178. Bradwell-on-Sea to Steeple

April 2007

On this walk I leave the open sea again to head into another estuary, this one the Blackwater estuary. I’ll need to head inland as far as the town of Maldon to get around this estuary, but that is too far to cover in one walk so it will take me two walks to get there.

I’m not sure sure, when I set off, where I’m going to end this walk. There aren’t many busses to Bradwell-on-Sea so I plan to just keep walking until it is near the time the bus I want to catch is due and head to the road to catch it.

I drove to Bradwell-on-Sea because this is a remote area with very limited public transport. There didn’t seem to be any car park that I could see, so I parked on the road near the church.

The first part of the walk is re-tracing my steps from last time along the road for almost 2 miles, back to the ancient and beautiful St Peter-on-the-Wall chapel.

St Peter on the Wall Chapel

Once again I am puzzling why Bradwell has the “on-Sea” suffix. It’s not on sea and a good mile in any direction from the centre of the village to the sea or estuary. I suppose “Bradwell-quite-near-the-Sea” would not have quite the same ring. I did wonder last time if the land around had built up but then I noticed on the map right near the chapel is marked the sight of a Roman Fort so this has been land for a very long time.

It is another lovely sunny day and it is peaceful around the chapel. Although not crowded last time it seems today I am here before most of the visitors arrive. The chapel is just a minute or so walk to the sea wall. Across the marshes I can make out a thin line of sand, some mud, and finally some water beyond that. It must be low tide!

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

I turned north along the sea wall. Largely out of sight behind trees is a small religious community presumably drawn here by the lovely chapel. As I head north the marsh thins out and I am closer to what would be the waters edge.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

But the land is so flat the tide goes out a long way, revealing what looks like a good half a mile of mud flats (confirmed later on the map). Some people are walking on the sand at the edge of the shore but you have to walk over a lot of mud to get to it and I’m not sure how easy it will be to walk on, as it looks like soft sand, so I stuck to the path.

I’ve reached a corner on the coast this one oddly marked on the map as “Sales Point” which sounds like somewhere you might find a checkout, but there is of course nothing there. Out to sea though I can see the remains of some wooden groynes or coastal defences and more of those old barges I saw last time. I presume they are from World War II and now made into further coastal defence, now beached on the mud as the tide has gone out.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

In the distance beyond it too I can just make out land on the other side. Checking the map I realise this is Mersea Island, a large island, though it is joined to the mainland by a bridge these days.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

It looks quite close, but it will take me a long time to walk there. As I continued to head north west the water becomes closer to the shore and I can see the old boats clearly placed on the beach at regular intervals.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

On the other side too I can now see Mersea Island more clearly and can make out many beach huts there. It seems odd to me that the beach this side is mud whilst it clearly must be better over the other side.

Mersea Island from Bradwell

As I continue west there is soon a bit of sand just below the sea wall though the rest of the beach is a mixture of sand and mud. The terrain is easy since it is mostly along a concrete sea wall.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

Ahead I can see something of a blot on the landscape.

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

This is Bradwell Nuclear Power station. Actually strictly it is a former power station, as it had stopped generating in 2002 and is in the process of being decommissioned. The beach now is a mixture of sand, shells and mud. I’m starting to see a lot of shells again now, as I did further south on my previous walk.

Soon there are areas of marsh between me and the water again, though there are people on the beach beyond it.

The coast near St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell

After a while, I decide to join them to have a break from the concrete sea wall. Once over the marshes there is some firm sand and it is quite pleasant. It seems strange now that I am heading back up another estuary I’m finding a better beach than I did on the sea-facing coast further back.

The coast near Bradwell

The coast near Bradwell

An area of marsh ahead though forces me back to the sea wall again. This is now grass rather than concrete which makes for a more comfortable walking surface.

The coast near Bradwell

As I progress along the sea wall there are numerous concrete structures just to my right, what I assume are World War II pillboxes. This couple found one to make a handy seat!

The coast near Bradwell

This is another peaceful stretch of coast as I’ve not passed through any settlement of any size and the path is good underfoot. Despite it’s remoteness this seems to be a coast that is more visited, as there are people around most of the time which is nice to see, as there doesn’t seem to be much car parking close by so people have to walk to get here. Inland I’m getting closer to the power station.

