191. Dovercourt to Manningtree

September 2007

I was nearing the end of Essex, having reached Dovercourt last time. The coast of Essex had been a surprise to me. Far more rural and remote than I expected, but also much longer than I had expected. It is a coastline characterised by rivers, streams, estuaries, marsh and creeks. At times it had been frustrating, with seemingly never-ending twists and turns but other times it took me to numerous places of unexpected beauty and tranquillity. Now I was nearing the end of the county I had mixed feelings. Having walked around so many of the estuaries and creeks I was now nearly at the end of the coast of Essex. I could see the coast of Suffolk just across the river Stour.  As I was reminded from a sign last time, I was only around a mile and a half from the ferry that would take me over to Felixstowe in Suffolk. I thought for a while I might be pleased to finish Essex, but now I was nearly there I was changing my mind.

I pondered whether to take this route or whether to walk around the estuary of the river Stour. I decided that having come so far without the use of any ferry it would be quite nice to cross into Suffolk on foot and walk around the last of it’s estuaries, the Stour. The border between Essex and Suffolk is this river. My decision was helped because there is a proper long-distance footpath running most of the southern length of the estuary, the Essex Way so I hoped that the footpaths would be good and easy and it ends at an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Dedham Vale.

So I set off for Dovercourt with the knowledge I’d be heading back inland again today. I took the train to London Waterloo, the tube over to London Liverpool Street and a train from there to Dovercourt (at the time there were direct trains to London, normally you have to change at Manningtree these days).

The trains ran on time and I was soon back in Dovercourt. I re-traced my route of last time back to the beach.

Harwich

In the distance I could see the cranes at Felixstowe, which has a huge container port and these cranes are used to lift the containers on and off the large ships.

Ahead was a large breakwater which I presume marks the start of Harwich Harbour. There are the remains of what I presumed at the time are World War II defences on the left, Beacon Hill Fort and Cornwallis Battery. Whilst they were last used then they are in fact much earlier as Harwich has been an important port for centuries.

Once around the breakwater I was still following the promenade, also part of the Essex Way. There were more military structures on the left, Harwich Redoubt, a large circular fort built in 1808. The sandy beach is now becoming a bit of a mixture of mud and rocks, with the container ships of Felixstowe looming ahead.

Felixstowe from Harwich

I continued past the round building of Harwich Maritime Museum and then came to the southern arm of the harbour wall. There wern’t many boats in the harbour, the larger commercial port if further up the Stour estuary.

Harwich

The far end of the harbour had some unusual brightly coloured objects and zooming in with my camera I found these are various buoys used to mark the site of ship wrecks etc. I hope they don’t get much use!

Harwich

This marks the end of the footpath (in fact the Essex Way had turned inland a little earlier) so I have to follow roads around the back of the docks to reach the south bank of the Stour rather than the open sea. Here there is a small pleasure pier, Ha’Penny Pier. As you might expect, the name derives from how much it used to cost to access the pier, but happily these days there is no charge.

The pier was originally built for paddle steamers and was originally twice as long as it is now, but part of it was destroyed by fire in 1927. I walked along it, enjoying the views of the Stour and to Felixstowe and the docks beyond, which all looked rather industrial and not at all walker friendly.

Felixstowe from Harwich

I also noticed a Lightship which you can see above. I had never heard of these until I started walking the coast and I find them very interesting, essentially a lighthouse mounted on a ship. This one seemed to still be in use and the array of solar panels suggested it is now solar powered.

Felixstowe from Harwich

In fact as I looked closer I spotted there are in fact 3 of these light ships, all in a row, you might be able to make them out below.

Harwich

A couple of small fishing boats were also arriving at the pier.

Fishing boat at Harwich

Having enjoyed the view, it was time to move on, so I left the pier and continued along the road. This is now the A120, which ends here at Harwich so there was a bit more traffic. There is a second jetty ahead here but this one is fenced off from the public as I’m now entering the commercial port. The A120 was busy so I headed onto the pavement on the road alongside, Stour Road, which is only separated from the A120 by a narrow strip of grass, so I suspect this is the old A120 and the new road is a more modern by-pass of sorts.

When the roads turned left, inland, a footpath continued ahead. This part of Harwich was not so good, as is often the case as I approached the port it became run down. The path was littered with fly tipped rubbish, including TVs, fridges and mattresses as well as huge amounts of general littler, not a pleasant place. This path crossed the roundabout ahead and continue to the footbridge over the railway tracks beside Dovercourt station, where I arrived earlier! This is because Harwich is on a narrow peninsula and this is about it’s narrowest point, 300 metres or so tall. Here I crossed into a residential road and continue ahead to Dovercourt station.

