Sunday, 31 July 2011


Manor houses with an interesting past for which new uses have been found seem to be a feature of this part of Suffolk. In Nacton, we met Orwell House, which once served as the residence of a naval hero, and is now used as a prep school. Bawdsey Manor, a handsome clifftop red brick building built in the Victorian gothic style, in the village of the same name, is nowadays used as a PGL Adventure Centre, with wonderful views down to to the Deben estuary.  However, its past claim to fame was in the years leading up to the Second World War, when it was used as a top-secret research establishment for the MOD. It was here that Sir Robert Watson Watt and his team developed the radar, a technology which had been tinkered with for a while, although Britain was the first country to use radar as a defence against attack from the air. Bawdsey also marked the beginning of a chain of radar stations which were to protect the country during the Second World War. The Bawdsey Radar Trust is open to visitors, who can view interactive displays on the subject.  At Shingle Street, further up the coast towards Orford Ness, it has been disclosed that the Lifeboat Inn was used to test a chemical bomb developed by Porton Down.

Map of the area.

'Martello Tower, Bawdsey Beach, Alderton.' photo (c) 2009, Amanda Slater - license:

Saturday, 30 July 2011


Continuing along the coast from Felixstowe, we come to the mouth of the River Deben, which, if we follow its west bank takes us past the little sailing village of Waldringfield, finally ending up at Woodbridge. The waterfront of this decorative Suffolk town is dominated by the brilliant white clapboard exterior of the Tide Mill. The mill in its present form dates from 1793, although the existence of a mill here was recorded as early as the 12th century, making it one of the oldest tide mills in the country. It last operated as a working mill in 1957, but has since been restored and opened to the public. Visitors can learn all about how the mill operated, and should try to be there for low tide, which is when it is possible to see the machinery in action. To the north west of the centre is another distinctive structure called Buttrum's Windmill, a handsome red brick tower with white sails.  The town centre has an inviting selection of shops including antiques shops and a variety of independent stores as well as an assortment of pubs, cafes and restaurants.  Woodbridge’s most famous son was the writer Edward Fitzgerald, who was born in Bredfield House, just to the north of the town.

Looking across the Deben from Woodbridge, the eye is drawn to a wooded hill. In 1939, excavations of one of the ‘barrows’, or burial mounds, found at this spot, called Sutton Hoo, unearthed a priceless hoard of treasure: an Anglo-Saxon ship containing the possessions of one of England’s earliest kings, the 7th century King Raedwald of East Anglia. The site, which includes extensive grounds offering lovely views over the River Deben, is now run by the National Trust. Visitors can feast their eyes on displays of the unearthed treasure, which include an exquisitely ornate buckle and a restored helmet believed to have belonged to Raedwald.

For events in Woodbridge see here.

Map of the area.

The Tide Mill

Friday, 29 July 2011


Felixstowe, on the coast between the Orwell and Deben rivers, is by turns a popular seaside resort and a busy port, in fact it is one of Europe’s busiest container ports. The resort part of the town follows the familiar Victorian pattern of promenade, pier, neat seafront gardens, a Pavilion, a couple of amusement parks and a beach backed by traditional beach huts.  At the edge of the part of town known as Old Felixstowe is the Felixstowe Ferry Golf ClubLandguard Fort, at the southern end of town, was originally commissioned by Henry VIII, although it was rebuilt in 1718. In 1667, the site saw the last opposed seaborne invasion of England, following the arrival of a Dutch force of 1,500 men on Felixstowe beach, from where they advanced on the fort. They were held back by a force which included the forerunners of the Marines. In 1763, the acting governor of the Fort decided that the chapel would make a splendid venue for a dance, an event which caused a major scandal, not least because he decided to use the altar as a bar!

In 2008, Felixstowe made the national news when attempts by the Navy to deal with a giant wartime bomb which had washed up on the beach ended in farce as the bomb was “misplaced” during an operation to take the bomb out to sea by means of flotation devices so that it could be detonated safely. Unfortunately, the bomb became detached from the equipment being used for the relocation, and subsequent attempts to find it were hampered by strong currents and poor visibility. The East Anglian Daily Times gloomily reported on 28 April 2008 that it could take weeks to find the bomb, adding significantly to an already high bill for the operation. However, by 1 May there were sighs of relief all round as it was reported that the bomb had finally been safely blown up at sea.

For a list of events in Felixstowe, see here.

Map of the area.

'Felixstowe  Beach Suffolk' photo (c) 2008, Martin Pettitt - license:

Thursday, 28 July 2011


There are many ways in which life’s little pleasures have been eroded over the years, but few more so than the agreeable practice of allowing certain sections of the workforce an allowance of alcohol to help them through their working day. In the navy, this used to take the form of a daily “tot of rum”. This was administered strictly according to rank, with the senior ranks allowed to drink it neat, while the more junior ones had to drink it as two parts water to one of rum. The mixture of water with rum was christened ‘grog’ after the Vice Admiral who introduced it, and who was in the habit of wearing a coat of grogram cloth. However, a gradual realisation that it was not a great idea to encourage consumption of alcohol on ships containing large amounts of weaponry led to the demise of this custom.

