Leading East from Tillingham is a narrow road – a track really. It winds around a few bends and, opposite a telephone box, there is an impressive farm entrance. Next to this farm entrance, so insignificant in appearance you can easily miss it, is a small track leading directly due East. At a bend in this track, is a signpost. Here starts a public right of way that runs for a mile, passing through Tillingham Marshes, to the sea wall.
Why am I taking this route? The coast path itself runs uninterrupted for 17 miles from Bradwell Marina to Burnham on Crouch. South of St Peter’s Chapel, there is no other place in the Dengie Peninsula where a public road comes within a mile of, and gives footpath access to, the coastal path; not until you reach Burnham on Crouch itself. Therefore, I am rejoining the walk at this unlikely spot to make this section of the walk a manageable distance. Burnham is now only 9 miles away.
The footpath runs for a mile, and has been diverted by the farmer, taking a course further South then the route marked on the map and involving a right angle turn around the bottom of a field. Very few people walk this path and the route is unclear. Luckily, I have been here before and I find, among the tall grasses, the small bridge that crosses the culvert. Then I make the short climb to regain the coastal path running along the top of the grassy bank.
To my left are marshes, covered in uniform green vegetation. They stretch almost as far as the eye can see. Beyond is a small sliver of shining sea and the distant glimpse of an occasional big cargo ship. To my right is a grassy track running parallel to the sea bank, then a watery culvert and then farmland – flat and featureless. I see nobody.
The sea wall seems endless. The view is monotonous.
I am bored and my energy drains away. This is hard work.
Then I reach an area where the grassy bank gives way to a concrete wall and path. Here the sea comes nearer and there is mud with interesting patterns. I must be bored, I think to myself, if I find mud interesting. But the mud makes a welcome change from the featureless marsh vegetation and I enjoy looking at the patterns – the sinuous curves, the ripples and the furrows.
I stop for lunch on an area of wall that has been widened to form a semicircle. A handy, nearby blackberry bush provides a tasty dessert. And, what a relief, I can see the glimmer of the beginning of the River Crouch ahead of me. That distant view of the river tells me I am near the end of this stretch of walk.
Looking back the way I have travelled, I am amazed to find that I can still see St Peter’s Chapel. And beyond I can just make out the Blackwater River. But wait; there is something very odd here. The river level seems unusually high, higher than the sea level beyond it. And appears to be flooding the far bank. I can see bushes, or trees, with their roots apparently hidden by the water.
With the telephoto lens of my camera, I have a clearer view of the far bank of the river, with trees and bushes floating above hazy, blue water. And a sailing ship hovering, almost in mid-air. Very strange. Are my eyes playing tricks?
Then I realise. This is a mirage. A genuine mirage.
I linger to take photos and enjoy this rare and intriguing phenomena.
A few miles further on, I come across another strange sight.
There is a gate across the concrete path. And the gate is decorated. It is covered in objects; ordinary objects such as a single flip-flop sandal, a sock, an empty can of lager, a pair of trousers, a number of trainers and, most incongruous of all, a white plastic chair.
I wonder if this is debris left over from some event. Or has each walker simply added something of their own to the gate, just as walkers in the hills add stones to a pile at the top of a peak? I consider adding some item of my own, but I have nothing spare in my rucksack; travelling light and carrying nothing unnecessary.
Continuing, I reach the mouth of the River Crouch and enjoy watching the sailing boats. Along the bank of the river I come across defensive structures from the 2nd world war – pill-boxes. In some places, I notice a duo of pill boxes, with one facing the river and the other facing inland, both built into the river bank, back to back.
And here, in the fields, is a bigger structure that I believe must date from the war, but I am not sure. There are holes for guns and for keeping lookout. The buiding has a hexagonal shape giving 360 degree coverage of the surrounding countryside.
I enjoy this section of the walk. There is plenty to see. It is cooler now, the sun is behind clouds, and there is a strange, pale-blue light, giving an ethereal appearance to the water and the sailing ships on the river. There is hardly any wind. The tide is out and there are no waves. The ships move lazily across the water.
Seeing some large, white, circular objects in the grass, I stop to investigate. These turn out to be enormous mushrooms. They look edible. In fact, they look delicious. I must be getting hungry. I balance my iPhone on the top of one. It is as large as a dinner plate. You could feed a whole family from this one mushroom.
Continuing, I reach the outskirts of Burnham on Crouch. There is a path along the river front, weaving between shipyards, running along the back of the yacht club, and cutting through small alleyways. Pubs overlook the river and there are people out enjoying an early evening drink. After the emptiness of the Dengie area, I am excited by the people and the energy of this vibrant little town.
This is the end of my journey. Tonight we are staying in a pub in the town. Tomorrow, I am planning to take the ferry across to Wallasea Island and the next phase of my journey along the winding Essex coastline.
Miles walked = 11
Mirages seen = 1
Boring time = 2 hrs
Interesting time = all the rest