187. Wivenhoe to St Osyth

July 2007

Despite all the problems I had with trains at the end of my last walk I decided to take the train again for this walk as it is now nearly a 2 hour drive from home to the nearest bit of coast I haven’t yet walked. Thankfully this time I had no problems and timed my journey for a direct train from London to Wivenhoe which I made OK and soon reached Wivenhoe.

Wivenhoe Station

Thankfully the weather today was better than last time, whilst not wall-to-wall sunshine it was at least dry and warm, and forecast to stay that way. I headed through the streets of Wivenhoe to reach the banks of the river Colne. It seems it was market day in Wivenhoe with stalls lining many of the streets.

Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe is a lovely town and as I reached the water front there was bunting up. For what purpose I don’t know, but it was nice and added some colour to the town. It was clear when I reached the river that it was low tide as I could mostly see mud rather than water. The boats moored up in the river were resting on the banks of mud.

Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe

I passed a fresh sea food stall on the waterfront too, that was proving popular, with a queue of customers.

I re-traced my steps last time back to the harbour building and then the footpath along the northern banks of the Colne.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

Wivenhoe is not a large town and it’s only about 500 metres from the railway station to the eastern edge of the town, so I was now leaving the town.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The path was easy, wide and flat and well surfaced. On the other bank I could see the Ballast Quay at Fingringhoe that I had had to head inland of on a previous walk.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The land I was walking alongside was flat and marshy so I could look back for a fine view back to Wivenhoe, still clearly visible over the marsh and bushes.

Wivenhoe

Ahead the river began to turn right and soon my path joined the route of the old Wivenhoe to Brightlingsea railway line. Closed in the 1960s, most of the route now has a public right of way over it, which I’ll be following almost all the way to Brightlingsea, as it runs right along the coast.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The curve in the river means I can soon look back and see one last glimpse of Wivenhoe again, just before I lose sight of it for the last time.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The path enters a small area of woodland here, which separates the river bank from Alresford Grange, a manor house a bit inland. This is so called because about half a mile inland is the village of Alresford. I find this a bit confusing as there is also an Alresford in Hampshire (strictly two places, Old and New Alresford) which I am familiar with, but it seems there is also Alresford in Essex which I hadn’t realised until now.

The Colne near Wivenhoe

The banks of the river are now lined with area of salt marsh so I’m now a little distant from the water.

Alresford Creek

Ahead I reach Alresford Creek. The railway line had a bridge across the mouth of this creek. Sadly it isn’t there now and in fact was reportedly the primary reason for the closure of the railway line. The line opened in 1866 and a metal swing bridge was constructed across Alresford creek, which could swing open to allow boats access to and from the then busy creek. It was reported that the high cost of maintaining this bridge was the primary reason the line was listed for closure in the 1960s Beeching report. Sadly the bridge was removed when the line closed in 1964. Now all that I could see was some remains of the embankment with a rusting and ruined shed at the end of it.

Alresford Creek

This meant of course that I have to now walk around Alresford creek.

About 300 metres further east along the river bank a ford was marked on the map. But it was wide, no bridge was marked and I was not confident about being able to cross here, so I assumed I’d need to carry on all the way to the first bridge, more than a mile up stream.

Alresford Creek

The creek was lined with old jetties and piers with a few boats moored up, but it did not look like there was much maritime traffic these days. One of the piers, rather oddly, was not even connected to the land. I assumed it had become derelict.

Old rusting cogs next to the path just near this hinted that it might have once had some industrial purpose, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Alresford Creek

Soon I reached the ford marked on the map.

Ford over Alresford Creek

As I feared there was what looked like deep mud to cross and a section of the river. It was probably shallow but I would not trust trying to walk on the mud to reach it without sinking. So as expected, I was going to have to head further inland to get around the creek.

Alresford Creek

Beside the ford was a lovely old clapper-board covered farm house which was very pretty and looked in good condition. The creek was virtually devoid of water and I could look up it to the church tower of the church at Brightlingsea Hall.

Alresford Creek

The path on this north side of the creek was not well walked and quite overgrown in places, so I was glad it was dry as it is easy to get soaked very quickly when walking through wet long grass.

Alresford Creek

Footpath beside Alresford Creek

I was soon opposite the church at Brightlingsea Hall. This is separate from the main village and I presumed was once for the estate workers but as I got closer it was much larger than I expected.

Brightlingsea Hall church

The creek was narrowing now and ahead I was reaching the footbridge crossing marked on my map. This is at the edge of the village of Thorrington where you can cross next to a mill. I could see this ahead and it was very picturesque, with the mill also very much still intact and again in that pretty white clapper-board style.

Alresford Creek near Thorrington

Oddly there was also a large tent near by. I suspected some sort of event had been going on here, perhaps a wedding.

Thorrington Tide Mill

This is a tide mill, one of only a few surviving and I could see the large mill pond behind the mill, mostly covered with pond weed.

