Heybridge Basin – Maldon – Maylandsea
Ebb tide gives an indication of recognition on spotting a fellow ex-pat; we had already noted the variety of boats moored at the Heybridge Basin, but as we leave the basin itself and walk around the sea wall towards Maldon, one of the first vessels we see moored is a Trawler, registered in the Orkney Islands, a mere hundred miles or so north of Ebb Tide’s native Stonehaven. Still showing the light blue paint that characterises boats of that region, and with a Scottish flag painted on the bridge, it looks like, although converted from being a trawler, it is still a working boat.
Walking along Colliers Reach, it’s interesting to speculate about the boats that are moored and bemudded along this coast; sometimes there are serviceable and sea-worthy vessels apparently marooned at the end of a labyrinth of remote creeks; reaches that, whilst looking viable when full of water at high tide, must, even so, demand a considerable job of planning and navigation in order to get a boat in and out; also there are many ruined boats, evoking the possibility of… well, redundancy.
Most of the working – i.e.fishing –boats in these parts are based in West Mersea, and Maldon is mostly given over to leisure craft, if ‘leisure ‘is necessarily the right term. I discovered a web-site for an organisation called ‘The Albert Strange Association’ who are a group of yachtswomen and men who meet regularly to celebrate the life of Albert Strange (!855-1917), a yacht designer, sailor, artist and writer, and this blog, describing the experience of bringing a boat down from Suffolk for a meeting, gives an indication of the hazards of sailing this coast. It’s worth bearing in mind that Maldon is a major yachting harbour and not the head of a remote creek;
As we headed south the wind rose and somewhere off Clacton the first reef pennant broke (chafe due to a sheave in the boom having vanished unnoticed) to tear the sail at a reef point. After jury rigging this we were just settling down to the real slog when the top block of the jib roller reefing gear split and the whole show went over the side. ….Due to these ‘accidents’ we did not get to Maldon when we had planned (in the dark) which was a mercy as there would have been no water, so we lay at peace under Osea and used Mr Strange’s fine rig to ‘jib’n-mizzen’ up to Maldon next day to sort this lack of water in daylight, in which search our esteemed Pres’s local fame was immensely useful; he was seen bicycling up and down the waterfront fixing a place for us to stay for the week with Nirvana’s 5 ft draft. We stripped off the broken bits for Peter to collect…. Maldon for the locals is a splendid place but for visitors it is a nightmare that always seems to involve leaving it.
I don’t get the technical bits, but the message is clear, getting in and out of Maldon is hard work, even for locals and the blog continues with a description of yachts being stuck in the mud as they attempt to reach the starting line for a race.
There are working boats of a sort at Maldon in the shape of the Thames barges, of which there are about nine, moored at the Hythe. These are beautiful ships, specifically designed for this coastline with shallow draughts to negotiate the mudbanks, and often with large rudders at the side that can be lowered when the boat hits the open sea. Most towns and villages on this coast have an annual regatta, the highpoint of which is a race featuring one or more of these barges – a spectacular sight at any time – but particularly when bearing down a narrow river under full sail, at speed, and ramming a mudbank to come to a sudden stop.
At one time, Maldon had two railway stations – East and West – the West being on the line that ran between Braintree, Witham and Woodham Ferrers, now a roundabout on the Maldon by-pass, and the East being a terminus near the docks, which lasted slightly longer, eventually falling to the Beeching cuts in 1964. The building, now offices, is still recognisably a railway station by design. The Maldon Standard reports a campaign by the Maldon Commuter Association, for an increased bus service between Maldon and Witham, which, if achieved, they hope will help to underpin an argument for a restored railway line.
I had friend who used to work as a member of platform staff on Colchester North Station in the 1980’s, and who always used to refer to commuters as ‘Toxic Waste’; he meant that, generally, they tended to be the rudest and least considerate of rail users, and he was frequently on the receiving end of pointless petty abuse. I wonder, and I discuss this subsequently with another ex-railway friend of mine, whether there is a correlation between a town having a commuter station, and the number of active pubs it has. Maldon, noticeably, has a lot of pubs, and the argument goes that commuters, having essentially, privatised lifestyles, do not frequent public spaces. They come home at eight in the evening and collapse, ready to leave again at six the following morning, so it might be worth the non-commuters of Maldon considering the impact that this campaign could have on their quality of life.
The real news in town however, is of the forthcoming Maldon mud race on Sunday 29th April. Apparently, at 12.30 p.m. 250 motley entrants, including a couple of ‘mystery celebrities’(last year, Jo Brand was one) gather on one of the mud banks and race across the creek at low tide, obviously, getting covered in mud in the process (google ‘Maldon Mud’). During the course of our walk, we have had several escapades with Essex estuary mud, and it will be interesting to know how it should be done. I will certainly be attending in order to learn.
