After a walk beside beaches last time this was to be another walk that was mostly away from the open sea, as I need to get around Hamford Water. I described this before as an inlet or estuary but it turns out I’m wrong. According to the official “gov.uk” website it is in fact an “embayment”, to quote:-
“Hamford Water is not an estuary as it does not have a major river running into it. Instead it is classified as a coastal embayment that has been formed due to a natural dip in the underlying geology of the area.”
So now I know, I’m going to be walking around an “embayment” today! Logistically this is a trickier walk than some because it takes over 90 minutes by public transport between Dovercourt and Walton-on-the-Naze. So I resolve that by travelling by train, though even this is not simple because there seems no suitable return ticket that covers both my outward and return journey.
I take the train from my local station to London Waterloo and the tube to London Liverpool Street. I’m not clear what ticket to buy from there, so I have made an effort to get there earlier to ask the station staff. The suggestion is a day return to Colchester, then a single from Colchester to Walton-on-the-Naze and another single from Dovercourt to Colchester. So armed with numerous pieces of orange cardboard and a lighter wallet, I head for Walton-on-the-Naze, first by taking a train to Thorpe-le-Soken and then another to Walton-on-the-Naze. As I reach Thorpe-le-Soken the Walton-on-the-Naze train is already waiting so I run across the platform and make the connection, arriving at Walton-on-the-Naze on time. Today is another fairly good day, a mixture of cloud and sunshine, but still fairly warm and dry.
From the station I turn right and then left along Church Road, away from the coast. The reason is simple, there is no path along the first south eastern most section of Hamford Water so I have to follow the roads nearest to the coast instead. At the junction ahead I cross and continue ahead now on Kirby Road, also the B1034 which soon curves to the left. This road follows the north edge of the town.
Soon I reach a road off to the right which is marked on the map, Coles Lane. This is a dead-end road leading to the shore and Titchmarsh marina. I had debated whether to walk it but was not really enthusiastic at the prospect, being a dead end, but a sign warned “Private No Footpath” so that option was out anyway. I continued soon reaching the end of Walton-on-the-Naze. I was not looking forward to the next section as it was along this busy B-road and I expected that the pavement would end when I reached the end of the town. Thankfully this was not the case and there was a pavement all the way to the edge of the next village, Kirby-le-Soken (it seems every place name is hyphenated around here!).
Here at last I can leave the roads and turn north on a footpath, a track really, called Island Lane which heads to the edge of Hamford Water. The island after which this track is named is Horsey Island. This is another tidal island where there is a causeway at low tide.
Sadly it wasn’t low tide, so the track soon disappeared to the water, with Horsey Island just visible in the distance. I’ve not been able to find out much about the island other than it’s jointly managed by Essex Wildlife Trust and English Nature and you need permission to visit. The former organisations website makes no mention of it and the latter doesn’t exist any more, its replacement, Natural England, also makes no mention of it. So I’ve been unable to find out who to ask permission for in order to visit and hence not been able to visit this island.
Thankfully this marks the point where there is then a footpath along the south edge of Hamford Water so I can now continue on the coast. It is a familiar landscape of mud, marsh and shallow water to my right and flat fields to my left.
Soon the path turns left with the coast, into another inlet (or should that be embayment?) that heads to Kirby Quay, with a Thames sailing barge moored up on the mud (which makes me wonder how the owner gets back on it).
At Kirby Quay the path crosses the creek and as I get there I realise this footpath must be tidal too.
It seems that the water has only just receded enough to allow me to cross with dry feet, though the concrete is still wet.
Kirby Quay was probably once a busy place – but it isn’t now with just a single house and a few small buildings, there is no one about and it is quiet.
The path continues along the banks of the water soon heading north again. The view to the right is the familiar one of the Essex shore, marshes and mud.
Soon the path turns left again and to my right are now three islands, part of Horsey Island, the tiny Honey Island and Skippers Island. The latter seems to have mostly flooded, with the outline of the sea banks around it’s edge visible on the map but most of the land in between flooded. It is owned by the Essex Wildlife trust and once again you have to telephone them to get permission to visit, so I didn’t bother. I couldn’t find anything about Honey Island at all.
On the marshes there are various little wooden jetties and slipways where presumably people moor up boats and use these paths to reach them.
