Sunday, July 20, 2003

Walk 73 -- Wivenhoe to Brightlingsea

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 73 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 215 days.
Weather: Hot and sunny, but thankfully cooler than yesterday.
Location: Wivenhoe to Brightlingsea/St Osyth Stone Point.
Distance: 10 miles, including the ferry.
Total distance: 517 miles.
Terrain: Lovely woodland walk along the river, then more of that wretched overgrown sea wall. Some road (pavement!) and lane walking, and the last stretch was a disused railway line.
Tide: Out, coming in later.
Rivers to cross: No.21, Brightlingsea Creek at Brightlingsea. (We had to walk round the end of Alresford Creek because the ford was impassable.)
Ferries: No.5 across Brightlingsea Creek – except that once more we couldn’t find the ferryman or his boat!
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.76 near Wivenhoe. No.77 on the south side of Alresford Ford.
Pubs: The ‘Horse & Groom’ at Wivenhoe where we drank Bateman’s mild and Adnam’s bitter. (Colin looked through the window of the closed ‘Railway Tavern’ at Brightlingsea and wasn’t very impressed with the range of beers he could see on offer – so we decided not to bother about coming back when it was open.)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.24 round the end of Alresford Creek because the ford was impassable even at low tide – it was silted up with at least three feet of mud!
How we got there and back: We camped the night before at Elmstead Market. We drove, with bikes on the back of the car, to Brightlingsea where we parked in a street near the quay. Then we cycled to Wivenhoe where we used a proper bike rack in the village.
At the end, after looking in vain for the ferry and only finding a notice on the yacht club jetty declaring ‘no public access to water taxi’, we drank tea and went back to Wivenhoe to collect the bikes. Then we returned to the campsite, stopping at the pub on the way because it had just opened.

It is Paul and Caroline’s first anniversary today. We remembered their wonderful wedding which had been such fun, and now they are comfortably settled in their old cottage in the village of Isleham in Cambridgeshire. This past year has gone by so quickly!