You may be wondering why I am blathering on about drunken sailors. The reason is that the little village of Nacton, on the banks of the Orwell in southern Suffolk, was closely associated with the aforementioned admiral, Edward Vernon. Vernon spent much of his life living at Orwell Park, an estate in Nacton where he built a mansion. He was important enough to have been painted by John Constable, not without reason, having become a national hero for his role in the Battle of Portabello (Panama). Orwell Park now lends its name to a leading prep school. The grounds of Orwell Park include the church of St Martin which, although not the most photogenic of churches on the outside, contains some fine stained glass windows. The other grand house in Nacton is Broke Hall, birthplace of another naval hero, Philip Bowes Vere Broke.

Map of the area.

'River Orwell at Nacton, Suffolk' photo (c) 2006, Jon Bennett - license:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


In Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk, we run into Charles Dickens again. He stayed at the Great White Horse Hotel (now closed) in 1835 and used the town as the setting for some of the scenes in one of his most famous novels, The Pickwick Papers, including the entertaining account of Mr Pickwick’s encounter with the “middle-aged lady, in yellow curl-papers” which took place during Pickwick’s fictional stay at the hotel. Another character in the novel is Mary, the housemaid of Nupkins, the Mayor of Ipswich, who is pursued by Pickwick’s servant, Sam Weller.

Today’s Ipswich is a large town with the old and the new sitting cheek by jowl. Some of the most attractive older buildings are of a type common in Suffolk, with exteriors painted in different colours, with timber frames. The town’s position at the point where the River Orwell widens has meant that it has for centuries played an important role in providing a route inland for water transport, and the present-day waterfront provides plenty of reminders of this role. As is the case with so many waterfronts in modern Britain, the mills and maltings which formed the focal point of trading activities in former times have been given over to the twin attractions of leisure and waterside accommodation, having been turned into apartments, hotels and restaurants. There is also a marina for yachts. Back in the centre of Ipswich, in 65 acres of parkland, is one of the town’s major attractions, Christchurch Mansion, a Tudor mansion dating from the 16th century, and housing a wealth of antiques and art in its gracious rooms.  A variety of entertainment is on offer at the Regent Theatre & Corn Exchange.

For a list of events in Ipswich, see here.

Map of the area.

'Stavros in Ipswich' photo (c) 2009, tomline43 - license:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Moving towards Ipswich along the River Orwell, you will come to the popular beauty spot of Pin Mill. The name reportedly derives from the wooden pegs that were made there for use in boat-building. Each year in late June or early July the Pin Mill Sailing Club hosts a Thames Sailing Barge Match involving an array of ornately painted barges, with the Butt and Oyster pub as the focal point. The pub dates from the 17th century, the name a reflection of the former importance of this spot for oyster fisheries. It is also associated with the stories of Arthur Ransome. During high spring tides, visiting yachtsmen are able to order their drinks through the window of the pub without stepping onto land.

The village of Woolverstone has an important role to play in sailing for leisure, being the home of the Woolverstone Marina and the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. The latter is housed in the intriguingly named “Cat House”. This house used to belong to a man who was sympathetic to smugglers, to the point that when his cat died he had it stuffed and displayed it in the window of the house to indicate to would-be smugglers that the coast was clear and there were no customs patrols in the area. A short distance along the River Orwell from Woolverstone is Freston Tower, a six-storey folly dating from the mid-16th century, named after the village where it is located. The tower is now available to let as a holiday home through the Landmark Trust.

Map of the area.

'Pin Mill' photo (c) 2008, Nick - license:

Monday, 25 July 2011


Shotley Gate is basically the peninsula between the rivers Stour and Orwell. The geographical importance of the location of Shotley Gate cannot be underestimated, given its position in defending the ports of Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich. This importance was demonstrated as early as 885 AD, when an invading Danish army was fought off by Alfred, King of Wessex, leading to the area becoming known as “bloody point”. Shotley is the location of a museum called the “HMS Ganges Museum”. HMS Ganges was a training ship for boys in the 1800s, starting off in Falmouth harbour, then moving to Harwich in 1899. In 1905 the training facility moved to the shore, staying at Shotley until 1976. HMS Ganges now houses a large collection of memorabilia of naval life at Shotley. For those who love observing the passing parade of shipping, Shotley Gate is a perfect spot, given its position between the two busy ports of Harwich and Felixstowe.

Map of the area.

'Shotley Suffolk' photo (c) 2010, Martin Pettitt - license:

Sunday, 24 July 2011


There was surely no-one who put the fear of God into the people of 17th century Eastern England more than Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General. Hopkins, a failed lawyer, reckoned to have possession of the Devil’s own list of all the witches in England. He began his reign of terror in Manningtree, where he lived at the time, getting off to a rather mean-spirited start by picking on his poor crippled neighbour and denouncing her as a witch. He proceeded to scour the Eastern counties of England in search of further likely witches, bringing about their interrogation and eventual execution. This all took place against the backdrop of the Civil War, a time of religious upheaval accompanied by fierce anti-Catholic sentiment.

Nowadays, Manningtree lives a peaceful life as a small market town on the banks of the Stour. Its High Street contains many Georgian buildings whose origins date back to the Middle Ages, including some old coaching inns. Although it is on the river it has its own beach, Manningtree Beach, a pleasant place to sit and watch the river scene. The market square has a sculpture of the “Manningtree Ox”, which dates back to the 16th century, when a whole ox was roasted for the annual Whitsun Fair. The ox got a mention in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, when Falstaff is described as “that roasted Manningtree ox with a pudding in its belly”.

