Sawbridgeworth and the Stort
It was a bright Sunday 17th March when we met at Sawbridgeworth station for Trevor’s walk. The sun shone and the wind, though brisk, was pleasant.
Off we went along the towpath by the River Stort. Quite a few houseboats were by the river’s edge although nobody could be seen. The towpath was muddy but that was insignificant as the weather changed dramatically. At one moment we would have our hats off, jackets half undone and the next minute we would be cowering from a hailstorm. It is true that in England you can have all four seasons in one hour. We did! When the weather was good we were able to look around and see signs of spring everywhere, from buds on trees to already flowering forsythia. We saw a small creature swim across the river but it was too swift for us to identify and it hid in the river bank.
Inevitably on a seven mile walk a comfort break was required but squatting amongst brambles is not the way. No names but the shrieks could be heard for a hundred yards.
We had our packed lunches at Thorley Church, in their well maintained churchyard. It even had a table and chairs for us plus, big bonus, the church hall was open so we could use their loo. Eileen brought out a cake that was left over from her church do the previous evening and we all voted it a very good cake, as did the robin that kept us company.
On with the walk, through a former WW11 airfield. We stopped for a moment which allowed me to take a photo of us standing in sunshine with a black cloud looming behind. That black cloud was to come over us later. We struggled to find the path about here as the land seemed to be owned by a paintball firm. Eventually we made our way through and then, as we crossed an open field with no shelter, that black cloud hit us. Horizontal hailstones! All of us now had wet trousers but wet only on the right side where the hail lashed us.
We passed a building which housed, according to a sign outside, members belonging to the NFBA. Never heard of it? The clue was in the other organisation listed, the Herts and Essex Cricket Academy. Batsman could be heard facing up to fast bowling in readiness for the new season. I never knew there was a National Fast Bowling Academy.
Getting tired now, we elected to go straight back to Sawbridgeworth station with a plan to stop in a pub if we found one. Alas, there was no pub open on late Sunday afternoon in March on our route and, unrefreshed, we dragged our weary bodies back to the station to make our way home.
Brian U., 17th March 2019
Heybridge Basin Circular Walk
This was a circular walk of about seven miles, on a grey early March Saturday. We started at Heybridge Basin car park, then walked along the canal towards the sea lock, passing a fibreglass zoo in a garden. At the lock the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation has access to the Blackwater Estuary and, as usual when Maz and I come here, the tide was on its way out. Heybridge Basin has a picturesque waterfront with 18th and early 19th century houses and pubs, a nice café, and the canal with a large variety of boats, large and small.
After getting many of the sixteen EFOGers out of the café, we crossed the sea lock to walk along the seawall towards Maldon. On the left was the River Blackwater and marshes. On the right, flooded gravel pits that are now a nature reserve. Usually it is covered with birds, but this time they must have been visiting the mud flats that were rapidly being uncovered. As we rounded the seawall there was a good view of Maldon and its barges moored along the wharf.
Approaching Maldon’s outskirts there were mud banks on either side of us, before we had to pass through a light industrial estate to get to the main road. This is not the most pleasant part of Maldon but we needed to get to the River Chelmer, about half a mile up the road towards the town centre.
We crossed the Chelmer at Fullbridge to walk alongside the river towards Beeleigh Falls, and then the sun came out. This path was very muddy, but had pleasant views across the river. We went under the A414 bridge, and got away from the mud and riverside by walking uphill to a path - once a lane - that ran parallel to the river. Eventually we came across a patch of grass, and there were cries for a lunch stop.
This happened to be opposite Beeleigh Abbey, once a White Canons monastery until the dissolution by Henry VIII. In 1948 the Abbey was purchased by the Foyles bookshop family, and it is now a private residence.
Not far from here we crossed the bridge at Beeleigh Falls, an elaborate system of weirs controlling the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater where they meet the sea. We met up again with the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation to walk back to Heybridge Basin, and of course the café.
Peter G., 5th March 2019
EFOG members visit to the Houses of Parliament
February saw the visit to the Houses of Parliament as arranged by Dave.The involvement of Dave's M.P. had the effect of reducing the trip’s availability to just those living in the Ilford North Constituency but with the benefit of a guided tour, that saved us about £20 each.
I’m told there have been buildings on that site since the time of King Canute. At present, Parliament’s buildings are mostly covered externally due to extensive renovation works but internally - as you would expect - extremely attractive, as renovated by Pugin after a fire in 1834 caused by a tallow stick.
