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Monday, 25 April 2011

Walk 30 Dovercourt, Harwich and Mistley

Walk 30   Dovercourt, Harwich and Mistley (Essex)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 9 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, a few hilly parts but mostly flat
Terrain: roads and paths
Access: Parking at Harwich and Mistley
Public transport: A good walk to do using the train with a regular service to Harwich, then back to Mistley station followed by a walk to Manningtree station with its links to Ipswich and Colchester.

Full access to the coast from the last walk at Beaumont Key and Kirby-le Soken begins at Dovercourt, south of Harwich.

The walk is divided into two parts. The first involves a return walk to Dovercourt from Harwich centre then a drive or train ride to Mistley for the second part. The train is on the Mayflower Line (Manningtree to Harwich) which held its 150th anniversary in 2004. There are two short stretches of coastal path near Wrabness on the Essex Way but access to them requires a considerable amount of inland walking which I felt was not worth the effort.
Leaving the centre of Harwich walk south to Dovercourt until the path starts heading inland around the marshes then retrace your steps. There is much of interest to see in this area. Dovercourt with its bay is the resort area of Harwich. It has a sandy beach and leisure facilities behind the long line of beach huts. The Dovercourt lighthouses are distinctive landmarks. They were built in 1863 and replaced by buoys in 1917, however, they were restored in the 1980s following a successful appeal for money. Further information is displayed nearby.

Further along it is worth walking nearer the road which rises above the seafront. A statue of Queen Victoria rather oddly looks inwards to the town rather than out to sea. Not far from here was Dovercourt Spa. This was opened on the seafront in 1854 to coincide with the arrival of the railway to Harwich. Hundreds of people came to drink the waters from the chalybeate (a natural spring containing iron salts). The spa was known to exist before 1670. It was demolished during World War 1 after the medical officer of health suspected the purity of its water.

Continuing towards Harwich there are two more lighthouses. The first is the low lighthouse near the seafront and, the second, the high lighthouse is a little more inland. Both lighthouses were built in 1818 and replaced earlier wooden structures. They were the leading lights into the harbour entrance but owing to the silting up of nearby Landguard Point they no longer guided ships safely and became known as ‘misleading lights’. They were replaced by the iron lighthouses at Dovercourt in 1863. The low lighthouse now contains a maritime museum. The high lighthouse was renovated in 1975 by the district council to commemorate European Architectural Heritage Year.

A little further north on Harwich Green is the restored Treadwheel crane. This is the only surviving example of a two-wheel man operated crane. It was built in 1667 on the site of the naval yard and was moved to this site in 1932. It was operated by men walking on the interior of the 16 foot diameter wheels. The earliest known type of this crane was built by the Romans and they were common in the middle ages in this area. In the eighteenth century many were operated by donkeys rather than men.

The Old Lifeboat House is not far from this point. It was built in 1876, closed in 1917 and is now a boat store. The new lifeboat station is further around the harbour. A little bit inland is the Electric Palace built in 1911. This is one of the oldest purpose built cinemas to survive complete with its ‘silent screen’, original projection room and ornamental frontage. It was closed in 1956 but reopened in 1981 with films again shown regularly. Its patron is the film actor Clive Owen.

In Harwich, near to the harbour are several interesting buildings reflecting the town’s maritime history e.g. the wooden boarded Pier Hotel. Across the harbour to the north can be seen the port of Felixstowe. The harbour and town were important in the 14th and 15th centuries as bases for sea battles against Holland and France. The Mayflower sailed to America in 1620 but originally came from here; the master Christopher Jones lived in the town. Later, Samuel Pepys was a frequent visitor to Harwich in his role as Lord of the Admiralty.

In both world wars the town was important as it was closer to Germany than any other suitable harbour. In World War 1 the area was a base for destroyers and submarines and the German U boats surrendered here in 1918. In World War 2 it was a base for destroyers, corvettes, and mine sweepers. Dutch, Polish and French ships also operated out of here and the town accommodated Czechoslovakian soldiers. 