As we walked into Maldon, along Colliers Reach and past the lagoons, we were heading into a driving west wind and sharp rain; turning along the Maldon key and Promenade Park, the rain was, more comfortably, behind us and, as we leave the town, it stops completely. This is good because the sea wall between here and Maylandsea is particularly exposed. The wall runs along Southey Creek , which threads between the mainland and Northey Island, and approaching the island, we cross the line of the causeway – quite short compared to the Osea Island variant – and actually looking as if it could be walked across quite easily. There are signs warning of the hazards of being cut off by the tide, and the island itself is owned by the National Trust who discourage visitors without an appointment. We had noted, as we passed through Promenade Park, that it tapers into a small peninsular with a statue of a sword-wielding figure at the end. This is the Brithnoth statue (or, in Saxon, Earldoman Byrhtnoth), and it was at the causeway to Northey that Brithnoth engineered an historic defeat at the hands of Vikings in the battle of Maldon, in 991. The Vikings had landed on Northey, facing the Saxon forces who were stationed at the mainland end of the causeway. The two sides were prevented from doing battle by the narrowness of the causeway and the tide, and spent a deal of time hurling insults at one another across the mud. Brithnoth controversially, allows the Vikings to cross, they beat the Saxons, then go away again. This battle is mainly remembered because someone wrote it down at the time, in the shape of the heroic Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon in which Brithnoth is depicted as arrogantly letting the Vikings cross the causeway, over-confident that he would beat them.
Ða se eorl ongan for his ofermode/alyfan landes to fela laþere ðeode. (Then did the earl, in his overweening heart / Lend land too much to that loathed people.)
Brithnoth ends up not only defeated, but also having his head lopped off. This story has a similar shape to the one related by Ebb Tide on our last walk, and I wonder if it refers to the same occasion. I don’t really think the facts matter, what both stories do is structure events in a ‘give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a yard’ kind of way, a bulwark way of thinking, as I’ve come to call it in this blog, and interesting to think that it was around in Essex 1,011 years ago. Others say that Brithnoth was acting strategically, knowing that if he didn’t engage with the Vikings, they’d simply sail off and invade somewhere else, and, being one of the largest landowners in the country at the time, he had a direct vested interest in preventing this from happening.
As we walk along the seawall towards Mundon Stone Point, we can see the south side of Osea Island, and the large buildings on it. I have discovered, courtesy of Ian Yearsley’s Islands of Essex, that the retreat for wealthy alcoholics was actually described, at the time, as ‘a house for gentlemen suffering the baneful and insidious effects of alcohol’. Frederick Nicholas Charrington had been so upset on witnessing a man, under the influence of drink, strike his wife, that he forsook the brewing business entirely, sold up, and devoted the considerable proceeds to temperance. His efforts were hampered by the unfortunate entrepreneurial spirit of the Blackwater residents, who augmented their incomes by smuggling alcohol onto the island under cover of darkness, or by ferrying the inmates to the nearby pubs on the mainland (of which there are still quite a few).
Maylandsea is visible across the marshes, at most a couple of kilometres away as the crow flies; however, Lawling Creek loops prodigiously and cuts deep into the Dengie Peninsular. After the point, the wall doubles back on itself, moves out into the creek, back again, round a peninsular and then moves to the west, with the town by now a couple of hundred yards across the water.
The land that the village of Maylandsea inhabits was purchased by an American soap magnate after the First World War, who tried to develop a farm, with the semi – philanthropic motive of helping the unemployed. It failed initially, though his manager subsequently turned it into a success, and published a book called The Profitable Culture of Vegetables. Later, a local family sold small parcels of land to allow people to build holiday homes. Marsh Samphire’s late mother-in-law used to go on holiday there as a child from her family home in Fulham.
Wanting to find out more, I visit a history website, and click on the link to ‘Maylandsea facts’, promising ‘interesting and historical facts about Maylandsea’, only to be greeted with the message “Sorry, there are no facts about Maylandsea”, but a further search reveals the minutes of the April Parish Council Assembly; there are problems with noise from quad bikes and motor bikes in the village; refuse disposal has been awarded to a new contractor; the Olympic torch is coming through the district, and the council are addressing resident’s concerns about the issue of extra parking requirements for this occasion; there are issues with the recycling service, the workers are careless in the way they handle the green boxes; there is concern over the unsuitable behaviour of a small number of young people in the village, and a jubilee oak tree was vandalised and destroyed six days after it was planted. In addition, the vigilant Parish Council publicises its proactive approach to combating benefit fraud, even though this function is not in its published remit (‘Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a yard’; and what better response to imminent double-dip recession caused by an inflated housing market, consumer credit and a rampant financial sector?). Phew! No facts? Too much excitement would be nearer the mark, although the village is deserted as we stagger into it. There is a dog walker on the outlying marshes and there are workers in the boatyard, but not a quad bike, vandal or benefit fraudster in sight.
We slump onto a bench in front of one of the two yacht clubs (two yacht clubs! No facts?). Master F. is suffering. His feet are wet and he has developed a blister on one of his toes. Heroically he agrees to continue around the next point in the coast and down the west side of Mayland Creek, another three kilometers or so. We pass the town’s surprisingly large shipyard, the Blackwater Marina, where a Thames Barge is in dry dock. Our morale is particularly raised as we pass the second yacht club; The Harlow and Blackwater. Harlow has a special place in all our hearts, and Master F. and I, spotting this Harlow ex-pat enclave, feel like Ebb Tide must have done on spotting the Orkney Trawler at Heybridge. By now the sun is shining, and it’s a pretty stretch of coast, which compensates for our footsore condition; we have slowed down considerably as we round the last peninsular. Arriving back at the car, we decide we still have the energy to investigate, at first hand, and purely in the interests of research, the baneful and insidious effects of alcohol.