Thursday, August 14, 2003

Walk 76 -- Walton-on-the-Naze to Great Oakley

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 98 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 240 days.
Weather: Very sunny and clear – the fug had all been blown away. Pleasant and cool.
Location: Walton-on-the-Naze to Great Oakley.
Distance: 14 miles.
Total distance: 550 miles.
Terrain: Soft sandy cliff tops and some road-walking. Mostly a grassy sea wall on marshbanks which deteriorated so badly that we had to clamber through a ditch and walk along the edges of adjacent fields. Latterly, paths across fields where we sampled some deliciously ripe blackberries.
Tide: In, going out later.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.25, a very short one round a bit of eroded cliff on ‘The Naze’.
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 Great Oakley where we drove round the village several times looking for a place to park the car in the shade. In the end we parked it by the village hall under a tree, and asked some people in an adjacent house if that was all right. One of the women there said she was the caretaker, and it was fine by her. However, as soon as I took my bike off and leant it temporarily against a sturdy wire-mesh fence, another woman came flying out of a manicured-lawn bungalow behind and started berating me about “my fence”! I apologised, and tilted the bike the other way so it rested against a tree which definitely belonged to the village hall. The caretaker’s family thought the whole incident was hilarious – they said she’s always doing that, even when their toddlers allow their ball to roll gently against her fence! We then cycled through Walton to ‘The Naze’ car park and padlocked our bikes to a notice on the clifftop, the spot where we finished our walk yesterday.
At the end, we returned to the car across a couple of fields and through the village. ‘Mrs Fence’ was skulking behind her net curtains and the caretaker’s family were out. We drank tea and ate our chocolate which again we had foolishly left in the cool box. We then drove to Walton, and by this time it was pitch dark. We bought fish ‘n’ chips intending to eat them on the clifftop at ‘The Naze’ car park, but when we got there it was locked shut! We were very surprised because yesterday we had bought a ticket allowing us to park there until “23.59”, and tonight it was only half past nine. We had to wheel our bikes all the way across the grass in pitch blackness because the moon was only just clearing the horizon in a big orange ball – it looked like a UFO! We ate our food in the car, then returned to the camp at Elmstead Market.

