Saturday, August 16, 2003

Walk 77 -- Great Oakley, via Harwich, to Felixstowe

Ages: Colin was 61 years and 100 days. Rosemary was 58 years and 242 days.
Weather: Sunny with a lovely cool breeze. It was very much fresher than of late.
Location: Great Oakley to Harwich/Felixstowe.
Distance: 9 miles, including the ferry.
Total distance: 559 miles.
Terrain: Fields, tracks, a bit of road, grassy sea wall (not overgrown this time!) and a lot of concrete prom. Finally we walked on a short wooden pier.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: No.22, the Stour, and no.23, the Orwell between Harwich and Felixstowe.
Ferries: No.6 across Harwich Harbour; cost £3.50 each.
Piers: No.16 at Harwich.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: We visited ‘Ye Olde Cherry Tree’ at Little Oakley while setting up the walk because we actually cycled past it without going out of our way. Colin drank ‘Pressed Rat & Warthog’ while I drank a cider with a much nicer name – ‘Thatchers’.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
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 Harwich where we parked under a tree adjacent to a children’s playground, very near the harbour entrance. We cycled back to Great Oakley, calling at the pub on the way. We resisted the temptation to padlock our bikes to ‘Mrs Twitching-Net-Curtains’ fence! Instead, we left them chained to a post at the edge of the village. We walked across a couple of fields to the footbridge where we ended the last walk.
At the end, we drank a cup of tea as we passed the car, then another after we had walked to the ferry pier and returned. We then drove back to Great Oakley to pick up our bikes, and returned to the camp at Elmstead Market.

It is Paul’s 33rd birthday today. I can hardly believe that our second child is so old! It seems such a short time ago that he was born in the early hours of the morning during a thunder storm at that dreadful ‘Zachary Merton’ hospital in Rustington. Five months later a brand new maternity unit opened at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester, and Zachary Merton became a nursing home for geriatrics! Perhaps Colin and I will end up back there in thirty-three years time when we have finished this trek – doesn’t time fly when you are having fun?
Paul -- sometimes known as Dr Footleg -- is our 'genius' son who taught me how to set up this blog and get the best quality from the snappy photos I want to put in it. When he was a child, he loved nothing better than getting mucky. As a student he took up caving, and as an adult he is still very much involved in cave exploration -- where he can get as mucky as he likes! Like his parents, he is a true eccentric.

