27th March 2012
As we walk, Ebb Tide is outlining the process of glacial rebound, through which a substantial portion of England and Wales (roughly, south of a diagonal line from North Yorkshire to Pembroke) is subsiding as the land mass slowly regains equilibrium having been squashed under several kilometres of ice during the last ice age. There are beaches in Scotland which have raised to many feet above sea level, but here on the Essex coast, we are on the front line of a general downward trend. This means, predictably, that the water is rising – a process known as isostatic adjustment- and this is compounded by the more general rise in sea levels caused by climate change. The breaches of the sea walls which have been made at various places (we crossed one on the Walton backwaters) allowing the tide to flood in, create what is called ‘coastal realignment’ which is a part of the local response to this.
On this walk, we operate a less than geological timescale; last week, the offshore wind turbines on Gunfleet Sands were more or less invisible in the haze, but today, as we set off from the Martello tower south of Clacton at ten o’clock on a fine, clear morning, they positively sparkle in the bright sunshine. It’s a short stroll down the front to the legendary Jaywick Sands, and the first house we come to is still under construction, which strikes me as something of an act of faith. Jaywick is mostly below sea level, and as the water rises, there’s a question mark as to whether or not it will survive, and several of the sea front houses are burned out or boarded up. Whether or not this is on the minds of the cyclists, pedestrians and dog-walkers using the promenade, or the group enjoying breakfast on their seafront balcony who raise a convivial can of lager as we pass, it is hard to tell, but a quick web search will reveal evidence of the underlying anger at perceived neglect from district, county and national government that Jaywick residents have been fighting for the past couple of decades. Check this link;
There’s another new house being built a couple of miles further on, on St Osyth Marsh, near Colne point, and I subsequently check out what the flood projections are for this stretch of coast. 30 seconds of diligent research and I find The Essex and South Suffolk Shoreline Management Plan, which details proposed flood prevention measures for the entire coastline under the broad headings of; ‘Hold the line’, ‘Managed Realignment’ ‘No Active Intervention’. ‘Advance the Line’.
“At Jaywick, the situation is very complex. Flood defences have recently been strengthened to protect the communities of Brooklands, Grasslands, and Jaywick village, plus important tourist facilities (e.g. caravan parks).
However, the sea defence is under considerable pressure and sustaining it in the medium and long term would require significant investment….Clearly any change in shoreline management approach would only be possible in combination with significant adaption of people and businesses in the area. The SMP’s intent for Jaywick is to support the process that Tendring District Council and Essex County Council are carrying out through the Local Development Framework to develop a sustainable long-term solution for the area. The period up to around 2025 is the minimum time needed to allow land use adaption that may be required. In the short and medium term, the intent is to hold the existing frontline defences where they are now. After 2055, the intent is less fixed and depends on further work through the LDF in the coming years and therefore the SMP proposes a dual policy of Managed Realignment and Hold the Line. Any change in management after 2055 will not take place without the implementation of appropriate adaption measures and all management will reflect the need to defend residential settlements, while also reflecting the extent of land use changes that have taken place. Any policy implemented, either Managed Realignment or Hold the Line, will ensure appropriate flood defence for the communities and associated socio economic features at Jaywick and will also ensure continued use of the area for leisure, recreation and tourism.”
Hmmm. That seems a bit ambivalent to me. I suppose from now until 2055 is a long enough time span to make it worth while building a chalet, but if it were me, I’d take a close interest in the Local Development Framework.
We pass the outlet pipes from which, Master F. tells us, his younger brother fell into the sea, and he tells the tragic tale of how the blame fell on him for letting his brother get up there in the first place; he points out the row of streets named after classic British cars; Swift, Alvis, Hillman, Humber etc. etc. (although for some reason, Fiat and Lancia get in there as well), also, from the sea wall, the features of the caravan site at Seawick, where he stayed as a child, which was summer home for a dozen or more families from his home town in West Essex, and who carried on the same conversations and arguements in the site social club as they did in the pub at home; “If you closed your eyes, you could be in the Red Lion”.
