182. Tollesbury Circular

May 2007

This is another walk of marshes and creeks, this time around the various creeks at the north western edge of the Blackwater estuary. Such is the nature of all these creeks that after nearly 10 miles of walking along the twisting turning banks of the creeks, I’ll end up at Salcott, only around 2 miles from my start point! So rather than bother with busses (there aren’t many in this part of Essex) I decide to make it a circular route and walk back to Tollesbury.

I drove up to Tollesbury via the M25 and A12 because there is limited public transport in this area. It was busy but the traffic kept moving. I parked in the same place as before, in the square in Tollesbury, near the Kings Head.

Tollesbury

I’d like to point out that isn’t my car abandoned in the middle of the square!

Tollesbury

From the square I head east along East Street and then fork right into Mell Road. I then take the second road on the left, Woodrolfe Farm Lane to pass Woodrolfe Farm and reach the marina.

Tollesbury Marina

The marina is busy with boats though there is not much activity despite being the weekend and fairly good weather. At the end of the marina there is a sort of man-made lake which has a path around one side and a road around the other, so I follow the path. Some rather 1970s looking housing backs onto the lake.

Tollesbury

On reaching the road, I turn left and follow the road back around the north side of this lake. This takes me past a few lovely old sail lofts. I’m not sure if they are still used for this purpose or are houses or offices now, but it is nice to see how well kept they are.

Old sail lofts at Tollesbury

The last one of these is being used by some sort of boat-sales business. I’m surprised to see the price of the nearest one. It is small but is priced at £675. I imagined owning a boat was much more expensive than this, which perhaps accounts for why there are so many marinas and boat yards around the Essex coast, either that or there is something major wrong with this boat.

As the road turns inland I can turn right off it and follow the footpath along the grassy bank. Here I’m rounding a marshy creek, Tollesbury Fleet. On my left are more boats just below the sea wall, though these soon end.

To my right is a large area of marsh land. Tiny grass islands dotted with muddy creeks and pools between them. I can see a few plank bridges heading out over the marshes. It is tempting to try and follow them but I can see from there map there is no path onwards, so it will be a dead-end if I do.

Old Hall Marshes

After passing the sewage works, the path heads a bit inland. The land to my right now between me and the creek is marked as land on the map, but it isn’t any more. It is clear the sea wall has been breached, allowing the water to flood in at high tide and hence the path has been diverted off the old sea wall onto the new one.

I’ve seen this a lot in Essex and I suspect it didn’t happen that long ago, because I can see the remains of trees and bushes now dead from the salt water, and the trees are still in neat lines.

Flooded marsh land near Tollesbury

(Oddly, some 10 years later the Ordnance Survey maps still show this area as land – why they haven’t been updated to show it’s now marsh I don’t know).

Past this area of flooded land I’m now back on the route marked on the map and beside the marshy water once more. On reaching the head of the marsh I can continue along the sea wall to turn back to due east towards the sea (but not for long).

I’m now heading for Old Hall Marshes. This is a narrow peninsula of marshy land, more than 2 miles wide but no more than half a mile tall. It appears uninhabited and devoid of any buildings on the map. I assume it is used as grazing land or farm land.

Soon the path meets the end of the road heading out to the marsh at Old Hall Farm. This is the last building I’ll be seeing for a while!

Old Hall Farm

The path now continues on the sea wall out onto this marshy land. I can see now the tide has come in as I look along the creek and can see water rather than mud.

Old Hall Marshes

Looking inland I can see sheep so my hunch about it being used for grazing looks to be right.

Old Hall Marshes

About half a mile further on I’m surprised to find a large area of water to my left (again, not marked on the maps) and the muddy creek on my right, revealing a large area of mud flats. As a result, the path is largely a causeway now!

Old Hall Marshes

There are some wooden structures heading out from the shore to the mud flats. They seem to have been used, at some point, to enclose sections of the water, though for what purpose I’m not sure.

Old Hall Marshes

They look like they are not used any longer, though I know the Blackwater estuary is famous for it’s salt, so perhaps it was related to that.

At Joyce’s Head I turn to head south for a short while, alongside the sea wall where there is water again, and a ruined boat (you can see it sunken and half sideways below).

Old Hall Marshes

The land to my left is a little drier now and seems to be used for grazing sheep which are settled just below the sea bank path.

Old Hall Marshes

Soon I’m heading east again, along the north side of Tollesbury Fleet, though there is little activity to be seen. It is a rather featureless walk, just the sea bank, marshes to my left and mud and creeks to my right.

Nearing the far end of the marshes a little sand spit seems to have formed.

