Friday, July 04, 2003

Walk 70 -- Salcott-cum-Virley to West Mersea

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 57 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 199 days.
Weather: ‘Fair-weather’ cloud. Warm with a nice breeze.
Location: Salcott-cum-Virley to West Mersea.
Distance: 9 miles.
Total distance: 490 miles.
Terrain: Across crop fields to start with, but mostly road where we had to keep leaping into the hedge because of the traffic. Eventually a bit of sea wall, then beach.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: No.19, the Strood Channel, which we crossed on a causeway to get on to Mersea Island.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Plough’ in Peldon village where Colin enjoyed Greene King IPA and I had a shandy. Also ‘Peldon Rose’ which is just outside the village, where Colin enjoyed Adnams bitter and I had another shandy.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.22 on the Strood where they were repairing the causeway. We had to cross over the road and walk on the other side for a short distance.
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 West Mersea where we parked in a very pleasant car park which was mown grass with toilets nearby – and all for free even though it would have cost us £2.50 to have parked by the beach 50 yards away! We cycled into the village to buy our lunch, then we rode all the way round to Salcott-cum-Virley where we locked our bikes to a fence.
At the end, we drank some tea from our flasks. I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent, so Colin drove me back to the campsite before going to collect the bikes. Meanwhile I rested in the tent.