It was just as hot today, but there was a breeze which made all the difference! It had cleared the fug away and we could see for miles – the view didn’t end in a mist like it had yesterday. This made it much more pleasant to walk, which was just as well because we had a long and difficult hike ahead of us. The ‘fresher from Wednesday’ that had been promised by the forecasters took until Thursday to arrive, but at least it was here now. Today’s Walk was a little problematic to set up, but we began walking in a good mood at 12.45 which wasn’t bad.
We started at ‘The Naze’ tower. We wondered what it was for, and conjectured that it may have been a water tower. It is a landmark which can be seen for miles around. We didn’t know if we would be able to walk round ‘The Naze’ because the public footpath stops before it reaches the northern end and doesn’t start again until you are opposite the tower coming back on the western side. However, we found that there was a clear footpath all the way round and that we weren’t the only ones using it on this lovely summer’s day. In fact, a lot of people had found their way through the bushes to the more secluded beaches far from the madding crowd.
We were high on a soft sandy cliff, but the ground sloped downwards until this ‘cliff’ became a mere bank – and eventually we were down at sea level alongside the swamps once again. Today’s Walk was going to be very different to yesterday’s when we felt we had left the bogs behind and got to the seaside at last. But the two Walks between Walton on the Naze and Harwich will take us round the last serious detour inland, and the very last of the Essex marshes – and that’s a promise!
We came to a bit of crumbling cliff where it didn’t look safe to continue because the path was sort of falling into the sea! So we skirted round some bushes, and in amongst them we found a nice big shady tree. Even though we had only just started our hike, we decided it was lunchtime! Suitably refreshed, we regained the clifftop and continued northwards to the marshes. Away in the distance we could see Harwich, and ships going in and out of the port of Felixstowe which is in Suffolk – our next county! (We shall be there at the end of the next Walk.) The views were amazingly clear. The path appeared to go out towards Harwich leaving the bank we had been walking on veering away from us to the left. After about twenty yards a sixth sense told me this was wrong, so I took a quick squint at the map – sure enough, we were walking out on to the bogs and the only way back was by retracing our steps. We were surprised that it was so dry underfoot (a fact which led us to make the mistake) because the tide was right in.
So we returned to the bank and continued all the way round ‘The Naze’ until we were back in Walton. A couple of blokes were ahead of us on the path cycling their way round. The path was narrow and bumpy, I wouldn’t have liked to have ridden it – but then perhaps neither of them have eight screws and a plate in their right ankles after falling off their bikes – I have! They kept stopping to admire the view – as we did – but we never actually caught up with them. In Walton we walked round the edge of a holiday park which appeared deserted except for the swimming pool at the far end. Hundreds of people were crowded round and in a little pool of chlorinated water, yet less than two hundred yards away was a long, beautiful and safe sandy beach – there’s nowt as queer as folk!
We didn’t know if we would be able to walk along the northern bank of Walton Mere (marked as a boating lake on the map), but that was decided for us by the tide which completely covered said bank so that we couldn’t even see where it was. We watched a lot of yachts come sailing in, I think they were in a race because children nearby were cheering them on. We came to the edge of a housing estate, and sat down on a grassy sward in the shade of a tree to eat the second part of our lunch. We were getting through our water too quickly – we still had a long way to go.
Things did not go smoothly. We tried to walk along the western bank of Walton Mere towards the marina, but the path gave out and it all looked very private further on. I made the decision to cut our losses and return because I didn’t want to add too much extra mileage and then find we had to turn back after all. Neither of us were in a good mood as we stomped along a mile of road in the searing heat (the breeze disappeared as soon as we left the riverbank) especially when the pavement ran out at the end of the houses.
We turned right into a track which was officially a Route with Public Access, but it soon deteriorated into a footpath. We had to leap into the hedge several times to avoid being run down by 4WDs and BMWs, and that didn’t add to our enjoyment! We couldn’t make out why so many vehicles needed to use this track which only leads to the marshes. There is a causeway across to Horsey Island from the end of it, but that was completely under water because the tide was still in. We couldn’t glean any information about the island – I expect it is all private. According to the map it is quite well drained and has farm buildings on it. They are welcome to it – I don’t want to live in the middle of a swamp!
The bank to our right – which led towards the marina we had missed out – did seem to have a well-trodden path on the top of it, but I expect it is only used by ‘yachty’ types and not the likes of us. The bank to our left – which we followed – also boasted a well-trodden path as far as Kirby Quay, and we met several other walkers on that short stretch.
After Kirby Quay we were on our own, and the path deteriorated dreadfully. People before us had obviously taken short cuts across the corners of fields in places; we tried to be ‘good’ but it wasn’t always possible with the path so overgrown. We had lost the breeze when we left ‘The Naze’ and we were much too far inland now to regain it. Added to that, we were walking due west and the sun was BLINDING! At times we were walking through waist-high grass, and with the ground so uneven there was always the chance of turning an ankle. Eventually it got so bad we literally couldn’t go on.
We clambered down into the dyke on our left – which thankfully had dried up at that point – and up the other side into a field. The next couple of miles we walked along the edge of various fields and managed to negotiate boundaries without having to crawl through any hedges – which was a relief. As we approached White House, we did wonder how we were going to get back across the water-filled ditch – which was on our right between us and the true ‘path’ – without knocking on their back door and asking if we could walk through their garden! But suddenly we came to a bit of the dyke which had dried up, so Colin scrambled through it and up on to the river bank again. He called out to me that the path was ‘quite good’ there, so I followed him over.
And so we came to White House on the legal path after all, where there seemed to be a little bit of a beach. I was amused by a notice reading
which was stuck on a post in the middle of mud – for the tide had gone out! Because of the angle of the sun, I had great difficulty photographing it, but I managed to do so.
We almost went wrong there, trying to walk across the ‘beach’ until we realised there was no actual path. A quick squint at the map told us that we had to follow the track round behind a tiny copse, then there was a stile over which the path led us back to the riverbank. The path from thereon was much better, but we still had to contend with the sun which was sinking lower and lower – more and more in our eyes. By the time we reached Quay Farm we had both had enough – how we wished we had left the car there and not at Great Oakley! We still had two and a half miles to go.
At least it wasn’t so hot because it was evening, but neither of us had much water left and no food. Foolishly, we had left our chocolate in the cool box in the boot of the car for the second day running! We savoured every mouthful of water, running it round and round our tongues before swallowing – it tasted sweet! We rested a few moments, then struck out on the track going northwards. At least the sun wasn’t in our eyes any longer. I got into ‘march’ mode and strode on because I knew I had to. When I am very tired, I am able to psyche myself up to do this kind of thing so long as I don’t stop. I tell myself that the quicker I walk the quicker I can get it over and done with and rest, so I probably walked faster then than I had all day. Poor Colin was flagging. As I strode up the slope several fields away, he was way behind – I waited for him at the road which was about a mile further on, and slowly drunk my last few precious mouthfuls of water. (Anyone would think we were in the desert!)
When cycling down this road earlier in the day, we had been musing about the ‘Frenchified’ names of villages in the area. The Gallic influence came into this part of East Anglia via the Huguenots, French Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries. They weren’t very popular in Catholic France in their day, so they fled to Protestant England and set up whole communities on the east coast. They were very successful, but over the generations they completely lost their ‘Frenchness’ except in the slightly anglicised place names and the surnames they passed on. That is why there are many French surnames in England, they stem from the Huguenots. My friend, Cecilia, married one – her husband, Peter LeMaître, is as English as they come, and he doesn’t really know the origin of his name except that it was probably Huguenot. We were walking through the parish of Beaumont-cum-Moze – beautiful-hill-with…what? ‘The Naze’ was easy – le nez, French for ‘nose’, being the shape of the piece of land. But that terrible path we had to abandon earlier was in the parish of Thorpe-le-Soken, and further south we had walked through the hamlet of Salcott-cum-Virley. What on earth do either of them mean?
Thinking about this helped to pass the time as we marched up the hated road. Due to previous experiences, we had been dreading this road bit because we knew it was a B-classified highway, fairly narrow with no pavements. But in actual fact it turned out to be not too bad. The traffic was light – perhaps most people had more sense than us and were safely relaxing at home at nearly eight o’clock on this summer’s evening. Colin got himself into ‘march’ mode as well, and we strode along, one behind the other, in silence. Colin was ahead when we turned the corner and reached the footpath where we turned off.
We now only had about half a mile to go, but it was a zigzag route across fields which needed careful navigation – and we had both run out of water. Then Colin noticed the blackberries. He started to pick and eat, and so did I. We couldn’t stop – they were so juicy and delicious! 2003 has been a terrific year for fruit, and the blackberries seemed to be particularly plentiful and luscious. (The next month, I made so many jars of apple & blackberry jam and jelly that I ran out of jars and also of cupboard space!) The sloes were pretty good too, but they are too bitter to eat straight off the bush. We didn’t pick any this autumn because I made a large bottle of sloe gin last year and then forgot about it, so it would be pointless making any more this year. (Four months later, at Christmas, we sampled it – and whee-ee -- *¬/^*~"`¬**?<+~"*^_* !!!!) I think we were suffering a little from ‘too-much-walking-in-the-hot-sun’ madness!
However, the sweetness of the blackberries revived us, and their juiciness relieved our parching thirst – the sun had gone down and we had almost finished our Walk. We managed to navigate ourselves pretty well across those fields until the point where we were leaving the ‘coastal’ path to return to our car. Colin was ahead of me, and I said, “There should be a footbridge to the left just beyond that corner!” He was way ahead of me halfway down the hill towards the woods when I stopped by a gap in the hedge, and through it was a plank of wood across a ditch. “Here it is!” I cried out, and had to call him back. (Of course it wasn’t there when he had passed by, it had magically appeared afterwards – but there you are.)