Wivenhoe is a pretty little village on the riverside, and it was Colin who found a proper bike rack tucked away behind the quay, near the church. We started our Walk by looking for signs of the ferry which we were supposed to have used yesterday, but all we found was a locked gate leading to a floating pontoon which was ‘splap!’ on the mud because the tide was out. A notice pinned to the gate requested us not to climb on the pontoon ‘when the ferry is not in operation’ – no helpful information about times of ferries, not even a telephone number to ring. So that was that, we gave up on that particular ferry.
We wandered along the riverside, there were a lot of people about enjoying the summer sunshine. Just outside the village we stopped to look at a flood barrier which can be closed across the river in times of need. It seems a very big construction for such a tiny river, but its size must be necessary to save the ancient city of Colchester further upstream from being deluged in times of flood. Opposite us was Ballast Quay which we walked past yesterday towards the end of our hot walk. We could see gravel and sand ready to be loaded on to barges, though all was quiet today because it was a Sunday.
It had rained quite a bit in the night and early this morning, but that had cleared to a hot and sunny day again – thankfully not quite so hot as yesterday. Added to that, most of today’s walk was by the riverside so we felt a slight breeze which considerably added to our comfort. Then we entered some woods – my! wasn’t it pleasant? It put us both in a completely different mood! We were in blissful shade, and kept catching glimpses of the river through spaces between the trees on our right. Very pretty!
The path became flat and easy to walk on because it had joined a disused railway track. Further on it divided each side of a bit of marsh, and we were unsure as to which way to go. There were too many bushes in the way to see much further ahead, so we chose the right hand path because that was nearest the river. We were a little puzzled that it became narrower and more overgrown until it was only with difficulty that we could get through. We knew that we were still on the line of the old railway, then we rounded a bush and all was revealed – we were at a dead end next to the rusting supports of what was once the railway bridge across Alresford Creek! Exactly opposite, on the other bank, we could see bushes surrounding the continuation of the line. If only a footbridge had been left in place – it would have saved us about five miles of walking!
We retraced our steps and took the other branch of the path which led past some spindly rusting metal towers with pulley wheels on top. To our left we could see a number of disused gravel pits and derelict ‘works’. We concluded that the gravel used to be loaded into big buckets, then hauled across to barges on the river using these pulley systems. I wonder how safe it was to walk underneath on the public footpath when they were in use!
Soon we came to the Ford across Alresford Creek. It is marked on the map as a ‘Road Used as a Public Path’ so we had originally thought that we might cross the creek there. A few weeks ago, we drove down to recce out the route and met two fishermen who seem to hang out in the vicinity a lot. They were there again today, sitting in their vehicle – one with long blond curls who didn’t divulge his name, and ‘Eddie’ with a baseball cap. They were pleasant and chatty, but they spun us a few tales.
They had told us on our first visit that we wouldn’t be able to cross over unless we were willing to wade through at least three foot of mud – we subsequently found out that they were quite right about this, though it was not us who got muddy to prove it! ‘Blondie’ blamed it all on Essex County Council who had stopped dredging the river which resulted in the whole creek silting up. They had complained that they couldn’t get their boats out, but nobody would listen. Eddie told us that five years ago he was able to drive his car across at low tide, and if we had come then we could have walked over with no problem. ‘Blondie’ was hopeful that it will be possible to use the ford again in the not too distant future, and it will be due to all the hard work he and Eddie have put in, “though we’ll never get the credit for it!” he mused.He told us that they had cleared the stream of mud to the middle simply so that they could get their boats out, but they hadn’t done the other side. Recently they had put some logs in the water, and discovered that the mud was being sucked away from underneath them ‘like a vacuum cleaner’! “We discovered the way to do it quite by accident!” he enthused, “just look at the space underneath that log – a few weeks back I laid it flat on the mud!” He was confident that he had made some brilliant scientific discovery, though he admitted he didn’t know how or why it worked. “Five years down the line, and Eddie will be driving his car over again!” I hope so.
It was fun to talk to them, but we couldn’t wait five years to cross the creek! As soon as it didn’t seem impolite to do so, we retreated back up the road and continued walking along the bank towards a mill which was a couple of miles upstream. The path meandered as it followed the creek, and was rather overgrown because most people use a straight path which cuts off all the corners. Colin wanted to use the easier track, but I persuaded him to stick to ‘the nearest safe path to the coast’. We were rewarded with views of Brightlingsea Church peeping through the trees in the middle distance.
The mill and surrounds are very pretty, but also very private. There is a water wheel under the building, but it wasn’t turning. We came out on to the road and turned uphill. It was a busy thoroughfare, but fortunately there is a wide pavement – in fact it is a cycle track which we had used earlier when setting up this walk. We noticed ragwort in the field next to us – ugly weed! I believe there is a low-level government initiative to rid the country of it because it is toxic to grazing animals. It is not a native plant – it was apparently introduced by an Oxford Don about two hundred or so years ago. He had seen it on his travels round Europe, and thought it would look nice in his garden. It settled in our warm and wet climate much too comfortably, and now it is endemic. A friend of ours, who owns horses and also a small field to graze them in, has to dig up hundreds of them every summer in order to protect her animals. They have a tap-root which is very difficult to remove in its entirety.
To our delight, Brightlingsea Church was open. We were met by a custodian, a member of the ‘Friends of Brightlingsea Church’ as we entered. She proceeded to give us a guided tour which would have been very interesting if we had had an hour or two to spare. She loved her church, and tried to cram far too much detail into what she was trying to tell us. Fortunately, after about fifteen minutes, another couple walked in so she left us to our own devices and she began her spiel all over again. The church is very old, parts of it date from the 9th century when it was originally constructed using Roman bricks. It was probably built up here on the hill so that it was never in danger of flooding from the changing courses of all the tidal rivers and streams across the marshes.
