The Little Muddy

Sunday 01 April 2018 – Wivenhoe, Essex.

The Big Muddy is a river in the United States that feeds the mighty Mississippi, which also takes on the name as its nickname. Muddy it may be, but the River Colne in Essex is definitely not big, it is one of the shorter rivers in the UK and is very tidal, at low tide it is very unimpressive. Though calling it The Little Muddy would be slightly hurtful.

There are some affordable houses in Wivenhoe, which is perched on the north bank of the Colne, and just over an hour from home by car. it is also about an hour from London on a direct train which adds to its attraction.

It is not spectacular, though we were not expecting it to be. It was surprisingly quiet, with very few people walking or driving the narrow streets, and quite pleasant. The first person we saw as we walked up from the car to the cafe said “Good morning” to us. Now that never happens in London.

It is not spectacularly old, though there are some lovely older houses mixed in with some tastefully architectured newer builds. Wivenhoe has a long history as a port town serving inland Essex as well as fishing and boat building. There is still a small fleet based here and a couple of boat yards. There are a few pubs, though mostly deserted late on a Sunday morning, but we did visit a very nice cafe where I was served an excellent flat white before we went for a walk.

The church of St Mary’s is the oldest building in town, dating back to the late 13th century.

Though I was in good spirits and the town is quite pretty, even under a heavy grey sky, I seemed to have only taken photos that show the town as being rather ramshackle and rundown, which is very much not the case. It is a pretty place, with a nice  vibe, an artistic community and a tiny range of independent shops; there are two book shops. Wow!

We had a very nice lunch in a Syrian vegan cafe and then went for another walk. After all the rain lately it was quite muddy, though there is nothing wrong with that at all. It was a short loop out of the town and along a flood bank between the river and a wetland, overlooking the town of Rowhedge on the far side of the river. In summer months there is a small ferry between the towns.

After the walk it was time to head back to London, avoiding the worst of the Easter Sunday returning traffic, and get home in time to watch some football on the telly.

In two weeks today, I will be back in New Zealand for a short family visit. I am hoping the long hot summer will have stretched into the early autumn!

Beach hut heaven.

Saturday 24 February 2018. Brightlingsea, Essex.

A while ago we were thinking of taking a weekend away in Brightlingsea, but as usual, did nothing about it. I cannot remember why. I vaguely recall that El was thinking of it as a possible place to go for a few days, away from the attractions of a larger town, to do some writing. Whatever the reason was, at whatever time it was we never made it there, or anywhere close by. It has been lurking in the back of our minds since.

There is no specific reason why it appeals, it is not really coastal, there are no amazing landscapes, and no castles or abbey ruins to visit. It is just a small rural estuarine town in Essex with a good name and an easy drive from home.

Saturday woke to be one of those great sunny but damn cold English winter days. With threats of pending snowy doom from the ‘beast from the east’ weather front coming on Monday it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity the day presented.

It was also time to take the car for a decent spin, the last time I used it was before Christmas when I was going to drive to Norfolk until I found the flat tyre. When I finally got around to taking the car to the shop to get the tyre repaired I found a second flat (suspicious!) With the wheels off I found my brake pads were knackered so I had those replaced as well. With all the work done  the car felt and ran better than ever.

Brightlingsea is about one and half hours north of home in mid-Essex, sitting near the point where the Colne River estuary meets the southern North Sea. Like a lot of coastal Britain, Brightlingsea is a very old town, it gets a mention in the Doomsday Book of 1087. Apparently the oldest wooden framed building in the UK is in the middle of town though I did not know that until now, so we did not go and visit this 14th century relic.

What we did do was stop for a hearty and nice lunch at a cafe in town before going for a walk around the waterfront and the most beach huts I have ever seen. Surprising because there is not a lot of beach. It is nice though.

It is very windy and very cold, heavy coats, gloves, hats and scarves were on, but the sky was a brilliant blue, a great winter  ‘seaside’ walking day.

