I was looking forward to this walk because having spent several days walking around the river Crouch it was time to reach the open sea once more. It was also a remote and rural walk so I was looking forward to being able to stick to footpaths not busy main roads.
For this walk I travelled by train to Burnham-on-Crouch and made an early start to do so because this was a long walk and I needed to allow enough time to catch the bus back at the end, as it did not run frequently.
I took the train into London Waterloo, the tube across to London Liverpool Street, a train to Wickford and another to Burnham-on-Crouch, but everything ran more or less on time so I reached Burnham-on-Crouch at around 9:30.
It was another fine early spring day with slightly hazy sunshine. I re-traced my steps from the railway station to the waterfront which took about 15 minutes but Burnham-on-Crouch is a nice town so it made for quite a pleasant start to the walk.
On reaching the water front I turned left, initially re-tracing my steps from last time, though this time there was no one sitting out at the various pubs – because it was too early for them to be open.
I passed the two Royal yacht clubs again, but all was quiet there too at this time in the morning.
Beyond the second of the yacht clubs there is a large boat yard with cranes to haul the boats out of the river and people starting to arrive presumably for a days boating activity.
Beyond the boat yard was a sewage works and then another thing I’ve not seen for a long while – a caravan site. I must be back near the sea again. I did wonder what it was called (probably not “Sewage Side”). I presume they don’t mention the sewage works next door to it in the brochure.
Soon though I left the caravans behind too and I was out in peaceful open countryside with views across the Crouch to Wallasea Island.
As is so often the case I passed the usual array of rotting away ship wrecks now abandoned beside the muddy river.
On my left too it was as flat as a pancake, as it is all marshland (the Dengie marshes) with the usual array of drainage channels to keep the fields from flooding.
There were a few short twists and turns in the sea wall path but soon I came to an arrow-straight stretch. Clearly these are man-made banks with a line of stones and marsh disappearing into the haze.
It was peaceful pleasant and easy walking, as the landscape was flat and the path good so I made fairly quick progress.
The dead straight part of the sea wall soon ended and I was back to rounding a few tiny little bays which were gradually becoming less muddy and having a bit of sand instead.
Soon I was beginning to turn the corner at the mouth of the estuary and return to the open sea, rather than rivers. Before I got there I had another small area of marsh to round near Holliwell Point though this too was becoming a bit sandy rather than just mud.
I could look across to Foulness Island where there was an odd tower and a few masts visible. This would be the last walk I’d see Foulness.
As I continued ahead I came to a rather strange site. An old World War II pillbox had been incorporated into the sea bank. Presumably the bank was either re-built or strengthened after the war and rather than remove the pill box they just built the grass over and around it!
I suspected it must be high tide, or near enough because now the gentle waves were lapping right at the wall at the bottom of the path.
Soon the grass path widened into a concrete path that felt a bit like a sea-side promenade. I was at last back by the sea rather than river, though there was no beach, the water just came right to the edge of the sea wall.
There were no people either, I hadn’t seen anyone since I left Burnham-on-Crouch.
It was nice to see the sunshine sparkling off the waves, smell the salt air and look right out to a wide vista of sea, as far as I could see. Lovely.
Ahead I came to a sort of beach. Unusually it was not made of sand or pebbles but rather thousands and thousands of shells. I wondered what it was that must make all the shells wash up here.
There was another strange sight ahead too as I came to a gate across the path that someone had decided to decorate with stuff washed up from the sea, which ranged from shoes to hard-hats wood, fishing debris and even a football. A slightly depressing reminder of how much rubbish ends up in the sea.
Before leaving this bit of the coast I headed down onto the beach. It would make a nice lunch stop and I loved taking a close look at the shells.
Often when you find beaches of shells most of them are broken, whether from the force of the waves, people walking on them or both. But here where the coast was marshy and hence the waves tiny and where few people come they were almost all intact.
Having finished lunch it was time to continue and I was surprised (and a little disappointed) by what I saw ahead – miles and miles of salt marsh.
Having been walking next to marshes beside the rivers for ages I was surprised to find marsh beside the open sea as well. I assumed that the waves would quickly erode the marsh and soft mud, but it appears not. So the rest of the walk was back to walking alongside marsh, with the sea only just visible beyond it.
Inland I soon passed another World War II structure though it was a very odd shape, it reminded me a bit of a dalek.
The walking continued to be easy and I soon reached the Bridgewick Outfall.
Half a mile or so later there was another outfall, this one Grange Outfall. This is where the various streams and drainage ditches flow out into the sea, but it is all controlled with sluice gates and the lake presumably to try to keep the land from flooding in winter and from getting too dry in the summer.
Ahead I soon reached another of these outfalls, this time the Howe Outfall. It was dried up revealing mud flats with the footprints of an animal, a deer I suspect across it. I guessed this must mean the tide was going out, but I could barely see it now.
The flat marshes inland had a few extra paths signed that were not on the map which seemed to be some sort of network of toll briddlepaths with a telephone number to call for a license to use them and the warning that they would be closed on Christmas day.
The tide going out made for some pretty patterns though, I like lines of water between the clumps of marsh on this one.
The marsh seemed to be narrowing now and beyond it in the water I could see a line of old boats. I suspected these were also from World War II and had been placed like this when their purpose was over, to act as a form of coastal defence.
Once this line of boats ended there were the remains of wooden posts poking above the water, I suspected some other attempt at coastal defence. It was not the only structure though because I soon came across this.
