I finished walking the Essex coast around 10 years ago. Or so I thought. It was whilst searching for photos a few weeks ago for this write up that I could not find any for the section between Salcott and Mersea Island. I went through my notes and found that in fact I had decided that this was all road walking along busy roads without a view of the coast at all, that I would miss it out and resume at the Mersea Island causeway. Instead I decided to go to the only part of the coast I could get to on this section with a visit to Copt Hall Marshes, which I did after completing the previous walk to Salcott.
Well that wouldn’t do, so I needed to fill in the gap (and was annoyed with myself that I had been lazy in missing this out 10 years ago). Having looked into the route though I could see why I had chosen to make that decision – the route was almost entirely on roads and roads that also lacked a pavement for most of their length. It wasn’t a walk I was looking forward to and a look at Google Street view confirmed my fears that the road was lined with hedges for much of the length too. Hedges are bad news for walkers, because when the road is twisty, they restrict the view ahead, drown out the sounds of traffic and mean you have nowhere to get out of the way when it does come.
Given a choice of Saturday or Sunday I decided therefore that Sunday would be better because I hoped the traffic would be lighter then. Since it was also winter I figured there would be fewer people visiting Mersea Island then, which is where the road headed. The downside with going on Sunday is there is no bus service, so I would have to walk the road in both directions.
So a few weeks ago I set off for Essex, to fill in the gap. I had a good journey there with no delays and parked on the road in Salcott (there isn’t a car park). It was a grey, overcast and drizzly day – it was clear I would not be seeing the area at it’s best, but then if I was only on roads it did not matter much.
The first part of the walk was along footpaths. There are a number of footpaths heading north from Salcott, I opted for the most easterly one to minimise the amount of road walking I would have to do.
I found the road (Mill Lane) where this began. Initially this is a tarmac road but it soon became a concrete track heading for a farm. On reaching the farm it went through the farm yard. This was a livestock farm seemingly mostly pigs and cows but all were in the barns today, making various odd noises. I initially turned left too early and ended up at a dead end but once I found the right route I found the path, marked with a white and blue sign indicating no way ahead and the footpath going to the left. The stile was rather makeshift, a couple of breeze-blocks placed either side of a wooden part of the fence, but I made it over OK. The path followed the left hand edge of the field north until the road.
It being winter, the field was devoid of any crop.
As I neared the road I was dismayed to find that it was quite busy and most of the traffic was continuing east rather than turning off onto the B1026, as I had imagined it would. So I turned right along the road and past the turning for the B1026, but as I had seen most of the traffic continued straight ahead even though this road was then unclassified. It was a horribly busy road too, even on Sunday.
There were hedges most of the times and sometimes narrow verges, which were very uneven and not easy to walk on, when I had to take refuge. Sometimes there would be a minute or so with no cars, but then a dozen or so would come all at once, often at the point I had no where to go. Most drivers did at least give me plenty of space. Some slowed down too. The usual suspects (Audis, BMWs, Range Rovers) mostly did neither, going past just an inch or two from me.
In a little over half a mile I came for a turning to Abbotts Hall Farm Nature Reserve. I hadn’t spotted this on the map so it came as a bit of a surprise.
It seems however that it is primarily the headquarters of the Essex Wildlife Trust and so the reserve is only open to the public on weekdays during office hours, so I was not able to go down there. Back to the road, then.
Another half a mile or so beyond the reserve, it was a great relief to reach Great Wigborough . There was at least a short stretch of pavement here and a 30mph speed limit (though only about half the traffic took any notice of the speed limit).
There wasn’t much of interest though, but I did like the village sign.
The pavement did not last long though and I was soon back on the horrible road, dodging traffic and occasionally having to jump out the way onto the uneven verge, or squeeze to the edge of the road. It was in the back of my mind that I would have to do this twice (in order to get back)!
In another half a mile or so I reached the small village (a hamlet, really) of Little Wigborough. Perhaps half a dozen or so buildings but it too had a nice village sign.
Though it was not enough of a village to warrant the road getting a pavement. A little further along the road and I reached the turning for Copt Hall Marshes. I though about diverting down here, but I knew it was a dead-end and I had been here before, so I continued along the road, but at least the bus shelter on the junction provided a brief place of refuge from the traffic to have a drink and check the map. I decided as a treat, I would come back and visit this at the end of the walk.
Around ¾ of a mile further along this horrible road and I reached the village of Peldon. This was quite a nice village, with attractive buildings, a pub and a pleasant green at the western end of the village.
There was a pavement too and this time it stretched most of the way through the village. But soon I was back to traffic dodging again, but the traffic did seem a little lighter now, some having been going to Peldon and some having turned off on to the road to Abberton.
Soon the houses ended and I was back to the horrible road walking. In a little over a mile I head reached the end of the road and the pub at the junction.
Here I turned right and followed the road to the causeway over to Mersea Island, which is called The Strood. It does occasionally flood but I think only on unusually high tides, so the island is rarely cut off and a true island.
I was back on the B-road again and the traffic was much busier, as this is the only access to and from Mersea Island, which has a sizeable population. This was the worst part of the walk and I was relieved to finally reach the footpath on the left where I could step off the road, have a quick bite to eat and then turn back. It is soul-destroying really to walk there and back when it’s all on roads and not very pleasant.
