From Maylandsea, I set off walking on the sea wall. There are boats moored here but, perhaps due to the weather, this small marina has an air of dereliction and abandonment. I see no ships sailing – it is too rough.
As the path winds along the sea wall, I come to an area where the wall has crumbled. There is no obvious diversion of the path, just a “path closed” sign. I decide to continue, picking my way carefully along the crumbling edge and then climbing over a pile of loose earth and gravel, heaped up as a temporary barrier to the sea.
Luckily, this dangerous clamber over crumbly ground doesn’t last long. I am soon back on the official path. But, perhaps because of the obstruction, this section is very overgrown. The grass is long and I cannot see my feet. I am vaguely worried about snakes but reassured by remembering that adders like dry grassland, don’t they?
Ahead I see a figure of a man. He is dressed in shorts and long hiking boots and is sitting on a tree trunk. Another walker! He tells me he often does this walk and loves it. He often sees hares dashing around in the marshes and, sometimes, spots a sea harrier. The one creature he doesn’t like, he says lowering his voice, “Are the slithery things.” And he moves his hand to mimic the unmistakable wiggle of a snake. I smile and tell him about my walk. He wishes me luck; and I walk on.
The main obstacle on my route is Mayland Creek. I follow the path down the creek, passing ruined jetties, until I can, eventually, begin to make my way up the far bank. At least I am sheltered from the worst of the wind during this inland detour. This section of path corresponds with St Peter’s Way, one of the long distance footpaths that criss cross the British mainland. I meet nobody along the way.
Half way up the creek, St Peter’s Way heads off to the East, passing inland to meet the coast near Tillingham marshes, before heading up along the coast to end at St Peter’s chapel. I will meet the foot path again, hopefully tomorrow.
In the meantime, I continue along the lonely bank and, eventually, reach the mouth of the creek. Here is a campsite. There are tents blowing in the fierce wind and a few people out, braving the blast, to look at the sea. I stop and have a snack, interrupted by a friendly dog, bouncing up to greet me and hoping, I presume, for some of my snack. I am too hungry – and greedy – to share.
Continuing along the sea wall, I can look across to Osea Island. And ahead I can see Bradwell power station, looming in the distance, further away now then it was when I set off from Tollesbury, a few walking days ago.
I round another creek. The tide is. The sea wall is well cut and the grass is shorter here. The walking would be easy if it wasn’t for a gusting, sideways wind that continually buffets me, threatening to blow me off the wall. I try to pick up my pace.
Then, suddenly, I come to a dead stop. I was looking out to sea and the foam tipped waves. But my peripheral vision must have picked up the danger and some primitive part of my brain had temporarily taken control and brought me to a halt.
I know very little about snakes. But if I had to make up a venomous snake, it would look like this one. It is white with black zig-zag markings, about 18 inches in length, with a body considerably thicker than my thumb.
It senses me and stops too, half way across the path. Then it coils itself up and turns to face me. Tongue flicking in and out. Two pits (are they nostrils?) opening and closing behind its mouth. It is sniffing me – no, it is tasting me.
I do what all good bloggers would do in the situation. I take one step back, swinging my rucksack off my shoulders, while keeping a steady eye on the snake and its flicking tongue. A quick unzip and I have my camera out.
My hands are shaking and my body is buffeted by the wind. It is difficult to focus in these conditions. I take a number of shots before the snake, with one last dart of its tongue, turns round and slithers back the way it came, off the path, down the bank towards the sea.
Considerably shaken, I swing my rucksack back up across my shoulders and continue on. Now my eyes are glued to the path, constantly scanning for snakes. I am very unsettled.
First of all, I thought snakes were frightened of humans. I have assumed that snake hear the vibrations of our footsteps and would run away. This snake wasn’t frightened. And he didn’t run.
Secondly, the grass here is short. But what would have happened if I stepped close to the snake in long grass? He was coiled up above the level of the top of my boots. If it was an adder, and I wasn’t sure, I would have had a nasty bite on my ankle. And I was miles away from a road or path.
I tried to remember the case of an adder bite I had seen when working as a junior doctor in Southampton. A young lad walking in the dry grass of the New Forest had been bitten. I remembered his swollen, bruised leg. But the swelling didn’t happen immediately, taking time to develop. Perhaps I would have been able to limp back to a road? I wish I had a stick – not to attack the snake with, that did not occur to me – but to lean on in case of an adder bite.