We joined a larger group with an informative guide and saw both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, prior to their occupation for the day’s business. Last year a newspaper reported that the Commons had changed it’s emblem from a black portcullis to I think a blue portcullis at a cost of £50,000 in consultant’s fees. It’s another world.
Phil T., 27th February 2019
Jenny organised a visit to Walthamstow Wetlands for the group on Sunday 24th February. We had previously visited last year (2018) on 2nd February. Back then there was a mention of it being a good visit 'despite the weather', and the associated photograph gives an impression of that. (see here)
This time it was a lovely day, with temperatures reaching 16°C., and the Sun shone on the group as we met our London Wildlife Trust volunteer guide, Cathy. There were 14 of us on the walk, and Cathy briefly explained to us at the beginning something of the history of the River Lea, even including reference to the Vikings and Saxons. Whose side are you on?
Of course, the reservoir system that has given form to the wetlands draw their waters from the Lea, so the background was relevant. Since recently becoming a visitor attraction, the old engine house has been converted to a cafe for visitors, and the associated chimney stack rebuilt to provide – it is hoped – nesting places for Swifts and roosting places for bats.
As we were with Cathy, we were able to walk some paths that were not open on the day to the many other visitors. They are closed at times to enable wildlife to have their time, and the time is approaching – indeed on such a warm day had arrived – for mating rituals and procedures to take place.
As one or two of our group commented, the sap was definitely rising, for as we walked past Lower Maynard Reservoir those of us with binoculars – or who borrowed them – were fortunate to see the amazing courtship dance of the Great Crested Grebe, sometimes known as ‘The Weed Dance’. At one moment, both individuals – male and female (I suppose) were standing on the water, breast to breast. How do they do that? I can’t.
Shortly afterwards, just before walking up the slope to Lockwood Reservoir, an Egyptian Goose (which, as I pedantically pointed out, is actually a duck) had a bit of a go at the throat of another, which duly lay on the ground. This again proved to be the initial foreplay to what may have proved to be an embarrassing spring event for those of a prudish disposition.
Lockwood Reservoir is the largest of the waters, but on this occasion had relatively little water in it. This gave us the opportunity to get an impression of its depth, but also to observe the ridged ’beach’ which forms its sides. These two, and the Higher Maynard Reservoir by which we returned to the visitor centre, are across Forest Road from the car park and main visitor area, to which we returned for possibly a toilet break, and then to continue our tour.
The reservoirs to the south of Forest Road are older and more natural in appearance, and have been landscaped and planted to provide more of a diverse wildlife habitat and visitor experience. Whilst waiting for those who had popped into the visitor centre, some of us heard a Cetti’s Warbler as we waited on the ‘Meccano’ bridge over the Coppermill Stream. These are incredibly loud small brown birds which not so long ago twitchers would travel down to Weymouth to see (or hear). Now they are fairly common in appropriate habitats, certainly round these parts. From the bridge we were taken along another otherwise closed path, from which we had good views of one of the reserves famous heronry islands. It appeared that these birds were pairing-up too, and apparently checking-out their potential nests.
As we were now walking among the older part of the system, the reservoirs here had more original names and we were actually walking between the aptly-named ‘Reservoir No.1 and Reservoir No.2’. Good, eh? - quite original. These - and a third - were the first reservoirs to be built here, between 1852 and 1863. Not - I suppose - by Vikings or Saxons, but nevertheless dug by hand by the 'navvies', presumably a different ethnic group. At the end of Reservoir No.2, where it meets the Coppermill Stream, our guide excitedly pointed out a speck high on the electricity pylon. It turned out to be a Carrion Crow, and not the hoped-for Peregrine Falcon. However, shortly afterwards Sue S. saw that there was a Peregrine there as well. After an opportunity to see it, it flew off, but I spotted that its mate was still there and so we had another view. Wonderful birds to see, even if the sight was somewhat neck-craning. Talking of cranes, there were plenty of those around too, but of the sort with red lights on at night.
We had a table booked for 12.30 at the Ferry Boat Inn, so we had to get back, but it had been a lovely walk and nicely guided by Cathy, whom we thanked with genuine thanks.
Those of us that stayed for lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn doubtless enjoyed the experience, after which we returned by way of our cars, buses and/or trains, presumably, but not necessarily, to our homes.
Thanks Jenny, and all on the outing.