Beyond the station I continued along Station Lane. I think technically it’s a road but it’s a very narrow one. As the road turned left I could continue ahead on a foot and cycle path, part of the North Sea Cycleway. In fact, though not marked on the map, it continued on the old railway line here. The still existing railway line turns north to serve Harwich International station and the port on what I presume was once a loop off the line, whilst this former railway ahead was the more direct route. Presumably at some point it was decided to route all trains to the port and so this line closed, but at least it has been made into a cycle path.

It emerged onto Parkeston Road about a mile west of Dovercourt. Here I turned right heading for a large roundabout which is the junction for the port. The short road into the port is numbered the A136 but it runs for barely more than half a mile. Is this Britains shortest A-road? Rather than follow this though I turned right along the A120 to another roundabout a couple of hundred metres beyond it. On either side now I had the shops of a large retail park. I turned left through this on the Parkeston Bypass. At the end of the shops there was another roundabout and here I could continue north on another cycle path next to the road. As the main road headed for the port, where I suspect there is no public access, the cycle path forked off to the left into Garland Road. This is the village of Parkeston. It did not look too nice though perhaps my opinion was coloured by a couple standing in the middle of the road having a blazing row!

I walked past making sure not to make eye contact in case either of them tried to involve me in their argument! I took the third road on the right here, the first not a dead-end to and left on Coller Road, which is parallel to the Parkston Bypass. At the end of this road I was back on the Parkeston bypass. To my right the A136 continued to the right to the port itself, where there is also a railway station, Harwich International. This port, along with the station, used to be called Harwick Parkeston Quay but was renamed in 1995.

This was once a busy ferry port, with ferries to the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands, Esbjerg in Denmark and Gothenburg in Sweden, though ferries also used to run to Kristiansand in Norway too. However the port has been in a long decline and now ferries only operate to the Hook of Holland with all services to Scandanvia having ceased. The last, the route to Esbjerg ended in 2014.

In theory I can follow this road to the station which (another) end of the Essex Way. However it is a dead-end road to the docks and I could see there was a security barrier across the road, with a security hut along side it. I presume you can ask to walk into the port, but I didn’t see a lot of point as it was a dead-end (and in any case I’d already seen what little was to see from the train earlier!).

So instead I turned left and soon right along West Dock Road which is the road around the south western part of the dock. I then took the first left, the none too promising sounding Refinery Road which the sign showed as to the Refinery only. Harwich wasn’t getting any better and I was beginning to regret my decision to follow the estuary! Thankfully before the road turns into the refinery I can fork left off it and onto the Essex Way. This path is hemmed in between the railway line on my right, the refinery beyond it and to my left, a golf course! It seemed rather an odd mix of lush green of the golf course right next to a refinery!

The path continued to cross the old railway line again. This soon became a track between fields, passing a sewage works and coming to some isolated cottages. The Essex Way turns off to the left here, but I didn’t see it and continued ahead as the path ahead is also a footpath (and the closest to the sea, anyway). This took me the odd hamlet of East Newhall. Here the second path I had been following is supposed to turn left. However the track continued ahead and was more coastal, so I stuck to that. I’m not quite clear of the access here, there was nothing to say it’s private so I assume it’s OK, though it seems odd it stops being a right of way. I continued and this track soon turned left to emerge onto the B1352.

I now had an unpleasant stretch of road walking along this fairly busy pavementless road. In about 500 metres the route of the Essex Way rejoined me from the left, but I’d kept to a more coastal route. About 400 metres beyond that I turned right on the Essex Way leading to Copperas Wood. This is an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve and I continued on the Essex Way soon crossing the railway again via a footbridge and returning, at last, to the banks of the Stour.

The Stour near Wrabness

It was nice to be back in countryside. The Stour is very beautiful here and the Essex Way now follows the south bank of the river along the foreshore of Copperas Bay. It is a mixture of sand, mud and grass and offers lovely views.

This is more like it, and what I hoped this walk would be like.

The Stour near Wrabness

The Stour at Wrabness

Soon I entered the Stour Estuary Nature reserve where there was another information sign. There was soon a very grand building visible on the other bank of the Stour.

The Royal Hospital School across the Stour

This turned out to be the Royal Hospital School a (presumably very expensive) private school.

The Essex Way soon turns inland beyond here but another footpath continues along the shore, so I continued along that. This too soon turns inland so there is no official path along the coast. However there was a beach so I continued ahead along that.

Between Wrabness and Mistley

There were low cliffs here, showing signs of erosion with numerous trees having fallen off them.

