186. Colchester to Wivenhoe

June 2007

This ended up being a rather shorter walk than I had planned, for reasons that I’ll explain later. I had hoped to reach the sea but in fact I only made it part way along the banks of the river Colne.

As before I travelled by train, first a train into London Waterloo, two tube trains to London Liverpool Street, a train from there to Colchester (North) and another from there to Colchester Town. Despite all the connections I had to make, I arrived on time.

Colchester Town Station

I headed back along the same route I had followed at the end of my last walk (but now in reverse) back to the waterfront in Hythe. In hindsight maybe it would have made more sense to stay on the train to Hythe, but there we are.

I liked these crooked houses that I passed on the way.

Colchester

There were also some attractive Clapper-board houses further along the road.

Colchester

Soon I was back beside the river Colne and the eastern side has a good path, which is also a cycle path. The industry I passed last time was now on the other side of the river, my side was now office buildings and blocks of flats.

The River Colne in Colchester

It was clear the tide was low, because where I might have expected to see the river Colne I just saw mud.

This part of the path was not very interesting – block paved, wide and almost totally deserted (presumably because the businesses in the adjacent business park were not open at weekends), so I walked quickly.

The River Colne in Colchester

Soon I had escaped the suburbs of Colchester and was back out in the countryside. The path had now narrowed and was lined with wild flowers and some recently planted trees, which meant it would soon become increasingly green.

The path beside the river Colne near Colchester

To my left I could make out those ugly tower blocks I saw last time (and confirmed they are part of the University of Essex) and in front of that, the trains whizzed past on their way to Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze.

As I reached a slight bend in the river bank, I could look back upstream to Colchester, now just a trickle of water is visible, surrounded by mud – the tide must be coming in as the river was gradually filling up.

The River Colne looking towards Colchester

This was a lovely stretch of the walk, the path disappearing in and out of patches of woodland, providing welcome shade on this hot and humid day.

The River Colne near Wivenhoe

Path beside the river Colne near Wivenhoe

Sometimes the path was right next to the railway line and at other times it was close by, but out of sight because of the trees.

Path beside the river Colne near Wivenhoe

Ahead on the other bank I could see the edge of Rowhedge now coming into view ahead.

The River Colne near Wivenhoe

The buildings got closer until I was opposite the pretty town and now just reaching the edge of Wivenhoe on my side of the river.

The River Colne near Wivenhoe

Rowhedge from Wivenhoe

As I reached the edge of the town the path left the river and headed into a new housing estate.

Just as I was entering this, a few large drops of rain began to fall (I had noticed the sky getting greyer). Very quickly the rain increased in intensity until the point the rain drops were practically bouncing back up off the ground they were coming down so hard. I quickly found some shelter under a slightly overhanging roof of what I suspect was some sort of bin storage building for these new houses and waited for the worst of the rain to pass.

Once the rain had reduced to drizzle, after about 15 minutes, I ventured out from under the shelter of the overhanging roof, put up my umbrella and continued on. Not wanting to get the map out and turning it to a damp mush, I decided to find my own way back to the river. I’m not sure I took quite the quickest way, but soon I made it back to the rivers edge.

The waterfront at Wivenhoe

I soon reached the end of the new housing and then reached the older centre of Wivenhoe.

Wivenhoe

The welcoming pubs I had seen last time, with the beer gardens packed full with happy drinkers were now deserted and rather forlorn.

The waterfront at Wivenhoe

Across the river I could look out to the “Ballast Quay” I had to walk around the inland side of on my last walk on the other side of the river.

Ballast Key, Fingringhoe

I soon reached the end of Wivenhoe and the footpath then resumed right alongside the river. As I headed out of town the trees in the distance became hazy, it was clear another heavy shower was heading my way.

The River Colne east of Wivenhoe

I got my umbrella out again but I could see there was little prospect of shelter this time, there were not even any trees. Soon the rain started, and quickly got heavy again. This time I heard a distant rumble of thunder too, which was not a welcome sound.

The River Colne east of Wivenhoe

I continued a bit further but soon there was another much louder rumble of thunder. It was clear then that this storm was heading right for me. I was going to get wet again but that wasn’t my primary worry. I was now in an area of very flat land, on a slightly raised river bank path. In short I was the highest thing about in the area, and I was holding a metal umbrella. I was worried I might get struck by lighting (which I appreciate is probably unlikely, but….). So it was time to put away the umbrella and switch to a rain coat. Sadly I’d not bought waterproof trousers so the lower half of my legs below my coast (and feet) were soon soaking wet.

