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40th anniversary - 1978 - 2018 - British Coast Walk - 7000 miles


A year ago this began as a simple walking project, which I thought would be completed in a few weeks. How wrong I was! Partly this was due to fact I hadn't time to do it as a continuous walk, because of other walking commitments, here and abroad. It meant going out once a week and continuing on from where I left off. However as you will read, this did not go to plan because of rail works and infrequent buses. But it was all good fun and allowed me to more fully appreciate the Essex coastline over the seasons.

The walking was eventually spread over a year and when a fellow walker pointed out 2018 would be the 40th anniversary of the British Coastal Walk, it seemed most apt to make this part of the celebration. So, I have endeavoured to tell the story of my walk and then detailed walking instructions to follow in my footsteps. At the end are the Essex extracts from my book - Turn right at Land's End.

Essex was the last county on my walk and quite by accident I started the same-day as forty years ago and ended a year later on the anniversary day. It was all meant to be. As the day's stages progressed I became more and more addicted to the remote beauty of the Essex coastline. In-between days on the coast, I missed being there, hearing the birds and walking the seawall in solitude. I realised that Essex, which has the second longest coastline of any English county, is the complete opposite to the west coast of Scotland. Very much the ying and yang of Britain. Scotland has much remote landscape, high mountains, sea birds in profusion, sea lochs that often take several days to walk round to be opposite where your were, and has a multitude of islands. Essex has considerable remote coastline, mostly along seawalls started 500 years ago. It is flat and low lying and in many places only a few feet above sea level; there are no mountains or sea cliffs. Instead it has many coastal river creeks which, like Scotland, you walk around and after a couple of days you are opposite where you were. Essex too has a large population of sea birds, waders and geese and incredibly you pass numerous islands, many uninhabited.

There was never a dull day as I walked round. Reaching Harwich the first day was a delightful walk and a curtain raiser. Then to Walton on Naze, passing several islands. Then the seaside resort of Clacton-on-Sea and its numerous beach huts, before walking inland around coastal creeks to Colchester. There was no seawall from here and I had no option to walk inland but this came as a surprise as I walked through England's major earthquake zone, near Mersea Island. Then back to seawall and the long but beautiful walk to Maldon and its Thames barges. All the time the two large buildings of Bradwell Power Station dominated the views and never seemed to be getting closer! But eventually I reached them and the Dengie Peninsula and St, Cedd's Chapel - St. Peter on the wall. This has played a key role in my life and was where I slept the night before I was ordained as a Multi-Faith minister. The Dengie Peninsula is a committing walk, for there is basically no alternative to Burnham-on-Crouch. But the remote walking is not over with for several days, via South Woodham Ferrers, Battlebridge and onto Shoeburyness. For a few days the tower blocks of Southend-on-Sea line the horizon and at one point Southend-on-Sea is 4 miles away, but for the coast walker more than 25 miles! Then the final day through Southend-on-Sea, passing beach huts and longest pleasure pier in the world, before back to the seawall to South Benfleet and Canvey Island and the outskirts of London.

There is little accommodation along the coast, apart from the key seaside and towns centres and was one of the reasons why I did it in stages. This also allowed me time to research the section I had walked and to reflect on walk. There is a good regular train system linking to London Liverpool Street Station and a bus service to most places on the coast. I include a full details for each stage. My walking plan, like my original coast walk was to use the nearest right of way to the coast be it a path or road; most is along a good path along the seawall. As I walked through the seasons I saw a wide variety of bird life, from nesting birds to wintering birds. Everyday I saw and surprised a little egret. And, surprisingly apart from the occasional dog walker I had the seawall to myself, and it never rained!!

So, 40 years on I was back walking my last county, following my early footsteps with time to appreciate more fully the extraordinary variety and beauty of Essex's coastline. I am more than delighted to have trodden it again, although I have walked different parts over the years. I made a list of places to come back to and top of my list is the Roach Valley Way for its history and folklore which I knew nothing about. I have walked and explored many of the islands of Essex, but now have more to explore and canoe to; the exploration and discovery never ends.

Grab your boots and pack and set off and discover for yourself the remote and absorbing coastline of Essex; this is one walk you will be proud to complete.

ISBN 978-0-9958902-5
A5 Wire bound. 224 pages. 25 maps. 150 photograghs.

John Merrill is available to give illustrated talks on this walk.

Further detailes from - 
Revd. John N. Merrill
Waltham Cross.

Tel. 01992 - 762776

Email - marathonhiker@aol.com

February 7th. 2018

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