It is a beautiful morning. I walk with a light heart along “The Hard”, passing the Oyster bar from last night – shut now – and walking along the quiet road as it follows the coast. The tide is in and the boats, marooned on the mud yesterday evening, are now bobbing on gentle waves. There is a Sunday morning feel to the air. And now I have the distinct impression we really are on an island. The houses are quaintly old-fashioned. I pass another shack with signs advertising fresh sea food, again looking distinctly unimpressive from the exterior. It is closed at this early hour but, I gather, sells wonderfully fresh, tasty food.
The road turns away from the shoreline and I pick up a footpath, continuing along the sea wall towards The Strood. The Strood is a causeway, covered at high tide, and the only road link between Mersea Island and the main land.
The first part of the footpath is wide and well trodden. There are dog walkers out, enjoying the soft morning breeze. I meet several cyclists and am nearly run over by a small boy, pedalling furiously ahead of his family. “Watch out!” they call, as he skids to a halt in front of me. I help him straighten his bike but he is embarrassed and scowls at me, keeping his face down. I walk on.
To my left is The Strood Channel with sailing boats moored. There are no jetties or docks here. To access these ships you would need to take a small boat from further up the shoreline.
The path becomes more overgrown and lonelier. Ahead I begin to see a dark block running across the water. Ah, this must be The Strood causeway. I can make out cars passing along it.
The footpath ends at the road leading out of Mersea and I am forced to walk along the tarmac until I reach the causeway itself, where a footpath exists. There is seaweed strewn across part of the path; a reminder that this road is covered at high tide.
Coming towards me is a young lady on a cycle. She is wearing a skirt, billowing out behind her. Looking hot and flustered she returns my smile with a nodding grimace. “He didn’t wait for me,” she wails as she struggles past. Who didn’t wait? Boyfriend? Husband? Brother? Whoever it is, there is trouble ahead.
At the far end of the causeway I notice a curious sight. Along the side of the bank, adjacent to the footpath, is a mess of churned up grass, mud and dead weeds. I notice, amazed, that there are hundreds – no, thousands – of dead, small, white crabs in this debris. They lie on their backs with their little legs pointing towards the sky.
Why? What are all these crabs doing here? I wonder if the marshy area just adjacent to the path has been dredged. Maybe some machine scooped up the weeds and mud, depositing the resulting mess, crabs and all, on the bank. Or was it the tide, churning up the bottom of the muddy pools and throwing the debris up here? I don’t know. It is rather sad to see so many tiny crab carcasses displayed in this way. I take a photograph of their little white bodies.
At the end of The Strood, the next part of my walk takes me along a road towards the village of Peldon. There is no footpath marked on my map and I am not looking forward to walking on the road itself. Then I notice a path leading to the raised bank along the side of the marsh and, for a short time, I attempt to follow this. Unfortunately, the path ends up at the bottom of some private gardens and the bank ahead is fenced off. Here, where common sense dictates that there should be a coastal path, I find private property and no way through.
With heavy heart I retrace my steps and join the road. Cars hurtle past me and I am very glad to find where a quieter road forks off to the left, leading to Peldon. Luckily there is only light traffic along this road and, despite my bad-tempered mood, I find that I enjoy the walk.
Peldon village is not unattractive, but has no heart and no soul. I arrive early and hope to buy a Sunday paper to read in the pub before my husband joins me. There is no shop in Peldon. I walk around the village in a great circuit. Nothing. Just the pub. This, conveniently, has some papers outside and I sip a cider and read, waiting for my husband. He has been caught in a rain storm and has had to shelter. In Peldon, we had a few spots of rain, but it is now fine and sunny.
The food at the pub is excellent and after lunch we linger, reading the papers and enjoying the warm sun.
The next part of my walk follows the road. I need to reach the coast again, but have to detour inland because of the absence of footpaths. This is unpleasant walking. Cars hurtle past me and the road is busy. There is no pavement and no grass verge – just ditches and tall hedges.
