Wednesday 12th June 1996 154 miles
This is just a small beginning, as we are planning to have the camper fitted with alarms at Colchester and have just a few days to spare.
We set off in glorious weather just after 9.00 am. taking the M4 and then the M25. Everywhere was in it's full June green glory and in the sunshine, with no hold-ups, looked good!
We left the M25 at Thurrock, past the enormous shopping complex of Lakeside. Our Ordnance Survey map didn't start until the other side of Tilbury and we found navigating on the Daily Mail AA Atlas difficult. Hence we drove around Grays and headed for Tilbury. We were surprised by the large number of council estates in this area – real "Essex people" country, but were equally surprised to drive through the small villages of East Tilbury (pub, church, few houses) to the sea at Coalhouse Fort.
Us at Coalhouse Fort
This would appear to be the playground for this area – a large free car park adjacent to the Fort and leading to walks by the Thames estuary. There were a few people enjoying the sun – sunbathing or picnicking. We had a walk around – it was midday when we arrived, so after half an hour's walk we had lunch at a picnic table on the "green". A pleasant stop.
We had to drive back up the road then turned right towards Stanford le Hope, having a short diversion to a tiny place called Mucking! There was a track from here down to the shore – we perhaps should have gone for another walk, but in fact headed along the A13 past Basildon and taking the turning to Canvey Island.
Here we were delayed again as we passed a large "camping and general store" and spent quite some time looking around and buying among our many purchases, two king-sized sleeping bags bought as Adrian's "retiring" gift and a "foot" to use the table outside.
We also enjoyed looking at little tents and awnings. It was now 4 o'clock. We continued to the front at Canvey Island. The Dutch influence was very noticeable, even in the modern houses.
There was a high sea wall built after the 1953 floods – hence we had to stop and walk up it to see over the estuary. Car parks were all paying ones, but we did manage to stop and buy an ice cream; and later at a "free" Park to view the beach.
We had to drive back to north of Canvey to South Benfleet – an area of rather select houses on higher ground, to Hadleigh and then Leigh on Sea – pleasant residential areas - and then Southend.
Rosie at Leigh on Sea
We drove right along the front to Shoeburyness, stopping in a car park by East Beach.
By now it was time to find a campsite and we found that there was one adjacent to the car park. We entered it from behind. It became one of those jokes. We agreed half-heartedly to have electricity at £1.25, then were told later it was £1.75. We were told where to park – then told it had to be with the door opening on the other side – all doors had to open on the same side! Then we had to park exactly by the number.
It was now 5.45. We couldn't pay this man, but had to pay at the other half of the site (residential) over the footbridge! Having done this we walked on down to the "beach" – which was sandy mud. Being adjacent to and owned by Army land, the beach is sometimes closed – all great fun if you were here for a holiday!
We came back to the motorhome, where Adrian tried to rectify a leaky water pipe. We enjoyed a beer sitting outside in the sun, then came in to cook chicken (in the oven).
After supper we walked out down to the beach, to find that the tide had come in and with little boats bobbing up and down, it looked very attractive. The water was calm, lapping the shore and reminding us of Denmark. The temperature now had dropped, but the sky was clear. We looked over to Sheerness, with the lights just coming on. It was unexpectedly lovely. We walked round into the town, then back again along the beach. Everywhere was quiet – just birds singing.
We noticed earlier in the day a wonderful bush covered in largish flattish pink flowers – like a rose/mallow/hibiscus. The flowers were largish – about 4 to 5 inches across and covered the mound of the bush – about 4 to 5 feet high and across.
We also noticed that people in this area rarely spoke if you passed them – we will be interested to see if we make different comments in different parts of the country.
Thursday 13th June 118 miles
Another lovely day, but with a chill wind. It was very quiet at the campsite – we heard nothing from the family of boys or the baby nearby. It seemed very like a French municipal site, with houses right behind us. The warden decided to shatter the quiet by mowing the grass!
We sat outside for breakfast, using our new "high" table, which was the right height for washing-up afterwards. Our new sleeping bags were too hot – we had to revert to the summer duvet.
We were glad to leave this site, which was full of signs saying what wasn't allowed. We drove initially towards Foulness, but access to there was definitely barred. We drove around little roads south of the River Roach without finding any access to the river, so made our way west to Rochford, a delightfully attractive little place, then made our way along the northern side of the River Roach. We stopped first at Paglesham, but in fact couldn't stop as there was nowhere to park. We drove down a private track to the shore, but as we found constantly today, there was no parking anywhere.
We drove back and northwards to the River Crouch, beside a campsite, the touring part of which looked very attractive. We ended by a pub by the site of an old ferry. We had a quick look across the river.
We now had to negotiate changing maps, which didn't join up, and had to drive west as far as Battlebridge to cross the river. We now followed the north side of the River Crouch passing South Woodham Ferrers, then continuing east, turning off to Creeksea – opposite the ferry site we stopped at earlier – again nowhere at all to park, but we did stop on a double yellow line long enough for "elevenses".