Some connect the marshy islands but I don’t try following them as I can see they are dead-ends. I can also see a wooden building visible on Skippers Island beyond, which I zoom in on.
I continue on the path along the sea wall. The tide is coming in still and now all the creeks and channels are filled with water, it is much prettier like this than when the tide is out and it’s all mud.
I follow this for a mile or so to reach some isolated houses, marked as White House and Gull Cottages on the map which are perhaps in some way connected with the Landmere, a tiny village just inland.
The path heads briefly inland along the track the serves these cottages some of which are painted pink (I suspect this is in fact Suffolk Pink, a colour which I’ll be seeing a lot more of once I reach Suffolk).
There is soon a path turning right off the track and along the south end of the creek as I head to the most inland point of Hamford Water, Beaumont Cut.
The creek narrows until the water disappears as I reach Beuamont Quay.
My path ends at Quay Lane, the minor road that serves the quay. Sadly the whole area ahead is either private property with no footpaths or part of an explosives factory and testing area. That doesn’t sound like the sort of place where it’s a good idea to trespass, so I have to turn inland now for several miles.
I follow the track north here to Lower Barn Farm and then as the track turns right into the farm I can continue ahead as it becomes a footpath heading along the edge of fields. This is initially flat but soon it climbs a gentle ridge as it heads towards the road giving me a bit more of a view over the surrounding countryside, which is all fields.
On reaching the road I had a decision to make. The most coastal route is to turn right along the road, the B1414. But the road is narrow and has no pavement. The road is in a sort of L-shape and directly across the road there is another footpath that cuts off this corner, taking a more direct route, albeit slightly more inland. I decide that the road is dangerous and since I can’t see the sea from it anyway it makes sense to follow this footpath and cut the corner, which is what I do.
Initially it is a track leading to Bucks Farm. It soon becomes a footpath which I struggled to find initially and is somewhat overgrown, but it’s preferable to the road. Soon I emerge back onto the road at Cabbage Row, which is not the most attractive sounding of names. Sadly there isn’t a pavement but at least there is a verge for the most part. Soon the main road turns to the left and I can continue ahead on a more minor road, Pesthouse Lane.
When the road turns left I can continue ahead on the track leading to Mosses Farm, which is a public footpath. Just before the houses there are numerous signs about trespassers being prosecuted and a stile to the right leading into an area of nearly waste high nettles. This is the footpath – and I can see why people might be tempted to trespass ahead to avoid these nettles! Thankfully the nettles are only for a few metres or so where the path then opens out into a field. It then turns right and heads to a bridge over a stream. Once over I turn left onto another footpath that emerges onto the road just south of Great Oakley Hall.
This soon reaches an area of woodland. The map suggests the path goes into the edge of the woodlands here but I continued on the main track on the north edge of the woods, which the path rejoins about 30 metres further along anyway. At the end of the wood the path was then more obvious along a wide track heading north east back to the road.
Sadly there is no escaping the road walking now as I continue ahead along this busy road without a pavement. After about 100 metres there is another road off to the right, Dock Lane. This has security barriers across the roads and a security hut, as it leads into Bramble Island, the explosives factory and testing area so it is not accessible to the public.
The route ahead is unpleasant as the road is narrow and busy and I have to keep jumping onto the narrow grass verge. It is a relief to reach the end of this section where I can turn right on a bridleway opposite Little Oakley Hall. This track leads me back to the shore, at long last, now having finally made it to the north bank of Hamford Water.
On reaching the shore there is a footpath to my left, but very definitely not to my right, where the sea bank leads to Bramble Island and where it is clear you would not be welcome!
So I turn left, glad to be away from roads and explosives!
Soon I come to an odd wooden jetty. It’s not possible to reach it without getting wet feet, though I presume you could at low tide. Signs warn public access is not permitted but it seems to be a dead-end anyway, rather odd.
The path continues around another area of marshland, along the sea wall heading back towards the sea at last. Full of water, the marshland is now very pretty with areas of grass poking above the water and the sun glistening on the water.
In around a mile I reach the shore again. There is even a small sandy beach, Irlam’s Beach according to the map. I stop here for a quick break to enjoy being back by the sea once more and for a rest, as this has been a long walk.
