Saturday, July 19, 2003

Walk 72 -- the Strood to Wivenhoe

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 72 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 214 days.
Too hot! It was sunny with a bit of a cooling breeze, but not enough of it. (Colin’s thermometer recorded a maximum temperature of 43ºC inside his rucksack!)
The Strood to Wivenhoe, including the ferry.
Distance: 7½ miles.

Total distance: 507 miles.
Terrain: Grassy sea wall, followed by a section of busy road which was HELL! Then we walked through fields and woods round an Army firing range, and finally past some sand quarries to the river.
Tide: Out at the beginning, in at the end.
(In between it was irrelevant because we were nowhere near the water!)
Rivers to cross:
We crossed the Strood Channel again at the beginning of the walk (No.19). No.20, the River Colne, at Wivenhoe.
No.4 across the Colne to Wivenhoe – except that we couldn’t find the ferryman or his boat anywhere!
Kissing gates:
No.75 on Fingringhoe firing range.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties:
Ferris wheels:
How we got there and back:
We camped the night before at Elmstead Market. The broken part of our bike rack had been replaced – free of charge – by the firm that made it, so we drove, with bikes on the back of the car, to Fingringhoe where we managed to park in the shade near the supposed ferry across to Wivenhoe. We cycled to the Strood where we chained our bikes to a post in the lay-by where we finished the last walk.
At the end, we drank tea and ate chocolate.
Then we walked the last hundred yards down to the river and looked across at Wivenhoe. We could see no sign of the ferry although we had been assured by several locals that it did run ‘sometimes’. Apropos of our additional rule no.6, we counted it as part of the day’s walk and returned to the car. After more tea, we picked up the bikes and returned to the campsite.