Manningtree is widely thought of as the gateway to “Constable Country”, being very near some of the most famous locations used in this quintessentially English artist’s paintings, including the iconic Flatford Mill, a short distance upstream from Manningtree. Walkers can reach the Mill from Manningtree in around an hour, following the course of the River Stour.  Back in town, for culture vultures there is the Manifest Theatre and the North House Gallery.

Map of the area.

'Mistley & Manningtree' photo (c) 2007, John Griffiths - license:

Saturday, 23 July 2011


Heading up the estuary towards Manningtree from Harwich, we come to the village of Wrabness and the small town of Mistley. Wrabness is most notable for its ancient church dating from around 1100, All Saints Church, which has a detached belfry consisting of a wooden cage in the churchyard with the bell in it. The belfry collapsed in the 17th century, and the wooden cage idea was meant as a temporary solution, but it remains to this day. Wrabness Nature Reserve on the banks of the River Stour has wildfowl year-round, but in winter it comes into its own as a place for observing Brent geese and black-tailed godwits.

Mistley is a small riverside town with a quay dating from 1720 by local landowner Richard Rigby. Rigby also had plans to turn the town into a spa, and to this end commissioned a church now known as Mistley Towers, now looked after by English Heritage. Churches around here don’t seem to have much luck, because like the one in Wrabness, this one suffered a collapse in the 1840s, this time of the middle section of the church, and now only the towers remain plus a fountain known as the Swan Basin fountain, featuring a life-size replica of a swan. Sadly, this is all that remains of Rigby’s ambitions for a spa in the town.

One of the scourges of life in Britain during the last ten years or so has been the curse of the “health and safety” brigade, who seem to be rampaging around the country, hell-bent on spoiling people’s enjoyment of life in whichever way they can dream up. In Mistley, this much despised phenomenon reared its head in 2008 when a fence was erected on the quayside for “’elf and safety” reasons, prompting the furious locals to comment that it made their scenic quayside look like a concentration camp. At the beginning of September 2008, the press reported that the residents were preparing to launch a campaign against this abomination. A fine example of feisty Brits refusing to cower in the face of authority.

Map of the area.

'All Saints, Wrabness' photo (c) 2010, David Chatting - license:

Friday, 22 July 2011


Due to its geographical location, on a peninsula sticking out into the estuary formed by the mouths of the rivers Stour and Orwell, Harwich has long been an important port, providing the only safe anchorage between the rivers Thames and Humber. The site’s rise to prominence as a port began in 1340, when King Edward III’s fleet gathered at Harwich prior to its departure to defeat the French at Sluys in the first major naval bustup of the Hundred Years’ War. The town certainly seems to have made an impression on Queen Elizabeth I when she stayed there in 1561, as she proclaimed that it was “a pretty place and wants for nothing”. Our old friend Samuel Pepys was elected MP for Harwich in 1679, and it was during his time in this role that he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of leaking naval intelligence. He was, in fact, the victim of a stitch-up by his political enemies, and was subsequently released. Fast-forwarding to the First World War, Harwich became the home of an important submarine force, which took part in a number of clashes with the German navy. After the end of the war, the surrender of a number of German U-boats took place there.

Today, Harwich is an important international port, serving ferries to the continent, cruise ships and cargo ships. Old Harwich is the focal point for sites of historic interest, with a Napoleonic fort called The Redoubt and several museums including The National Vintage Wireless and Television Museum, housed in a lightship dating from 1818. The part of town known as Dovercourt has a sandy beach with two more lighthouses. The lighthouses, built on stilts in 1863, were fitted with gas lamps, and were in use until 1917. Pleasure cruises can be taken along the Stour and Orwell rivers, departing from the Ha’penny Pier, so named because it used to charge a halfpenny toll. This was also where steamships to the continent used to depart from. This year, the Napoleonic fort is being used for a more light-hearted purpose than in its former life, having been chosen as the venue for the Harwich Brewery Beer Festival.

For a list of events in Harwich, follow this link.

Map of the area.

'Sail boat at Harwich, Essex' photo (c) 2008, Casper Moller - license:

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Walton-On-The-Naze has a pier whose length, at three-quarters of a mile, makes it the second longest in the country after Southend’s. The ‘Naze’ part of the name comes from the name of a clifftop area to the north of the resort where there is an art gallery which has been established in a tower built in 1720 as a navigational aid. From here, a walk to the headland is rewarded with great views of the passing shipping going in and out of the nearby ports of Harwich and Felixstowe, as well as the chance to observe migrant birds. A walk in the other direction towards Frinton-On-Sea, a relatively unspoilt, genteel resort of Victorian origins boasting a long esplanade and a broad, clifftop expanse of grass known as The Greensward, is accompanied by the cheering sight of a line of colourful beach huts, which, as we have seen elsewhere, are a regular feature of the coast in this part of the country. During the heydey of Walton-On-The-Naze as a resort, the sea holly which grows in this area was much prized by visiting tourists who were persuaded to buy the plant’s candied roots by dint of its supposed aphrodisiac properties.

For a list of events in Walton-On-The-Naze, see here.

Map of the area.

