When you think of coastal destinations Essex probably doesn’t spring immediately to mind. However it’s a little known fact that Essex has more coastline than any other county in England. Even though there might be a grey area as to where coastline ends and river bank begins we have some fabulous beaches and salt water nature reserves that really are a jewel for the county. The recent lockdown period has made us all look more closely at things closer to home and here in The Duckhouse most of the lanes within our achievable radius have been plundered so we thought it was about time for something different. How much of the immediate coastline could we ride in a day?
Here we go again!
This took a little bit of planning. Fortunately Strava’s heatmaps gave us a fair indication of where people had been before and a route was relatively easily formed. Beginning from Harwich 90 miles on the cross bike was going to be a big day but achievable (with enough Soreen). We plotted our route trying stay as close to the coast as we could. This wasn’t always possible and indeed (as we later found out) potentially not always strictly legal but what we came back with was a good mixture of road, single track, seawall and farm track.
A beautiful day on the Essex coast
Very seldom have we got the train north from Chelmsford. Waking up occasionally from a boozy night in London in towns in the north of the county is thankfully becoming much less of a common occurrence but today here we were booking a train ticket to Harwich. It has to be said that Harwich Town station is fairly uninspiring. I’ve been to Harwich twice before, the first time I was giving evidence at the youth court (less said about that the better) and the second time I was in the back of a Ford connect van going through the port (also the less said about that the better, although it’s not as bad as it sounds). This time things were less complicated and with the sea to the left we began the journey back south along the promenade.
Felixstowe from afar.
Being a port, Harwich is by its nature pretty industrial. The view across the mouth of The Stour goes across to the port of Felixstowe which again is another port busy with container ships that come from all corners of the globe. The uninitiated would not think there was a half decent beach there. But Dovercourt isn’t bad. A sandy stretch of beach with a nice wide esplanade separated by groynes and with a few beach huts. It’s nice. But it’s not very long and before we knew it our route thrusts us onto the seawall and a surface that would create the narrative (particularly for our bottoms) for the rest of the day! This initial sector between Dovercourt and Great Oakley wasn’t too long but would indicate a sign of things to come. Bumpy, twisty and narrow.
Seawall. Not as smooth as it may look.
At Great Oakley we were met by a friend, Matt, who had recently moved to nearby Walton, as we were going to ride past his front door he was good enough to ride back to find us and guide the next bit of bumpy seawall (this time often usefully obscured by long grass) which took us along the coast from Landemere to Walton on the Naze taking in several, now familiar, 90 degree seawall corners with only one causing a lack of traction that ended up with a tumble down the embankment! Fortunately this was to be the first and only unplanned dismount of the day.
Groynes. Providing social distance before it was a thing.
Outside of the riding the scenery is superb and the birdlife plentiful even though many species are outside of our own internal bird book. We do know that we spotted at least a couple of herons and some egrets on our way to Walton. There were others but steering, peddling and looking up species of birds would be one task too many. We have miles to cover. We were only 25 miles into our 90 mile journey and it was nearly lunchtime. Seawalls do not run quickly but they do provide an excellent panorama of the coastline and all the inlets, abandoned vessels and wildlife that proliferates within them.
Walton pier. A nice day out. Probably.
Upon our arrival at Matts house not only were we greeted by some coffee and snacks but from here there was a big stretch of tarmac to smooth our path (and as we were headed north to south it’s technically downhill). From Walton, past the pier to Frinton and the colourful beach huts at Holland on Sea onward to Clacton and then much documented Jaywick, which despite it’s beautiful beaches has other battles. Finally the mobile home villages at Seawick that often boast a mix of confederate and pirate flags probably tell a story of their own. Time to keep moving.
At this point the coast becomes much more broken up. A mixture of salt marshes, estuary’s and inlets make it impassable so we get onto farm tracks and move inland to the pretty village of St Osyth where a bit of time on the main road eats up a couple of miles and give the backside a break before the hammering it will take in the coming hours!
A rest for the wicked.
At this point it may be worth reflecting on kit. We have a small quiver of bikes here in The Duckhouse but not necessarily a complete stash for every occasion. Our closet fit for this ride was our cross bike, a race frame and 33 tyres with a big saddle pack filled with the things you might need should something eventually rattle loose, it hose down with rain or get hungry. 90 miles is too far to pedal any sort of mountain bike (although at times 100mm of travel and an xc set up might have been preferable at points) and a road bike would have been foolish. So a cross bike (yes or a gravel bike) is the weapon of choice and the only change we would have made to ours would be to swap for a bigger volume tyre to take the sting out. A 38, something like that. Having said that it’s give or take as the smaller tyres rolled fast on the tarmac and allowed for distance to be covered a bit easier. Obviously it’s flat so gearing isn’t an issue.
Onward. Jumping off the main road to Wivenhoe a bit before Wivenhoe we picked up the Wivenhoe trail. This goes through the middle of the thrice aforementioned village via some tree tunnelled singletrack and open shingle path and moves onward up the river Colne to Colchester, the oldest recorded town in the country. From here the coastal path is not an option. Saltmarshes do not take paths and so we move onto the Mersea Road and go through Fingeringhoe and Langenhoe down to Peldon. Familiar roads all the way. The rumbling in our stomaches and distinct lack of water in our bidons reflect the fact that villages do not have shops anymore. We ran out of Soreen in Colchester and leaving Mersea water was empty. Thankfully Tollesbury still has an excellent village store. Without it our ride would have finished with an SOS from the saltmarshes!
The beginning of the Wivenhoe trail.
And now the seawall begins. Strictly we don’t think bikes are allowed here. But we’re not sure where that rule starts and ends because it's not true for the entire length. Again we plotted the route using heatmaps so it’s a ridden route and a very quite one. Out here you really feel as if you are at the edge of our land. Because you are. Fortunately the day we chose was sunny with a light breeze. Less favourable conditions would have made this already tough day even tougher. Following the seawall we were able to keep a decent pace. It is bumpy and at points it was easier to drop down onto the occasional bit of double track that appears a bit lower down, give the arms and arse a break. 15 miles of zig zagging hugging the coastline all the way to Heybridge. Coming off only at a point where the seawall is being rebuilt to move inland, through someones garden, and back onto the wall. A really pretty ride but at this point we are closing in on the 80 mile mark. This may be a flat ride but don’t be fooled. It is a tough one. If you take it on do bear that in mind. Have enough daylight and be sure that its dry underfoot.
Back in the basin.
As we past the holiday parks at Goldhanger things are much more familiar and as we approach Heybridge basin it was time to drop off the seawall and turn inland via the canal to head for home on the road toward Utling and up the river Chelmer back to the Chelmsford past the various locks that made the county town such a successful industrial hub in the past. Not leaving the water all the way.
A big day out and one not to be taken lightly but one that can be cut off into more managable chunks. Maybe just from Walton might be more sensible, but who ever liked sensible!?
A big day out