What on earth is it? I’ve no idea, I guessed at some sort of device to do with radar perhaps? It was very odd and I couldn’t work out why it was here. Perhaps it was in some way connected with the mysterious goings on on Foulness island, or perhaps to monitor shipping. I didn’t know and there were no signs to tell me other than a warning of high voltage cables, so what ever it was it needed a lot of electricity.
I must be nearing Bradwell now as an Essex Widlife trust sign told me I had reached Bradwell Cockle spit, which looked to be more marsh, but with many shells washed up at the waters edge.
I had walked around 13 miles by now and not passed through any sort of settlement at all but that was about to change. Ahead I had an unusual building.
This is the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall. It is a remarkable survivor. It dates from around the year 660-662, making it well over 1300 years old! What a wonderful building and yet despite it’s age it was largely isolated from any settlement. The village of Bradwell-on-Sea is nearly two miles inland (despite the “on-sea” suffix). This too puzzled me. The logical explanation for the name is that it was once by the sea but that the marsh had built up and Bradwell was now further inland (like Rye). But this 1300 year old chapel was on the coast so if it had silted up, it must have been an awfully long time ago.
Still rather than puzzle over the names it was nice to enjoy this lovely location. It is thought that the walls of the chapel are built from the ruins of abandoned roman buildings.
Over the years it has not always been a chapel, for a while it was converted to a barn. It was not until the 1920s that it was reconsecrated as a chapel. According to the internet, (which is of course never wrong), it is the 19th oldest building in the whole of Britain and is still in regular use.
This was the first time I had seen other people since I left Burnham-on-Crouch too and most were bird watchers as there is also an RSPB reserve here and several bird hides constructed.
Before I left I wanted to have a look inside the chapel. It was a simple affair, bare stone walls and a paved floor.
I wondered how many people must have stepped inside during it’s long history. It was a wonderful place. I am not sure the significance of the wooden shelter next to the chapel though.
I had made better time than expected so far because the path along the waters edge had been easy and because it was not that varied there had been little to stop and look at on the way. So I had plenty of time to sit and take in the view before continuing.
As this had already been a long walk I planned to end my walk, at least along the coast here and walk inland to Bradwell-on-Sea (which is inland and hence not on sea) in order to catch the bus back to Burnham-on-Crouch. As I had not passed any sizeable places busses were few and far between out here (and in fact you now have to phone and book this bus a day in advance now – see the bottom for details). So I turned inland here initially along a footpath that soon widened to a track and a car park – which explains where all the people had come from.
Bradwell-on-Sea was a pleasant place. I was also struck by the peace of the place.
Other than when a car passed, obviously there was no road noise, being far from a major road. It was also far from the railway line and didn’t seem to be on any flight paths, so it was lovely and peaceful with just the occasional car coming past.
The church here was also sizeable suggesting it had been a wealthy place (perhaps it still is).
Unusually the tower on the left was brick and obviously a later addition.
I continued down the pretty little High Street past these colourful houses and located the bus stop.
I had printed out the times of the busses before leaving home, as it was not a frequent service and was confident I was in time for the last bus of the day. However I scanned the timetable with dismay and realised the times didn’t match what I had printed, and it seemed I had in fact missed the last bus by about 20 minutes. I began to panic a bit. How had that happened? Would I be able to get a taxi to come here? How long would it take? How much would it cost? Did I have enough cash? I decided to look for a telephone number for the bus company to check with them first and spotted that the bus timetable I was looking at had the right route number, but it said it was operated by Stephenson of Essex. The timetable I had printed out the previous evening said the bus was run by a different company, Arriva. Then I spotted something else I’d missed. The timetable printed at the bus stop was listed as “From 02/04/07”. Today was the 31st March 2007. So it seems the times changed on Monday and someone had changed them over early.
So I stood and hoped the expected bus would come and the times I had were still correct for this day. And it did, though it was a titchy little bus, basically a Mercedes van but with seats in and a colourful “Dengie Village Link” colour scheme (this area is known as the Dengie Peninsula). I was expecting the bus to be almost empty but in fact there were quite a few people on board and as we headed back towards Burnham-on-Crouch we picked up more people until it was almost full. As we reached Burnham there was a rather unexpected experience, as a man with a big camera round his neck flagged down our bus. He explained to the driver he was a journalist from the local paper and wanted to take a photo of the bus (and the passengers on it) to record the arrival of the final bus operated by Arriva of this “Dengie Village Link” service. I guess not much must happen around here if a bus changing to being operated by a different company is worthy of a newspaper article! So probably there was a photo of me and the other passengers in the local newspaper (though I never did look it up to find out).
After that excitement it was time to get off the bus and head back to the railway station for my train home.
This had been a lovely walk. Whilst I would not call the scenery spectacular it was still very pleasant, peaceful and relaxing and it was nice to be back beside the sea rather than a river again, even if it had turned out to be far more marshy than I expected. The chapel at Bradwell too was an unexpected and lovely end to the walk.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Note I believe that it is no longer possible to just turn up and catch the direct bus, you must book it. To book call 01621 874410. You should call the day before however it might be possible to book up to 2 hours before travel. You will be given a time to wait for the bus which might differ by 10 minutes from the timetable.
Essex DartD4 : Bradwell Waterside – Bradwell-on-Sea – Tillingham – Dengie – Asheldham – Southminster – Burnham-on-Crouch. 5 buses per day each way Monday – Friday and 4 on Saturday. There is no service on Sunday. It takes around 40 minutes between Bradwell-on-Sea and Burnham-on-Crouch. You need to book at least the day before for this bus to operate. To do so call 01621 874410, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.