On the edge of the harbour is a small building which marked the end of the Halfpenny Pier; it now houses a Mayflower exhibition. The pier, originally called The Corporation Pier, was built in 1853. Later it changed its name to reflect the charge to walk on it. When it first opened it was 343 feet long but half was destroyed by fire in 1927. It was used by paddle steamers and cross channel ships in the late 1800s and early 1900s until it was replaced by Trinity Pier a short distance away.

Walking to the far edge of the pier there are some large modern buildings belonging to Trinity House. This corporation came into being during the time of King Henry V111 and its main functions are care of lighthouses, aids to navigation e.g. buoys/lightships and safety at sea.

From the most northerly point of Harwich is a view across the estuary of the River Stour to Shotley Gate. On the train to Mistley the stop at Harwich International Port there were some fairly impressive ships waiting at the quayside.

Mistley is an attractive place overlooking the River Stour. One of the significant landmarks is a Victorian Brewery with its malt houses. The Mistley Thorn pub is on the site of an older pub in which Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, tried and condemned dozens of local women to death in the 1600s. He was a resident of nearby Manningtree. Another landmark is a pair of 18th century towers near to the road. These were the legacy of an attempt to turn the town into a spa and are the remains of a church built there. Walking to the west out of Mistley is an attractive river side path. It was spring when I went and there were hundreds of mute swans on the river side.

If using the train you can carry on to Manningtree (mostly by road) or return to Mistley.

Snaps show: the treadwheel crane, Harwich; The old lifeboat station, Harwich; the international port, Harwich; Mistley Towers; Queen Victoria statue, Dovercourt; Electric Palace cinema, Harwich; The Pier Hotel, Harwich; Trinity House, Harwich.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Walk 29 Kirby-le-Soken to Thorpe-le-Soken

Walk 29   Kirby-le-Soken to Thorpe-le-Soken

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 7 miles
Difficulty: easy, flat
Terrain: roads and paths, a few can be muddy
Access: Parking in the road at both villages
Public transport: Mondays to Fridays only, number 8 runs from Clacton to Kirby-le- Soken once an hour, and number 4 runs from Thorpe-le-Soken to Clacton also once an hour. (Always check latest information before going).

A short coastal walk near to Horsey Island. No or little access to the coast after Walton on the Naze until you get to Kirby.

This is a remote quiet walk, a contrast to parts of the previous one through Clacton and Walton. The scenery has its own unique attractiveness. Take the road out of Kirby-le-Soken (a typical English village in many ways) to the north and follow it up to the quay. A house with a wooden gate looks over a rather desolate scene – there was just one large sailing ship moored at the time I went. It does not take much imagination to understand why eighteenth century smugglers were prolific in this area.

The path winds its way along the marshes; Horsey Island can be seen in the middle distance. This is connected to the mainland by a causeway called The Wade but it is only accessible at low tide. The island features in The Secret Water by Arthur Ransome and is called Swallow Island in the book. Further to the north is Peewit Island which becomes Peewitland in the same book.

Keep following the path to the west and across the water is Skipper’s Island. Along with Horsey Island it is now a nature reserve managed by Essex Wildlife Trust but access is only by arrangement with the warden there. This island and Hamford Water also feature in Secret Water, the name is changed to Mastodon Island in the book.

Continue to Beaumont Quay. This is not used any more but the concrete structure is said to have been recycled from the old London Bridge. There are a few old cottages along the bank. One of these was owned by Sir William Gull, physician to Queen Victoria, who was supposed to have cured Prince Albert of typhus. It was also rumoured that he may have been Jack the Ripper!

Follow the roads back into the busy village of Thorpe-le-Soken. William Gull, mentioned above, is buried in the churchyard there. I understand that a 'Soken' was a special area in this part of the country where the original Saxon owners granted rights for the residents to make their own laws providing the church agreed.

Went on a very misty day so no photos.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Walk 28 Clacton-on-Sea to The Naze

Walk 28   Clacton-on-Sea to The Naze (Essex)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 8 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, flat for the most part, hilly near The Naze
Terrain: roads and paths
Access: Parking in Clacton and on the Naze
Public transport: Buses 7 and 8 run from Clacton to The Naze – as always it is best to check before going.