Beach huts feature a bit in these photos, there were just so many, every nook and cranny seemed to have a beach hut crammed in. The great thing with the beach huts here was there seemed to be no real rules, unlike the tedious line-up of identikit huts on the south coast.

Even with this small amount of skin exposed it was still cold!

Heading back into town I found this nice old boat shed, that I am sure will not last much longer as small blocks of posh modern flats are sprouting up nearby.

We wandered down to where the ferry up the Colne to Colchester would leave in the warmer months.

We stopped in a cafe for a warming coffee before walking back to the car for the journey home.

It is not a town I could live in, there is not a lot there, there is no train and it is a bit remote. Plus there is no proper sea. But I liked it as a place to visit, and lunch was damn good.

The bluebells of Danbury

Sunday 16 April 2017 – Danbury, Essex.

It has been a while since I last posted, as usual it is because I haven’t really done much of interest. Though there are a few activities coming up that I know I will be taking a camera along to, so expect more posts soon. I really do not want to let this blog languish if I can avoid it.

It is coming up to bluebell season in the UK, the best time is usually the end of April / beginning of May, but I am away for the weekends around that time. With winter being pretty dry and warm I was hoping for some early blooms and took a drive out in to rural Essex to have a look see.

A FaceBook associate had posted some photos of bluebells near Danbury so rather than visit the usual spot in Wanstead Park I took a chance and took the 30 minute drive. Plus it was good to get the car out of the city for a while.

The drive out was pretty good; once I got out of the city and in to some country roads it was window down and music up. I love English country lanes. I was looking for the forest I had been told about when I came across a small strip of trees between the road and a golf course that had a nice display of bluebells. I pulled the car over and jumped the barbed wire fence for a quick look. It was worth it.

I love the little skull, I am guessing it is from a young fox.

When I arrived at the forest I was told about I met a couple of people walking dogs, asking them about the bluebells I learnt about Blakes Wood, a ten minute drive away and supposedly spectacular. I took a walk around this small forest and found another nice little field of bluebells under the trees.

One of my aims for this trip was to try and take some pictures that were different to the usual broad sweep of the bluebell field that I have done in the past, I was going to try some close ups and some good old fashioned panned blurry shots.

The forest was edged on one side by a rape field, it is such a wonderfully colourful time of year in Britain, I was hoping to find some bluebells rubbing up against the rape, but that was not to be. No clash of colours this time round.

I found Blakes Wood pretty easily, I was told it would be really busy and they were right, the small car park was full and there were cars up and down the narrow road. I squeezed my car into a small spot and headed off for an explore.

It is quite a big site, a number of people had maps, but I had none and was a bit blind. I wandered off down a path that looked likely, but in the end it wasn’t. At the end I looped back up a different path that was sort of heading back to where I started and soon came across a field of devastation. All the trees had been cut down and dropped on to a field of bluebells, truck tyres had dug them or quashed them flat. I was pretty gutted, thinking this was it. What looked to have been a large section of bluebells flatted by foresters. There were not many left standing.

I took another path back in what I hoped was the direction of the car park and came across a sort of Essexian bluebell nirvana. I took a lot of pictures, including some wavy blurry shots, ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) as it is now called. It was called impressionist photography when I was last doing 8 or 9 years ago. I am trying to let loose the inner Monet here.

The same field with the camera on a tripod!

The area is quite large, so there are quite a few angles and views to make images from. Given the number of people in the forest this area was very empty and I only saw one other photographer while I was there. Must be too late in the day for the real pros 🙂

I really enjoyed Blakes Wood, and will definitely go back there next year for bluebell season, now I know it is there I will aim to get up for dawn and get some better light, and if possible some magical glowing mist as well. Clichéd I know. I guess I could always make my mist with a bit of vertical panning.

A coastal walk, Leigh-on-Sea to Southend.

Friday March 28 2014 – Leigh-on-Sea to Southend-on-Sea.

