Thursday 15 March 2012

Essex - day 5: Osea Island

Our last full day in Essex finally saw us spend some time on Osea Island. It was another misty start.

We strolled around the island's edge to see what we could find. Every so often the sea mist rolled in.

A swing on an oak tree was a good place to start.

A grassy path, walled by thickets of blackthorn and trees guided us around the northeast part of the island...

... before we picked up the island's road...

... that leads to the causeway.

The salt marsh of the north coast is replaced by a pebbled shore on the south coast. As a result, erosion is much more apparent here.

Osea Island houses

Returning to our cottage, we enjoyed a restful lunch, looking over the River Blackwater. Osea Island has a long history of treating addiction. Sitting on the white garden furniture near the water creates the pleasant sensation of visiting a 19th century sanatorium.

After lunch, we ventured into Osea Island 'village' – a collection of holiday cottages and apartments.

This house is by the second electronic gate that gives access to the island. A code has to be punched in before the gate opens, allowing you to enter.

This huge house is divided into six large apartments.

Essex had surprised us. It is much wilder than we could have imagined, in landscape and character. There's a sense of a frontier land, of rules being broken, of an independent spirit. The constant proximity to water and mazes of muddy channels, surrounded by an unremitting flatness casts a chilling, Victorian atmosphere at times. When the fog rolls in, it becomes a place where dreadful things could happen, quietly. But for the most part, it's a lovely place to walk, especially along the seemingly endless sea wall, looking over various rivers and fields, enjoying the open space, spotting the abundant wildlife.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Essex - day 4: Bridgemarsh Island

Bridgemarsh Island lies to the south of Maldon on the River Crouch. It's a short walk to Bridgemarsh Marina from Althorne train station.

The island used to have a seawall around it, but the flood of 1953 put paid to that. Since then, channels crisscross the land, slowly returning it to the sea.

The trusty seawall on the mainland runs parallel to the length of Bridgemarsh Island.

Bridgemarsh Island (eastern tip)

Bridgemarsh Island (southeast bank)

The Essex home

There's no escaping the mud. The groynes point out to Bridgemarsh Island.

Bridgemarsh Island (western tip)

Smugglers Club, Althorne, Essex

Facing Bridgemarsh Island is a sizeable enclave of static caravans, chalets and bungalows called the Smugglers Club.

Pewet Island

Our second stop of the day was at Bradwell, located on the River Blackwater. We pulled into Bradwell Marina as the sun was waning.

Bradwell Marina chandlery

We'd travelled over to see this: Pewet Island.

But Bradwell Power Station was perhaps more eye catching.

Pewet Island, Essex

Pewet Island seen from the shore at Bradwell.

Pewet Island, Essex

Pewet Island, Essex

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Essex – day 3: Tollesbury

Beneath overcast skies, we set off for Tollesbury Wick Marshes, 9 miles east of Maldon. Our aim was to walk out to see Great and Little Cob Islands but, almost by accident, we discovered an eccentric little village in its own right. The bakery window caught my eye, so a swift change of plan had us parking up in Tollesbury’s main square behind a greengrocer’s van doing a steady trade with the locals. The bakery had almost too many types of bread to choose from, traditional in style but all looking and smelling fantastic. The cakes didn’t tempt us quite so much, but we can safely vouch for the hot cross buns.

As you get closer to the water, this serene English village evolves into a typically chaotic working harbour littered with collapsing sheds, leftover boat parts and stray rope. In resplendent contrast to the murky sky and dishevelled surroundings, four old sail lofts have been painted up and straightened-out into offices, businesses and a fantastic little cafe called The Loft.

Woodup Pool
Just past the sail lofts and opposite a bank of white flats is Woodup Pool – a saltwater lido that fills and empties with the tide. It even has its own sandy beach.

Tollesbury marina

With the tide out, the numerous creeks dry up, leaving boats beached upon the mud. Rough gangways extend across the firmer banks to provide access to the vessels.

Just as I can never resist a bakery, T is always drawn to a peeling boat hull.

We followed the sea wall footpath surrounding Tollesbury Wick Marshes. Geese honked on the flat fields, or when disturbed, in noisy aerial displays.

Great Cob and Little Cob islands

Our prize of Great Cob Island didn't look that spectacular from Tollesbury Wick Marshes but then again, not all islands are spectacular.

Great Cob and Little Cob islands

As for Little Cob Island, I'm surprised it's even named on the OS map.

Shinglehead Point offered some variety, with a low sweep of shingle replacing the omnipresent mud, and a decent view over to Mersea Island.  A smiley face on a pillbox seemed to add some cheer to a grey day.

You can't avoid the sight of Bradwell Power Station as you walk along the south eastern shoreline.

Having looped back to Tollesbury Village we came across Fred's Stores and its notice board of photos. Each picture is of someone with their Fred's Stores carrier bag held aloft in a far flung place. "How far will our bag travel?" poses the question at the centre of the board. These are the things that make Britain great.

Of course we returned to The Loft for some well earned, and long yearned for cake. We were only just in time as they were shutting at 3:00pm. Completely unexpectedly, The Loft is the type of cafe you come up with in a daydream. The cakes are home baked, there is an extensive tea list, the interior vintage design is imaginative and welcoming, little arts and crafts pieces are for sale, and the girl behind the counter (and business I assume) is friendly, stylish and a super cook. Two coffees and a slice of rhubarb and custard cake later and all is right with the world.

As it was still too early to return to Osea we whizzed over to Mersea Island. We parked up down a lane, near Fishponds, in East Mersea.

Another sea wall beside another flat patch of green carried us along the Pyefleet Channel and a good view over to Pewit Island.

Abandoned boats and a tin shed are the landmarks of Pewit Island. Behind it wave the red flags of Fingringhoe military ranges.