The Stour near Wrabness

Beyond these trees I came to a row of wooden houses that front right onto the beach.

Between Wrabness and Mistley

I’m not sure if these are permanent residences or holiday homes, but I suspect the former. Ahead the route of the Essex Way rejoins the coast and there is now a footpath on the map again so I’m pleased I’ve managed to find a more coastal route.

The Essex Way was now slightly back from the coast, passing through Wrabness Nature Reserve and alongside the marshes of the Stour. In about a mile it turned left again, but another bridleway continued along the coast so I stuck to this as the more coastal route. Soon though the path seemed to disappear so I just stuck close to the edge of the fields to my left, as there was now an area of salt marsh on my right, and the path was becoming very boggy and difficult underfoot.

I was beginning to doubt I was still on the correct route when there were some steps up to the left into the field. These had partly collapsed, but I took their presence to mean this was the correct route and made my way up the broken steps into the edge of the field. Just my luck though that the farmer was in his tractor in the field. I walked along the edge and he didn’t seem to object, so I hope it was the right route. This passed the end of Shore Land and I continued ahead until I reached Ship Lane on the left. Here the bridlepath becomes a byway (though it’s surfaced so a road, really) which crossed the railway line and took me back to the B1352 again.

This was another unpleasant section of the walk. I can see why the Essex Way is routed inland of this road through fields, half a mile from the coast. The road is twisting and there is no pavement, but at least visibility ahead is usually not too bad. There are fields and marshes to my left.

Near Mistley

The road I’m following at least doesn’t have any fences or hedges so you can step up into the fields either side if need be.

Road to Mistley

It’s a relief when I reach the edge of the village of Mistley. Here thankfully the pavement begins. I took the very first road on the right to avoid the main road, Stourview Avenue. I followed this only to find it was a dead-end, at least until I actually got to the end and found, thank goodness, a short footpath bringing me back to the main road. I turned right along the main road again, still with a pavement. Mistley is known for it’s maltings and I passed some of these on the left. The road then crossed the railway line and passed Mistley station on the left and beyond that I was in the more historic centre of the village.

Mistley

There is an unusual building ahead, Mistley Towers. There are the remains of a once grand Georgian Church that is now partly ruined.

Mistley Towers

There is not really much of a gap between Mistley and Manningtree, as I carried on along the road which was now right along the river again, opening up to give fine views of the now marshy river.

Manningtree

It was clearly low tide, there was little water visible, mostly just mud and marsh. Soon I had the buildings at the start of Manningtree on my left and the river on my right.It looks like there might once have been some sort of causeway or byway across it.

IManningtree

There was also some sand beside the estuary, even this far up.

Manningtree

Manningtree

Now the there was a Jewson along the coast so my views of the estuary were blocked as I followed Quay Street and then North Street. This soon emerged onto the B1352, Station Road, which I could follow as far as a roundabout on the A137. Here I could go straight ahead to reach Manningtree station. This is on the main London to Norwich railway line so I was able to take a more comfortable “Intercity” train back to London. Signs on the platform told me to “alight here for Dedham Vale” which starts around here and was made famous by Constable. But Manningtree is as far inland as I need to go because the first bridge over the Stour is here, so exploring Dedham Vale will have to wait for another time (though this time I did later got back and go there!)

I had a pleasant journey back to London and as this train stopped at Stratford I got off there instead to take the Jubilee line back to London Waterloo, which is a slightly faster route.

This had been a mixed walk. I had enjoyed Harwich and the old town area. However beyond that was run-down and rough feeling suburbs, which continued to Parkeston and the docks, not an area I would want to rush back to. However past that other than a few unpleasant road sections this was a lovely walk alongside the pretty Stour passing with the usual Essex coastal scenery of mud and marsh!

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

Greater Anglia trains The Mayflower Line : Harwich TownDovercourtHarwich International – Wrabness – Mistley – Manningtree. Trains run hourly seven days a week and take 20 minutes between Dovercourt and Manningtree. There are a few additional trains from Harwich International to London Liverpool Street.

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

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4 Responses to 191. Dovercourt to Manningtree

  1. owdjockey says:

    An interesting area. Following your route and looking whats ahead, I can see that there are still a number of other river and estauries to walk around. Back in the 80’s I went to Harwich once to take my car over to The Hook, It was a night crossing so did not see much.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes the Stour, Orwell need to be crossed before I can get to Felixstowe. I’ve never taken the ferry from Harwich myself, though a friend of mine has and tells me it’s good as you get a cabin on the ferry. Perhaps one day!

  2. Well done for walking round the estuary. River walks can be difficult, can’t they, with some very unattractive areas. I confess I took the ferry 😄

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