My husband drops me off at the end of a lane and I pick up the footpath towards the coast. Bradwell Power Station looms ahead of me as I walk through fields of cows, past hedgerows flush with autumn berries and am surrounded by dancing butterflies.
The wide sky above me and the empty marshes ahead, I climb up onto the sea wall. My route winds in and out, following the meanderings of the river bank, adding miles to my walk. I can see the path snaking ahead of me with wide, curving bends; marked by a rusting, red, metal wall.
I see nobody. To my right is farmland. To my left are mud flats and the broad, gleaming river, with its far bank lost in blue haze in the distance. The only sign of human life is the small boats gliding along the far bank of the River Blackwater – their sails glinting in the distance.
Later, as the morning clouds disappear and the sun comes out, people appear. I meet a few walkers. Then a grim-faced young woman passes me. I wonder why she is looking so glum on this beautiful day.
A seat comes into view – a bench. Surprised to see it here, so far from anywhere, I sit down glad of a rest. The back of the seat is covered in seabird droppings but has been washed, with the droppings smudged into a whitewash on the back of the seat. I realise someone must have tried to clean this bench.
I see the inscription on the back of the seat. I have got used to this new custom, erecting benches in memory to dead people. But then I take a closer look and realise this is different. “Nick Felsted 1977 -2006”. And below this are the words “His thinking place”. A young man, dying aged 29 or possibly 30; and obviously a thoughtful young man. There are no clues as to why he died so young. Later I search for his name on the internet but find no obvious matches.
Was the sour faced young woman his sister? Did she have a bottle in her hand? With water to wash the bench? I struggle to remember.
Sitting for a while, I have a drink and eat an apple. There is something very mournful about this lonely bench with its sad inscription.
Later I meet a group of sheep – or are they goats? With enormous curled horns they look fierce. They come up onto the path and, when I put down my rucksack to take my camera out, they charge up to the rucksack – hoping for food. I am sorry I ate my apple so soon. The sheep would have enjoyed it. We make friends and they pose for photos.
Now the sun is out and the day has warmed up. Around a corner I come across a man, stripped down to a very brief pair of swimming trunks, lying on a rug across the path. He has a large umbrella up for shade but is, in fact, reclining in the sunshine. Sunday papers are spread around him. He seems surprised to see a walker and I feel a little embarrassed on his behalf. I have to walk around the edge of the bank to avoid his rug.
The path continues its winding way along the coast. I pass a few farmhouses and isolated beach huts. Then I reach a small estuary with moored boats and people emerging from woods at the end. Families are strolling along the sides of the estuary, dogs are running around after balls and children are being pushed in a variety of strollers. This is the creek leading up to the village of Goldhanger. It is time for lunch.
From the creek, a path runs up to the meet the road. This is overhung with branches, creating a lovely green tunnel; a welcome change from the exposed river bank. The pub is friendly, crowded and rather old-fashioned. I sit and read in the cool “snug” – a book about the early life of Alfred Wainwright, the famous Lake District fell walker. The biography begins with an account of his childhood and some vivid descriptions written by Alfred’s sister of his difficult family life, with his drunken father and long-suffering mother struggling to make ends meet.
Now I reach Osea Island, joined to this side of the river by a causeway. The tide is out, and the causeway is just visible as a dark ribbon winding through the mud. There are cars, and then a couple of vans, crossing. They make their way slowly and carefully.
Later, as I draw close to the start of the causeway, signs warn that the island is private property. I wonder what business goes on there. A concrete walkway begins at this point, and a gaggle of children head towards me, riding bikes. They are excited and shout to each other. The leader turns onto the causeway and they follow – pedalling hard and whooping with delight. I stop and watch, wondering how far they will go. Will they be stopped? Will whoever owns this island turn them back?
I don’t have the patience to wait longer to see what happens and continue on my way. Some time later I am passed by a lone boy pedalling furiously on his bike. His back is spattered with mud thrown up by his back wheel. I recognise him as a member of the group of children I have just seen heading for the island.
“They are going to get killed,” he mutters darkly to himself as he speeds by. There is a note of grim satisfaction in his voice. He could mean the tide or the mud, but I suspect it is an angry parent who is going to be the “killer” in this case.
I walk past caravan sites and the walkway broadens into a promenade. Here is a pub with people spilling onto the promenade, next to a muddy beach, Mill Beach on the map. There are a host of small ships, either moored out to sea or perched in the mud.
Winding around small inlets, the path becomes narrow and overgrown with grass. My legs are growing tired and I am resentful when a group of holiday makers climb onto the path ahead of me and meander along, slowing my progress.
Now I reach a crowded area. The sea wall meets a roadway. Here there are cars, lots of people, a couple of pubs and, ahead, I can see a canal with large lock gates. Boats are moored. People are out walking and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.
I sit on the sea wall and phone my husband. It has been another glorious day of walking – starting with wide skies and emptiness, and ending at this point, crowded with noisy, cheerful people.
Vital stats: miles = 16, blisters = 0