…or strictly speaking Harwich to Mistley, as for logistical reasons I decided to do this last section in reverse. In any case, I’d already experienced the walk into the end at Harwich on the Secret Archipelago Expedition last March, so even if I had opted for the big climax by the sea, it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Ultimately, doing it east to west meant I could squeeze in a last camp, and moreover a camp in a marginally more inspiring place than the corner of a farmer’s field or the middle of a wood.
I drove up to Mistley and abandoned the car hoping it would still be in one piece 24 hours hence. I was just in time to catch the next train to Harwich, which being hourly saved me the frantic route march I’d have had at the other end to beat sunset. Having been here before, I was pretty sure of where I was going and walked straight over to the High Lighthouse, where the finish plaque can be found. A short hop over to the seafront and the way was clear.
Being a Sunday afternoon there were a lot of walkers, mainly dog walkers out, and I stuck out like a sore thumb as I strode along the concrete past the beach huts and rugby pitch to the point where things became a little less urban. Once onto the dirt the crowds melted away and I was largely left to my own devices. Now I was also exposed to a stiff westerly breeze which meant I was in no danger of overheating.
I reached the point where the Way turns inland (right into the face of the wind), and dithered about a bit to let some people get out of sight – I was now at the point where it would be pretty obvious I had no chance or intention of making it into civilisation (or what passes for it in north east Essex) for the night.
My original intention had been to head for pretty much the spot Cath and I camped before, on the outer fringes of Peewitland, but as I arrived at the point where the path turned a corner and the sea wall began again, I spied a patch of sandy beach and went to investigate. Partially sheltered by a big lump of concrete, it would probably do, subject of course to tidal considerations. Luckily I’d seen a tide table on a noticeboard on the way out of Harwich and knew it was pretty much high tide now. In other words I had a rough idea how far it was likely to rise for the next high tide at 3am.
I meandered about nearby waiting for all signs of other people to dissipate and went and pitched up. By this point I was glad of the windbreak. Darkness had fallen and a brew was on the go when suddenly there were nearby voices and a flashing of lights, alerting me to the fact that a, clearly local, couple had spotted me. This caused some surprise on their part, and from their comments I think they must have thought I was up to no good (the word “suspicious” may have been used). Whatever, it didn’t stop them sitting down about 6 feet away to have a smoke and an inane conversation, signalling their eventual departure by the glow of a spent cigarette butt arcing its way over the tent onto the beach.
I steeled myself for a return visit and being the recipient of a brutal axe murder. A while later what sounded like a cough nearby reinforced that this may not have been the most private of spots.
The night passed, as they generally do, in a sequence of brew ups, reading, trying to keep warm, trying to limit the amount of times the need to sally forth from the warmth of the tent to answer calls of nature, and the usual careful listening to and judging of the weather’s attempts to destroy the tent. This was certainly the fiercest conditions I’d taken the Helm out in.
I woke a few times in the night, most notably just before 3am and couldn’t resist a look outside to see if my gamble had paid off. It had – although the noise of the sea had reached a crescendo, it was still safely in about the same position as when I pitched – a good 20 feet away.
Dawn came and with it a weak sunrise. I was up and away as the dregs of the sunrise persisted behind me, as I struck west to rejoin the Way. The walk itself was largely uneventful, featuring a series of fields and small wooded sections. As I neared the River Stour ahead I could see the today’s main man-made highlight: Grayson Perry’s “House for Essex”. It was worth the 500m out and back detour for a closer look.
A bit further on and I had the main navigational hiccup of today’s walk, turning off the road to head towards the river along a path with a sign saying there was no through path due to erosion. Back to the road, but not until I’d got decently scratched fighting through prickles. A short way along the road and it was wrong too. Back to the point the path supposedly turned off. A few yards down it, a sign off to the left I’d walked past twice without seeing.
A walk through a treelined avenue brought me to a short stretch on the riverbank before cutting up through a nature reserve to cross the railway. I took a ten minute rest in Bradfield, but was now close enough to the end to just want to get it done with, so hurried on. I walked into Mistley to find the car all in one piece.
The Essex Way was done.
All in all, it was a decent walk – far better than it would have been further south in the county. A reasonable variety of landscape and a few instances aside, reasonably well waymarked. It was also pretty reasonable for finding places to camp. I’m not sure it’s a walk I’ll ever feel the need to repeat, but I certainly don’t regret doing it. But, onwards now to the next project…