We left our bikes exactly where we had parked the car at the end of the last Walk, and started today’s hike by continuing along the lane. We turned north on to a back lane, then our way led through a farmyard. We were hailed by the farmer as we passed his gate, he told us that we may have difficulty getting through because there were tractors in the way.
An elderly man, he came across to speak to us. He said he just wanted “to know what was going on!” We were a little puzzled by this statement, so I politely explained that we were walking the nearest public footpath to the coast which happened to be the path that runs through his farm because the seawall from thereon is on private land. He relaxed a little, and explained that for years no one had ever walked his footpath because it doesn’t lead to anywhere exciting and nobody was interested. But this year he has had ‘hordes of ramblers’ including a big group around Easter time who noisily marched through his farmyard because it was their ‘right’ and distressed all his animals! Obviously that had upset him, so he was wary of hikers now.
We ended up having a long and informative conversation for about half an hour. He hadn’t much time for bureaucracy (who has?) and told us he had applied to Essex County Council to have the footpath diverted a few yards to the south so that it ran behind his farmyard instead of through it. That seemed a very sensible solution to the problem, and one that we, as inveterate ramblers, would have quite happily gone along with. But he was snowed under with official forms and paperwork, and told in the end it couldn’t be done. Then he told us he was a pensioner, and had recently received a letter informing him that, due to an oversight, he had been paid a penny a week too much for a year and would he please return his pension book so that the amount could be corrected! This he refused to do; he said, “They can adjust the amount when my book is finished and they send me the new one. After all, I only owe them 50p!!”
He told us that he and his family had been farming the marshes for generations, but it was very poor soil. He wasn’t sorry to see them revert to saltmarsh every time there was a breech in the defences – “You can’t make a living out of them these days!” he declared. It was he who told us that the ‘car park’ we had missed the other day was just a notice put up by the owner of the field to annoy his brother with whom he had been having a feud for years – he didn’t tell us what the feud was about, but he thought it was all very funny!
As we left him, he said it would probably be OK for us to walk along the seawall even though it was private, he couldn’t see any reason why anyone should object. We thanked him, but explained that some of the public footpaths we had encountered on the marshes were so uneven and overgrown we had had difficulty getting through, so we weren’t prepared to risk unofficial footpaths because we might end up in real trouble. Even though we knew we were not going to enjoy the road walking which was ahead, it was better than trying to struggle through overgrown marshes where there is no real path. He then admitted he had blocked the footpath the other side of his barn with tractors, and advised us to go round the back of the building and then we would be able to get through.
We left him on very good terms – but as we walked through his farmyard, as quietly and discreetly as we could, most of his piglets squealed in terror and ran to the further end of their enclosures! We felt quite guilty, and could sympathise with his problem. I didn’t think of it until later, but a possible solution occurred to me. He could make up a nice path leading round the back of his farmyard to connect up with the public footpath the other side, then stick up a ‘polite notice’ requesting walkers to use it instead of the path through the middle because it distresses the animals so. I’m sure the vast majority of ramblers would oblige, and that way he hasn’t officially closed or blocked the public footpath. We skirted round the back of his barn, passed the tractors and walked alongside three fields to the road. That was when I realised that I had the most awful stomach ache and it wouldn’t go away. I needed a toilet badly!
Neither of us had been looking forward to the five miles of road walking we knew that we would have to do today, and it was worse than we had feared. Although unclassified, it is the only road in the area going in that direction so it was quite busy. It is also fairly narrow and straight, so the traffic belts along at speed. There are no pavements nor even verges to walk on, and every few minutes we found ourselves diving into the hedge in order to remain alive! (Colin noticed – though I didn’t because I was too concerned about the state of my digestive system to take note of anything else – that some of those hedges contained the most beautiful wild roses of a deep pink colour. On our way home the next day we took some cuttings, and hope to grow them in our garden.)
Almost immediately we passed a building that used to be a pub – but it isn’t now, it is a private house. That was no good, I needed a pub that was open so that I could use their toilet! Leaving Colin to admire a big green caterpillar, I marched on – only pausing for frequent dives into the undergrowth to avoid speeding traffic – and skirted the village of Great Wigborough, then through the tiny hamlet of Little Wigborough. There we ignored Copt Hall Lane, off to the right, in accordance with additional Rule no.2. It is a dead end leading to a National Trust area in the marshes, and we were sick of marshes! We could have gone down and looked at the wildlife, but it would have added several more miles to our trek and we would have had to return to the same spot on the road because there was no other way out. Why couldn’t they have established a right of way along the seawall around the edge of those marshes like they have nearly everywhere else? That would be infinitely more pleasant than defying death along the road, and I could have found a discreet bush to relieve my discomfort!
Sometimes my stomach ache receded and I felt more or less OK – then it would return with a vengeance, so sharp I was doubled up with pain. I trudged on to Peldon, nearly three miles along that wretched road since the cramps first manifested themselves, and at last I came to a pub which was open – the map had not lied to me! I was so long in the loo that Colin had caught up, chatted to the locals, bought the drinks and was yelling through the window that he was taking them into the garden round the back. I don’t know what had upset me, Colin had eaten exactly the same things and he was fine. After resting with our drinks for about half an hour, I began to feel more normal though a little weakened by the experience.
We occupied a bench on the village green to eat our lunch. We admired the village pump which has been left in place (but doesn’t work anymore), and looked at the plough which was on top of a post instead of the pub sign.
We walked on a further mile and a half, and came to another pub which was also open! The garden looked attractive, and since I was still feeling a trifle fragile and the sun had come out, we sat with another drink for about half an hour in pleasant surroundings. We had to get on, we had a Walk to finish! We strolled down across The Strood which is a causeway across to Mersea Island. Just occasionally the water creeps over it at high tide, but we didn’t see it come anywhere near that elevation although it was the peak of the tide as we crossed. The raised road had recently suffered some erosion, and roadwork traffic lights were in place whilst repairs were being carried out. We had to cross over to the other pavement for about fifty yards in order to get past. Once on the island, we walked a short distance and at last we were able to get off the road!
The tide was in, and we watched someone who couldn’t water-ski! He never really got up to standing position, kept falling off and eventually gave up. Colin was full of derision – though he has never water-skied in his life – but I felt a certain empathy because I know that would have been me, had I tried! We continued on towards West Mersea along a familiar seawall landscape. The tide was just beginning to go out as we approached the beach at West Mersea – the first real beach for many a long mile. We noticed nine jellyfish stranded along high water mark, and they all looked a bit dead. Colin climbed down on to the beach and turned a couple of them over with his foot. Then he gently kicked all nine of them into the sea and, much to our surprise, two of them recovered and swam away! It was too late for the other seven whose bodies were once more washed up on to the shingle by lapping waves. Like the model Boy Scout that he is, Colin had done his good deed for the day!As we walked along the coast through West Mersea, we came across a couple of interesting features. One was an oyster bed which actually seemed to be in use – we have passed so many derelict ones that we thought the oyster business was finished, but apparently not so.
The other was ‘St Peter’s Well’. This was a wooden drain cover on the beach on which there was a plaque. This read:
We know not what the well is worth
until the well runs dry”
This is the site of St Peter’s Well reconstructed true to the original as a tribute to a lost way of village life
For over a thousand years this well was one of the main sources of fresh water for West Mersea and had “Never been known to run dry”
Sponsored by West Mersea Town Council Millennium Committee and Mersea Homes Ltd Year 2000
“I will give unto him that is athirst of the water of life freely” ~ St John
The well was practically on the beach – the water must have been brackish. But then, I suppose the people were used to it if they had always drunk it.
When the marshes came to an end, the path led down on to the actual beach. We had to walk along the sand which was fairly firm, and it was nice to feel we were at the seaside once again. We were amazed at the rows and rows of beach huts. Unless you are in the front row, your outlook from your des. res. is the back of someone else’s shed! I wonder if the huts in the front row, which look out over the sand and the sea, sell for a higher price. We walked along until we were opposite the car park where we had left our vehicle earlier in the day and, walking round a family playing beach cricket, we went up the slope between the huts.That ended Walk no.70, we shall pick up Walk no.71 next time at the point on West Mersea beach where we left it today. On reaching the car, we drank a cup of tea each. I still wasn’t feeling a hundred percent and the campsite was less than three miles away, so Colin drove me backthere before going to collect the bikes. I rested in the tent, and next day I was back to normal.

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