However there was a bonus in that I thought there was no bus at all on Sundays. It turns out that there is a service between the causeway to Mersea and Peldon on a Sunday, just not west from Peldon. I had spotted a bus going the other way and I was in luck as soon there was one behind me. I wasn’t at a proper stop but flagged the bus down and the driver did stop for me. It was only a couple of minute bus journey to Peldon, but I was very relieved to avoid the busiest part of the road again.
From Peldon I had the horrible road walk back to the Copt Hall Turning where I stopped in the bus stop again. Checking the map I decided I didn’t want to continue on the road unless I could possibly avoid it. I had already walked as close as I could get to the sea, so why take a chance on this busy road again – I wanted to find a different route going back.
A footpath left the road about 100 metres west of here, heading inland to the church at Great Wigborough. From there I could follow other footpaths and rejoin the road only about 500 metres short of the footpath I needed back to Salcott. So that is what I did. This turned out to be a good plan.
At the point on the right where the footpath should be, a footpath sign pointed me along a wide farm track. I followed this but near the end of the track, another sign pointed me left off the track and over a field. The field had been ploughed and crop planted (but only just poking through the soil) and there was no visible path, but I could see the footpath sign at the other side, so I just walked over the field. I suspect in summer this would be impassible if the farmer is not bothering to re-instate the path after ploughing and plants crop on it.
I now continued into the next field. Passing Moulsham’s Farm this turned out not to be a farm really any more but a large house with a garden and the fields I was passing through just seemed to be a rather unkempt area of grass that was almost an extension of the house of the garden. However the path was at least passable and I soon reached the church at the end of the road. I walked around the attractive church.
Better still the church was uphill so I could get a bit of a view and and look down over to the open waters of the Blackwater estuary. The sea at last, if only a glimpse.
I followed Church Lane and soon came across a footpath to the left. This went round the edge of a field but looked to be reasonably passable without too much mud, so I followed this to get off the road, even though there was no traffic on this bit. Emerging from the field down a step to the road there was then my onward footpath marked just ahead on the right. This was a good track to Hill Farm as it is also the access road to the farm. I got some good views from here as I had gained enough height to see down to the shore again.
I found the route onwards past the farm and was pleased to see the farmer had left a wide grassy path at the edge of the field and the grass was nice and short too. S0 it made for an easy and pleasant walk back to the road. It was so nice to be off that road and I was enjoying it now.
Sadly it could not last and soon I emerged back onto the road. But at least it was only about 500 metres before I could turn left back again to the path to the farm at Virley Hall and Salcott. I re-traced my steps along this this time negotiating the correct route around the farm yard and back to the road and my car. I was glad I had filled in that gap.
Rather than heading home immediately, after the horrible road walk I decided as a little treat I would drive onwards along the same road I had just walked to Copt Hall Marshes and go for a walk around here, so I could at least be by the coast, if only muddy marshes.
I drove down the road and came to a small area with a few cars parked, though it was not signed as a car park. Then I spotted a sign pointing left saying “Car Park”, and a man standing beside it. I thought he was a National Trust warden (perhaps collecting parking fees) so I thought i’d better stop and check. He seemed not be a warden though and was just standing there (why I’m not sure) and told me there was another car park down there but “it’s miles away”. So I headed for that. In about 500 metres I was there. Miles away, indeed! It’s next to an old barn. I took a photo of it, but on my previous visit it was sunny, so here is one from that visit instead!
I checked the map here and found there is not as much path next to the shore as I remembered and part of it is a dead-end leading to a bird hide. I followed it anyway and I could see the wide water channel passing Sunken Island and leading to the wider Blackwater and the buildings on Mersea Island ahead.
At the far end I came to the bird hide, the end point of the path along the shore. Sadly at this time of year there was not much activity to see.
I then headed back and completed the circular route, though most of this was inland just next to fields or along a tree-lined path so there was not a lot to see. I did however reach the farm and hall itself, beside the first car park I had reached (perhaps I should have parked there after all!). The hall is and farm buildings are tenanted however so the public is not permitted to look in. I’m not clear (and neither were the signs) as to whether this also applied to the church but I decided to avoid any doubt and settle for a picture from the road.
I had then just a short walk back along the track to my car where I then headed home.
I opted to head back around the south side of the M25 to get home, a slightly longer route as I know the northern and north western part of the M25 tends to get very congested (and hence slow) on a Sunday afternoon and early evening, whilst the south is usually clear. This does mean paying the Dartford Toll (or congestion charge, as it is now, which has to be done online later) but at least it worked and I had a clear run on the motorway. It was only when turning off an A-road and down a minor road a couple of miles from home (a shortcut, a bit of a rat-run really) that suddenly the cars ahead stopped and put on their hazard lights, just before a corner. Not a great place to stop I thought! However it was then I realised that the problem was a car ahead had failed to go around the corner and crashed into a tree ahead. It was not especially cold (about 10 degrees) or icy, so I can only assume they were not paying attention. There were already other drivers giving assistance, with the car door open and talking to the driver, so having checked an ambulance had been called and there was nothing for me to do I made a U-turn (not wanting to risk causing another accident by passing the parked cars and crashed car, which would mean going around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road) and headed back home via the A-roads instead.
Well this is certainly a walk I would be in no hurry to repeat. This is not the worst coast walk I have ever done, but it is certainly in the top 10, probably the top 5. Almost all horribly busy roads with no pavement and no view of the sea. I came to realise that actually walking beside an A-road is often better than these roads because an A-road is usually wider and with better visibility than these narrow, hedge lined roads I had been walking on. I was glad to have made it without any injury but was also glad I would never need to do it again.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-