It’s another walk alongside marshes and creeks as I follow the northern side of the Blackwater estuary back towards the sea to the village of Tollesbury.
Public transport links are sparse in this area, even Maldon – a sizeable town – does not have a railway station, so I’m travelling by car. This time I aim to arrive in Tollesbury in time to catch one of the few busses into Maldon so I can then walk back to my car without worrying about the time or missing the bus. I’m also a bit reluctant to park in Maldon again after incident last time where someone crashed into the car I parked next to, almost pushing it into mine. The roads were busy on the way but there were no major hold ups, it just takes a little longer than I had expected to reach Tollesbury from the A12, as it’s quite far from the A12 at the end of a long B-road.
When I reach the main square in Tollesbury I am in time to catch the bus but surprised to see it is already parked up in the square and waiting. So I hurriedly park grab my bag and head for the bus in case it leaves before I can get there, but I make it in time. My fellow passengers are mostly pensioners heading to Maldon (presumably for shopping) and the conversation on board the bus is all about Madeleine McCann, who went missing a day or two before I did this walk (and still has not been found, more than 10 years on).
A little under half an hour later and I have reached Maldon. I get off in the High Street and follow the road down to the bridge over the Blackwater, this being the lowest point you can cross it (without your own boat, anyway). Although Maldon is a very pretty town, the harbour area is rather industrial and the tide is out, leaving mud flats and just a shallow channel of water.
There is no footpath initially so I have to carry on along the road. For half a mile this heads through the middle of an industrial area, with warehouses all around, though there is a row of houses right beside the road, with industry all around them, it’s not somewhere I would want to live. Just before a roundabout ahead I can turn off on a footpath.
This takes me south east through the industrial area, but with a small area of marsh to my left. This soon opens up to a wider area of marsh, where the path goes along the top of the sea wall to end up on the north side of the marsh.
I can look back to the pretty part of Maldon and the tall church tower I can see above the buildings along the water front. The path I’m on seems to be a man-made causeway over what I suspect was once a mill pond. It’s all silted up now, but there is a building that looks a bit like a mill at the far end.
This is Heybridge Creek and as is so often the case in this part of the world, the bank is lined with boats, some in good condition, others seemingly abandoned and some rather make-shift wooden planks heading out to the boats.
Thankfully the path is better than these planks and heads along the edge of a bank between the creek and some housing behind. When the housing ends, there is a large and pleasant lake to my left. This is long and quite thin, and spreads for over half a mile towards the estuary. For such a large body of water I’m surprised to see it isn’t named on the map.
At the start of it there is a car park and then a good gravel path that I’m following on the top of the sea wall between the lake and the estuary. As I head further east I can look over to the pretty quay area in the centre of Maldon, behind the various sails of the Thames sailing barges that line the water front. I liked Maldon very much and it’s nice to see it again.
I’m also surprised at the scale of the church in comparison with the rest of the town. It is not a cathedral, but it suggests Maldon was (I think still is) a wealthy place.
Looking back over the lake I can see more sails and masts to my left too. This is the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. This is a canal (or more a canalised river, if that’s a word) that links the mouth of the Blackwater with the city of Chelmsford, around 15 miles inland. Like most canals it’s use now is entirely leisure and there are a lot of boats moored up along it’s banks. There are quite a lot of birds to watch on the lake too.
I continue to enjoy the ever-changing view of Maldon on the other side of the estuary as I progress and see it from different angles.
Soon I round the corner, to start heading north east, as the Blackwater makes a sharp turn to the right and the footpath follows it. Ahead I can see the mouth of the Chelmer and Blackwater and once again the banks of the river are lined with all sorts of different boats. Nearest me are some abandoned and rotting wooden hulks, but further on I can see a Thames sailing barge and what looks to be some sort of military boat.
In fact the whole bank between me and the mouth of the canal seems to be made up of rotting boats, very rapidly returning to nature.
I continue on the path until I am alongside the military boat. This turns out to be a retired “fast attack craft” called Defender that is I think being restored and behind it a more traditional Thames sailing barge.
Looking inland, Heybridge Basin is a very pretty place.
There is a welcoming looking pub and some brightly coloured clapper-board houses. Thankfully as I hoped there is a path across the lock gate at the mouth of the canal, so I can cross the canal without having to head further inland.
(A couple of years ago I decided to walk the length of this canal from Chelmsford to the coast. It was a nice walk and I decided that as it was an old canal towpath it should be easy going, as these towpaths were designed for horses. This turned out to be a mistake, it was a mud-bath and I remember slipping and sliding most of the way along a very muddy path, as it was winter).
Looking along the canal I can see the numerous masts of the huge numbers of boats moored along the length of the canal. It’s a lovely view, with the masts of the boats reflecting in the ripples of the water.
Having crosses the canal I continue north soon passing another pub, the Jolly Sailor next to another marina. Heybridge is bigger than I realised as there are several roads of houses beyond this, then a brief area of greenery and the large Blackwater Sailing club.
The path goes around this and heads into what looks like an artificial cut of the river as the bank is suspiciously and un-naturally straight and there are what look like old sea-walls out in the marsh, beyond which is Northey Island.
Across the water I can see a pretty old mill of some kind (I found out later it’s maltings).
The creek here is full of more ruined and rotting boats as I walk around the back of it.
I passed the old Maltings and onwards past a little lake that seems to be surrounded with chalet-style houses. Out in the estuary there are numerous boats now moored up.
It feels like I’m nearing the open sea again now. I start to see a bit of beach rather than mud, though it is a mixture of shingle and muddy sand.
There is another hint I’m nearing the sea too, since there is a massive caravan park just to my left.
At the end of the caravan park I come to the causeway leading to another tidal island (I’m surprised just how many islands Essex has, I’d only heard of Canvey Island when I started walking the coast).