Once I’m ready to continue I have to leave this small beach as it soon ends at a wall and what I presume are some sea defences.
However beyond it there is again another small area of beach. I’m seeing other people now, for the first time since I left the road which suggests Dovercourt is near.
I stopped to check the map here. There is another creek ahead, South Hall Creek. The footpath, which soon becomes part of the long-distance Essex Way heads inland behind this. But there does seem to be a beach ahead and I decided to see if I can follow it into Dovercourt instead of having to follow the marsh. This turns out to be a mistake. After a few hundred metres the beach ends and I have mud and creeks ahead. It would not be a good idea to try and get through so I have to re-trace my steps back to the path and follow the official footpath behind the marshes.
Looking out to sea I can see a large boat leaving Harwich, which is only a short distance ahead which looks like a small cruise ship.
The path around the back of the marsh is good (thankfully), as it’s part of the Essex Way and soon I have reached the edge of Dovercourt where there is a row of brightly coloured beach huts and a small beach. There are only a few people on the beach but the promenade behind it is busy.
I was a bit surprised to find that Dovercourt was in fact something of a resort as the map suggested the beach was mostly mud. In fact just behind where I am was once the site of the Warner’s Dovercourt Bay Holiday Camp. This was used as the filming location for the comedy Hi-de-Hi in the 1980s. The holiday camp closed in 1990 a few years after the last episode of Hi-de-Hi. It has since been demolished and a housing estate built on part of it.
I continued around the corner and north along the promenade lined with more beach huts. It was quite a nice sandy beach and it was nice to be back beside the sea again after most of the walk was around Hamford Water. There was also an odd arrangement of lighthouses with one at the back of the beach and another a little further out to sea on stilts, for what purpose I’m not sure but I expect it has something to do with the nearby port at Felixstowe.
Continuing on the promenade I soon spot a sign telling me it’s 1 3/4 miles to the foot ferry to Suffolk. I’ve nearly reached the end of the Essex coast! However between me and Suffolk is another river, this time the Stour (not to be confused with another river of the same name in Dorset). This forms the border between Essex and Suffolk and just across the bay I can see the huge container port of Felixstowe – my first glimpse of Suffolk is rather disappointing – looking so industrial.
It’s now a pleasant evening and I stop in Dovercourt for a takeway at the back of the beach enjoying the warmth of the early evening sun.
From there I cut inland to Dovercourt station which is a short distance inland on the Stour side, as I’m now on a narrow peninsula which leads to the town of Harwich.
From Dovercourt I took the train to Manningtree where I could pick up a mainline train back to London and then a tube train across to London Waterloo and home.
This had been a mixed walk. A boring urban walk to get out of Walton-on-the-Naze followed by paths along the south side of Hamford Water which was rather nice especially because the tide was in. However then I had a long trudge around roads and inland paths to get around that explosives factory which I did not enjoy. But it was lovely to end the walk back by the open sea and with the excitement of a new county, Suffolk, just a short distance ahead.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Logistically this is a complicated walk as there is no direct public transport between Dovercourt and Walton-on-the-Naze and so it is a time consuming and potentially expensive journey. You might prefer to travel by train both ways as I did. If not, there is a bus and train option or a train only option, the latter however is more expensive and time consuming. First the bus and train option. Take the below bus to Thorpe-le-Soken station then the train to Walton-on-the-Naze.
First Essex bus 3 : Harwich – Dovercourt – Little Oakley – Great Oakley – Beaumont – Thorpe Green – Thorpe-le-Soken – Clacton-on-Sea. Hourly Monday – Saturday and once every 2 hours. It takes around 30 minutes between Dovercourt and Thorpe-le-Soken station.
Greater Anglia trains Colchester – Walton-on-the-Naze : Colchester – Colchester Town – Hythe – Wivenhoe – Alresford – Great Bentley – Weeley – Thorpe-le-Soken – Kirby Cross – Frinton-on-Sea – Walton-on-the-Naze. Trains run hourly seven days a week.
If you prefer to travel entirely by train you will have to take a train from Dovercourt to Manningtree, another from Manningtree to Colchester and a third from Colchester to Walton-on-the-Naze. The total journey will take around 1 hour and 50 minutes. All these trains are operated by Greater Anglia and you can download timetables on their website.