After Seawick, the promenade ends, and the sea wall is grass again. We’ve left the main stretch of the Essex Riviera behind, and are heading for Colne Point. Walking the coast in the way that we are opens up places that you might never have any reason to go, or even suspect existed, and Colne Point and St Osyth Marsh is one of these; there are a cluster of chalets and a coast guard station out here, collectively known as Lee-over-Sands, but I’m not sure how often they’re occupied and its rare to see more than the occasional birdwatcher. As we’ve returned to the salt marsh, so the bird life becomes more diverse, including Egrets, Redshank and Brent Geese. From Colne Point, there is a panoramic view and I would guess you can see more of the Essex coast in one sweep from here than from anywhere else; across the Colne estuary to Mersea Island and Fingringhoe, over the Blackwater towards Tollesbury, Maldon and the two blocks of Bradwell power station; around the Dengie peninsular, and, the day is clear enough that, down the North Sea coast, the pylons and trees on Foulness are visible. Quite intimidating really, we’ve opted to try and walk this lot, and our route for the next however-many stages is laid out before us. Ebb Tide and I speculate the length of the Essex coast. He thinks a conservative 250 kilometres, but that could depend on the rate of isostatic adjustment during the period of our walk.
Round Colne Point, and we are approaching the Colne Estuary. Essex estuary mud is aesthetically very beautiful to look at, it responds to the light in much the same way that the sea does, and can variously appear gold, silver, brown, grey and all shades between and combinations thereof. Up close and personal however, it sucks. Really. Not only does it have shoe-removing adhesive qualities, it is slippery, and, being in part a fermentation of bird shit and fishy material, it also smells. This has to be experienced to be appreciated and we are about to do exactly that, because, as we approach Point Clear, having elected to ignore the right of way, which turns inland, and follow the sea wall, we come to a scrubby piece of salt marsh which has been fenced off, and the fence extends some yards beyond the high-water mark into The Mud. We walk up and down it for a while, hoping to find a hole, or a means of scaling it, but no luck, and there is nothing for it but to venture out onto The Mud itself. Salt marsh is made of reedy grass-covered islets of varying sizes divided by deep gullies into which the sea flows at high tide, and at low tide are trenches lined with The Mud. The bigger islets are usually fine to walk on when they’re developed, but when they’re in an early stage of formation, they have a silted crust, the firmness of which is hard to determine until you tread on it. It is low tide. Ebb Tide acts as pathfinder, leaps across the first gully, stumbles as his foot sinks six inches into The Mud, rights himself and slides onto a relatively firm surface. Master F. and I follow in similar style. We’re round the fence, and have to perform the same operation two or three more times, aided by some stone slabs that Ebb Tide eases from The Mud, before we’re back on dry ground. A few hundred yards and there is another fence to be negotiated, but there is more shingle underfoot at this point, so we get round this one comparatively easily, and head for the The Ferry Boat pub at Point Clear with Mud halfway up our trouser legs (or, in Master F’s case, all the way up one trouser leg). Ebb Tide’s prowess at negotiating the salt marsh earns him the title ‘King of the Bogtrotters’ from Master F., but I think this is unflattering and not worthy of repetition.
Near the Ferry Boat, there is a café selling T-shirts with The Only Way is Essex across the front. I think these would be perfect to wear for an Essex coastal walk, and can picture us , in uniform, in the manner of a hen party, as we tramp the sea wall and saltmarsh. However, they’re pink, and about seven sizes too small, so this idea has to be discarded.
After a brief visit to check on Master F.’s family caravan, where we are surveyed rather suspiciously by the proprietor of the site, we walk up Brightlingsea and St Osyth Creeks, the caravan sites of Point Clear to our left and disused oyster beds to our right. We’re doing a circular walk today, and so cut inland, past the boatyard and moorings at St Osyth, round the south side of the village, over farmland heading back to Clacton, across the airfield, narrowly escaping getting run over by a Sopwith Camel, pausing to wonder at the presence of a mountain of perfectly good onions standing at the side of the footpath, through the unplaqued Billy Butlin estate to a seafront pub where we undergo a process of coastal realignment and isostatic adjustment.
A more technical description of the Essex coast can be found here;
The Shoreline Management Plan for Tendring is here;