It was really too hot to be out walking today.
The weather forecasters did promise us slightly cooler conditions than we have been enduring recently, but as usual they were wrong. We couldn’t put off our Walks any longer for two reasons – one is that I have arranged with Kate to get to Lowestoft by mid-September so that she, Jay and Cecilia can walk with us as we pass her house at Hopton-on-Sea. In order to do that, we have to fit in thirteen Walks between now and then. The other is that next Wednesday, Annalise and Mark are going off on their delayed honeymoon and we have promised to look after Jamie and Kelly for a week. A mere three days after their wedding, Mark had to return to London to finish his training course with British Gas. Three weeks later he had his exams which he passed with flying colours! Annalise had already cancelled the honeymoon she had booked nearly a year ago – two weeks in Thailand. (Fortunately, because of the letter she wrote explaining why, they said she could use her deposit for any holiday booked before the end of 2004 – but that is another story!) So Mark immediately looked up a break on Teletext, and booked a last-minute ‘cheapie’ all-inclusive to the Dominican Republic. It has been a tough time for them both, and it is absolutely essential that they get away by themselves for a while.
So here we are, in the hottest Summer our country has known for many a long year, continuing with our trek.
Luckily we had managed to find a shady tree under which to park the car, but even there the temperature was in excess of 30ºC – Colin recorded a high of 43ºC in his rucksack during the Walk! After cycling to The Strood, a distance of only five miles (which isn’t much on a bike), I drank a bottle of water in one go. Colin used his umbrella as a sunshade, but I made do with my ‘Flower-Pot Man’ hat.
We were so hot and bothered, we didn't notice that we passed the five hundred mile mark just half a mile into this Walk!
We crossed The Strood on the eastern pavement, and looked out for the breach in the seawall which had made the footpath at the end of the last Walk ‘impassable’. There it was, and there was another one! The bank had been completely washed away in two places, and it was very muddy even on such a hot day as today. There was no way we could have got through at any state of the tide.
Immediately we were over the channel, we turned right on to a path which led past a small industrial complex with all its fences and warning notices, and on to the seawall again.
Phew! It was hot! My legs weren’t working properly and our pace was very slow. The path was ill-maintained, and rather than battle our way through, we went down on to the marshy side where other people had seemed to make a bit of a route before. This was a bit squidgy underfoot, so we climbed up again if only to regain a vestige of the breeze which had been keeping us sane. We crossed a stile which was so rotten it was downright dangerous, and looked desperately for some shade to get us out of this hell! We knew we would both feel better if we got some food inside us, but there was no way we could have sat in the sun to eat our sarnies.
We saw a barn ahead on the farmer’s side, but there were unfriendly deep drainage ditches between us and the fields.
Suddenly Colin said, “Here’s a way down!” and sure enough, between the blades of reedy grass, we could get over where the ditch must have dried up or something. The hay barn seemed to have been abandoned, it was so overgrown – but it was shady in front of it and about ten degrees cooler! Colin lifted down a hay bale, and we sat side by side in luxurious comfort! We felt a lot better once we had eaten and drunk more water, so much so we didn’t want to leave.
But we had to.
Colin returned the hay bale to its slot and we climbed back on to the overgrown bank and continued our hike in the fierce heat of the sun. Further on we turned right to continue along the seawall for about a hundred yards to a stile. This is where the public footpath comes to a halt, according to our maps, because these marshes are used by the Army as a firing range – we had been listening to them banging away ever since we got up this morning. This part of the bank was quite neat with an even surface and close-cropped grass, and it looked the same continuing away from the other side of the stile. There was no notice saying we couldn’t go on, but we didn’t because we knew we would only have to return the same way. Besides, we didn’t want to get shot!
So we back-tracked to the corner and set off across the fields towards the road.
We passed a herd of cows with a bull mooing in the middle of them, but far more dangerous was the road which was absolute HELL! It is only a B road but it is narrow, has no pavements nor verges, and the traffic rushes in both directions at about seventy miles an hour! On such a hot day, it was even more difficult than usual to react quickly – thank goodness we only had half a mile of it to walk.
We turned into a narrow lane which was signposted
‘FINGRINGHOE RANGES’, but the word ‘RANGES’ was not very clear. While we were walking down it, we were passed by two cars which then turned round at the end and came back. They asked us how to get to Fingringhoe village which is the next turning off the 'main' road. We could only sympathise with them because we had made exactly the same mistake ourselves earlier this month when we had been recceing out these Walks. We came to Langenhoe Hall, which seemed to be some kind of conference/business centre. We weren’t sure if it was some private concern or if it belonged to the Army, but whatever it all seemed to be private property. It was with great difficulty that we located the public footpath we needed which led off from behind some of the buildings – there was a distinct lack of finger-posts.
In fact, we had to use our initiative and navigational abilities to the full for the next half hour or so because there was a
complete lack of PUBLIC FOOTPATH signs – were they trying to tell us something? Also, we were well away from the sea or even the riverbank, there was no vestige of a breeze and it was so hot we felt as if we were in a desert! We were in no mood to lose our way and have to walk unnecessary distance. We came to an orchard (not marked on the map) where we sat down in the blissful shade to consume the second part of our lunch and drink some more water.
Feeling a little refreshed, we got up to continue.
Just a few steps and we came to the end of the orchard – and the end of the footpath! It came to a stop, just like that! Stretching away in the same direction were lines of saplings, they looked like a recent addition to the orchard. So we carried on through them, but the ground was rough where it had been dug and it was covered in spikey weeds. All of this made walking very difficult and we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. We thought perhaps we had left the end of the footpath in slightly the wrong direction, so we painfully retraced our steps and then had a very careful look at the map. I was convinced we had been right all along, and said we must walk the full length of the new orchard looking out for a footbridge over a drainage ditch which was the next feature marked on our map. Colin wasn’t convinced, and declared he wasn’t going to struggle over that b***** rough ground again with bits of grass poking up his a***! (You can tell how hot and bothered he had become.) So I set out by myself because he was, by then, in one of his totally unreasonable moods and he hadn’t any alternative to offer.