As I was not far out of Wivenhoe, I decided to head back to the town to seek shelter again. On reaching the edge of the town I was able to shelter again this time under the overhanging roof of a small office building by a jetty (the harbour masters office, perhaps). Once this shower passed I could already see the sky darkening ahead as the next heavy shower approached, perhaps thundery again.

I decided that perhaps it would be wise to abandon the walk at this stage as I was not comfortable about walking along an exposed river bank path during thunderstorms. I decided that since Wivenhoe had a station I’d walk back to there to consider my options.

Having reached the station I sheltered in a bus stop, as the next heavy shower arrived. Whilst I did so I checked the map to work out the distance ahead to my originally planned destination, Birghtlingsea. I worked out it was a little over 10 miles unless I could get across a ford marked on the map (I had assumed not when working out the mileage, which would have cut the distance if I could). With the time I had already wasted waiting for the train to stop, walking back to Wivenhoe and the fact the weather did not look like it was going to improve, I decided even if it stayed OK now I would be pretty late when I arrived in Brightlingsea. So I decided on a change of plan. (I would point out this was before the age of smart phones so I wasn’t able to check the immediate weather forecast).

So my change of plan was to end here at Wivenhoe, but rather than head home I’d stop and explore Colchester a little on the way home. On my last walk I had not been too impressed by the town having past lots of industry to reach it. But the parts I had seen near the centre looked quite nice and I had read that it was in fact very old. I didn’t quite realise how old until I looked into it once I got home at the end of my previous walk.

It turns out that Colchester is in fact the oldest recorded town in Britain, known to have existed since at least AD79, though the towns original name was found on coins dating back to 20BC, so it is clearly even older. It was at one point the capital of Britain during the Roman era before that status was transferred to London after much of the town was attached and destroyed in a battle in AD61.

So I was hoping there would be plenty of interest in the town and since I’d spent a fair amount travelling to the area I didn’t want to just hurry home. Just as I made this decision, a bus heading to Colchester went past before I could stop it. I hadn’t considered the option of a bus, but having just missed one I suspect it would now be quicker to wait for the next train, due in about 20 minutes which took me back to Colchester Town station.

My first stop was the castle, as I do like a good castle.

Colchester Castle

Though not dating from Roman times this too has a distinguished history having been built during the Norman Era though on the foundations of the Roman temple that used to stand here. It also boasts the largest keep ever built in Britain and the largest surviving example in Europe.

Sadly I was a little disappointed because whilst I was hoping to be able to see the castle as it was once was it was now basically converted to a museum, which I was less interested in.  I did however decide to go in. There were the usual array of Roman coins of course, but many towns have similar displays. I was pleased however that you could go up onto the roof, which I did. The castle is now located in a a pleasant park with well-kept gardens.

Colchester Castle

I was however more impressed with the outside than the interior, because with all the museum displays inside I felt I couldn’t really appreciate the building, which was what I was more interested in seeing.

Colchester Castle

I was however very interested in the Roman Mosaics in the nearby well house of the castle. They were very well preserved, too with only a few sections missing.

Roman mosaics at Colchester Castle

Roman mosaics at Colchester Castle

Having explored the castle I went off to explore the rest of the town. You might notice the some of the rest of the pictures are rather grainy. Unfortunately, I turned the ISO on my camera up in order to capture the mosaics, then forgot to set it back again for a few photos afterwards.

Colchester

Colchester

Having walked through more of the gardens I also came across the remains of St. Botolph’s Priory, which dates from the 1100s, but is now in ruins.

St. Botolph's Priory, Colchester

St. Botolph's Priory, Colchester

After that I headed for the town centre, where there were plenty more grand buildings of varying ages, some stone and brick, some half timbered.

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

It was an attractive town and I enjoyed walking about it. Having not known anything at all very much about Colchester until I came here on this walk I was pleased to find that it is in fact a lovely town, despite my initial poor first impression last time.

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Having satisfied myself I had seen most of interest in the town I headed back to the railway station. By now the weather had improved, but it was too late to continue my walk because after Wivenhoe it was a long way (around 10 miles) before I would reach another town and another suitable break point. So I took the train home instead, first the shuttle train back to Colchester North then the train from there back to London.