Start the walk at Clacton Pier. Clacton was founded as a seaside resort in 1871. Originally the access was by steamship from Woolwich which docked at the pier (also built in 1871). Billy Butlin opened his second holiday camp in West Clacton in 1938 but it was closed in 1983 with the continued availability of cheap holidays abroad. The area is now given over to housing. In 1964 Clacton was the scene of a major battle between mods and rockers – no doubt conventional older men now! Scenes from two films, Kinky Boots and Starter for Ten, were filmed on Clacton Pier.

Further along to the east is Holland on Sea which looks to me like the posh part of Clacton. The path continues through more open space before passing through the ‘genteel’ Frinton on Sea. Large green spaces and a general well kept appearance give a positive impression. Originally the town had no pubs and was carefully planned in the early years of the twentieth century with tree lined avenues and open spaces. In 1851 the town had just 30 residents but just 60 years later had expanded with a railway, hotels, schools and street lighting. It was the last English target of the Luftwaffe in 1944. The walk along the promenade and on to Walton on the Naze goes past, what seem like, hundreds of beach huts.

Walton on the Naze was developed in the 19th century and in some ways it is a smaller version of Clacton. The pier is the second longest in the world and one of the oldest to have continually operated amusements. An early local industry grew up around the harvesting of sea holly, a plant found on the sandy shores. Its roots were candied as a sweetmeat and said to have aphrodisiac properties!

Walking up on to the Naze a good view of the docks at Harwich can be enjoyed to the north. Naze derives from the old English ‘naes’ meaning nose presumably referring to the shape of the land. The tower is a significant landmark and is often open to visitors who can climb the steps to a viewing platform at the top. It was built by Trinity House in 1720 to aid sailors. The headland around it consists of 50 acres of scrub woodland and 200 acres of salt marsh to the north of the sea wall. Look out for the psalm on a stone reflecting on God and the mighty sea.

Snaps show: Promenade Walton on the Naze; kite flying at Clacton; Clacton Pier front; Walton on the Naze pier front.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Walk 27 Lee-over-Sands to Clacton-on-Sea

Walk 27    Lee-over-Sands to Clacton-on-Sea (Essex)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 168
Distance: about 7 miles
Difficulty: easy, flat
Terrain: roads and paths some of which can be muddy
Access: Parking near St Osyth Beach and in Clacton (you may be able to park in Lee over Sands, I did not try the narrow looking roads that go down there).
Public transport: Tricky. Trains and buses run from Clacton to Colchester and surrounding areas. Buses – the 17 and 18 go from Clacton through to St Osyth every hour Monday to Saturday. If you are going by bus you will need to navigate the paths across St. Osyth Marsh to Lee-over-Sands.

There is little or no access to the beach between Brightlingsea and Lee-over Sands.

If you have parked at St Osyth Beach walk westwards to Lee-over-Sands and back to St Osyth Beach. Apart from two old pill boxes it is mainly a flat, featureless landscape around the coast here and at nearby Colne Point. However, the walk has its own peaceful remoteness to enjoy.

At St Osyth Beach a caravan site and pub are both near to the sea wall. There is also a nearby naturist beach. Ositha (one of a few spellings) was a daughter of a King of the Angles who was beheaded by invading Danes in the seventh century. Legend suggests that she carried her head back to the church where she is buried in the main village of St Oysth. Talks of ghostly apparitions abound! The walk is paved from here and leads to Jaywick.

Jaywick was originally built as a cheap holiday village but became a residential town as people remained in the area. The west part has caravans and the first of a few Martello Towers built in the 19th century to defy Napoleons invasion threats. One of the towers further along has been renovated into a heritage and cultural centre. The area has some pleasant, sandy beaches. To the eastern side of Jaywick there is a variety of chalet style bungalows facing the beach; some of these were in good condition but others were burnt out or derelict. I have since heard, that in March this year, East Jaywick was named as the most deprived area in England (this is probably further inland rather than at the sea front). In 1953, 35 people were killed in the floods. The film of Starter for Ten, was partly based in Jaywick.

Continue the walk to Clacton-on-Sea and the pier. This still retains the trappings associated with the old style resort with the usual amusements etc. The golden flat sands are broken up by groynes.

Snaps show: Lee over Sands and Colne Point; Osyth Beach; Martello Tower; Jaywick; two of walk into Clacton with chalets and further Martello Tower.