When I was halfway down the new trees, he did volunteer the information – “It’s easier out here!”
I looked round, and he had followed me – at a distance – but he was walking along the edge of the field. I tried that, and it was marginally better but there was still no path. On reaching the end of the plantation, I strode out in exactly the same direction towards a patch of reeds. I had spied a bit of a fence beyond them which looked hopeful, and sure enough, buried in the reeds, was a plank across a drainage ditch. The bit of fence I had seen was indeed a stile and – hidden in the bush beyond – the first PUBLIC FOOTPATH sign we had seen in miles! I sat on the stile and waved to Colin, calling out that I had found the footbridge. I felt elated after all that walking backwards and forwards, but Colin approached complaining about maps, footpaths, signs, orchards, farmers, spikey grass, the heat, biting insects, you name it – he was moaning about it, blaming everyone else for losing the way. He does so hate it when I am right!
The next half mile or so was a lot more pleasant, a clear and well-marked path next to and through woodland so that we were able to walk in the shade a lot. We both began to feel better. The footpath we planned to follow most of the rest of our Walk skirted the army ranges just outside the perimeter of the DANGER AREA, according to our map, so we didn’t think it was significant that they were still firing as we approached their entrance gate. But it did matter – for the next section of path ran just inside their perimeter fence. We had to go through a gate on which there was a big red notice reading:
We looked up, and there was a red flag flying! (Though how it could manage it with the lack of breeze was beyond me – must have had wires in it.)
Our hearts sank! We looked at the map. The only way now was to go back to the road (Oh no!) and walk round in a bigger circle adding miles to our journey. But the path is well outside their firing range, should we pretend we hadn’t seen the notice and risk it? This is where Colin really came into his own – “I’ve had enough of this!” he declared, “I’m going to go and ask them when they are going to pack it in for the day!” He strode through the gate towards a building labelled RANGE CONTROL. I hung back because I am a coward at heart – I wasn’t keen to take on the British Army single-handed! On entering the building, he had to climb two flights of concrete stairs before he found anybody. I skulked by the door at the bottom, and heard phrases like; “We get this all the time!” “People are always wanting to walk across the ranges!” “We don’t have time to keep going round taking all the flags down!” and “We get all the brunt, and we only work here!” It didn’t sound very hopeful, but Colin came down unscathed and smiling. “He told me they have just finished firing, and we can go through before they take the flags down because that will take some time!”
So we continued our Walk. We hadn’t gone more than about a hundred yards when there was a great “Whir-r-rum-ph!” from behind us – the very last of their firings for the day! I don’t think we were ever in any danger because the actual firing range is at least a mile away from where we were walking, but in these days of ‘compensation culture’ I suppose they have to cover themselves. Having said that, it was a Saturday afternoon in Summer, and they can hardly blame people for wanting to ramble along public footpaths in the countryside. We saw a family of green woodpeckers just then, and that immediately put all thoughts of the Army out of our heads. They kept alighting on the fence ahead of us, then flying off through the woods. There were at least two of them, possibly three!
The path turned sharply right, then we were signposted over a stile into some woods. As it turned out we could have just carried on along the field to where we later emerged over another stile, but we were glad we went in because it was nice and cool under the trees. There was a notice explaining that this copse was ‘managed’ to encourage birds to breed, restore the balance of nature and make sure there were the right food sources for them, etc. etc. It said there was a path round the outside we were welcome to use but pleaded with us not to go crashing through the middle and disturb the wildlife – it didn’t say a word about the birds being frightened out of their wits by the constant explosions which go on day and night just a short distance away!
On emerging from the wood we came across more red flags, we weren’t finished with them yet. However, a female soldier on a quad-bike came towards us and was taking them down – she gave us a cheery wave as she passed. We skirted a farmhouse and their pond, then got on to a private lane which led to said farm. We were then supposed to take a sharp turn to the right on to another footpath, but we couldn’t find it. We looked behind this tree and that, and came to the conclusion that it must be there but it had become so overgrown it had become obliterated. Today’s Walk seemed to be full of problems! Being hot, and by now very tired, we neither of us could be bothered any more so we went out to the lane and continued the road way – at least there wasn’t any traffic there. Colin stopped to take a photograph of a weather vane on a house, and got talking to a woman in the garden. I walked on to a T junction where I sat on the verge and swallowed the last few precious mouthfuls of my water. I had brought two full bottles with me today, apart from the bottle I drank after the cycle ride, and now I had run out with two more miles to go!
We turned into a lane which led to a nature reserve called ‘Fingringhoe Wick’ (it was in an abandoned quarry), but we didn’t visit it because we were knackered and had completely lost interest in everything except getting back to our shady car and pouring a cup of tea! We took a track which led us over a rise, round gravel pits which still may have been in use or only recently worked out, and down to a lane which led us to the nether end of Fingringhoe village. There wasn’t exactly a plethora of PUBLIC FOOTPATH signs around, but we managed to navigate without going astray, despite our weariness. We turned right and descended towards the river. Just before Ballast Quay – which is still in use to load barges with gravel – we turned left along a footpath which took us to the car. We sat in the shade eating chocolate to replenish our energy and drinking tea to quench our thirst. Then we walked the last hundred yards down to the river and looked across at Wivenhoe which appeared very pretty in the evening sunshine. We could see no sign of the ferry although we had been assured by several locals that it did run ‘sometimes’. Apropos of our additional rule no.6, we counted it as part of the day’s walk.What a walk! We'd had no sight nor sound of the sea all day!

That ended Walk no.72, we shall pick up Walk no.73 next time in Wivenhoe on the other side of the river. We returned to the car and, after more tea, we drove back to The Strood to pick up the bikes. We then returned to our campsite at Elmstead Market where we were delighted to find that most of our neighbouring campers – including all the noisy ones – had packed up and left! Was it something we said?

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