When I was out walking Hampstead Heath on Monday with Steve we came up with a loose plan to head out to the coast on Friday if the weather remained agreeable; which it did. We decided to head to Leigh-on-Sea on the Essex south coast and the mouth of the River Thames. It is only forty or so minutes from London’s Fenchurch St Station, so dead easy to get to.

Leigh-on-Sea is an old fishing village that has become a wee bit gentrified, but still retains some of its working past, so thee was a bit of photographic grittiness mixed with some nice pubs to try for lunch. Who can ask for more than that.

We left London mid-morning, it had been a foggy start to the day, and by the time we arrived the local fog had cleared but the horizon stayed foggy for most of the rest of the day. The railway line cuts the town in half so we ended up staying on the seaward side of the tracks and in the end decided we would walk the 5km or so up to Southend-on-Sea and stop to take pictures on the way.

For a large part of the walk the seaward side is quite narrow, basically a walking path running next to the edge of the sea, with a few small wharves along the way. As you would expect for a fishing and shell-fishing village there was a lot of small boats along the way.

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There was also a small strip of sheds selling seafood, though only one was open on the day. I wonder if the numerous closed sheds open in the summer months – as I suspect this is a very busy walking area. I certainly hope so.IMG 8705

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There is also a bit of history around small ship building in this area as well.

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At the end of the town there are a couple of quite nice looking pubs and cafes, though it was sort of lunch time we carried on walking.

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There was also a couple of places selling locally caught seafood as well as ‘Thia’ fish cakes – not quite sure what they are!

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Just outside of town I was really surprised to come across this nice little beach just outside of Leigh-on-Sea. It was completely not what I was expecting to see. I will admit that my ignorance of this area was pretty profound, I had heard stories of this part of the coast being a bit sad and run down, laughable as a place to holiday – but how wrong I was. OK, it is not Cornwall or Devon, but the beaches looked nice, there was some decent greenery and for a beach under an hour from central London this section of coast is really nice. I stood completely corrected!

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I really liked these beach swimming pools; the tide here does go out a very long way. I liked the hard angles and the shapes and they way they contrasted to the natural surroundings. I also liked the fact that the distant shore of the other side of the Thames estuary is smothered by the fog.

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The old minesweeper, HMS Wilton is now the home of the Essex Yacht Club, but is famous for being the first plastic and fibreglass warship made back in the early 1970’s. It was retired from duty in 1994 and became the yacht club in the early noughties.

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The walk past Chalkwell and Westcliff to Southend took us a couple of hours as we stopped a few times to take photos, I was very fascinated by all the man-made structures poking into the sea and took quite a few pictures as we went.

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I also really like this ever-so seaside British building – the pavilion, not something we have so much of in New Zealand, but everywhere along the coast of England that I have visited.

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Soon we came in sight of the Southend pier, at 2.14 kms, it is the world’s longest pleasure pier. I guess if it had not been so foggy we would have spotted the pier from miles away ! The pier is that long as the tide goes out for over a mile on this section of coast. They must have been really really keen to build the pier here !

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I had a fish and chip lunch in one of the small fish and chip shops open near the pier head and then we caught a small train out to the end of the pier, my knee was really starting hurt – it has been plaguing me for a while and I didn’t fancy another couple of miles of walking. I was glad we did as there was nothing open at the end of the pier, plus it was quite brisk out there, so we did not stay for long.

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Once off the pier we walked up the steps to the top of the cliff for a look back over the pier and the closed fairground.

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We then caught a train back to London. We were going to stop for a pint at Leigh-on-Sea but decided to head back into town and have an end of the day beer there instead.

It was another really good day out, I learned to not always trust what people say about a place as I kinda liked Southend-on-Sea and the other local towns – though I would not go there on a sunny mid-summers weekend – I suspect it would be madness ! I am keen to walk the other way from Southend out to Shrewburyness, so I will definitely visit again.

Next time I will have to try the famous Rossi ice cream as well.