We ate blackberries – they were large and luscious – as we walked across the fields to the tiny plank footbridge where we finished yesterday’s Walk. We only went a few yards down the field when we came to a lovely little copse of tall shady trees. We were quite peckish because we had dallied a while at a ‘real ale’ pub that we had passed on our bikes, and we knew that we had a bit of road-walking ahead – and definitely no shade. So we found a pleasant patch of grass out of the sun to sit on, and ate our lunch.
We took a track uphill to the road, which we had to walk along for about three-quarters of a mile – but there wasn’t much traffic and we could mostly get up on the verge when it did come.
We passed an entrance to what we thought might be an organic farm, as it was called ‘Exchem Organics’. Anyway, it all looked very unfriendly with a barrier, security guard and lots of KEEP OUT type notices which we didn’t bother to read. Further on we walked down a parallel lane which led us back to the marshes. As we mounted the seawall – on a public footpath – the bank to our right was barred off with barbed wire and three very visible notices. One was a walker with a diagonal red line through it – OK. One said DANGER Hazard area’ – OK. The other read:
This is not a public right of way
or footpath. You are strongly
advised to return the way you
came as trespassers caught
anywhere in this area will be
prosecuted under the
Explosives Act of 1875 & 1923
It was the words, ‘return the way you came’ (what? all the way back to Bognor?) which really annoyed us, because we had no intention of trespassing on their precious land, and the way we were going was perfectly legal! We had just walked miles round their private bit – hot and bothered, and some of it on roads – ever since Quay Farm, in fact. I found out later (after a bit of research on the internet) that ‘Exchem Organics’ is nothing to do with organic farming. Much less environmentally friendly, they make explosives for the mining industry on an island in the middle of the swamp that we had just spent two days walking round – that is why we haven’t had sight nor sound of water ever since we left Quay Farm. I know they have to keep people out, but ‘return the way you came’ indeed!
So we turned our backs on it and walked boldly towards Harwich, cheering because we were passing the very last bit of Essex marshes!! (We may have marshes to contend with in other counties, but nothing could possibly be as challenging as the Essex marshes!) We looked across them to ‘The Naze’ tower – it was only three miles away as the crow flies, but we had walked sixteen miles since we were there. (It will be so nice to get to Suffolk where we hope to be able to walk more or less in a straight line.) It was a lovely day with a pleasant cooling breeze, and sailing ships of various sorts – including a Thames barge – were out on the water. The grassy seawall we were on was wide and even, making walking a pleasure. We felt quite buoyant and happy as we approached Harwich.We began to meet more people out enjoying the sun, especially after our path joined up with a more important one – the very last stretch of the Essex Way. Then we reached civilisation – caravan parks, playing fields and car parks at first, but at least we were able to use a real toilet! The seaside area of Harwich is called Dovercourt – and it was here just a couple of weeks ago that a group of teenagers were jumping and diving off a breakwater or some such, just as we have seen youngsters showing off all over the place. They think they are invincible, and you can’t tell them that what they are doing is dangerous because they ‘know it all’.
Unfortunately for this group, the water was not as deep as they thought and one seventeen-year-old broke his neck! Naturally his friends and family were extremely upset, saying that he was an ‘ace’ rugby player and now he would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life – which he was for he died a day or two later.
What a waste of a young life! And they won’t learn from each other’s tragic mistakes – the next day we saw a group of lads doing exactly the same thing over at Felixstowe.
To happier things – Dovercourt is a pleasant resort with beach huts lining the shore. There are concrete motifs set in a grassy slope along the prom and a statue of Queen Victoria stands aloft at the top, lording it over the populace. To our right was a plethora of yachts and small boats in the water, and straight ahead we could see processions of ships plying in and out of the port of Felixstowe. This is a freight port (passenger ships leave from Harwich) and in the distance we could see large metal cranes looking like a line of giraffes. There were a lot of people on the prom, for the tide was right in and even splashing over in places. Two little girls excitedly showed us the crabs they had caught!
We came upon our parked car, for we had left it in the shade of a tree near a children’s playground. We stopped for a cup of tea, and to down a few biscuits. I noticed a plaque along the road outside a row of wooden-clad houses, so I wandered along with my cup to have a look. The plaque read:
The calamitous floods of January 1953 brought death and destruction to the whole of the east coast of Britain (not just Canvey Island that I remember hearing about). It was the worst natural disaster to hit these shores in the 20th century, yet it is called ‘Britain’s forgotten tragedy’ because few people under the age of sixty even know that it happened! Why is this? Well, it occurred less than eight years after the second devastating war within living memory, the economy and infrastructure of Europe were still in a mess, but the people had hope because things were just beginning to sort themselves out – food rationing was about to come to an end after twelve long years. The ‘powers that be’ felt that it wasn’t good for morale to dwell on such disasters, so the folk who were directly affected got back on their feet and dusted themselves down, the media (much less aggressive in those days!) went on to something else and it was all quietly swept under the carpet – except by those who mourned.
