ESSEX COASTAL WALK - 350 MILES
from Manningtree to Rainham.
The Essex coast is arguably the longest of any County in England, plus it has dozens of islands including Mersea and Canvey Island.
In March 2016 five walkers from the Hike Essex Ramblers - Phillip Gallant, Andrew Mackey, Stuart Godbolt-Tanner, Stewart Williams and Angela Harvey, completed the walk from Rainham to Manningtree.
In April 2018, I published my guide to the walk, as a celebration of my 1978 British Coast walk of 7,000 miles. Essex was my last county before walking up the Thames to London and St. Paul's Cathedral.
Copy of article that appeared in Essex Life Magazine - August 2018. I was also talking about the walk on BBC Radio Essex.
WALKING THE ESSEX COAST WALK by Revd. John N. Merrill
In 1978, after more than 6,600 miles of walking around the entire coastline of Britain, from St. Paul's Cathedral, in November I reached Manningtree and my last county before London. I was now back to short daylight hours and poor weather. One over riding memory was waking up in my tent and seeing the sun rise above the salt-marshes. The Essex coastline is the second longest of any England county, more than 300 miles excluding the islands. I enjoyed the remarkable solitude and remoteness and resolved I would return and explore more fully this captivating coastline of hidden beauty. I never expected it to be a gap of forty years, although I frequently went to the Essex coast and walked sections and around many of the islands.
To me Essex is like the west coast of Scotland in reverse; quite the yin and yang of Britain. Scotland is rugged, high mountains, numerous offshore islands, abundant waders and sea birds, and remote. There are many sea locks which take days to walk round, only to be opposite where you were a few days ago. Essex is also remote, as anywhere in Britain. It has numerous offshore islands, abundant sea birds and waders, but is basically flat and low lying with numerous coastal river creeks, which take days to walk round. The countryside, like Scotland is lightly inhabited. And, like Scotland you see few people.
So, last year I decided to return to Manningtree and walk once more around the coastline to South Benfleet, some 300 miles. I expected to do it over a few days, but work commitments and other long distance paths abroad to walk, I eventually spent a year walking it. This did have advantages as I would see the coast in all seasons but meant some days I would spend more hours travelling to where I left off than actually walking. But all sections were reached by either train or bus; everyone was most helpful. Even one bus driver to Bradwell Waterside went off route to deposit me at the stile where I had walked inland for the bus a few days before!
Essex is undervalued and often dismissed as not good walking country, but this is incorrect for the salt-marshes and rivers have a hypnotic beauty and when I had completed the walk, felt a great loss that I was not walking the seawall any-more and being in remote locations. Again I know I will return and have earmarked several parts to explore further, such as the Roach Valley Way from Rochford.
I have many happy memories of all parts of the coast but my favourite part is the Dengie Peninsula, for many reasons. On my 1978 coast walk a family appeared at nightfall at St. Peter's on the wall chapel and offered me a bed for the night. I said I planned to walk further six miles and they obligingly met me there. The Dengie Peninsula is arguably the remotest part from Bradwell Waterside to Burnham-on -Crouch. I have walked St. Peter's Way from Chipping Ongar to the chapel. Joined the annual pilgrimage walk from Bradwell on Sea to the chapel. I have created my own 24 mile St. Cedd's Pilgrimage walk from Southminster, for St. Cedd brought Christianity to the south-east from here. And, the night before I was ordained as a multi-faith Minister, I slept in the chapel, heard a remarkable dawn chorus, especially the Curlews, and watched a stunning sunrise erupt over the sky. So the place is very close to my heart.
As I already said the bus driver from Southminster dropped me off at the stile at Bradwell Waterside and continued from where I had ended the week before. Two Thames barges were sailing on Blackwater and as I approached Bradwell Power Station twin buildings, that I had seen for several days, was surprised to see heather growing and several sandy beaches. Three miles later as I passed St. Peter's on the wall chapel, I stopped and saw a few visitor's. The last humans for the next six hours. The path, as much of the Essex coastline is along an earth or concrete seawall, dating back 500 years. In bad weather it can be hard going but I was fortunate, no wind and a gentle sun. Oyster catchers and curlew sang and without exception, everyday I flushed a little white egret. Waders floated offshore and Brent geese were never far away.
The only way to tackle this section is by total dedication and just keep going. There are a few paths off it but you gain nothing for it is miles inland, equivalent to the distance around the seawall. Eventually I came to the River Crouch and looked across at where I would be walking in a few days time. For now I turned right by the river and soon could see the houses of Burnham-on-Crouch ahead. An hour later as the sun began to set I walked into the town past the prominent white Yachting Club building and on towards the railway station. It was a most memorable day, a challenge to do and one of great satisfaction of walking from dawn to dusk. Knowing I had used the day fully and felt very satisfied.
The Essex coastline has great variety with about 100 islands offshore, including Mersea and Canvey Islands ñ both a 15 mile walk around their perimeter. Harwich is full of historical interest before the sunshine coast from Walton-on-the-Naze to Clacton-on-Sea. I passed more than 3,000 beach huts on that section. Then it is back to quiet coastline and rivers all the way to Shroburyness and the pier and funfairs of Southend-on-Sea; a great contrast. The beach here has a secret for I knew, in 1978, I would soon be in London, so I buried my 35th and 36th pair of socks and put new one's on to walk into London; the shorts and shirt I had worn for 10 months!
Then the final section to Benfleet back to the sea wall and remote river before Tilbury Docks and the outskirts of London. You will be surprised at the numerous remote but charming places hidden around Essex's coastline. I can only urge you to lace up your boots, set off with an open mind, and see the wonder of the landscape that enfolds with every stride. You won't regret it! The memories will stay forever.
September 11th. 2018 - Since writing this I have now walked from Benfleet to Rainham completing the Essex walk. The guide book has also been enlarged.
(1,078 words - Revd. John N. Merrill - 5/4/2018)