 days.
Weather: We started in a downpour with lots of thunder! Later we had some sunny periods, but there was always a very fine drizzle in the air. Warm.
Location: Heybridge Basin to Tollesbury.
Distance: 14½ miles.Total distance: 472 miles.
Terrain: All on the sea wall – sometimes it was tarmac, sometimes gravel, we also had mown grass, unmown grass and overgrown grass.
Tide: In, going out later.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None. Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.72 & 73 at Heybridge Marina, and no.74 on Tollesbury Wick marshes.
Pubs: The ‘Old Ship’ at Heybridge Basin where we drank Maldon Gold and Ridley’s IPA – which I enjoyed but Colin reckoned the pipes hadn’t been cleaned out properly.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None. Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We camped the night before on Mersea Island. We drove, with bikes on the back of the car, to Tollesbury where we found a free car park with toilets – ideal! We then cycled to Heybridge Basin where we locked up our bikes in the car park by the canal. It kept raining, but we were relieved that it held off for our cycle ride which was 8½ miles – quite a distance. (We can’t take the hills!)
At the end, we were exhausted!
We walked up the road to our car and thirstily downed two cups of tea each. We stopped in the village to buy milk, then drove to Heybridge Basin to pick up the bikes. By the time we got back to the campsite, the light was already going and I ended up cooking in the dark – something I said I wouldn’t do any more!

Nine weeks since our last walk, but we haven’t been idle! Annalise got married to Mark at the end of May, and although she arranged all of the details of the wedding herself, she needed us around for moral support. Mark got a job with British Gas last autumn, after they had arranged the date of their wedding, and had been sent on a six month training course in London. So it was very difficult for them both, with him being away from home so much. However, it was a lovely wedding at Felpham Parish Church followed by a fun reception at ‘The Robin Hood’ at Shripney, and the weather was beautiful (hot and sunny) all day! Annalise looked wonderful, and her children were magnificent. Jamie was joint Best Man, and impressed everyone with his self-assurance and the quality of his reading in church. Kelly-Marie was chief bridesmaid, looking very pretty and grown-up in her long red dress with a stole.
Three of our children are now happily married to wonderful people. There is only Chris to go, and his girlfriend, Sheena, is lovely too.
A week after the nuptials, we went to Austria with the B.L.I.S.T.E.R.S. and had a great time walking the mountains in the Tyrol whilst gently misbehaving ourselves! The week after that, Colin and I extended a ‘booze-cruise’ to Calais by driving up to Bruges and staying a couple of nights. After that, we thought we had better stay at home for a while, but my anxiety to get on with the ‘Round-Britain-Walk’ got the better of me – so here we are!
Try as we might, we can’t seem to start our long hikes at a decently early hour. Today it was the fault of Colin’s faffing, the ‘will-it-or-won’t-it-rain?’ question and the hills we had to cycle up in this supposedly flat county of Essex. Colin managed to lose his gloves and leave his umbrella in the car, so he was in a pretty foul mood. That’s why I suggested we call at the pub which was at the very beginning of our fourteen and a half mile trek, because it did do ‘real ale’ even though it wasn’t in the ‘beer bible’ – but even that was wrong because he kept moaning that the beer ‘tasted’ because (obviously!) the pipes hadn’t been cleaned out properly! Sometimes you just know you’re on to a loser from square one!
We sat outside the pub overlooking the river which was pleasant, and Colin began to calm down.
We were both very amused by the folks at the next table – when their lunches were served, one of them picked up her mobile and rang a friend to say, “We’re just starting our meal…..!” I mean, who wants to know? We can’t believe how banal some people are, especially when it comes to cell phones! Suddenly the heavens opened making us all rush indoors. We finished our drinks but it was still pouring. Time was getting on and our car was parked fourteen and a half miles away – so we donned our wet weather gear and sallied forth into the storm. What a tempest it was – thunder and lightning for about half an hour! There was a gorgeous rainbow at one point, but unfortunately the rain just wouldn’t stop and neither of us were prepared to risk getting our cameras wet.