We drove into nearby Burnham on Crouch, where there was a free car park! The small town was a delightful surprise of lovely old houses – many "weather boarded" as many are in this area. This like elsewhere around here, is obviously a huge sailing place, but today was quiet and very nice.
From here we made our way north to Bradwell on Sea which I had visited, by bicycle, 40 years ago. The "on sea" bit is actually a pleasant village a mile or so from the sea. The marina part (again no parking) is called Bradwell Waterside. A mile or two to the east of this is 'St Peter's on the wall' – a lone Chapel at the end of the track, beside the sea. Again, I have dim memories of visiting here before.
This time it was lunch time, so we sat outside the van, with our table and chairs and enjoyed lunch in the warm sun before walking down to the simple Chapel and then having a short walk beside the "sea".
St Peter's on the Wall
We passed a community group site – a Christian group of people living in this remote corner. We didn't visit.
We now made our way towards Maldon, driving down to Ramsey Island (no parking again). After Maldon we took the road along the north of the Blackwater River, turning off to Tollesbury. This time we had success – we were able to stop beside the road, opposite a simple "swimming lake" where children – many of whom had come by bike – were having fun.
This was an area of attractive old wooden buildings – rather reminiscent of Rye in Sussex. The tide was out, but numerous small boats were "stuck in the mud". The area looked wild and ancient.
After this success we wound our way round to Mersea Island crossing to it by "the Strood" – a road built over the marshy river. Again we were able to stop in a car park by the sea at West Mersea. We watched a boy catching crabs with a string tied round a dead fish's head, from the end of the jetty.
People were eating shellfish – but when we stopped to buy some the place had just closed. We settled on an ice cream instead. We stopped briefly by hundreds of beach huts and briefly looked out at the impoverished beach. The wind was chill – we didn't stay long.
It was now 5.00 pm so we made our way back to Colchester – finding the campsite without difficulty. It is a large Caravan Club site close to the centre of Colchester. Obviously packed out in season, it is now pretty empty. Our "spot" is unfortunately windy, so we enjoyed the sun from inside the van!
The site and the new loo blocks, are immaculate. Surrounded by busy roads it is a huge attractive area of green. We happened to be looking towards the 'stored caravan area' – which didn't make the sunset as attractive as it might have been.
Friday 14th June 81 miles by car – 5 miles by van
We had to be up early today as we were leaving the van in Colchester to be fitted with an alarm system. We were fortunately awake early enough to enjoy a cup of tea in bed before getting up and organised to leave by 8.30 am. It was another sunny day, but with the cold north easterly wind again, so it was breakfast inside.
We followed the directions to the place we were leaving the van – actually a house in a road a mile or so away. We have the use of a Nissen Micra car for the day, which we found very driveable.
We made our way first to Wivenhoe, to the south and east of Colchester and past the site of the University of Essex – in a very green and pleasant area. Wivenhoe was at the upper limit of the River Colne. We parked near the front and enjoyed a walk around the attractive olde world waterfront.
Adrian at Wivenhoe
Flowers we have noticed in profusion are Valerian, honeysuckle and these large poppy/hibiscus/rose flowers. We have also noticed that the main flowerbeds in towns haven't been planted out yet. Everywhere looks very dry.
After Wivenhoe we drove to Brightlingsea. We stopped first by numerous beach huts around a sandy area and paddling pool (in need of digging out). We sat on a little sea wall enjoying the view. Setting out early had given us extra time. We stopped again in Brightlingsea by the front, beside a huge Victorian hotel needing a coat of paint and the evidence of past shipbuilding now in decay.
The area needed restoring and could then look really attractive. We took a triangular route to the east of Brightlingsea – a rural road past a pond and ducks and a "Maigret" Citroen car.
We had to returned to the Colchester - Clacton Road before turning off to St Osyth. We passed an attractive priory which we visited after our trip to Point Clear. This was an enormous and horrendous caravan park – our idea of hell. Hundreds and hundreds of static caravans, row upon row with nothing to divide or differentiate them. Just one or two had planted flowers. The whole setup was repulsive to us.
We had stopped first beside the sea and some attractive old seaside houses and a small touring campsite right beside the sea. After the horrors of Point Clear, we enjoyed the sanctuary of St Osyth Priory. Part of the buildings were Elizabethan. There were some wonderful chimneys, but we read that in the storms of 1987, sixteen chimneys were destroyed and another nine in the 1990 storms!
Attractive St Osyth Priory
We visited just the gardens, which included a pleasant pond. We climbed an old tower, which gave good views from the top. Adrian noticed that as well as not saying hello, people also didn't say thank you – e.g. if you stood back to let them past. Having said this, the next person we came across was very chatty!