'DSC_00211' photo (c) 2009, Ed Loach - license:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


As was so often the case, it was the railways which were responsible for the rise of Clacton-On-Sea as a popular resort. Up until the 1860s, all that was here was the sleepy village of Great Clacton with its medieval church and old inns, lying a mile offshore. Then along came railway promoter Peter Schuyler Bruff, who changed the area forever as, with the backing of the Woolwich Steam Packet Company, he set about developing a resort. At first people arrived by steamer, landing at the pier, which opened in 1871, then in 1882 the Great Eastern Railway began bringing holidaymakers to the town, and the resort really took off, to the point where by the time of Schuyler Bruff’s death in 1900 it was one of the most popular resorts in the country. Today, Clacton remains a popular resort, with the pier now housing undercover amusements and a fun fair, a safe, sandy beach, and a full programme of events including an Air Show at the end of August.  The town boasts two theatres, the West Cliff Theatre and the Princes Theatre.

One unfortunate feature of British sea-side life during the 1960s was the phenomenon of “mods and rockers”, two youth subcultures whose members regularly came to blows in the seaside resorts of the south, especially on bank holidays, sparking mayhem among the law-abiding holidaymakers, and battles with the police. Unfortunately, Clacton was not immune to this phenomenon. At Easter in 1964, hordes of leather-jacketed teenagers, described in the press as “rampaging teen-aged wild ones”, came to blows with “truncheon-swinging police” while their girlfriends stood by, screaming and egging them on (reports of the clash reached as far as the US, the above quotes coming courtesy of the Charleston News and Courier).

For a list of events in Clacton-On-Sea and the surrounding area, see here.

Map of the area.

'Clacton-on-Sea' photo (c) 2008, Draco2008 - license:

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Such is the labyrinth of waterways running through the coastal areas of Essex that there are creeks coming off the creeks. St Osyth Creek is an offshoot of Brightlingsea Creek, and on its northern shore is the village of St Osyth with a medieval abbey and a deer park. The village is named after the daughter of a 7th century East Anglian King who was beheaded by Danish invaders because she would not worship their idols. This part of Britain is characterised by the decorative signs at the entrances to villages and small towns, and the sign for St Osyth includes a grisly depiction of the headless princess. There are a number of myths and legends surrounding the unfortunate royal, including the suggestion that on one day each year her ghost can be seen walking along the priory walls carrying her decapitated head.

Back on the coast proper, the Colne Point Nature Reserve, consisting of salt marshes and mudflats, is located at the mouth of the Colne opposite the eastern end of Mersea Island. Moving towards Clacton-On-Sea we pass a succession of small coastal settlements – Point Clear, Lee-over-Sands and Seawick, before reaching Jaywick. Jaywick, originally intended as a holiday resort for Londoners, and therefore composed of poorly constructed housing, was earlier this year named as the most deprived place in England. It is an extreme example of a holiday resort in decline as a result of the growth of foreign package holidays, with a high level of unemployment and large numbers of pensioners. Soaring crime and anti-social behaviour add to an overall depressing picture. On a slightly brighter note, Jaywick Martello Tower has been turned into an art and heritage centre with regular art exhibitions.

Map of the area.

File:St Osyth Stone Point - - 534846.jpg
Stone Point, St Osyth. Photo by M J Richardson, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 18 July 2011


Brightlingsea has a distinguished history as a port, having been the only associate member of the Cinque Ports outside Kent and Sussex, though it was known as a “Limb of Sandwich”. Relics of the port’s past include the traditional fishing smacks, a type of handsome sailing vessel which makes an evocative sight. Each year there is a “smack and barge race” held in Brightlingsea, whose participants compete for the “Cock of the Colne” trophy, named after the river on which the town lies. There also an annual regatta held by the local Sailing Club. For beach lovers there is a sandy beach backed by a promenade and a fetching line of multi-coloured beach huts. Another distinctive sight on the town’s waterside is a folly called Bateman’s Tower, built in 1883 and recently restored.  The Brightlingsea Museum tells the story of the local heritage and history.

Brightlingsea made the national news in 1995, when the practice of exporting live animals via the port of Brightlingsea was met with a series of protests by animal rights demonstrators. The protests went on for nine months, costing an estimated 4 million pounds to police. A report in the Independent described “middle-class grannies hurling obscenities at lines of police” and an atmosphere in the town such that “it is dangerous to express a view about the subject in the pub”. Local businesses were dismayed at the loss of trade brought about by the disturbances.

Map of the area.

File:Groynes and beach huts, Brightlingsea - - 1141593.jpg
Photo by Bob Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 17 July 2011


Mersea Island is the most easterly island in the British Isles, although it is only just an island, and is accessible by road from the mainland in the form of a causeway known as The Strood. The largest settlement on the island is West Mersea, where evidence of human habitation has been found dating back to 10,000 BC. The two main attractions of West Mersea are oysters and boating. The big event of the year for the latter is Mersea Week, which takes place every August and involves a round-the-island race as well as myriad other events.

For the other main settlement on the island, East Mersea, it’s all about the wildlife. The salt marsh and mudflats are a haven for birds such as plovers, dunlins and oystercatchers. In addition to this, there is plenty of interest for fossil enthusiasts. The pleistocene interglacial sediments here have yielded the remains of small mammals, but more dramatically have thrown up hippopotamus remains. Cudmore Grove Country Park, at the eastern end of Mersea Island, is a good place to observe migratory birds as well as wading birds and wildfowl. History buffs can visit the remains of a Tudor fort and World War II defences.

Map of the area.

File:East Mersea Flats - - 558235.jpg
East Mersea Flats. Photo by Glyn Baker, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 16 July 2011


The village of Tollesbury has come to be known as the “The Village of the Plough and Sail”, as depicted in the jaunty sign at the entrance to the village. It is ideally situated for sailing, given its geographical position on a peninsula, surrounded by the creeks and channels of Tollesbury Fleet to the north, and the River Blackwater to the south, and there is a marina and a sailing club in the village. The white painted wooden boathouses with their balconies and ladders make a picturesque sight. The ‘plough’ part of the title comes from the fact that Tollesbury had an important role in transporting grain. There is a large wooden granary in the village which became disused during the 1950s, and which was a regional runner-up in the BBC’s Restoration series. One of the vessels used in the Dunkirk Evacuations is a barge named Tollesbury. There is plenty of interest for wildlife enthusiasts in the surrounding marshes. The area around Tollesbury is also known for its oyster cultivation. Tollesbury Wick Nature Reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and sightings there include Marsh Harriers, Hen Harriers and Short-eared owls, as well as a variety of mammals and insects.

Map of the area.

File:Tollesbury Marina 06 (7275070840).jpg
Photo by Ronnie Macdonald, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 15 July 2011


The historic town of Maldon lies at the point where the Blackwater River opens out into a wide estuary. The estuary at this point is thronged with pleasure craft, which can be observed from a promenade accessible from the quay. Among the town's historic points of interest are the Church of All Saints with its triangular tower and the 15th-cenury Moot Hall. The town has been an important centre for salt over the centuries, due to the proximity of the salt marshes, and Maldon Sea Salt remains a sought-after product on the supermarket shelves to this day. The town’s geographical position also led to it becoming a major maritime hub for trade both within England and across to Europe.

In Viking times, the salt was a contributing factor in the town’s attractiveness as a target for attacks, prompting King Edward the Elder to camp there in the 900s in an effort to hold back the Vikings. An old English poem called The Battle of Maldon tells the story of a raid in 991 by the “Northmen”, who were camped on an island in the estuary. Maldon has its own version of the Bayeux Tapestry in the form of an embroidery depicting scenes from the Battle of Maldon. The tapestry, which resides in the Maeldune Heritage Centre and was designed by Humphrey Spender, was created to mark the 1000th anniversary of the battle.

For a list of events in Maldon see here.

Map of the area.

File:Boats in the distance at Maldon, Essex - - 833314.jpg
Photo by Gill Edwards, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 14 July 2011


In my last post I described the piece of land between Southend and Maldon as having the appearance of an animal’s head with the River Crouch as the mouth. The upper part of the ‘head’, with the northern part resembling a blunt rhinoceros horn, is the Dengie Peninsula, a bleak, end-of-world environment consisting of a vast expanse of marshland extending between the River Crouch to the south, the North Sea to the east, and the River Blackwater to the north. Standing proud among this eerie landscape is the ancient chapel of St Peter-On-The-Wall, one of Britain’s oldest churches, located on the site of the Roman fortress of Othona. It was a Northumbrian missionary called St Cedd who arrived in AD653 and built the chapel out of stones from the fortress. The church can be accessed from Bradwell-on-Sea, but only on foot for the last half mile. Each year on the first weekend in July hundreds of people take part in a pilgrimage which involves walking the two miles from St Thomas’ Church in Bradwell-On-Sea to St Peters.

Bradwell-on-Sea is a small village surrounded by marshes and reclaimed farmland, and nearby Bradwell Waterside with its Marina lies on a narrow creek separating the mainland from Pewet Island, which disappears at high tide. This whole area is dominated by the decommissioned Bradwell Power Station. Within the last few weeks it has been announced that Bradwell is one of eight locations earmarked as new sites for nuclear power stations, where the next generation of reactors will be built. The plan has, predictably, split the populace down the middle, with some lamenting the reliance on nuclear power for the country’s energy needs, while others are cheered by the prospect of the new jobs that such a development will bring.

Map of the area.

Nuclearphoto © 2008 Nick | more info (via: Wylio)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Viewed on a map, the chunk of land between Southend and Maldon bears a slight resemblance to the head of a large animal, with the ‘mouth’ being formed by the River Crouch. Burnham-on-Crouch sits on the north bank of the river. Just as Southend is Essex’s answer to Brighton, so Burnham-on-Crouch is the county’s answer to Cowes, being a major yachting centre. The town has several yacht clubs, chief among them the Royal Burnham Yacht Club and the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. Burnham’s big yachting event of the year, Burnham Week, occurs in late August. In August 1971, the then Prime Minister Ted Heath, who was an avid sailor, was pottering in his yacht near Burnham when he encountered two teenagers who had got into trouble in their sailing dinghy, which capsized. The PM came to the rescue, picking up the capsized boat and its occupants.

The town centre is a classic Georgian mix of red brick and whitewash, with a liberal sprinkling of old inns. The surrounding area offers estuary walks and a country park including a small wetland area and rough grassland where skylarks, linnets and goldfinches can be seen. The area around Burnham was used by H. G. Wells as the setting for the Martian invasion in his literary classic War Of The Worlds, describing how the invaders came “striding over some stunted trees” beyond the River Crouch. In the last couple of years, several real-life UFO sightings have been reported in the area, including a “cigar-shaped object” and “4 lights”...”orange and disc-shaped” – of course, the latter could well have been Chinese lanterns, which are increasingly found to be the source of “UFO” sightings.

Map of the area.

Essexphoto © 2009 Gerry Labrijn | more info (via: Wylio)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Moving out of the Thames Estuary to the North Sea coast, we come to a strange little patch of land with the unfortunate name of Foulness Island. The name actually comes from the Old English 'fulga-naess', meaning 'birds promontory'.  Much of the island has been taken over by the military, who purchased the land in 1915. A report in the Guardian in 2002 described how the military presence on the island led to a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world, rendering the island’s community “the closest thing to a police state on British soil”. The strict security imposed on the islanders has been a mixed blessing. One local pub landlord whose pub The George and Dragon featured in the article had the unique business disadvantage of customers having to phone ahead and give their name and address at the military checkpoint. Needless to say the pub’s customers gradually dwindled, and the pub finally closed in 2007. On the plus side, the island’s crime rate is exceptionally low thanks to the military presence and attendant security, and the island is an exceptionally safe environment for bringing up children. Another victim of the island’s unique situation was the old school house, which closed in 1988. However, this has been turned into a heritage centre displaying archaeological finds and information on the flora and fauna of the island. In fact, the island is a haven for wildlife, which includes wading birds such as oystercatchers, avocets, little egrets and brent geese, as well as grey seals, which can be spotted just offshore.

Map of the area.

warningsphoto © 2010 Liz Henry | more info (via: Wylio)

Monday, 11 July 2011


Southend-On-Sea is Essex's answer to Brighton, being its premier seaside resort. In fact, in one respect it has the edge on Brighton, namely that it boasts the longest pleasure pier in the world. So long, in fact, that those who don't fancy walking its length of 1.3 miles have the option of taking an electric railway. The pier was opened in 1830, and since then has suffered a number of mishaps mostly involving fires, but in one case a tanker crashed into the pier leaving a 70-foot gap. Like so many resorts of its kind, Southend boomed during the Victorian era, which left its legacy in the form of features such as the bandstand on the esplanade. There is no shortage of traditional seaside attractions such as amusements, parks and gardens, as well as an aquarium featuring an underwater glass tunnel.  Other attractions include the Adventure Island amusement park and a Casino, located in the part of the resort known as Westcliff-on-Sea.

The urban sprawl that constitutes present-day Southend had its beginnings as a village at the "south end" of a medieval priory called Prittlewell Priory, which is now surrounded by a park with attractions including tennis and bowls. Another quaint part of Southend's administrative area is Leigh-On-Sea, an old fishing village with a narrow cobbled high street where jellied eels and cockles from Maplin Sands further round the coast can be bought from stalls. It is possible to walk for 7 miles along the seafront from there to Shoeburyness, to the east of the resort, with its MOD artillery range.

Southend-On-Sea takes its annual Carnival very seriously, with an extensive diary of events listed on its website. For other events in the resort see here.

Map of the area.

File:Southend Pier Autumn 2007.jpg
Photo by Dammmmian, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Continuing east along the Thames estuary, past the huge Coryton oil refinery, we come to Canvey Island. From the time of the Roman invasion until the 20th century, Canvey Island was mainly agricultural, then for the 40 years between 1911 and 1951 it rapidly developed into a seaside resort. Then in 1953 disaster struck. On the night of 31 January 1953 a violent storm in the North Sea, combined with a high spring tide, caused massive flooding over large areas of North Sea coastline, not only in England, but also in the Low Countries, with the largest number of casualties in Zeeland. As a result of the storm, Canvey Island was devastated by flooding, leaving 53 dead. The Times Daily reported that “A fleet of small boats made trip after trip into flooded Canvey, called “the island of death”. Families huddled on rooftops awaiting rescue.”

Now the land has been reclaimed, and is protected by a massive sea wall. The main attraction for pleasure seekers is the Fantasy Island Amusement Park.  More recently in happier times, Canvey Island became closely associated with a genre of music in the 1970s called Pub Rock, whose main proponents were Dr Feelgood, known as “Canvey Island’s finest”. The Pub Rock movement, so named because it marked a return to the concept of bands playing in pubs and small clubs instead of huge stadium venues, was meant as a rebellion against the earlier phenomena of progressive rock and glam rock.

Map of the area.

Canvey Seafrontphoto © 2008 James Whatley | more info (via: Wylio)

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Many of the cruisers heading to the Baltic and Scandinavia will find themselves leaving from Tilbury, which is well placed for cruises heading to the northern reaches of Europe. Tilbury is also an important container port. Next time you open your newspaper, you might want to reflect that the paper used will have arrived via Tilbury, since this is another important product handled by the port. Another mode of water transport at Tilbury is the Gravesend-Tilbury ferry, which has a long history dating back to the 14th century, when the ferry consisted of a rowing boat and was thought to transport sheep and wool. Anyone who enjoys looking at old photographs can see a collection of photos of vessels used on this crossing from 1862 to 1984 on the Simplon Postcards website.

