Tuesday 13th March 2012
Ebb Tide, Master F. and I meet at the top of Island Lane, just east of Kirby-le-Soken, and drive back to Beaumont Quay to start the third stage in our scheme to walk around the entire coast of Essex. There’s a bit of uncertainty about where we’ll cover today. Beaumont back to Kirby looks straightforward – nice green dotted lines on the map, all around the sea wall. We want to walk to Walton marina, then go around the Naze, and the map is ambiguous in this respect. Sea wall is usually walkable, but not always accessible if it’s not marked as foopath. I’ve paid an exploratory visit the previous day and am pessimistic.
Beaumont Quay is made up of recycled pieces of London Bridge (the version that was demolished in 1831), and stands at the end of what was once a canal, a kilometre long – the Beaumont Cut – and we’re heading along the southern side of this. It’s a straightforward start with clear, seawall walking. There are birds galore; Shelduck, Shovellers, Gadwall,Curlew, Brent Geese, Redshanks, Oystercatchers plus gulls, gulls, gulls – black-head, black-back, noisy. Also, as on earlier stages, quite a few boats, mostly, but not all, ruined. In fact the whole stretch, boats, traces of jetties and moorings, is full of hints of the area’s trading past, a trade, Wikipedia reveals, controlled in the 19th century, by the governors of Guy’s Hospital, who donated the stones from the bridge.
We walk past Gull Cottages (named, not after the local birdlife, but Sir William Gull), and Skipper Island. The island has a causeway leading to it, and plenty of signs indicating that ‘this is not a footpath’. There is a well-maintained looking building on the island, surrounded by small wind vanes and evidence of solar-powered devices. A little further on, there’s a notice ‘Flood defences are being improved for the community’, and the two guys working on the improvements take time out to chat and reckon that the building on the island is probably let to serious bird watchers, and the equipment maybe hired out to meteorological services. Further research after the event reveals that Skipper Island is run by Essex Wildlife as a bird sanctuary, with access by prior agreement only.
At Kirby Quay, there is a barge that looks to be in full sea-worthy condition, although fairly deeply sunk into mud. I’ve been here several times before over the past five years and the barge has always been there. In the mid-19th century, Kirby Quay handled sand, gravel, chalk, lime, fertilisers and fish. Now, its hard to see how a boat could leave – the exit channel from the key looks minutely narrow – and we wonder whether this is how the delapidation starts, leading to the various barge skeletons that we’ve passed on the way.
As we approach the causeway leading to Horsey Island, it is low tide, and looks as though you could walk the track if you wanted to, although my preference would be to use a tractor. In any case, we don’t. We’ve reached the end of the marked footpath here, but there is an easily negotiable fence, and Ebb Tide notes that the sea wall on the other side of it is well-trodden, so we follow it. We hit an obstacle in a few hundred yards, where the wall has been breached next to a field reservoir, and a steady stream of water is flowing through, but get across with minimal wetness of feet. On towards the Titchmarsh Marina, the path appearing steadily less well-worn as we go. There’s a fence and barbed wire blocking our way at the marina, but Master F. spots a hole, and we are soon through it. We walk along the landscaped grounds, past the deserted security booth in the entrance and onward round the sea wall to Walton. The next obstacle is a metal fence protecting a caravan site and a boat yard. Fortunately there is an open gate leading into the site, and we walk through, round by the road a few hundred yards, and we are back on the sea wall at the Naze proper. There are still very few people about – a couple of dog walkers and as we progress out to the remoter part of the wall on the western side of the Naze, we greet a couple of bird-watchers. “We’re looking for a cashpoint” quips Master F.
There are huge numbers of birds on the fields/marshes to our right, and I think I spot Avocet in the distance, however, Ebb Tide, with his better binoculars, corrects me on this; they’re gulls. More gulls to the left, in great quantity, as a fishing boat is emptying out scraps. As we swing round the head of the sea wall, we realise that we’re only about halfway along the full length of the peninsular. It dissolves into saltmarsh and wide channels, with a sandy spit running the eastern length. We head towards the Naze Tower, which has been our landmark throughout this stretch of the walk, turning our backs on the other major landmark, the cranes of Felixstowe docks. Passing the dramatically eroded cliffs, and then along the beachfront, we head into Walton and find a pub.
Back at Beaumont Quay to pick up the car, we meet a woman who expresses interest in our walk. She seems to have clocked the unfamiliar car that has been parked at the quay all day. We tell her about the first stage of the walk, along the Stour, and she has cautionary tales of Wrabness, of how her bag was stolen from her car as part of a spate of burglaries and found twenty five miles away in Rowhedge churchyard, with her gold watch still in it; of how the owners of Wrabness beach houses (“money people”) try to discourage people from walking the beach in front of their ‘property’, even though there has always been a path there. Of the problems of exercising a very energetic dog, simultaneously with an ailing, diabetic dog (“…he howls if he’s left in the car, and when I came back, there was a crowd of people trying to get him out…”). When, an hour earlier, we had collapsed into our seats in the Walton pub, the three of us had talked about the pros and cons of having a dog; I’m a glass half-empty man on this issue, Master F. is tempted but with severe reservations, and Ebb Tide is non-committal. We’d talked about various problems – picking up crap loomed large – and the viability of canine time-share arrangements, but we hadn’t considered this particular aspect of dog ownership. A solution presented itself when the landlady of the pub, seeing our muddy and tired state, asked us where we’d been, and we summarised our route from Beaumont Quay. “I wish I’d have known,” she says,”You could have taken my dog.”