Brightlingsea To Hythe Colchester
Pushing through the rain at Westmarsh Point and past the public paddling pool, we can see Bateman's Tower ahead. This is Essex's own leaning tower built in 1883 at the entrance to the creek by John Bateman. This odd little tower was originally built as a folly for his daughter recovering from consumption. Used in the Second World War as an observation post, this listed building may have been intended to be a lighthouse but the plans for a larger port here never materialised. John Bateman or the "Old Squire" as he became known, was the Cinque Port Deputy for seven years from 1887 to 1891 and again in 1899 and 1893, it is said his contributions to the town are immeasurable. He even commissioned the Deputy chain of office which is still worn today.
Well here we are, after two days of Darran fretting about crossing the bridleway at Alresford Creek sadly for me it is unpassable. If you look across in the middle of the photo you will see the other side of the bridleway, panic over, the relief on Darran's face is a picture! I am rather gutted, not only is it raining hard but there's mud everywhere down the creek sides and the tide is still in, meaning the crossing could not be done even if the tide was favourable. However it still amazes me that they took 4x4 vehicles across here, all credit to them.
After meandering around Alresford Creek on smaller footpaths, quiet lanes and past several gravel pits with heavy plant working, we eventually find the lovely haven of All Saints Church Brightlingsea. This lovely well appointed 12th century Church with is pretty churchyard is said to be on the site of an earlier much older Saxon church of which only one small arch remains. The tower is particularly splendid and visible for miles out to sea on a clear day.
The good thing about having to walk around Alresford creek is that we get to see Thorrington Mill. It's not known when the mill was built, but by the 17th century a mill stood on this site. Upstream of the mill is Tenpenny brook and the mill pond. The mill itself sits on a dam and sluice which traps the incoming tide, once the mill pond is full and the tide water trapped, the sluice gates would be opened to power the waterwheel. This in turn through a set of gears would rotate pairs of millstones. At Thorrington they would have ground corn for flour to make bread. Tide mills were dependent upon the fluctuating size and timing of tides so additional milling power was sometimes provided by the construction of an accompanying windmill, which used a different natural source of power – the wind. This was the case at Thorrington, but it lasted until 1869 when it blew down. Today Essex County Council own and maintains the building which they have restored, and it is open to the public on certain days. It is one of the few tide mills in Great Britain that is still operational and therefore of national significance in explaining how the natural resource of the tides was harnessed to produce power in the past. “Green” energy is nothing new!
Walking on the pretty disused railway bed of the Wivenhoe & Brightlingsea Railway Company near Alresford Grange. Opened in 1866, the railway line was identified for closure in the Beeching Report of 1963 and was eventually axed in 1964. Apparently this was supposedly prompted by the high costs of maintaining the railway swing bridge over Alresford Creek, which was necessary to allow boat traffic to the many sand and gravel pits in the area.
Seen here are Herons and Little Egrets, walking slowly they feed on small fish and crustaceans. The river Colne is an ideal habitat for both and it was great to see them in large numbers. The Little Egret was once a very rare visitor from the Mediterranean, but are now a common sight around the coasts of southern England and Wales as they expand their range, possibly due to increasing temperatures caused by climate change. It first bred in the UK on Brownsea Island Dorset in 1996, and has been moving northwards ever since. The long neck plumes of Little Egrets were once more valuable than gold and were smuggled into Europe during the 19th century. As a result, Little Egret populations plummeted until laws were put in place to protect them.
When I was 14 years old and during the school summer holidays, I was lucky enough to work on one of the sand barges that ply their trade on the river Colne transferring gravel and sand into central London. Like the barges in this picture my Grandad and Uncle operated C&D (Charles and Denson) Marine Haulage and had several barges carrying aggregates from here to Wandsworth Pier in London. I remember visiting Brightlingsea and the pontoons to fill the boats, but not the exact locations on the river. I also remember the barge I worked on, the "Walbrook", a 350 tonne barge either named after the subterranean river that flows into the river Thames or Walbrook Dock where the same river meets the Thames. Those days were some of my fondest memories as a teen, working with my Grandad Archie and Uncle Mike everything just seemed so easy, without any stress. It gave me an occasional escape route from my troubled teens and an abusive stepfather and I can not thank them enough. Sadly my Grandad is now long gone, but walking here bought those days back to me and I can see him on the wheelhouse navigating the choppy waters around the famous Maplin Sands singing rude sea shanties and it feels just like yesterday. I know my uncle misses it and it was a shame when it all ended for them because the thing was, despite the hassle of operating their own business, they where excellent skippers and at the top of their game.
Having already mentioned the occasional flooding and tidal surges at wivenhoe, the environmental agency installed the Colne Barrier which uses two giant lock gates to manage water levels and to stop all future flooding. Built in 1994 the gates are kept open most of the time, but are shut when there is a warning of a particular high tide. At most it is normally shut around 20 times a year, but the most was 70 which gives you an idea of the importance of this barrier and for the people now living in waterside houses on flood plains behind.
Wivenhoe is a delightful place to visit with several nice pubs to shelter from the rain, relax and enjoy a meal whilst walking on the way into Colchester. The place name Wivenhoe is Saxon in origin deriving from the personal name Wifa's or Wife's spur or promontory (hoe). Usually pronounced 'Wivvenho', but the Essex accent would traditionally have rendered it as 'Wivvenhoo'. According to folk etymology, the name derived from "Wyvernhoe", originating from the mythical beast called a wyvern a type of dragon. The town's football team, Wivenhoe Town FC, is nicknamed 'The Wyverns'. Interestingly in 1884 the town suffered significant damage when it lay close to the epicentre of one of the most destructive UK earthquakes of all time, the "1884 Colchester Earthquake" also known as the "Great English Earthquake".
Lastly we arrive at the A134 bridge that crosses the river Colne at Hythe, the end point of today's walk. Here at King Edward Quay sits the TS Colne Light ship, this iconic red ship is home to the Colchester Sea Cadets. Today it's also used as a hire venue for weddings, corporate functions and private parties, all aimed at helping to inject new money into supporting the work the cadets do. They look after young people and to improve their training in order to give the cadets the best start in life. As an ex sea cadet myself I know the valuable work they do both within communities and for our future forces. The ship itself is Trinity House Light vessel Number 16, (T.S. COLNE LIGHT), a steel lightship built by Philip & Son Ltd., of Dartmouth in 1954. She was commissioned by Trinity House in January 1953 and was launched in July 1954. On 6 December 1960, she was damaged whilst at South Goodwin Station, however, she remained in service until being decommissioned in 1988. She was then sold for use as a sea cadet training ship headquarters the T.S. Colne. It is said that the river is now too shallow for her to leave, but every effort to maintain her continues. 12.49 miles.