That ended Walk no.76, we shall pick up Walk no.77 next time at the rudimentary footbridge just south of Mosses Farm at Great Oakley. We walked across a couple of fields and through the village to the hall where our car was parked under a tree. In semi-darkness, we fell upon our bars of chocolate and gulped down our tea! ‘Mrs Fence’ – who yelled at me this morning when I leant my bike against her sturdy wire fence – was twitching her net curtains and the caretaker and her family – who had cheerfully given us permission to park there – were out. By the time we felt recovered enough to drive to Walton-on-the-Naze, it was pitch dark.
We bought fish ‘n’ chips intending to eat them on the clifftop at ‘The Naze’ car park, but when we got there it was locked shut! We were very surprised because yesterday we had bought a ticket allowing us to park there until “23.59”, and tonight – when we arrived – it was only half past nine. We walked about a quarter of a mile across this huge grass car park in pitch blackness to get to our bikes which were chained to a notice at the clifftop. While Colin was fiddling with the padlocks and gently swearing because we had no torch, I looked out to sea. I was very puzzled about a strange light I could just about make out in the mist – it seemed quite eerie. Then it manifested itself as the moon which was just clearing the horizon in a big orange ball – it looked like a UFO! Colin was more concerned about his chips getting cold than observing this natural wonder – but I think he was just damned hungry! We decided against sitting romantically on the clifftop in the moonlight with our meal because it was too cold in the wind. Colin rode his bike back to the gate, but I was more wary because I knew there were little posts and other hazards in the grass, and I couldn’t see a thing. I pushed my velocipede very carefully, and we both arrived in one piece. We ate our food in the car, secured the bikes to the rack and returned to our tent at Elmstead Market where we went straight to bed. We were exhausted!
The next morning, a woman in a neighbouring caravan – whom I had passed the time of day with once or twice on my way to and from the toilets – told me how worried she had been when we didn’t come back until long after dark. She thought we must have had an accident, and her husband told her not to be so daft! Just shows how we are ‘watched’ when going about our own business. Fancy worrying about a complete stranger – if we hadn’t come back for several days there might have been cause for concern, but we were tucked up in our sleeping bags by eleven. There’s nowt as queer as folk!

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