There is a summer ferry service from Burnham-on-Crouch to Wallasea Island. I sit on a bench outside a pub, waiting. There were revellers here last night, but all is quiet now. It is just after nine in the morning; an early start because we stayed overnight in a hotel in this town. It is of little benefit to be here early – I have already telephoned to check the passage times and was told the captain hadn’t arrived yet. The ferry doesn’t start running until ten o’clock.
[Please note: the ferry has recently changed hands. For current contact details, see the comments section below.]
By the time the small boat arrives, there is a fair crowd of would-be passengers. Apparently the RSPB are having an exhibition on Wallasea Island. The ferry is small, but I have been on smaller ones. We all crowd on. The boat bounces across the choppy waves and sea spray hits us. I don my waterproof jacket. We hug the opposite shore of the river, where the water is calmer. Burnham looks very attractive, viewed from across the water.
The captain is talkative. He describes taking sightseers out to spot seals. Sometimes he operates a private taxi service, taking party goers to Burnham for a night out. When are we coming back? The last ferry is at four in the afternoon and we mustn’t miss it. I am not returning; by evening I should be in Rochford.
When we reach the island, the other passengers head off towards distant marquees, where the RSPB exhibition is taking place. I turn westwards, heading for the causeway that links this island to the mainland. The island has an odd mix of open spaces, decrepid wharves, storage yards, holiday cabins and some rather nice residential houses.
After crossing the causeway, I head off to the right along a foot path through fields. This is the route that will take me around Paglesham Creek and back to the sea wall. The sky is overcast and the light is too poor for good photography. In any case, there is not much to photograph here – fields, a path and the usual marshes. Along the way I see a number of the ubiquitous pill-boxes.
I stop to have a drink and snack. A style provides a handy place to rest my camera and I manage to take a self-portrait. Despite the dull weather, I am very much enjoying the walk. I have a week’s holiday and am planning to make good progress over the next few days. Who knows, I might even manage to leave Essex. This county was far bigger than I anticipated and has around 350 miles of coastline; indeed Essex has the longest coastline in England. I was not aware of this fact before I encountered its miles of estuaries.
Wallasea Island is to my left and, as I walk along this stretch of river, I can see the marquees. This little stretch of water, separating me from Wallasea is called Paglesham pool. Ahead is the River Roach. As I round the corner and start walking along the river bank, I come across a crowded boatyard. I suppose it is a marina – there are some ships in the water – but most of the boats here don’t look as though they travel far. In fact, some don’t look as though they can float.
I cross the boatyard, following the public right-of-way, and heading for the village of Paglesham Eastend, where I meet my husband for lunch at a pub.
After lunch, I set off in good spirits. But the River Roach is a disappointment. After leaving the boatyard, I see no boats, no ships sailing and no sign of anybody. The tide goes out and now the river has almost disappeared, becoming a very narrow stream, running through a wide bed of mud. This explains the absence of ships. The remaining stream of water is so shallow and narrow, one could almost jump across it. This is a frustrating thought. Tomorrow, I will be walking back along the opposite back, just a hundred feet away from where I am now.
I struggle around an estuary of the river; an estuary of an estuary. The path is little used and disappears. I struggle from grassy hillock to grassy hillock, trying to avoid sinking into water-filled hollows and trying to avoid thinking of snakes. Eventually, with relief, I see a bank emerging from the swamp and follow the comparative safety of its overgrown top. I am back on track again.
I stop and, despite the poor light, take a series of photos. Later, I will reassemble these images into a panoramic view of this riverside.
I approach Rochford with some relief. The path deviates from the river bank, its way barred by an industrial complex. There are trees, bushes, industrial buildings and the back of factory yards. It may not be beautiful scenery, but after the isolation of the river bank, this jumble of industrial buildings makes a welcome relief.
Through a high fence, I catch a glimpse of a huge, car storage area. The cars are stacked on open metal platforms, three layers high. It is strange to see these vehicles apparently floating on flimsy platforms, one above the other.
Passing around a large building, I come across the river again – no water, just mud. There are some ships here, along with abandoned boats, some vessels firmly rooted in the mud. I notice one boat is for sale.
Walking on, I realise I am now in the heart of Rochford. I can hear traffic roaring past; there must be busy roads close by. But I remain in an enclosed, tranquil, leafy walkway – bushes on either side and tree branches above me.
Reaching a rough lane, I follow it and then, surprisingly, emerge – suddenly – on a road. After so many hours of walking, without encountering a living person, it is strange to be standing on an ordinary pavement with cars passing by.
Miles walked = 13
Ferries used = 1
Causeways crossed = 1
Blisters = 0