The coast near Bradwell

There are also quite a few boats going up and down the Blackwater, all pleasure boats. Despite the activity around I’m surprised to see a Heron fishing at the waters edge – I don’t think I’ve seen one fishing in the open sea like this before, they are more usually found at the edge of rivers, canals and lakes in my experience.

Heron on the Blackwater Estuary near Bradwell

Out to sea there is another odd structure. It looks like a concrete sea wall or breakwater. I think it is in some way connected to the nuclear power station, I suspect an inlet for sea water to cool the reactor.

The coast at Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

Now I’m right alongside the old power station. It is huge, and very ugly. But then we need electricity and power stations have to go somewhere I guess.

Former Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

From this side of the power station there is another lower building too. It occupies a large site.

Former Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

Once past the power station I’m soon turning the corner and reaching the start of Bradwell Creek. This is a small muddy creek that separates a small muddy island from the mainland, Pewet Island. The name Bradwell too is a clue that despite all the miles I have walked I’m now only a mile from Bradwell-on-Sea, because I’ve been falling the sea wall in big loop.

Bradwell Creek

There is nothing much to be seen on Pewet Island. It is privately owned and not open to the public and apparently contains the remains of timber fishtraps from the Saxon era.

Bradwell Creek at Bradwell Waterside

The more sheltered creek seems to provide moorings for a few boats, though one of them is at a rather jaunty angle and another further up on the marsh is clearly abandoned.

Bradwell Creek at Bradwell Waterside

Just ahead I have come to the village of Bradwell Waterside. This is the only part of Bradwell that is actually on the water. It seems to be almost entirely built around yachting and sailing, since there is a yacht club here, a pub (of course) and a large marina.

The boats in the yacht club are all neatly stacked up in what looks a bit like  giant toast-rack to me!

Bradwell Waterside

Beyond this, and the associated slipway I come to the large marina. This has what looks a bit like an airport control tower informing me that I am at Bradwell Marina.

Bradwell Marina

It is a busy place though most of the boats still seemed to be moored up in the harbour their owners presumably not having come out of their winter hibernation yet.

Bradwell Marina

At the far end is a crane, used to lift the boats in and out of the water and there are old rail tracks embedded in the ground here.

Once past the marina I have left Bradwell waterside and it’s a couple of miles to the next settlement.

The coast at Bradwell Waterside

Sadly the path along the sea wall does not last long as irritatingly I come to a sign saying the footpath has been diverted because the sea wall is unsafe. The signs give a name “NRA Anglian Region” and a telephone number in Ipswich. Usually such signs are from the council which makes me wonder if this is an official closure or diversion.

Former sea wall west of Bradwell Waterside

But rather than risk the sea wall I decide to follow the diverted path, as the diversion is not far inland and I don’t want to have to turn back if I find the sea wall has been breached.

Soon I realise that the sea wall has been breached and salt water has flooded in to what I presume was once fields, killing the trees.

Dead trees on salt marsh near St Lawrence

In the distance I came make out the gap in the sea wall, so I’m glad I didn’t try to continue on the sea wall.

Dead trees on salt marsh near St Lawrence

I did wonder if this sea wall breach was deliberate and I suspect it is – it seems quite common now that parts of the sea wall is breached to create new marsh. Looking back, my view is still dominated by the power station, which looms large over the creek.

After about half a mile the diversion ends and I’m back on the sea wall.

Marshes on St Lawrence Bay

Just as I reach the sea wall it turns inland again to head around another small creek, this one St Lawrence Creek.

Marshes on St Lawrence Bay

It is only a small creek though and in about 500 metres I am around it and back on the sea wall. Ahead is the village of St Lawrence. A few fisherman sit on the marshes enjoying the peace and quite and the pleasantly warm weather, as it’s only early April.

The beach at St Lawrence

The path now goes in front of a large caravan park, Waterside Holiday Park. The beach they look out on is a mixture of shingle and mud.

The beach at St Lawrence

Beyond the end of the caravan park there are then houses, so at least St Lawrence is somewhere that is lived in all year around. The path is a pleasant and clearly much walked route now, as it’s quite busy and the grass has been worn away to mud and gravel here.

The beach at Ramsey Island

Part way through the village there is another small boat yard. Most of the boats are out of the water or under tarpaulin still.

The beach at Ramsey Island

Rounding the corner from this there is a small but pleasant shingle beach, backed by marshes.

The beach at Ramsey Island

This part of St Lawrence actually seems to be called Ramsey Island. It’s not an island, but I can see how it got it’s name because a short distance ahead the land inland too has become very marshy, meaning the Ramsey Island does have water, of a sort, on 3 sides.