Thorrington Tide Mill

The path went right next to the mill and it felt a bit like walking through the garden of it. Once past the mill I could pick up the road and follow this to the B1029.

Thorrington Tide Mill

Sadly there isn’t a footpath on the south bank of the creek, so I had to walk beside this rather busy road.

I was however pleased to find a pavement. Soon this crossed to the other side of the road where it became a shared pavement and cycle path, though there were no cyclists using it. I followed this path beside the road for around half a mile, to reach the grand church at Brightlingsea Hall that I had seen from the other side of the creek, at the top of a hill.

Brightlingsea Hall church

It was a surprisingly large church given it was in quite a remote place. Ahead a road sign welcomed me to Brightlingsea, but I turned off right just before the sign. This is because I’d otherwise be missing out the area of land west of Brightlingsea along the Colne which from the map now has a path most of the way around it. So I turned right, off the B1029 and follow this road as it soon turned right, heading west.

I was now passing another large area of sand and gravel extraction, with large pools of water created by the gravel extraction. The road I had been following had turned to gravel too and was now a byway rather than a road. Although Essex is generally quite flat I was on a small hill here so as the track twist and turned it’s way back towards the river I could at least get some nice views of Alresford creek and the river Colne.

Alresford Creek

Soon I was back beside the banks of the Alresford Creek now on the other side of the ford I had reached earlier.

Ford over Alresford Creek

I was only about 30 metres from where I had been earlier, but it had taken more than an hour to get around the creek!

From here though there was a footpath back to the mouth of the creek.

Alresford Creek

I could soon look across back to the end of the old railway line and that ruined shed. A shame the railway bridge did not still exist or was not replaced with a simpler footbridge, it would have saved a lot of walking! A couple too were peering over the edge and seemed resigned to having to turn back.

Alresford Creek

Here I turned the corner, having reached the end of Alresford Creek and turned left back beside the Colne. On the other side of the estuary I could see the Essex Wildlife Trust signs for Fingringhoe Wick where I had walked a couple of weeks previously.

Near Brightlingsea

I was now back on the route of the old railway line, so the path soon widened and surfaced with compacted gravel, so it made for easy going. It was clear erosion here was a problem as large grey boulders had been placed just to the right of the path presumably in an effort to reduce the speed and force of the waves and offer some protection to the land behind.

Near Brightlingsea

Ahead now I could see the tower, Batemans Tower, at the edge of Brightlingsea. Despite the name, Brightlingsea isn’t really on the sea as such but at the mouth of yet another creek, Brightlingsea Creek. Nevertheless as I got close it was clear the town saw itself as a resort.

Brightlingsea

There was a promenade, beach huts, a shingle and mud beach which even warranted a blue flag award.

Brightlingsea

It wasn’t much of a beach a couple of hundred metres long, really.

Brightlingsea

There was a little lake I could go the coastal side of, too. The beach huts continued though right along this promenade to soon reach a second larger lake, this one a boating lake.

The Blackwater Estuary at Brightlingsea

There was also another small beach here but again it was mostly mud at the shore line.

The beach at Brightlingsea

Boating lake at Brightlingsea

Ahead a marina was marked with blocks of new flats (sorry “apartments”) going up, presumably to be advertised as luxury waterside living or similar.

Brightlingsea

Just behind this was the older centre and the harbour office.

Brightlingsea

There was also a jetty and here I could see something I failed to find before – the Brightlingsea to Mersea Island ferry.

The Brightlingsea, St Osyth and Mersea ferry

So at least it does exist, even if I was unable to find where it docked on East Mersea. Having just walked all the way around though, I had no need for it now!

East of the harbour it became a little industrial and so the path went inland here along the road behind this small area of industry. It looked like barges were loaded up here with gravel, probably extracted from the pits I had walked past earlier.

Back on the waters edge, now part of Brightlingsea creek, I could see over to Cindery Island.

Brightlingsea Creek

This is a tiny uninhabited, and inaccessible marshy island about 500 metres wide, though it was clearly once used for Oyster fishing as the map shows the island covered with Oyster pits.

My path soon turned inland away from the creek too passing more Oyster Pits, now marshes beside the river. Sadly I have to take a long inland diversion to get around Brightlingsea Creek, as the isn’t a path on this side of the creek.

Soon the path I was on turned further inland to join the road Mill Street, though I could cross this and continue on a footpath to Eastend Green, an eastern suburb of Brightlingsea. Here more new housing was being built and I could turn right along a path to the road, Robinson Road. Here I turned left and soon could fork right off the road beside another lake, probably as a result of more gravel extraction.

Lake near Brightlingsea

At the end of the lake I could turn right on a track (a footpath) heading for Marsh Farm House and beyond it the end of Brightlingsea Creek.

Flag Creek near Brightlingsea

The creek ends here, having almost doubled back on itself and a footpath continues along the left hand side of the creek. It is nice to be off the road and back beside water even if there is little water and lots of mud.