Sadly my journey did not exactly go well (and I began to regret having hung around to explore Colchester or not having driven there). As we reached the edge of London the train ground to a halt and stayed motionless for 15 minutes. Eventually the train crept forward slowly and then we reached a station called Gidea Park (I’d never heard of it) where we stopped for another 20 minutes. After no announcements had been made at all I got up and walked to the end of the carriage to find the doors open. I could see the guard standing around on the platform so it didn’t look as if we were about to depart and the train had not been scheduled to call here.

I headed down the platform to ask him what was happening to which I was told, slightly aggressively “I’ve already made two announcements explaining why we’ve stopped” and he went on to explain that there was an “incident” up ahead at Romford on the line (I think a suicide) which is why we’d stopped as the power had been turned off. I replied that I hadn’t heard anything and another passenger standing nearby also confirmed they’d heard nothing. The guard dropped his tone slightly then and asked where we had been sitting – we were both in the same carriage at the back of the long train. The guard went to check and then came and apologised and told me that he’d tested and found that the PA system was not functioning in the carriage I had been sat in. So at least it was not my fault I didn’t know what was happening!

Sadly things did not go well, the guard advised that he was not sure when we would be getting to London Liverpool Street and that it might be better to catch a public bus to a tube station or a station on a different line, but he couldn’t advise which and directed me to the ticket office. The station was run down and horrible, with a large pile of sick on the stairs I had to avoid. When I headed outside there was a large crowd waiting for a bus at the stop. The only place the buses seemed to go was Romford, which was no help because that was where the power had been turned off and there is no tube station there. So I headed to the ticket office as instructed where I was told there was also a bus to Upminster tube station and that was the best option, but from a different bus stop. I found the map and realised the bus stop was nearly half a mile away! Taking a photo of the map at the station (no smart phones, remember, and I didn’t have a street map of East London with me), I followed this to the bus stop. Only to find the bus route in question ran only once every two hours (which surprised me in London) and the last bus of the day had already gone!

Frustrated now I was seemingly abandoned in an unknown area of East London and not really sure how to get home I headed back to the station where the lady in the ticket office was very apologetic (and told me another passenger had come back and reported the same, just after I had set off). By this time the trains had started running again, so I headed back down to the platform to find the train I had got off earlier still here, but the guard told me “we won’t be going to London, we’re going back to Norwich. As soon as we can.”. So I managed to squeeze on another very crowded local train into London, where I had to stand all the way and arrived almost two hours later.

Train at Gidea Park

The only plus side was I was at least able to later get a refund for my ticket as I was over 1 hour late.

So all in all a rather frustrating day having covered only around 4 miles of the coast, much less than I had been expecting and the train problems getting home. But at least the weather gave me the chance to explore Colchester, something I would otherwise not have done which turned out to be far more interesting than I had expected.

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

Greater Anglia trains Sunshine Coast Line : Walton-on-the-Naze – Frinton-on-Sea – Kirby Cross – Thorpe-le-Soken – Weeley – Great Bentley – Alresford – Wivenhoe – Hythe – Colchester Town – Colchester North. Trains run hourly Monday – Saturday and take 8 minutes between Wivenhoe and Colchester Town.  There is no service to Colchester Town on Sundays but see below.

In addition to the above, there are also trains running hourly, seven days a week : Clacton-on-Sea – Thorpe-le-Soken – Wivenhoe – Colchester North – Witham – Chelmsford – Ingatestone – Shenfield – Straford – London Liverpool Street. These trains do however skip Colchester Town. There are regular buses (seven days a week) between Colchester North station and the town centre.

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

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2 Responses to 186. Colchester to Wivenhoe

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, you did right to err on the side of caution, because you are still alive today! Many years ago I was caught out on the Munro Gulvain. I could see and hear lightening very closeby, it was not a nice feeling being exposed on the side of mountain in a thunderstorm.
    Never been to Colchester, it looks nice. I remember that one of the brilliant BBC I Claudius episodes had an episode called A God in Colchester; referring to when Claudius was raised to the deity in the temple in Colchester.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I can imagine being stuck up a mountain during a thunderstorm to be much worse and very scary I can imagine. Glad you escaped that one unscathed too. Yes Colchester turned out to be rather nice too.

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