Old Hall Marshes

Beyond that I can see the houses of Mersea Island, only a short distance as the crow flies but still over 10 miles to walk!

In the distance on the other side of the estuary I can see another familiar landmark, Bradwell nuclear power station.

Old Hall Marshes

This bit of the walk is lovely, there is more to see now with the boats moored up in the creeks (now I have reached deeper water), a Thames sailing barge going by and the bird life on the marshes.

Mersea Island from Old Hall Marshes

Zooming in in the distance I can also see a beach and beach huts out on Mersea Island.

Mersea Island from Old Hall Marshes

I’m looking forward to getting there, it is such a long time since I’ve seen a proper beach having spent the last 12(!) walks entirely around marshes and creeks.

In fact I suspect the land I’m now one was once part of these creeks as to my left is Pennyhole Fleet which looks like a creek but the far end has been blocked by the sea wall the path I’m following runs along, so it’s now a sort of long thin lake.

Old Hall Marshes

I’m now heading back west along the southern bank of the next creek, Salcott creek and there are a lot of boats moored just off the marsh. Somewhere out there is another marshy island, Sunken Island.

Old Hall Marshes

The tide is coming in now so it is hard to make out, but I assume it’s the green marshy land between me and Mersea island in the distance.

In the distance I can see some gentle hills which a look at the map suggests is the village of Great Wigborough.

Great Wigborough

The tide has really come in now, it was surprising how quickly it did so and I’m now walking beside water rather than mud, which is now lapping at the bottom of the sea wall.

Salcott Channel

Between me and the open water are a huge number of marshy little islands. I suspect this is what all the land around would be like if it was not for the sea wall keeping the area to my left drained of water.

I’m getting near to Salcott now and soon pass a sign facing the other way, which if I look at the other side welcomes me to the Blackwater Estuary (which I guess I must therefore be leaving) but it does tell me that the Old Hall Marshes where I have been walking are owned by the RSPB and has numerous important designations such as a “Natura 2000 site” and “Ramsar Site”, whatever those things might be.

Salcott creek

A short distance ahead and the footpath along the sea wall ends. There is a lot of road walking ahead, but first I need to cross the farm land to Salcott. I’m pleased to see that the farmer has made the route of the footpath very obvious and made a clear line that is clear of crops. Well done!

Footpath near Salcott

This brings me to the end of the road in the small village of Salcott. It has a pretty church which is obviously well looked after as a man is cutting the lawn as I pass.

Salcott church

Just passed the church there is another footpath off to the left. This is the point where I turn back to Tollesbury as there is no bus service to Salcott (the nearest is on the B1026 to the west of the village). The path initially heads over an area of grass so neatly mowed it looks more like a football pitch, but without the lines.

Salcott

Beyond that it heads across a large field with a distant view of the Blackwater estuary.

Oddly ahead, the footpath on the map is marked as going right over a small pool of water. I walk around the edge of it instead, to pick up a farm track and then turn off it back over the fields. This is not the most interesting walking as the fields are vast.

Near Tollesbury

In a little over a mile I can emerge from the fields to a minor road, the other end of Old Hall Road. Here I turn left and on meeting the “main” road it is odd to see that the road to the left is called Back Road whilst to the right it is North Road. The next section though is not pleasant.

I have almost a mile of road walking. Although not a classified road there is still a fair bit of traffic and no pavement. In places there are hedges beside the road, but much of it is open with small grass verges going straight into the fields, which at least provides a way to get out of the way of the traffic.

It is a relief to soon reach the edge of Tollesbury and the safety of a pavement. I pass the Hope Inn (since closed, demolished and replaced by flats) and continue past the pretty cottages of Tollesbury to head back to the square where I parked.

The Hope Inn, Tollesbury

Tollesbury

This was a pleasant walk, but not the most interesting or varied either, as it was mostly following sea walls beside marshes and mud. But it was nice to see the views of Mersea Island and the bird life of the Old Hall marshes.

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

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2 Responses to 182. Tollesbury Circular

  1. Marshes, marshes, and more marshes! I’m wondering how you coped with the next section, because my route involved a horrible stretch of road walking…

    • jcombe says:

      Well I coped but yes the next section is truly horrible, one of the worst on the whole coast. In fact when I walked the coast of Essex I cheated and missed this bit out, instead driving to the National Trust Copt Hall and going for a walk around there, but otherwise missing out the section of coast between Salcott and the Mersea Island causeway. I’d forgotten I’d done that having thought I’d finished England so I went back to walk it properly a few weeks ago – sticking to that horrible road. Not a walk I’d want to repeat!

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