And how does Norway come into the equation? This Scandinavian country is eternally grateful for the part Britain played in freeing them from the stranglehold of the Nazis. They still send a Christmas tree from their northern forests every December as a token of that gratitude, and it is erected in Trafalgar Square in London. Perhaps, when they heard of the floods, the loss of life and the homes swept away in the night, they felt they could do something more practical for their friends in trouble. Why Harwich in particular? I don’t know – but maybe it is something to do with the Scandinavian ferries which leave this port every day.
We locked up the car and carried on, for we still had another half mile to go before the ferry. We passed a short lighthouse on the prom and about a hundred yards away, on higher ground, is a tall one. Apparently, if their lights are viewed from a ship at sea, it forms a double light, one lamp on top of the other. This is unique to Harwich, so ships know where they are! A bit further on we walked the length of a little wooden pier – it was quite short really. There were a lot of people about this warm summer’s evening, and the atmosphere was very jolly.
That wasn’t where the ferry leaves for Felixstowe, so we retreated to the streets to get round a small dock. Wellington Road has a long brick wall along one side, and this had been brightened up by a mural showing scenes in Harwich. It was very well painted, but unfortunately a line of cars were parked in front of it so I could only photograph bits. We came to the little jetty where the little ferry crosses over to Felixstowe – another town, another county!
We watched a huge ferry leave the international port just up the river, and pass us bound for Esbjerg. Nine years ago, at the end of August 1994, we left Harwich – the only other time we have visited this east coast resort – on that ferry intending to explore Denmark for a week. We took with us our tent and all our camping gear. The first night we camped amongst sand dunes (it was an official campsite) on the west coast, but we had difficulty pegging down the tent because the sand was so soft. The wind got up, and in the darkness we were being battered by torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.
Shortly after midnight, a sudden gust of wind shredded the side of the tent!! I don’t know how, but we managed to get all our bedding and clothes into the car without them getting wet. It was a small car, and fortunately the front seats pulled forward so that the backs went right down making a flat double bed. We stuffed the boot with our clothes bags and food boxes, and put everything else under the table over which we stretched the remaining tent canvas. We weighed it all down with a few large stones, and then went to sleep in the car. It rocked in the wind, but the storm subsided at dawn – we woke to grey angry skies but at least it wasn’t raining.
We surveyed the damage. We managed to find everything, but the tent was just torn strips of material. We cooked ourselves a breakfast, and discussed our options. We could go home on the next ferry – what a waste of time and money! We could continue our holiday staying in hotels – expensive. We could buy a new tent and carry on – so we packed everything up and asked the campsite warden where the nearest camping shop was!
He directed us to a large emporium in a nearby town, where they couldn’t believe that these two windswept mad English wanted to buy a tent that late in the season! We found one of the same style as the one we had just lost, but in a silvery material that you only get in Continental tents. It was slightly bigger than our old tent, so we were well pleased with it. Not only did it pack into a bag half the size, but it was half the price too – and this in expensive Denmark! We were so impressed with the quality that we started thinking ahead to the following year when the plan was to take a tent to the Canadian Rockies – but it must be very lightweight to go on an aeroplane in our luggage. We found just the tent – igloo shaped and large when erected, compact and lightweight in its bag. We walked out of there with two new tents!
We completed our holiday as planned without further incident, and returned to Harwich on the appointed ferry. We must have slept at least a hundred nights in the larger tent before it succumbed to UV light in August 2000. The smaller tent we took to Canada (3 weeks) and Annalise and Mark took it to the USA (2 weeks). Apart from that we have used it in the back garden for the children, when we have taken them away camping, and various other odd nights here and there – and it is still going strong!
We stood on the wooden jetty watching the ships and reminiscing about these things, but we didn’t catch the ferry for two reasons. One was that the last ferry for the day had already gone! The other was that it would have cost us a total of £14 to go over and back – and back we would have had to have come because our car was parked in Harwich. Had we parked it in Felixstowe, our cycle ride would have been more than thirty miles – some of it along dangerous trunk roads. We were just glad that there was a ferry we could pretend we had taken, and that we didn’t have to walk round.That ended Walk no.77, we shall pick up Walk no.78 next time on the beach by Landguard Fort, Felixstowe, where the ferry from Harwich lands its passengers. We returned to our car, had another cup of tea and then picked up our bikes in Great Oakley. We returned to the campsite at Elmstead Market for the last time, and early enough to cook and eat in daylight and take an evening constitutional round the beautiful but neglected pond in the woods nearby.

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