I walk on the righthand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic, as advised by the Highway Code. This is somewhat terrifying. The drivers in the approaching cars appear to stare straight through me and swerve at the last moment, or slow down if they are forced to give way to oncoming traffic, glaring at me. I begin to feel I am playing a game of “chicken” with the cars. They wait until the last moment to swerve or brake, hoping that I will jump into the ditch or into the hedge. Eventually, I decide to walk on the left, with my back to oncoming traffic. I can tell the cars are coming, because I can hear them. But I no longer have to eyeball irate drivers.
Stopping regularly, whenever there is a piece of grass to stand on, I keep checking my map. Joining this road on the left, somewhere, is the footpath that will take me towards Salcott-cum-Virley and I don’t want to miss the beginning of this path.
A young man towing a jet ski is forced to slow down in his giant 4×4 monstrous car. He winds down the window and delays his journey further by telling me that I should be walking on the other side of the road, then roars away. Of course I should be walking on the other side. But was he imparting this bit of walking wisdom for the sake of my safety? I think not. He was simply irritated because I was on his side of the road and he had been forced to slow down.
I curse all Essex drivers and carry on. I have no choice.
Finally, I see the footpath sign. What a relief! It is a good job there is a sign, because I would have missed the footpath otherwise. The verge at this point is shoulder-high with nettles. Wishing I had a stick, I force my way through the nettles to the hedge and discover a dilapidated style. Over the style, and to my surprise, I find the kind farmer has created a wide footpath along the edge of his field.
It is wonderful to be off the road and I enjoy this walk through the fields. I see a church spire ahead of me – Salcott-cum-Virley church, I presume.
The footpath ends in a farmyard. I walk between large barns. There is a great noise – pigs squealing and cattle bellowing. There is also a very strong smell of manure. Unlike the outdoor pigs in Suffolk, these pigs have a much more crowded and, probably, unpleasant life. I see some young pigs in one of the barns. They are charging around in great groups – squealing and grunting – butting into other pigs and generally behaving badly. It reminds me of something. What? Ah, yes. A secondary school playground.
Coming out of the farmyard, I meet an elderly couple. They are consulting a map and we stop to chat about the large number of footpaths that lead into this village, Salcott-cum-Virley. I wonder if this village was once a place of some importance, to have so many foot paths lead here.
The couple was keen walkers. The man tells me about some of his expeditions in his youth, when he followed long distance footpaths for miles on end. Now they confine themselves to exploring villages.
I walk through the village and am passed by a lady on a bicycle with a dog on a lead running alongside her. At the end of the village, I find the footpath leading to the sea bank. The path leads through a field and I notice the bike against the hedge at the entrance to the field. The sea bank is deserted apart from a figure in the distance, coming towards me. I realise it is the lady, returning with her dog from a short walk along the bank.
For the rest of my walk along the bank, I see nobody. After the hustle and bustle of the road, I am relieved to be alone again – just me, the mud and the distant sea.
Now I get a good view across the marshes towards West Mersea. Strange to think I was there a few hours ago, walking along The Strood Channel. I am only a few miles away from the beginning of my walk. Just a few minutes if I was a bird and could fly. But on two feet, forced to detour around the estuary and thwarted by the lack of footpaths, it has taken me many hours to get here.
As I head eastwards I notice a large structure some distance away. Separated by some miles of marsh and farmland, I am not sure what it is. Squat and bulky, it hovers on the horizon. Perhaps my walk will take me there?
I consult my map and turn off the sea bank along an established foot path, leading towards a building and a track that connects to the road again. The building is marked as “Old Hall Farm”. Beyond this there are Old Hall Marshes and there the walk continues for many miles around a peninsula. But, it is time for me to finish this walk.
Passing through the beginning of a nature reserve, some of which is closed to public access, I follow the track to Old Hall Farm. Here the track widens and I leave the nature reserve. Passing some isolated residential building, I follow the roadway until I see my husband’s car approaching. Time to stop.
- Blisters = 0
- Miles travelled = 12
- Dead crabs seen = several thousand
- Close encounters with cars = too many!