Two things she told us about the church were distressing. One was that their Vicar wanted to close this ancient building because it is out of the town. He wants to use only the smaller church down in the town centre – she thinks it is because he lives next door to it! A group of them had formed ‘The Friends’ in a bid to raise funds and keep the church open. The other thing was that she apologised that we couldn’t go up the tower because they couldn’t find the key – they think it had been stolen that very day! She said it was one of those enormous iron keys of great antiquity (it put me in mind of that key in Lower Halstow Church back in Kent) – not the kind of thing you can easily mislay but very ‘collectable’. She had resigned herself to the fact that it had been taken from under their noses, but one of her elderly colleagues – still in denial – was wandering round the church in a kind of daze. “I can’t understand where it has gone!” he kept saying, “I’m going to look for it again! It’s so big, we can’t have lost it! I don’t know how we’re going to get into the tower now!” I thought it was very sad – how I hate the way our society is going.There were a couple of historical details which really interested us about the church. In the late Victorian times, the Vicar – a Canon Pertwee – used to climb the tower on stormy nights and set up a lamp to guide fishing vessels safely home. It was he who put up tiles around the walls of the church as memorials to those who lost their lives at sea. This type of memorial is unique in this country. We read a number of the plaques, and were shocked to find that such a large proportion of those lost souls were mere boys, still in their teens. Another artefact we found fascinating was the holes in the outside of the wooden door at the west end. They were believed to have been made by arrows during archery practice which always took place in the churchyard on a Sunday morning – in fact I think it was the law at one time that every man and boy must practice his archery between services on a Sunday, that is why so many ancient churchyards boast a yew tree. The larger holes are believed to have been made by musket balls during the Civil War. It’s a good thing this practice hasn’t evolved into Sunday morning target practice with kalashnikovs or testing the effects of modern weapons of mass destruction!
With this thought, we left through the Victorian lych-gate and admired a brilliant floral sculpture by the roadside. We also noticed a hedge nearby that had been carved into a face! We took a lane, which deteriorated into a track further on, in order to meander our way back to the south side of the Ford. It had taken us about two and a half hours to get round – but we had passed a pretty mill with its wildlife pond, and looked around an interesting old church. (Got to be positive about these things!)
Our fishermen friends had gone, and there were some lads on our side of the creek who were trying to launch a jet-ski. One of them – who looked amazingly like Colin in his younger days – had tried to walk out to the water’s edge on what was officially the public road across the ford. He had thick black mud up to his knees, and also up his arms because he had dropped a tool and picked it out of the mud before he forgot where it had disappeared under the gloop. We now knew why we had just spent two and a half hours walking an extra four miles!
We walked along the bank to the disused railway line where we pushed our way through the bushes to the spot where the long-gone bridge had begun. There we sat on the end of the embankment facing the rusty first supports of the bridge on the other side – so near yet so far! We ate our chocolate to give us added energy for the rest of the Walk. Then we started trudging the old railway line southwards all the way to Brightlingsea.
It was three miles, with drained marshes to our left and the River Colne with Fingringhoe Marshes – where the Army were still blasting away – to our right. It was a good path – up on the embankment and becoming increasingly clear of weeds, with even a few rustic seats as we approached Brightlingsea. We met more and more people venturing out from the resort with their families and dogs – including one couple on a seat locked in an embrace, seemingly oblivious to all passers-by who had to step over their feet! Bet he was cheating on his wife – he was no spring-chicken, and she had that look about her.I liked Brightlingsea! It had that busy, happy ethos of a seaside resort on a sunny Summer’s day, and I was pleased to note that most of the beach huts were in use! I wanted to dally there soaking up the atmosphere – after all, we were almost at the end of our Walk and time was no longer of the essence – but Colin kept marching ahead. The tide was right in, splashing against the prom which made it all seem rather exciting.
Whenever I tried to call Colin back, he yelled out things like, “I don’t want my camera to get wet! Are you willing to pay out hundreds of pounds for a new one when this one is ruined? I’ve suffered from that before!” and other such fatuous statements. Now, his precious camera was inside a padded case which was inside a polythene bag which was inside his rucksack, and we were only being gently splashed occasionally on the legs! Truthfully, he was hot and tired, and in one of his ‘I haven’t been to the pub yet!’ moods. He had been told of a ‘very special’ real ale pub in Brightlingsea run by an eccentric landlord and it was only open at weekends. He was annoyed at missing it yesterday when we had completed such a horrid walk (we had gone straight back to the campsite – after spending two hours photographing weather-vanes, picking up the bikes and paying an essential visit to the local Tescoes – because I didn’t want to cook in the dark) and feared that all the ‘good beer’ would be drunk by today leaving empty barrels. I had agreed to go there at the end of today’s Walk, but that wasn’t good enough because ‘all the decent ale will have gone!’ So I was rushed through this delightful resort – where everyone else seemed to be having fun – by a grumpy companion, and I’m still annoyed about it now!
We skirted the beach with Colin moodily darting behind the beach huts and me walking in front of them ‘daring’ the waves. There were all sorts of sea-pools and gardens, I wasn’t allowed to dawdle and absorb it all. There was also an odd kind of tower, the purpose of which we couldn’t work out. Then we came to the end of the beach, and our way was barred by what seemed like industrial type buildings. We walked inland to a street, and further on came out at the Public Hard.
According to our road atlas there is a ferry across Brightlingsea Creek to St Osyth Stone Point, but we could see no sign of it nor any notices, timetables etc. Nowadays people go everywhere by car – they don’t use ferries anymore so they go out of business. We saw a small boat full of people coming across from somewhere, but that landed on a jetty inside the yacht club. On the gate of said club was a notice reading NO PUBLIC ACCESS TO WATER TAXI. So it is all private! We counted it anyway (under Additional Rule no.7) because the detour was too far to contemplate, and we felt we were owed some compensation for the extra four miles we had trudged to get round Alresford Creek.
That ended Walk no.73, we shall pick up Walk no.74 next time on the other side of Brightlingsea Creek at St Osyth Stone Point. We returned to our car which was parked in a street nearby. We drank a cup of tea, then we went looking for the pub that Colin was so anxious to visit. He had read in his ‘bible’ (the Good Beer Guide) that it was open all day Sunday – it wasn’t! He looked through the window at the bar taps, and declared that there was ‘nothing exciting’ and it wasn’t worth coming back for at seven o’clock. (I just felt like screaming, but that is by the way!) We drove back to Wivenhoe and loaded up the bikes. As we were driving out of the top of the town, we passed another of the pubs he had been on about. It was with great difficulty that I persuaded him to stop as it was, by then, three minutes to seven. I couldn’t bear him to continually moan that he never got to the pubs he wanted to (wives of CAMRA members need the patience of Job!), I don’t know what his motives were for not stopping – after all the fuss he had been making. We sat in the garden with our beer, then returned to the campsite.

No comments: