At the end of last summer we rode from Harwich back to home in the first part of the most important trilogy since Star Wars. The tour of the Essex Coast line. As discussed in previous journals Essex has the most coastline of any county in England. A jewel in its diamante crown. However it wasn’t shiny enough to make us want to attempt leg two in the winter so we have had to wait for the days to get longer and the ground firmer before cracking this one out.
Our first attempt was made earlier this spring but the purple line on the Garmin began to take us back to Harwich and it was soon apparent that I’d loaded the wrong route or maybe never uploaded the new one in the first place so after a bag of jelly babies in the sun that day was shelved. We were to eventually set off a few weeks later with the ground a little dryer under the tyres and a few more hours on zwift in the legs! Todays stretch was Maldon to South Woodham via Dengie and Burnham. There is a very good reason we’ve waited until spring for this one. This was not going to go well with muddy ground and it's common knowledge that some haven’t returned from club runs in the Dengie. Forever embedded on the spine of a pitchfork or locked into a cellar never to see the light of day again. Don’t get dropped on Marsh Road. Fortunately we weren’t going on Marsh Road, we were going on the bumpy sea wall that goes around the peninsular. So we packed extra chamois cream and off we went.
The road out to Maldon. Smoooooth.
To get to Maldon there are two options. The winter roughened canal path or the slightly smoother bridalway/road option. We took the latter remembering the anal torment that was 6 hours of seawall from Harwich last year! Fortunately the only way out of Maldon was also by road before seeking out the sea wall just before Mundon. This led to our first wrong turn. Apparently whoever was glowing on Strava heatmaps had scaled a large fence of a farm to do so. The spikey top of the fence, large sign and security cameras at the farm at the end of New Hall Lane told us to make a U turn. There are parts of secluded farms set aside for trespassers and they usually involve silage pits.
Following our nose we went away from the purple line and ended up on a footpath which ended up going through a horse field in full view of a couple of farms. At this point, felling a bit lost but sure there was sanctity over the next hedge we crept, on tip toe, like school girls creeping away from the boarding house after curfew, waiting for the shotgun shell to whistle past us at any moment. Fortunately neither the horses or the locals tried, on this occasion, to bother us. One (horse) did try to befriend us but it was considered inappropriate to befriend someone else’s mare whilst dressed in lycra... on a Thursday. Off we cantered.
Another victim of the pandemic.
The villages and small towns along the route are all marked by marinas (or nuclear power plants) and the little town (or village) of Maylandsea has a wonderful dock and little sailing club. It does seem a common thread though that when a man in lycra passes through docks heads are turned. Fortunately no pitch forks were close to hand and passage was safe.
Some of the first sights of the sea just before Maylandsea.
Sea walls are romantic (kind of). OK they aren’t very romantic. But the idea of riding along one, wind behind you, sea to one side, land the other, might be considered romantic to some. Unless you are a bottom. If you are a bottom it’s a rough romance. So little bits of tarmac or indeed concrete wall are a blessing. After Maylandsea there is a little tarmac, but soon a swing towards another sailing club, jump a fence (I think legally) and then the seawall begins again. As seawalls go it wasn’t as rough as the one between Harwich and Walton but it was still jarring on the anus. Fortunately the view was nice. The coastline here becomes less estuary and more coastline. Little pebble bays sandy outcrops begin to appear as we zig zig our way towards the two big square boxes of Bradwell nuclear power station. Bradwell again has a marina and here the seawall becomes a little smoother as there must have been a bit of pandemic foot traffic flattening the way. Going through Bradwell there are some beautiful little beaches, small, but really quite pleasant to the more common salt marsh that we were expecting to come across.
Who put that there?
As we made the turn on the peninsular the wind settled on our backs and we made use of the double track below the sea wall as it was smoother, wider, fewer wheel size holes, less grassy and as a result faster and more friendly on the toosh! The wang was on.
A sight for sore thighs.
Soon enough the one and only real landmark of this section of the ride appears. St Peters Chapel could look to the untrained eye like an old barn at the end of the world. But it’s not. This little chapel was built in around 660 and is one of the oldest (largely) intact churches in England. It still hosts regular services and there is an annual pilgrimage to it. Being there on an essentially random Thursday, alone, very alone (I think during this stint we saw three people in a couple of hours) was quite amazing really. Before researching this ride I didn’t really think such a thing existed. But then I hadn’t given it much thought. But 1500 years ago a Bishop from Northumberland came down here and built a little church (here of all places!). It’s not even the middle of nowhere. It’s the end of nowhere.
Not just some old barn at the end of the earth.
I’ve never really understood religion. Onwards.
Asda sell little bags of sweets. Five for a pound. They are great because you can give a couple of bags to a loved one and it sweetens the fact you’re going out on your bike all day. Those little loaves of Soreen are also excellent. You can buy them anywhere but I got mine from Asda. The problem with this sort of riding is that it’s quite hard to take your hands off the bars to eat such niceties. So I started fumbling the occasional jelly bean but I began to know I was knocking a bit when one became two and then became the bag. Quickly I was choking on sugar but making decent progress. This progress was improved when in parts and for no obvious reason the grass sea wall was replaced by concrete. Welcome relief which allowed for more headway to be made on the 10km southerly leg and as the turn west was made, wind now on the shoulder, we knew the next stop would be Burnham. A place where people lived. Where there might be a shop, or a kiosk that would sell me some food. Truth is we’d done alright. Mixing double track below the sea wall, smoother bits of seawall and concrete coupled with a tailwind meant we were going ok for time and so the “Bistro on the Quay” was what the doctor ordered.
“Afternoon darling. What would you like?”
“Coffee, a water and sausage chips and beans. How you going today?”
“Living the dream my love.”
Indeed she may have been.
In my head Burnham was the end. Soon Fambridge would come and then we would venture away from the water and head for home. That is always the mistake with rides like this. You think its over before it is. The wet winter had made the ground uneven and it hadn’t rained for a while so it was hard going. The relentless bumps made momentum hard and entering the fifth hour the legs were weakening after a winter largely spent in hour sessions on zwift. It was time for more sugar. This time the bag. There was no point flirting with yourself. In a bay by the river Crouch and lady was rolling her towel up having been for a swim. I looked at her like she was mad. She replied with the same look. 12km of bumpy single track dragged on and on until we eventually headed away from the coast at Fambridge and onward for home. Within a minute of being on the Lower Burnham Road a man in a white van had dropped the C bomb on us. Life was simpler back on the peninsular.
110km, 5.5hrs, 5 loaves of Soreen & 4 bags of sweets (and lunch).