Paul Ferris, 24th February, 2019
A walk in the Thames Chase Community Forest.
On Saturday 16th February - on what turned out to be the least nice day of the weekend and the previous week - we met at Harold Wood station. The idea was to cater for those travelling by public transport but it turned out that we all arrived by car*. Off we went to Wyvale garden centre for a cup of tea then back down the road, still in our cars, to a car park in nearby Hall Lane from which we could start our walk. We just fitted in the car park.
Off we went, all 13 of us, and we immediately noticed that there were a lot of stiles. This slowed us considerably and the mud slowed us even more. Luckily it hadn’t rained recently or we would have had difficulty as horses were able to share the track. The picture shows how difficult it was. We walked in an area bounded by the Southend Arterial Road and the M25 and were therefore never far from traffic noise but it was possible to have a quiet time, apart from our laboured breathing as we struggled up yet another muddy slope. The stiles eventually reduced in quantity and we stepped out, crossing the M25 and walking through Foxburrow Wood, mindful of the fact that we had booked the Thatchers Arms for lunch.
A pleasant lunch (and a pint) which everyone enjoyed and we plunged into Warley Place Nature Reserve, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The snowdrops were out – see photo – as were some crocuses. Time was ticking on and we had a way to go so we cut short our visit and walked down Dark Lane, marvelling at the girders holding up the bank erected to retain the view for the landowner. We then headed back West to cross over the M25 again. Through Tylers Common and then a long boring walk down Hall Lane to our cars. It seemed so short when we drove to the car park.
Total distance walked was 11km according to the member of our party who measured it. Lots of mud on our boots was distributed around the interiors of the cars as they made their way home.
Brian Unwin, 17th February 2019
* not quite - see below.
Some notes and thoughts about the walk...
In fact, I arrived by train. It is an easy and quick journey between my home (near Manor Park station) and Harold Wood station - and indeed only a few minutes more from Stratford. Since I have relinquished my car I have made even more use of public transport, and in many instances it is cheaper and easier - and certainly often less stressful - than car journeys. I suspect this was a case in point, as the confusion about where to temporarily park to avoid paying car-parking fees at Harold Wood probably led to more time and more fuel being consumed than was warrented.
That long boring walk down Hall Lane mentioned by Brian - and the lack of space we encountered in the car park there - could have been avoided by using fewer cars, and those that were required parking in Harold Court car park instead. It is only one mile from the station - walking distance for those that came by train, and only half a mile from Wyvale Garden Centre which itself is only a short distance from part of the loop that we walked. That was the way I came back after the others trudged down back to the cars. And it was an easy walk along the driest and easiest track/path that we'd encountered, and through another part of the country park - Harold Court Woods - rather than down that fairly busy Hall Lane. Also, it was only a short distance from the loop that we'd walked anyway... I think that the fact that I met Karen on Harold Wood station - me having walked, she having trudged and got a lift in a car - proves the point!
And maybe the point is, that we as an outdoor group should try to reduce our use of cars in these pursuits where possible. I am all for accepting a lift where necessary (my extensive hitch-hiking days taught me that) but sometimes, with just a little extra planning, it would probably be advantageous to mitigate our car-useage in favour of public transport, a slightly different route, or at least more car-sharing.
...trails originally created for use by horses." - are often the bane of the other permitted users: cyclists and walkers. And we sloughed through a few of those, or their close-relatives, farm-tracks-used-by-cattle. These can be hard and dirty work, but to me come nowhere near the restrictions enforced on me - and no doubt many others - by the second-worse invention made by man: the stile. These are described as "...a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps" That description would seem to give a lot of scope to the designers and builders of such portals, but the ones we encountered were all of the first of those styles of stile - the traditional wooden one. These seem to me to have been carefully designed to offer a requisite hindrance to as many slightly less-than-mobile or getting-on potential walkers as possible. For somebody like myself that can cope with a reasonable distance over a variety of terrains (not scree, mind you, or Irish rhododendron), just one of these could put an end to a 6 mile walk right at the beginning. And doubtless would have, if I'd not had others with me to offer a hand. There are now wonderful inventions such as kissing gates and rambler gates - much more user-friendly, in my opinion. What is the first-worse invention made by man? Well, that depends on how I am feeling at any one particular time, but the second is definitely stiles.
Thanks to Ann for the walk, and thanks to all for the company (and the help over the stiles).
Paul Ferris, 17th February 2019
Photos by Brian Unwin and Paul Ferris
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