Yachts on the long creeks where Saxon once clashed with Dane
Two rivers running deep inland, the Crouch and the Blackwater, provided invasion routes for marauding Danes in the centuries before the Norman Conquest. Today they provide sheltered waters for yachts and ochre-sailed Thames barges. Out on the lonely coast, near Bradwell-on-Sea, the 7th century and the 20th century confront each other in the forms of an ancient Christian shrine and a modern nuclear power station.
The village church has a tall 15th-century tower which dominates the surrounding landscape. Beacon Hill, on which it stands, is said to have been the Danes’ command post before the Battle of Ashingdon. There in 1016 the Danish King Canute defeated the English Edmund Ironside.
Fresh lobsters can be bought at the lobster ‘ponds’ near the river. Upstream the river wall is breached after a mile, but downstream a walker can follow the Crouch for 5 miles.
SOUTH WOODHAM FERRERS
Named after a Norman knight called de Ferrers, who came over with William the Conqueror, Woodham Ferrers was until the 18th century the centre of the local saltmak-ing industry. Expansion began in the 1890s, when London commuters were tempted by the offer of buying ‘quite a comfortable little cot’ for only – £100. In recent years South Woodham Ferrers has expanded into a full-scale New Town, with an elegant town centre opened in 1981. Modelled on a traditional Essex town, it is brick-paved and completely pedestrianised, and has as its focus a white weather-boarded clock tower. Between the town and the River Crouch lies Marsh Farm Country Park, occupying 320 acres of low-lying reclaimed marshland. Visitors can tour a commercially run farm which specialises in cattle, sheep and pigs, and shows how a modern farm works. There are traditional Essex farm buildings. Two picnic areas have been laid out, and there are more than 3 miles of riverside walks. At the eastern end of the park is a nature conservation zone, where migrant birds such as Brent geese can be seen in winter.
Old cottages look towards the Crouch, across an expanse of mud and tussocky grass, which is under water at high tide. Here in 1897 floods broke down the sea-wall, and the land has never been reclaimed. The rotting remains of timber stakes upstream from the access road show where the wall once stood. There is a good walk downstream along the sea-wall to Burnham-on-Crouch, 6 miles away, and beyond. The Ferry Boat Inn near the river wall dates from the 15th-century and is said to be haunted by an old ferryman.
The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘landing-place at the creek’, and the boating tradition is still carried on here by the local yacht club. Like Bosham in Sussex, Creeksea is said to be the place where King Canute tried to turn back the tide. The short section of road along the river gives good views, but parking is not allowed.
Once a centre of the oyster, cockle and whelk trade, Burnham has become the goal of thousands of yachtsmen, the ‘Cowes of the east coast’. The elegant Georgian High Street, which runs parallel to the river, has an octagonal clock tower built in Victorian times. The equally elegant quayside is too narrow for cars, and so walkers can enjoy the views of river and boats in comfort.
Two of the biggest buildings are the headquarters of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club (at Burnham since 1894) and the Royal Burnham Yacht Club. Burnham Week, one of the great events in the yachtsman’s year, is held at the end of August, and there is an annual carnival at the end of September.
This expanse of saltings and mud-flats gets its name from the remote village of Dengie, which also gives its name to the whole peninsula between the Crouch and the Blackwater. The tide retreats up to 2 miles from the sea-wall, and the resulting stretch of muddy tussocks provides ideal feeding grounds for waders in spring and autumn, and for Brent geese, teal, shelducks and many other species in winter.
The Flat is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but is not open to the public. At its northern end is Bradwell Shell Bank, consisting of 30 acres of sand and shingle, combined with a spit of compressed and broken cockleshells. Part of an Essex Naturalists’ Trust reserve, it is frequented by shore birds. There is no public access to the reserve, but a path leads near to it round the sea-wall.
ST PETER’S CHAPEL
No cars are allowed as far as this lonely chapel, and the last half mile from Bradwell-on-Sea has to be covered on foot. Its full name is St Peter’s-on-the-Wall, and it stands defiantly on a bank exposed to the fury of the North Sea storms. It was built about AD 654 by St Cedd, who came from Northumbria as a missionary to the East Anglians, and is thus one of the oldest places of worship in England.
St Cedd chose as his site the main gateway of the Roman fortress of Othona, which had been abandoned when the Romans left Britain in 410, and used Roman stone and bricks in its construction. Originally it had at its east end a rounded apse now marked out on the grass by stones. The chapel is still used by the non-denominational Othona Community.
There are good walks from the chapel along the sea-wall in both directions.
The name is misleading, as the village is today l1/: miles from the sea. Bradwell nuclear power station, on the coast, has occasional open days. The dates of these are advertised locally, and tickets are available from area electricity board showrooms.
Old houses line the road to Bradwell Creek, a narrow, sheltered stretch of water between Pewet Island and the mainland. Modern developments include a marina, and the Bradwell Field Studies and Sailing Centre, run by the Essex County Council for young people.
Away on the eastern skyline loom the twin grey blocks of Bradwell nuclear power station, which dominates this stretch of the Blackwater. At the end of the road is a holiday and residential village, looking towards Bradwell across St Lawrence Bay, which at low tide becomes a vast expanse of muddy shingle.
Reached by a causeway, covered at high tide, along a private road (marked South House Farm), Northey is primarily a bird reserve owned by the National Trust and administered by the Essex Naturalists’ Trust. It can be visited only by permission in writing obtained in advance from the Warden at Northey Cottage, Northey Island, Maldon. The island is a small triangle of 260 acres, surrounded by muddy creeks, and was occupied by Stone Age man, whose flint scrapers have been found there.
In 991 a force of marauding Danes camped on the island, opposed by the East Anglian Saxons under their leader, Byrhtnoth, on the mainland. The Danes crossed the causeway and defeated the Saxons, whose downfall is told in the Old English epic poem The Battle of Maldon. The fighting is said to have lasted for 14 days, until all the Saxons were killed.
This fine old town, built commandingly on a ridge above the Blackwater, has a name that goes back to Saxon times. Although a dozen miles from the sea, it has a nautical atmosphere and strong seafaring traditions. Two Maldon ships fought at the siege of Calais in 1348. The seagoing part of Maldon lies a little way downstream, by the Norman
St Mary’s Church. Here, carefully restored 19th-century Thames sailing barges can often be seen at their moorings, and the riverside promenade, overlooking a beach of muddy shingle, offers delightful views of the town. In the 19th century Maidon produced a type of barge all its own. Known as ‘stackies’, they were shallow and broad, and carried complete corn-stacks up the narrow inland creeks.
Sailing-barge races, called ‘matches’, are held during July, August and September, and cruises are available from March to October.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Chelmsford. 15th-century cathedral: Chelmsford and Essex Museum and Essex Regiment Museum. daily.
Danbury Country Park. 5 miles W of Maldon Woodland, gardens and lakes, rhododendron banks. Daily.
ELEGANCE IN WOOD These Burnham-on-Cwuch cottages are typical of many in Essex, where weather-boarding began in the 18th century.
RIVER DELICACY The common British oyster, Ostrea edulis, thrives in the Rivet Colne and the creeks around Mersea Island.
More wildfowl are said to frequent Abberton than any other reservoir in the British Isles. There is a good view of the reservoir, which is 4 miles long and 2 miles wide at its widest point, from the road which crosses it at its western end.
This isolated village is notable for its fine church. Ferry Road leads down to the riverside, which gives excellent views across