Flag Creek near Frowick

The path soon turns right with the bank of the creek and then reaches a junction ahead with another creek. I have to turn left here to head further inland to get around this second arm of the creek. Boats are moored up on the other side of the creek and beyond this there a wooden bungalows which I quickly realise are rather more fancy than usual caravans, that look more like wooden chalets.

At the end of the creek I turn right but sadly there is no path on the other side of the creek, so I have to continue ahead on the path to reach the busy B1027 on the inland side of this holiday centre.

St Osyth Creek

Thankfully there is a pavement, but once the houses ends, so does the pavement.

This is a horrible stretch of the walk as the road is very busy and now there is no pavement, though there is at least a grass verge that is mostly wide enough to walk on. Sadly I have to follow this road for almost a mile so walk as quickly as possible to get it over with as quickly as I can.

As I reach another caravan park on the other side of the road I can cross to an overgrown pavement, which is better than the road. I continue to walk quickly ahead but then checking the map realise I’ve now gone too far down the road! Thankfully only by about 50 metres, but I didn’t spot the footpath on the ground. I head back and see it, unsigned but at least it’s there and I can get off the road.

The path heads over an area of heathland west and then joins a wide track, which serves Wellwick Wharf to my right. I continued ahead along this but it soon forked. I stuck to the main track, directly ahead, ignoring a more minor route slightly to the right. But then the main track veers left. That can’t be right, so I continue ahead into a field. When I end up near some lakes (part of St Osyth Park) I realise I’ve gone wrong and I’m lost. I get out the GPS and check the co-ordinate I’m at with the map and realise I’m too far east. So I have to turn back and into the next field I decide to turn left to head back to the path I should be on. Sadly I can’t get through the hedge to it, so I have to re-trace my steps further back to the main track and take the more minor route to the right which I now realise is the footpath, even though it’s not signed.

I’m a bit irritated by this as the more obvious route on the ground is the wrong one, and there are no signs. Still I soon reach confirmation I am on the right path with an Essex Wlidlife Trust notice welcoming me to Howlands Marsh. I was hoping this might mean more access is available than is marked on the map but sadly not, there is a dead-end permissive path to a bird hide beside the creek but that’s it.

So I stick to the only public right of way heading south on the eastern side of the nature reserve, away from the waters edge but at least also away from the traffic.

Eventually this path brings me down to the edge of the next creek, St Osyth Creek.

St Osyth Creek

Here I can turn left alongside this creek which mostly seems to be lined with a boat yard.

St Osyth Creek

The path is only a few hundred metres to the road which crosses the creek. I’m now only a short distance from the centre of St Osyth, so here I turn left away from the coast along the road.

St Osyth

The road is lined with houses of differing ages and soon I come to a beautiful green with what looks like a castle. A check at the map shows this is in fact St Osyth Abbey.

St Osyth Abbey

This dates from 12th century and was once one of the largest monasteries in Essex. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII it stopped being used as a monastery. I am not sure what it is used for now all I could find is that it was used as a convalescent home in the past. Whatever it is used for, it is a beautiful building and very well preserved.

Heading a bit further along the road I came to a church where a wedding was just taking place with the bride and groom about to depart.

St Osyth

I carried on a bit further along the road where I was able to reach the bus stop which marked the end of my walk.

From here I took a bus to the short distance onto Clacton as there is a railway station in Clacton from where I can catch the train home. I could have got the bus the other way to Colchester or Wivenhoe, but it took much longer. There was in fact another reason I opted to go home via Clacton rather than Colchester. It was so long since I’d walked next to the open sea as really wanted to see the sea before I went home, too! I knew that my next walk I’d finally reach the open sea once again, but I wanted to have a sneak preview.

Clacton Pier

It was a warm sunny day, early evening now so I had time to sit and have an ice cream on the beach before heading back for the railway station and the train home.

The beach at Clacton-on-Sea

It was nice to see the sea again and at least I know I’ll walk here next time.

Clacton Pier

For now I headed back into the town to find the railway station, which turned out to be a rather grand building, too.

Clacton railway station

From here I took the train back to London Liverpool Street, the tube over to Waterloo and another train home from Waterloo. It took a little over two hours in total.

This had been a varied walk. I enjoyed the initial section beside the Colne out of Wivenhoe and to the lovely tidal mill at Thorrington. However there was then quite a bit of road walking to get around the other side of the creek and back to the coast at Brightlingsea, which was a slightly strange town I felt, like a beach resort, but without much in the way of beach! Then it was another diversion inland alongside busy roads to reach St Osyth, which I didn’t much enjoy. However St Osyth itself turned out to be a nice end to the walk as it was a very pretty and historic town. I was pleased too that next time I would, at long last, reach a beach and the open sea again, it seemed such a long time since I’d walked next to the sea!

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

First Essex bus route 74 : Clacton-on-Sea – Coppins Green – St Osyth – Thorrington – Alresford – Wivenhoe – Essex University – Colchester. Hourly Monday – Saturday, once every 2 hours on Sundays. It takes around 20 minutes between St Osyth and Wivenhoe.

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

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