Ramsey Marsh

Thankfully the raised sea wall keeps my feet dry though. Once around this marshy area, Ramsey Marsh the coast returns to a shingle beach again.

The Blackwater Estuary west of Ramsey Island

Tide tide has come in now, and it is now quite close to the sea wall. Ahead there is another tiny settlement.

The Blackwater estuary at Stansgate Abbey Farm

On the map this is marked as Stansgate Abbey Farm, so I presume there was once an abbey here. Now there is another large boatyard, this one Marconi Sailing Club. Beyond that is the farm itself and here the footpath has to leave the sea wall, with signs indicating the land ahead is private.

There is something rather ironic about this, because at the time I did the walk the farm was owned by the father of Hilary Benn. Hilary Benn was, at the time, the Environment Secretary who had promised to create the England coast path and open the coast up to walkers. Except, it would seem, the part of the coast in front of his families land!

Before I headed inland to get around this farm I could look across to another island in the Blackwater estuary. This is Osea Island.

Osea Island from Stansgate Abbey Farm

Like many islands in Essex this is a tidal island in that there is a causeway uncovered at low tide that means you can walk or drive over to the island, though the casueway is on the other side of the estuary. Sadly the island is private, so I won’t be able to go there when I get around the other side of the estuary anyway, so I will have to make do with just looking. I then continued on the footpath behind the Benn family farm.

Soon I was round this “Private” area of land and reached the head of Steeple Creek, where the path returned to the edge of the creek and then back to the shores of the Blackwater estuary.

Steeple Creek

The tide had really come in now, as all the muddy creeks were full of water, some of which I could actually watch flowing in.

Steeple Creek

Beyond the marsh I was briefly back on the sea wall beside the Blackwater estuary until I reached of another creek, this time Mayland Creek. At the mouth of the creek was a large caravan site, Steeple Bay Holiday Park. This seemed quite a remote place but it was a sizeable park. I suppose it must be popular with people living in London who can easily come and spend the weekend here and whilst the views are quite pleasant it is still quite far from a good beach.

Steeple Creek

I wondered too how long it would exist as the sea wall was collapsing at one point.

Eroding sea wall near Steeple

It was quite busy at the holiday park but just beyond it, I was back to a peaceful path beside the marshes again.

Mayland Creek

Mayland Creek, Essex

It was getting near the time I wanted to catch the bus now, as it does not run often. I decided I could either head inland to the small village of Steeple or continue to the mouth of the creek at Mayland. Mayland was further and access back to the road was a little more tricky there, either emerging to a road near Bramble Farm just east of the village, but where I suspected there was no pavement or bus stop or head even further west which was too far. So I decided to continue only as far as Steeple where I could follow a good path (I hoped), St Peters Way onto the road.

So near the south end of the creek I turned off the sea wall path and headed past Hall Farm, the path soon coming a track leading to the road leading to that caravan site. This emerged ahead to the slightly more main road into the village of Steeple.

The church in steeple

I passed the lovely church with a very old looking steeple (is this how the village got it’s name?) and a pub, which did not look so appealing and another pub, which looked nicer. The village shop on the other hand looked to have closed some time ago.

Steeple Village Stores (former)

It was a pretty village though with many old buildings, some with the white clapper boards on the front. I found the bus stop close to the village shop and had arrived about 15 minutes before the bus was due.

Steeple

Steeple

In the event it was about 5 minutes late, though we arrived almost on time back at Bradwell-on-Sea as no one else got on.

This walk was nicer than I had expected. Mostly right along the shoreline and this shore was more varied than I had expected, with some sand and shingle beaches and some nice views (well, except the power station). It was nice to have something other than mud and marsh to walk alongside and the paths had been good, other than the brief diversion past the breached sea wall.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Hedingham route D1 : Maldon – Purleigh – Cold Norton – Latchingdon – Maylandsea – Mayland – Steeple – St Lawrence – Bradwell-on-Sea. 4 times per day, Monday – Saturday. There is no service on Sundays. It takes just over 15 minutes between Steeple and Bradwell-on-Sea.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 178. Bradwell-on-Sea to Steeple

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, yes I felt the same about Wells-next-the-Sea, where the sea is now almost a mile away due to man-made activity. I’m afraid you have’nt quite yet sold this area to me, but I do like the clapper-clad houses and the quirky ex-village shop.

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