Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Walk 69 -- Tollesbury to Salcott-cum-Virley

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 55 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 197 days.
Weather: A tiny bit of rain at the start, then it remained fine with ‘fair-weather’ cloud. Warm with a nice breeze.
Location: Tollesbury to Salcott-cum-Virley.
Distance: 9 miles.
Total distance: 481 miles.
Terrain: All on the sea wall – with overgrown grass and extremely overgrown grass!
Tide: In, going out towards the end of the walk.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘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 Salcott-cum-Virley where we parked by a redundant village school. Then we cycled back to Tollesbury and locked our bikes to a post by the yacht club entrance where the Walk ended yesterday.
At the end, we sank a couple of cups of tea. Then we drove back to Tollesbury and rode our bikes up the bit of road to the car park where we were yesterday. With them securely fastened to the bike rack, we drove back to the campsite nice and early and we were able to prepare and eat a meal in daylight!
We started along the footpath leading north from Tollesbury Yacht Club entrance, looking for a dead-end footpath (which is marked on our maps) leading into the marshes for a couple of hundred yards. We walked backwards and forwards several times, but couldn’t find it. So we scrabbled down behind a bush where we thought it ought to be, and found a square of dry land covered in weeds and boating rubbish. We had a beautiful view of the lightship from there – it has obviously been lovingly restored and is probably worth a bomb. We concluded that the owners of said ship had ‘commandeered’ the footpath, diverting the shore end of it to somewhere inside the Yacht Club so that it has now been ‘privatised’. It didn’t lead anywhere anyway, so we regained the sea wall – where there were some very showy purple flowers – and continued our Walk. It was already lunchtime, so we sat down where there was a nice view and ate a sarnie or two.
Today’s hike was one hundred percent round marshes on a grassy – and often overgrown – sea wall. About half a mile out of Tollesbury a new sea wall had recently been constructed in a straightish line, then the old one had been deliberately breeched in two or three places. (This gave us a bit of a short cut, but we didn’t count it as a diversion because it had already been marked on our maps.) There were notices up at each end of the new route explaining the reason why this had been done. Saltmarsh is an increasingly rare habitat for wildlife because so much of our marshland has been drained for agricultural purposes, so this initiative is to reclaim just a tiny bit of that ancient natural swamp. Already a number of trees, planted in a straight line by the previous owner of the land, have died. They cannot tolerate the salt water, and looked quite stark with their bare limbs reaching for the sky in the middle of Summer.
We came to Old Hall Farm, an imposing building, where we could have taken a path across the fields for a mere half mile to the Salcott Channel. But that would have been cheating, so we had another snack and braced ourselves for a six mile hike round the perimeter of Old Hall Marshes. We climbed a stile into a nature reserve, and pretty soon realised that not many people walk that way! Sometimes the path on top of the sea wall was so uneven and overgrown it was almost impossible to get through. In that case we trudged along the track down on the landward side where there was no breeze. Then we would notice that the path up the top seemed clearer, and sometimes it would look as if had almost been mown! It didn’t make sense, but we walked on top of the wall whenever we could because it was fresher up there. Also, we could see a long way and a lot of wildlife – freshwater ponds to our left and saltwater marsh to our right.
The little bit of rain we had at the beginning of the Walk had stopped a while ago, and the afternoon turned warm and humid with just a little bit of breeze if we were up high. Once again we experienced the swarms of colourful insects as we swooshed through the long grass, but today it was meadow brown butterflies! There must have been thousands of them, swirling up around the first of us to disturb them. Occasionally they were interspersed by the bright blue damselflies, and the whole experience made us feel as if we were in a Walt Disney cartoon film – we only needed the music! We also saw a plethora of other butterflies, moths and dragonflies, but it was the sheer numbers of meadow brown butterflies that was so amazing.
We saw two hares in a field soon after we entered the nature reserve, and Colin got very excited about them. A section of the seawall at the far end of the marshes was out of bounds, and wooden steps led down to the track below. Notices explained that human outlines against the sky are very disconcerting for nesting birds on the ponds, and so we were requested to keep a low profile. On the ponds we saw herons, ducks, avocets, a reed-bunting, terns and a mother shelduck with her seven fluffy babies! Colin had a bout of ‘click-whirr fever’ – he was in his element! What we did not meet was any other human being – not one!Colin complained that we were once again walking towards the nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea. Yesterday we had walked towards it, then turned our backs on it – today we seemed to be walking even closer to it. This just illustrated to us what little progress we are making along the actual coastline of Britain when we have to keep diverting jigsaw-fashion round the Essex marshes. Today, for example, we have a nine mile walk but will only progress two miles in a straight line. In order to jolt Colin out of these negative thoughts, I marched him on to the far corner of the marshes where we sat down in the grass facing Mersea Island and ate our apples. We were looking at the boats across the water and trying to pick out features in West Mersea where we will be on the next Walk.
Suddenly Colin said, “Hang on a minute, that’s a tick crawling up my trouser leg!” I looked down, and saw two ticks crawling across mine! We both leapt up and did a little dance – it must have looked quite funny but there was no one there to watch! Fortunately, none of the little beasties had found their way in to the skin, though neither of us were really sure about that for some time to come. Not only is there the difficulty of removing the wretched thing once it has got itself hooked in (Colin’s method is to drop meths on it, then twist it round and round and round and round with a pair of tweezers until it eventually comes out with its hook intact), but there are several nasty diseases they can infect you with. Some of these can prove fatal if they are not recognised early enough. A few years ago I was camping in France, and woke one morning to find a tick in my leg. Colin removed it by said method and although I was never ill, the spot continued to itch off and on for about nine months! Today we had a lucky escape. At our final stop, further on, to eat some chocolate, we both sat on a wooden stile!
We were within a whisker of Salcott-cum-Virley when we met our first human being – a man out walking his dog. On the map there are two footpaths leading into the village across the same field – which seems a bit ridiculous – but in actual fact the first one does not exist. We were told by the local farmer, on the next Walk, that he had quietly and unofficially obliterated one of the paths and made the other very clear and walkable so that people wouldn’t stray across his land. That seemed eminently sensible to us.
We walked up the lane through the village to our car which we had parked outside the redundant school, trying to tuck it as far into the side of the narrow road as possible so that it wouldn’t be in the way. On our left we passed a small field with an open gate, and a notice which read, “Free car park for anyone who may wish to use it”! We had driven past there to turn round – why hadn’t we seen it? (For the record, the field was empty.)

That ended Walk no.69, we shall pick up Walk no.70 next time in the tiny hamlet of Salcott-cum-Virley, by the redundant village school (building for sale!) We drank a couple of cups of tea whilst pondering our foolishness in not seeing that car park earlier in the day. (On the next Walk, we found out from the local farmer that the owner of the ‘car park’ had put up the notice to annoy his brother with whom he was having a feud!) Then we drove back to the car park in Tollesbury and rode our bikes up the bit of road from the Yacht Club entrance. With them securely fastened to the bike rack, we drove back to the campsite nice and early and we were able to prepare and eat a meal in daylight!

1 comment:

dai evans said...

See Chapter 2 Page 20
Farming adventure: A 1000 miles through England on a horse
by J Wentworth Day
pub: April 1943
by George G Harrap