We stomped along all round the pretty little harbour of Heybridge Basin, though it wasn’t so pretty with sheeting rain and a black sky! We were famished, well aware that it was gone two o’clock and we hadn’t had any lunch. But there was nowhere we could stop without getting soaked. After about half an hour, we were passing a caravan site. Along the riverside of the site there were some derelict chalets which we looked at with interest because each had a little porch in front of its boarded up windows. Then we came to one with three plastic chairs in the porch – absolutely made for us! They must have known we were coming! As we sat in dry and comfort, chomping away whilst looking at the view, I noticed that the front corner of the porch was precariously perched on a wobbly pile of bricks! I remarked, “I wonder what the ‘Health & Safety’ would have to say about this place!” to which Colin replied, “Not much!” and carried on munching.By the time we had finished, so had the rain and the sun even came out. The chalet hadn’t fallen down or clonked us on the head, so we thanked our unknown benefactors for their hospitality and carried on. It wasn’t a very interesting walk, we have hiked round so many marshes since we hit Essex – in fact ever since we passed through Whitstable in Kent twenty-one months ago, we have been trekking on a convoluted path along river banks around various swamps and have hardly glimpsed the sea! We shall be glad to see the back of Essex which proudly boasts it has the longest (now, I didn’t say boring-est, did I?) coastline in Britain. The trouble is, very little of it is real seashore – most of it is tedious marshes and riverbanks. We think things will be better in Suffolk.
After about a mile we turned a corner called ‘Decoy Point’ and came across the beginning of the causeway leading out to Osea Island – the low-lying river island which is reputed to be up for sale at an asking price of six and a half million smackers! The tide was in, so we couldn’t see the state of the causeway – really the only way to access it is by boat. I wouldn’t buy it, even if I was that rich. Another couple of miles, and we came to Goldhanger Creek where I had originally planned this walk to start. We had cut Walk No.67 short because we were tired and couldn’t find a parking space in Goldhanger. Now we were regretting that a little!
We stopped at a kind of shed (which I had secretly been hoping was a toilet when I had seen it in the distance, but it wasn’t so I had to find a discreet bush further on!) and found the door open. Inside was a bench, so we sat there and ate the second part of our lunch because the ground was still a bit boggy after the rain. There was a chalk board on the wall inside so we concluded that the function of the shack was a scoring shelter for judges when they have yacht races on the river. Colin looked up and yelled – he had seen a Thames Barge in full sail as it winged its way along the river towards the sea. A beautiful sight!We then had miles and miles of seawall to walk in a very remote landscape. We both got into ‘route-march’ mode and trudged on and on, Colin just a little ahead of me. The pleasant tarmac path had long since deteriorated to gravel, then mown grass – all of which was easy to cope with; but then it degenerated further to overgrown grass, which was difficult, and very overgrown grass which was distinctly problematic. Sometimes the sun peeped out, but mostly the sky was black. Sometimes the air was dry, but mostly it was moist. It didn’t actually rain, so we abandoned our kags because they made us too hot.
We saw lots of wildlife, but often I was too tired to look at it properly, more’s the pity. We saw sparrows, greenfinches, black-headed gulls, terns and a cormorant diving for up to a minute at a time. We saw a young heron, an avocet, oystercatchers and a group of pewits which all flew up together with their distinctive sound. Then there were curlews, a coot, a dead moorhen chick on the path and a mother mallard with her growing chicks (alive!) Our binoculars and telescope went out - in - out as we viewed swans, young partridges, great-crested grebes, shelducks and the blue-beaked ruddy duck about which so much controversy rages.** We saw moths, white butterflies, painted ladies, small tortoiseshells, iridescent blue damselflies and Colin thought he might have seen a water vole, but he wasn’t sure.
Several hours later, we trudged inland to the neck of a short inlet called Mill Creek and threw ourselves on the grass near a stile from which a path led across the field to Tollesbury. We had both had enough! Our car was parked a mere mile away across that field so we were very tempted to throw in the towel and climb the stile, instead of doing the circuit of Tollesbury Wick Marshes which was at least four miles. But, if we did give in, we would have to do Tollesbury Wick Marshes tomorrow turning tomorrow’s walk into a fourteen mile stretch – we didn’t relish that prospect. We mulled over these options as we each chomped on a large bar of chocolate, savouring every morsel of the delicious confection! It quite surprised us how much more energy that extra sweetness gave us, and how quickly our moods swung round to the positive. “Come on, then!” called Colin as he leapt up and, by-passing the stile, strode off towards the marshes. I followed him at a slower pace so that he got way ahead of me. While we were sitting eating our chocolate, Colin had asked me if I had noticed the clouds of blue damselflies which seemed to rise up from the overgrown grass as we walked. I replied that I had seen a few, but not ‘clouds’. Now I did experience the clouds – hundreds of them rising from pockets of long grass in shimmering swarms. I was walking towards a black sky, the sun was low coming from behind me, it was warm and sticky, I was all by myself (so it seemed because Colin was out of sight) and I was surrounded by rising swathes of bright blue insects – it was surreal! In fact, it was an amazing experience which made me feel as if I was on some kind of fairytale planet!
