from "Walking with an Essex girl" by Sally Carpenter
Autumn, a perfect time to explore contrasting waterways. Just 15
minutes from the busy A12, Heybridge Basin lies beside the lock
of the Chelmer Canal on its gateway to the river Blackwater heading
towards the North Sea.
the large free car park is a modern toilet, which all but the desperate
probably try to avoid for fear of the unknown. Ahead the tops of
masts tantalise the walker to discover what lies above the steep
bank. For here at Heybridge Basin you climb up the steps to reach
the waters edge where boats of all shapes and sizes lie at
rest. Left along the towpath to the waterfront and the lock gates
manned by the rugged lock keeper. "The Old Ship" and "The
Jolly Sailor" are the focus of much attention; but we will
look forward to their hospitality when we return.
wooden lock gates provide a narrow footbridge that takes us to the
far side of the canal and up to the sea wall. From here we look
across to Northey Island and as the tide is low we can make out
the edge of the causeway that links the island to the mainland at
low water. Today, mud has taken over from sea water but that encourages
the marsh birds to search for food and brings pleasure to those
with binoculars. The pathway is wide and dry despite the storm of
the previous day and to the right the lake and waterways are partly
fenced for in the summer there were warning notices advising of
the presence of harmful algae - harmful to animals and people.
people pass with a morning nod or a smile, or perhaps a quiet good
morning as groups of two or four advance from the headland. The
sun is struggling to show its face on this late summer day and the
sudden squalls of yesterday seem long forgotten. The path takes
a sharp right turn, (otherwise we would be in the water!), taking
us on a much narrower track through angry brambles that are trying
to barricade our progress by linking arms across the path. The brave
wearers of shorts and sleeveless tops move with caution past the
our left beyond the muddy river is the "prom" of the ancient
town of Maldon and the quay with the gentle giants of the Blackwater,
the Thames barges. Originally used to transport hay to London they
are now a popular treat for visitors and the corporate hospitality
market. A glance at the barges brings back happy memories of evenings
on the Blackwater and afternoons on the Orwell in Suffolk beneath
the huge billowing brown sails.
to the walk away from the briars. In summer the path is busy
with flowers cushions of cream heather, bright yellow thistles
and graceful wands of tiny pink petals that in a cottage garden
might no longer be called a weed, just a wild flower. The gentle
sound of the lark hovering above the path is shattered by squawking
sea gulls competing for the best position on a mud mound in the
path continues behind an industrial area, so we follow the track
through a sheltered path towards Heybridge where the blackberries
here ripen weeks ahead of their sea wall cousins. Remembering how
that first blackberry of summer picked straight from the bush is
a refreshing treat, we glean some extra sweet berries that stain
the fingers it is like a half way treat to give us the extra
momentum. As we head into Heybridge we pass a row of neat cottages
and clinically tidy modern housing that give way to a couple of
small industrial units before we reach the warm smell of a local
pub. Right at the end of the tiny Hall Road takes us out to the
bustling highway called The Street, past a converted warehouse,
over the canal bridge and quickly down the rough grass to the peace
of the towpath.
contrast of the water in the lake, the muddy river and now the reed-lined
canal is remarkable, for here there are different plants and wildlife.
Huge clumps of snow white water lilies show off their best flowers
while their smaller cousins in yellow and pink add a touch of unexpected
colour to the green and cream theme. Ahead a group of walkers stop
to study the other bank where a lone swan has the company of a group
of ducks, it always seems so sad to see swans without a mate
strange how we believe we can be happy walking solo yet expect the
swan to need a partner!
along the path our gentle rhythm is broken as we stand aside to
let the wobbling cyclists pass it irritates, I wonder why,
but I wanted to keep my momentum going; the irritation soon passes
for there are those who wish they could be irritated. To the left
the ancient railings and chained gate protect those at rest in the
tidy cemetery no way for us to enter and say a few quiet
prayers for those at peace.
and grasses have taken over from flowers and thorns as we head towards
Heybridge Basin. To the left the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation
Canal Trusts sign giving the history of the canal first started
in 1793; and to the right men "puggle" about on boats.
What gives us this fascination with boats and waterways? Psychologists
would probably proclaim an over indulgence of Ratty Mole and Mr
Toad but not everyone involved with boats remembers "Wind in
the Willows". If we keep very still we may spot one of Rattys
relatives scampering back to his riverbank home. By now we have
reached the grander boats and visiting yachts at Heybridge Basin
where people have time to sit and admire their craft.
check of the time - a minute over the hour for this circular walk
although some can complete in 10 less than the hour. A chance
to enjoy a drink in the sun and a welcome bite from the old inns
beside the Essex waters.