Tilbury Fort, originally built by Henry VIII and rebuilt under Charles I with the aim of defending the Thames estuary from first the Spanish Armada and later the Dutch and the French, is a star-shaped fortification built right on the estuary, surrounded by an elaborate array of moats and earthworks. The Fort is now run by English Heritage, and visitors to the site can explore the magazine houses and passages and view an exhibition which tells the story of the Fort’s role in defending London over the years.

Map of the area.

Tilbury Fort photophoto © 2007 Brian Snelson | more info (via: Wylio)

Friday, 8 July 2011


On the northern bank of the Thames is the town of Grays in the borough of Thurrock. Cinema fans may remember a part-animated film from the late 1980s called Who Framed Roger Rabbit starring Bob Hoskins. There is one scene in which Hoskins and the rabbit of the title, having shaken off a gang of weasels who were pursuing them, hide out in a cinema. The building used as the cinema is the now-closed Gray’s State Theatre. Back in the day, this thirties movie palace was the largest single-screen auditorium in Europe. More recently it was used as a nightclub. Another showbiz connection with the town is that it is the home town of the comedian Russell Brand.

The name Grays derives from the descendant of a norman knight, Henry de Grai, who was granted the manor of Grays Thurrock by Richard I in 1195. There is a wood in Grays ominously called Hangmans Wood which features an intriguing phenomenon, a large number of shafts in the ground named deneholes. 72 of them have been counted, and there are a variety of theories about their origin, but the most popular is that they were flint mines, the presence of a large number of flints being a bit of a giveaway. Another theory is that the name “denehole” comes from “Dane hole”, i.e. a place where people hid during viking raids in the area, though there is little proof of this.

Map of the area.

hulk at Graysphoto © 2006 Clive Power | more info (via: Wylio)

Thursday, 7 July 2011


The Saxon Shore Way is a 160-mile long-distance walking route which loops around the south-east corner of England. It is named after the historic fortifications which were built at the end of the Roman era to defend the Kent coast. Those who choose to start the walk at its southern terminus, Hastings, will finish up in Gravesend, on the Thames estuary, where they will be treated to superb views of the passing shipping. Gravesend is also the starting point for another long-distance path called the Wealdway, which follows an inland route ending up at Eastbourne.

The shipping heading up the Thames, which includes cruise ships going in and out of Tilbury Docks, is guided by tugs which leave from the Royal Terrace Pier, and the Port of London Authority has its headquarters here. One of the waterfront’s most striking landmarks is St George’s Church, rebuilt in the 18th century. The churchyard has a bronze statue of Pocahontas who married John Rolfe, a colonist of Virginia, and accompanied him to England in 1616, though she died the following year. In 1892 a steamer arriving in Gravesend brought a much more unwelcome visitor: cholera. The steamer, called Gemma, came from Hamburg, where there had been an outbreak of cholera, and several of the passengers died from the disease after disembarking, sparking mass panic.

For events in Gravesend see here.

Map of the area.

Gravesend town pier. Photo by Clem Rutter, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


The Hoo Peninsula, which separates the rivers Thames and Medway, incorporates a number of villages which come under the “Hundred of Hoo”, Hundred being an archaic term for a county subdivision. There is also marshland which attracts a variety of birdlife, most notably on the Isle of Grain at the easternmost end of the peninsula. Both the villagers and the birds are forced to share this patch of land with a number of heavy industrial sites, including three power stations, a gas import plant and a container terminal. However the villages each have their individual charms with a fair bit of history thrown into the mix. Hoo St Werburgh, on the north bank of the Medway, takes its name from the the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia, whose brother was King Aethelred. St Mary Hoo has a clutch of Grade II listed buildings including the 14th century former church which is now a private residence, Newlands Farmhouse built in 1746 and the 18th century Old Rectory, one of whose rectors performed an illegal marriage ceremony between King George IV and Mrs Fitzherbert in 1785. Hoo All Hallows has a parish church called All Saints which dates from the 12th century.

Map of the area.

File:Hoo Marina - - 1076723.jpg
Hoo Marina. Photo by David Anstiss, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Beyond Rochester, the River Medway suddenly loops to the south, then veers north again, at which point we reach Upper Upnor, with its castle just to the north. Upnor Castle was built in Elizabethan times with the purpose of defending ships on the River Medway. However, the castle failed utterly in its duty when the Dutch managed to sail right past it with the intention of crippling the English fleet, which they succeeded in doing, to the point of capturing Charles’ flagship, “The Royal Charles”. In 1662 the diarist Samuel Pepys visited Upnor, but was not impressed, commenting that there was “great disorder by multitude of servants and old decrepid men, which must be remedied”. The village of Upnor was a riverside resort until the 1930s, when World War Two intervened, causing the beach to be closed. However, the village itself remains a charming place to visit with its weatherboarded cottages – there are actually two parts to the village, Lower Upnor and Upper Upnor. Upnor Castle is now looked after by English Heritage.

Map of the area.