When I did eventually catch up with Colin (he suddenly realised I was out of sight so he stopped) I told him of the experience, and he said that that was what he had been trying to tell me. We concluded that I hadn’t seen them earlier because he had disturbed them by walking past, and they hadn’t had time to settle before I followed. But when he was several minutes in front of me they had settled back for me to disturb them again. We tested our theory by me walking just a few yards ahead of Colin – sure enough, I experienced the damselfly ‘storm’ whilst he saw just a few! We had to walk round a large rectangle in order to circumnavigate Tollesbury Wick Marshes. First we trudged down the other side of Mill Creek, next we marched along with Bradwell Nuclear Power Station looming up on our right – (Help! That was months ago!) – then we strode along with Mersea Island on the starboard side, and finally we limped towards Tollesbury Marina utterly exhausted. A final uplift to our spirits was given by a glimpse in the gathering dusk of a restored lightship tucked into the marshes beyond the yachts. We circled the marina and emerged into the road by the entrance to the yacht club at Tollesbury.
That ended Walk no.68, we shall pick up Walk no.69 next time at the entrance to Tollesbury Yacht Club. We staggered about a hundred yards up the road to our car and thirstily downed two cups of tea each. We stopped in the village to buy milk, then drove to Heybridge Basin to pick up the bikes. By the time we got back to the campsite, the light was already going and I ended up cooking in the dark – something I said I wouldn’t do any more! But at least we were back on track with our planned walks – if we hadn’t shortened Walk No.67, then today’s Walk would not have been so long; and if we had given in and shortened today’s Walk, then tomorrow’s would have been extra long. So, all in all, we fell into bed happy!

**Ruddy Ducks
The ruddy duck is an alien species to our shores. It was introduced to Europe from the USA in the 1940s, probably because it looked nice on our ponds. With its chestnut plumage and distinctive blue beak, it added a bit of colour to our austere post-war lives. It settled well this side of the Atlantic and spread to no less than twenty European countries. It does no harm whatsoever to our native species which all continue to live and breed as they did before. Most people were only too pleased to see the colourful newcomer settle in so well. Not so the Spanish! The ruddy duck is a prolific breeder, and it soon began to interbreed with the Spanish white-headed ducks producing some interesting hybrids. As a result, the pure-bred white-headed duck numbers plummeted, causing the species to receive the same conservation status as the hump-backed whale or the imperial eagle. Conservationists fear that within a few short years, the Spanish white-headed duck will become extinct.
In the winter of 2003, the UK Government (hidden under cover of the controversial Iraqi War) announced a nationwide cull of ruddy ducks to prevent another species from becoming extinct. But hang on a minute! Isn’t this scenario just evolution in the making? Haven’t species interbred to make new species since time immemorial? Doesn’t ‘pure’ species lead to weaknesses which are their undoing anyway in the long run? Don’t we need new blood in the gene pool for our ultimate survival? Surely this is the true meaning of “Survival of the fittest”! It will cost £915, on average, to kill each duck because their diving abilities make it very difficult even for expert marksmen. At an estimated 6 000 ducks on these shores, that will cost in the region of five and a half million pounds of taxpayers money! Critics say that it would be cheaper to fly each duck back to the United States in a Business Class seat!
I, for one, would prefer the money to be put into training more heart surgeons since my new son-in-law is in urgent need of open heart surgery through no fault of his own. (He was apparently born with a leaky valve which has only recently become apparent, and has been told he will have to wait months if not years despite the fact that his case is deemed as URGENT! The operation will turn him back into a perfectly healthy young man – he is thirty-two – and it could be done tomorrow if it wasn’t for lack of funding.)
Getting back to the ruddy ducks – how will they know that they have killed every single one? It only requires two to survive for the population explosion to start all over again, and some of the wetlands on which they now live are very remote – like Tollesbury Wick Marshes for a start. And what about the rest of Europe? It sounds to me as if it will be about as successful as the grey squirrel cull of the 1950s. And so the controversy continues.
I was saddened to read that the RSPB supports the cull.

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