Now I come across an obstruction on the sea wall. A fence bars my path. There is a sign, too faded to read. And barbed wire.
Through the fence I can see children’s play equipment on the bank and a shed or out-house.
I would have walked around on the sea-shore. But the tide is too high and there is no way round.
Pulling my map out, I see the official public footpath deviated off to the right some time ago. I hadn’t noticed and hadn’t seen any need to check my map when the route appeared so clear. Damn it! It was a long way back and, I realise, through snake infested territory.
I cursed the inconsiderate land owner who has commandeered this section of bank. I cursed the tide for being high. I cursed myself for being complacent with my map reading.
Then I see that I can cut across a farmer’s field towards the road where the footpath runs parallel to the sea bank. There is a gate I can climb over and a short grassy track to follow. The sun comes out. I bless the farmer and set off.
Half way across the field, I come across a rabbit. It is sitting with eyes closed, dozing in the sunshine. I approach within a couple of yards, then, realising I could frighten it to death if I got nearer, I call out, “Hey bunny”. The rabbit leaps into the air as if on a spring and shoots off across the field, his tail bobbing behind.
Picking up the footpath as it runs along the road, I see a sign adjacent to the fenced off area. “No entry. Nature Reserve.”
I feel very angry about the sign. Clearly this was not a nature reserve, but was someone’s private garden, albeit overgrown in parts. Presumably they put up the sign so that well-mannered hikers would be deterred from crossing their land. Oh, I do hope soon we will have legislation passed to establish a proper coastal route around our shoreline.
Passing through a small marina, I reach the sea wall again. Now I am approaching a small village, St Lawrence, and my rendezvous with my husband for lunch.
We sit outside, overlooking the sea and have a drink. I show him the photographs of the snake. He is suitably impressed and then concerned. Then the sky darkens and we scuttle indoors to eat our lunch as the rain pours down outside.
After the rain, I set off to follow the sea wall again. But I can’t find a way through. Next to the pub is a car park and, on the other side, the sea wall has a fence across it. The tide is still high and there is no way round. I am forced to walk along the road. I wander around a housing estate until a kindly lady directs me to a track leading to the sea wall. At the end of the track, I see the footpath ahead but my route is barred by a green area of open land with signs saying “No public right of way.” I ignore the signs and cross the small area of private property to reach the footpath. Another lady, walking her dog, tells me that you can walk along the footpath all the way to the pub, but you have to go down off the bank onto the shore to get past the gardens. This is impossible with the tide high as the water comes up to the bank.
Again, I curse the landowners who have built houses close to the bank and taken the sea wall as part of their gardens.
The rest of my walk passes uneventfully. I walk along the bank in the fierce wind, heading towards the Bradwell power station. To my left, I look over the River Blackwater to Tollesbury marshes and, beyond these, West Mersea in the distance.
As I reach Bradwell, I hear a screaming noise. It is the wind, shrieking, as it blows through the rigging of the ships in Bradwell Marina. The noise is incredible.
Then I see a ship in trouble. It is a sailing ship with a deep keel, I suspect, up against the sloping concrete sea wall. The wind is blowing it against the wall, while the tide is going out – threatening to maroon the boat and to damage its hull. A small motor boat is alongside. The man on the ship is throwing a line to the man in the motorboat. The motor boat man secures the rope and tries to pull the boat free, churning up the water and whipping up a spray. The sailing ship does not budge. He slackens the rope and comes alongside the ship to talk to the man on the ship.
I would like to stay and watch to see what happens. But I am tired with the wind and the exertion of the walk today. I leave the unhappy scene and make my way around the edge of the marina. There is some redevelopment going on here and ground has been churned up by heavy machinery. My boots instantly become caked in clay-like mud and my feet feel heavy and cumbersome.
Trudging through the marina in my weighty boots, heading towards my husband’s waiting car, my ears are assailed by the noise from the wind – howling, shrieking, roaring, clanking through the rigging. The ships seem to be alive and screaming.
At home, I check the photograph of my snake on the Forestry Commission’s web site. Yes, it is an adder, a male adder. I also learn that this is a protected species.
Miles walked = 13
Deviations due to appropriation of sea bank by householders = 2
Adders seen = 1