We now took the road south from St Osyth to Seawick – more enormous caravan "villages", but we continued to the sea, where parking was free. You could park on the beach – but this cost £1.20. Maybe the attraction was the naturist camp a kilometre away along the beach! Although there was still a cold wind, people were sitting on the beach beside the wall. We stopped long enough just to have a look out to sea, then made our way back again to St Osyth. This time there was a long hold up at the crossroads while a lorry was unloading.
We now took the road going eastwards and down to Jaywick – just to the west of Clacton. We stopped to buy fish and chips (from young Anglicised Chinese!) and these we ate on a secluded pebble and sand beach, sitting out of the wind. As this was another "holiday village" area, we couldn't believe our luck in finding such a pleasant and isolated spot. We laid back against the wall and enjoyed the sun!
Then it was time to drive into Clacton. I know it's out of season and we didn't stop long – but Clacton actually looked attractive, with lots of large old hotels. It was difficult to find a parking spot and we finally stopped towards Holland on Sea and walked back along the "Prom" to Clacton Pier. Here we endured looking at the "attractions", which held no attraction for us.
We returned to the car, walking against the cold wind and wishing that someone would do some maintenance on the flowerbeds which were completely overgrown.
We drove the short distance to Frinton on Sea – supposed to be very select – without even a pub! The only way into it is via a level crossing and we noticed the long queue coming from the other direction. We stopped only briefly to look over the large lawns beside the sea, as we thought we would have to recross the level crossing. However, with Bower ingenuity, we found the back way through the neighbouring Walton on the Naze and felt very pleased with ourselves. Walton seemed a pretty resort with lots of hanging baskets.
We drove as far as the Naze – a nature reserve hill to the north – but the car park was a paying one and it was too late in the day to lash out £1.60. We parked near the town and had a short walk but couldn't really see anything.
It was now time to make our way back to Colchester, as our motorhome was ready for us, but not before stopping at a caravan store at Weeley. In fact we did a double tour around Thorpe le Soken - Weeley as we were looking for a motorhome store, but settled second time round on the caravan place and anyway bought nothing, but did peer in at a motorhome similar to ours parked outside!
We arrived back at our motorhome about 5.15 and after the business part of paying and having the alarm system explained to us, we drove to the nearby "Camping and Caravan club" site – actually a stone's throw from last night's site but the other side of the road complex and adjacent to the railway.
Walton on the Naze
Again, with the chill wind, we enjoyed the lowering sun from inside the van – this time almost in isolation.
Late in the evening we had a walk from the van – supposedly following a footpath, but actually through sometimes shoulder high grass! The setting sun looked magnificent through the railway viaduct – particularly when a train went over!
The sheep and lambs underneath it seemed particularly friendly. We spoke to the campsite owner who said they were going to view the London – Colchester? Stagecoach in the early hours!
There appeared to be an ongoing dispute between the campsite owners and the people in the house beyond the site, who had to drive through the site and did so at speed. The campsite owners had dug out a dip in the track which made it difficult for campers but just made the other house owners drive round at speed.
Saturday 15th June 160 miles
Another beautiful day but still with the chill wind. Nevertheless it was breakfast outside!
We had decided to visit the "Constable country" area of Flatford Mill and Dedham. We drove the short distance there, arriving about 10.00 am – before most of the crowds! We must own up to being rather disappointed. Although owned by the National Trust, the car park was private, so we still had to pay £1.20. We weren't able to visit any of the houses, as they were used as centres for field study courses.
There was a small exhibition in one house, showing some of Constable's work – which I have to say does not enamour me, although I can appreciate its significance.
We walked around the Flatford Mill area, enjoying the peaceful views, but agreeing that there were many similar pleasant areas of England.
In the black painted wooden granary there was a private exhibition (entry 30p) of bicycles, photographs and various assortment of bygones, which we visited. We were fascinated by a chart showing the derivation of the letters of the alphabet in different "languages".
Sunset under the railway bridge
From Flatford we walked along the river to Dedham – pleasant enough but we prefer walking when we feel that we are the only people about – a bit of Wainwrightism!
Dedham is a pretty village with a large attractive church with some nice stained-glass windows, and in excellent repair.
We walked back to Flatford via Dedham Mill and across fields to the north. This we found more pleasant. Two aeroplane formations passed overhead.
We arrived back at the car park ready for our lunch, which we ate sitting behind the camper on a hump of grassy mound.
It was now time to leave and make our way home. We passed through East Bergholt (Constable's birthplace) a mile or so away – there was a huge ruin of a church.
Before leaving this area I must mention the number of houses which had plants for sale outside – seemingly with "honesty boxes" for the payment.
We rejoined the A12 and made our way homeward. We noticed many attractive houses – both thatched and timbered – beside the road. This was also apparent on the A120 which we took at Mark Stey.
At Takeley we stopped at a motorhome store and bought one or two things, including a shorter leg for the table, for use with the tripod foot outside. We left here about 3.20 then it was a clear two hour run home on the M25 and M4. It had been a lovely few days away.
ROAD ROUND BRITAIN