At low tide you can walk out here but the tide is coming in now and only a few metres of the causeway is above the water, so it is not possible to walk out there today.
In fact at the time there was no (legal) access to Osea Island. Osea Island has an interesting history. During World War I it was the site of a coastal motor torpedo base with as many as 2000 sailors based on the island. It was used again and occupied by the army during World War II. Later on it was used for filming.
More recently, in 2005 it became a rehabilitation centre specialising in the treatment of addictions and alcoholism, which is what it was being used for when I walked here. For this reason it was strictly off limits to the public and there were warning signs against attempting to access the island. Despite this Peter Caton did visit the island and wrote about it in his book No Boat Required, where he visited the tidal islands around the British coast. I remember that he was discovered and escorted off the island, but did get to see a fair bit of it before he was caught (I recommend the book). I gather a number of celebrities came here, including the now late Amy Winehouse, which perhaps explains the secrecy. However it did not last. In 2010 the nurse managing the centre was suspended and pleaded guilty to running an unlicensed hospital and the judge was reported to have said the standards at the centre “would really shame a third world country”. I guess another reason for the secrecy!
These days I think it has changed hands again and it is now a “Luxury Island Holiday Resort” so it is possible for the public to get to the island but it does not come cheap as even the smallest property on the island you can rent (which sleeps 2) comes in at over £350 for 2 nights (the minimum). So sadly this isn’t an island I’ve been able to visit.
Having passed the causeway the path continues on the sea wall, which winds it’s way past a number of little inlets and marshy areas.
Inland, across fields I can see the tower of the church in the village of Goldhanger.
After a mile or so there is a thinner and longer inlet which I suspect is man-made and was probably once a harbour serving Goldhanger.
It is quiet now and I can see the pretty church a few hundred metres away behind hedges inland.
Continuing around the creek I am soon back beside the Blackwater again.
At the end of this there is a sand-spit heading out quite some distance into the estuary and it makes me wonder how it has formed and if it is natural or man-made.
Briefly black on the Blackwater after about 100 metres the sea wall heads back around another marshy little inlet at the head of which is a grand house.
The map only shows “Joyce’s Farm” here but this does not look much like a farm. If it is, I’m guessing it must be very profitable if this is the farm house!
A sign here tells me this is Joyce’s Marsh and tells me that this was a marshy area drained to create farmland in the 1970s and there are plans to return it to it’s former marshy state which will benefit wintering wildfowl.
Rounding the corner I am again back on the Blackwater but there is another area of marsh just ahead, Gore Saltings. Here there is a hole mixture of marshy islands and old rotting wooden structures.
Soon the path straightens out so I make quicker progress heading east as the Blackwater continues to widen.
In places the marshes is mixed with a few small shingle beaches.
Ahead and on the other side of the estuary I can make out another familiar landmark, though not a pretty one – Bradwell Nuclear Power Station.
There is a small creek to go around just ahead and then I’m onto a large area of marshland that forms a peninsula, Tollesbury Wick Marshes.
A sign tells me I’m now following the Tollesbury Heritage Trail that goes around the edge of this marsh. One of the things I learn, which surprises me is that just ahead there is a pier which was once the terminus of the Kelveldon and Tollesbury Light Railway which opened in 1907. Given the remote location it was, unsurprisingly, not a success and closed to passengers just 14 years later in 1921, but it does wonder why they ever thought it might be a success!
I soon pass the remains of this old pier now just a grassy bank with a World War II concrete Pill box at the end.
I walked along for a closer look, but there wasn’t a lot more to see, really.
Onwards and the marsh had numerous rows of wooden posts going over it, the purpose of which I’m not sure.
I liked the patterns formed by the little muddy islands sticking up above the water.
Across the estuary I was now nearly opposite the Nuclear Power Station and it was certainly not any less ugly from this side of the estuary.
At the end of the marsh there was a sand bank creating a little sandy island just off sure and I wondered it this was somehow caused by those wooden posts I passed earlier and they were acting as some sort of coastal defence. Not sure.
At the far end of the spit I could see over to West Mersea on Mersea Island. As the crow files, it is less than 2 miles. But it is more than 15 miles to walk there, because of all the creeks I have to go around to get there.
Rounding the corner again I’m soon starting to go around the first of these creeks, Tollesbury Fleet. By now, having been overcast all day the weather is improving and the sun is beginning to break through which makes this last part of the walk more pleasant.
It has bought the boaters out too, as there are numerous yachts making their way down the channel, adding a touch of colour.
Inland the land is a mixture of marsh, water and islands with sheep grazing on the drier parts.
As I’m nearing Tollesbury I see an unusual and very interesting ship ahead.
This is a light ship and there were once numerous examples of these around the coast, acting as essentially mobile lighthouses though I don’t think any are in service any longer. This one looks to be lovingly cared for now, whatever it is used for.
A short distance ahead and I have reached Tollesbury Marina. As I’ve said before, it seems all towns and villages on the coast of Essex have a marina! It is a well used, too.
From the Marina I follow the road inland for about half a mile to Tollesbury, past the old Mason Hall which I think is now part of a school and back to the square, with it’s pretty church. It seems a pleasant village.
This was another walk of marshes, mud flats and creeks, like so much of Essex. However there had been a lot of interest on the way (much more than I had expected), the paths had been good and the terrain and walking easy, so it had been a very enjoyable walk even if the scenery had not been spectacular.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Hedingham bus route 95 : Tollesbury – Tolleshunt D’Arcy – Goldhanger – Heybridge – Maldon. This bus runs 5 times a day Monday – Friday, 4 times a day on Saturday. There is no service on Sunday or bank holidays. It takes around 25 minutes between Tollesbury and Maldon.