File:Medway Upnor KC 7504.JPG
Photo by Clem Rutter, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 4 July 2011


Next door to Chatham on the south bank of the Medway is the cathedral city of Rochester. Fans of Charles Dickens will find reminders of the great man on every corner in the city. The Dickens family lived in Rochester during his childhood, and he moved back here for the final years of his life. The city left such an impression on Dickens that it features in his works more than anywhere else. There are plaques on many of the buildings in the city centre giving information on how the locations in question featured in Dickens’ novels. Rochester has certainly made the most of its association with Dickens, with tourist attractions including the Dickens Discovery Rooms in the Guildhall Museum and the Footsteps In Time  costumed guided tours. In addition, there are not one,but two Dickens festivals each year in June and December, when many of the locals have great fun dressing up in period costume.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle is one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture in England. Every year in December the castle hosts a Christmas market. The ghost of a man has been observed in the moat of the castle near the Old Burial Ground, and there is a school of thought that the ghost is that of Charles Dickens. Rochester Cathedral dates back to Norman times, following which it had a chequered history marked by fire and looting. The cathedral as it now stands is considered one of the finest Norman cathedrals in the country.

For events in the area, follow this link.

Map of the area.

View of the Medway from the castle

Sunday, 3 July 2011


To the west of the Isle of Sheppey is an expanse of water dotted with islands which forms the mouth of the River Medway. Chatham stands on the Medway, which at its mouth joins the Thames estuary. Like Portsmouth, Chatham’s place in naval history is important enough to be preserved in the form of a tourist attraction, namely the Chatham Historic Dockyard. The Dockyard has been responsible for the construction of ships right through the ages, from Tudor times right up to the 20th century. Both surface ships and submarines have been built here, and the last of the warships, HMCS Okanagan, was launched in 1966. The Chatham Dockyard is of such significance that it is under consideration as a World Heritage Site. One of the attractions in the Dockyard complex is the Victorian Ropery. Ropemaking in Chatham actually dates back as far as 1618 and the current incumbent of the Ropery, Master Ropemakers Limited, is the oldest rope manufacturer in the country.

Charles Dickens, who we last met at Broadstairs (see 26 June post) spent several years of his youth here, living first in Ordnance Terrace opposite the station (although the house was surrounded by fields in those days), then in the smaller House on the Brook, St Mary’s Place, his parents being forced to move due to financial constraints. There used to be a Dickens-centred attraction called Dickens World in Chatham but sadly this has now closed down.

For a list of events in the area see here.

Map of the area.

File:Chatham Yacht Basin 0115.JPG
Photo by Medwayl, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Just to the north-east of Whitstable and separated from mainland by a narrow channel called The Swale, the Isle of Sheppey is largely made up of flat marshland grazed by numerous sheep, in fact it was the sheep who bequeathed the name of the island, which comes from the ancient Saxon “Sceapige” or “isle of sheep”. Viking invaders set up camp here in 855, when the island was part of the Kingdom of Wessex.

The principal town on the island is Sheerness-on-Sea, at the north-west tip of the island. The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys, who we last encountered on a bender in Deal (see 22 June post) founded the Royal Navy Dockyard here, declaring that “a very proper place it is for the purpose”. This had the potential to become one of the most important naval bases in the country were it not for flooding during construction. However, the site continued to be used by the Navy until 1960, and it is still an important port, dealing especially with fresh produce, new vehicles and forest products.

Other settlements on the island include Leysdown-On-Sea, which is a popular spot for viewing both the shipping in the Thames estuary and the birdlife of the nearby Swale National Nature Reserve, and Minster, a village which includes the 7th-century church of St Mary and St Sexburga, one of the oldest places of worship in England. The beach between these two places is important for its fossils, which include giant sharks’ teeth. Another point of interest on the island is Elmley National Nature Reserve, which incorporates a family farm.

Map of the area.

File:Swale at Ferry Reach - - 1040239.jpg
Swale at Ferry Reach. Photo by David Anstiss, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 July 2011


Faversham used to be a busy port until the creek on which it is situated silted up, although there is still a quay called Standard Quay with moorings for yachts and barges. The town has many listed buildings, and was a popular stopover for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The gunpowder industry brought new prosperity to the town, and the 18th century Chart Gunpowder Mills, which remained in use until the 1930s, tells the story of the industry and its significance for the town. Another local producer which may be of interest to real ale enthusiasts is the Shepherd Neame Master Brewers, whose ales include Spitfire, whose sales have helped armed forces charities such as Help For Heroes. The brewery, which is the oldest in the country, was founded in 1698, although its heritage stretches back even further. Brewery tours are available to visitors. Inevitably, a historic town such as Faversham will have its ancient pub with associated ghost stories. The Shipwrights Arms overlooking the surrounding marshes and creeks near Faversham is haunted by a seafaring gentleman wearing a reefer jacket who has been known to wander into the bar. There is a theory that the ghost is of a Cornish captain called Frederick Symes whose ship was wrecked and who trekked across the marshland only to collapse and die outside the pub. The TV medium Derek Acorah once came to film at the pub and claimed to have made contact with Frederick.

Graveney Marshes is an area of mudflats and grassland to the north-east of Faversham, incorporating the South Swale Nature Reserve. Large numbers of waders and wildfowl visit during winter. Beside the sea wall, the grassland forms part of the Saxon Shore Way walking trail. As well as nature, the marsh is famous for a wartime battle, the Battle of Graveney Marsh in September 1940, which turned out to be the last action by a foreign invasion force to take place on British soil.

For events in Faversham see here.

Map of the area.

File:Looking towards the coast from the swing bridge - - 1066272.jpg
Photo by Elliott Simpson, via Wikimedia Commons