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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Walk 26 West Mersea to Brightlingsea (Essex) via passenger ferry

Walk 26    West Mersea to Brightlingsea (Essex) via passenger ferry

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 168
Distance: about 7 miles
Difficulty: easy, mainly flat
Terrain: roads and paths some of which can be muddy
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: The 67 bus runs from Colchester to West Mersea and 78X from Brighlingsea back to Colchester. With changes always on the cards it is wise to check these out before going.
Passenger ferry: Runs in the busy times every day e.g. in 2011, July 23 to September 24. From April 22 to October 30 it runs a scheduled service at weekends only. Contact number for the ferry is: 0781450169 or 01206302200 and up to date information on

As can be seen from the above, going during the winter would mean a separate journey to Brightlingsea (although the ferry website states that a service may run out of season depending on the weather and crew availability).

Mersea Island is accessed to the north by a causeway called The Strood. The island’s isolated position made Mersea a popular haunt for smugglers; it is the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. Start the walk along the road near to the car park at the east end of West Mersea village. A small path takes you down on to the beach. Return to the road to continue the walk. If you are a fan of sea food a local establishment called The Company Shed on Coast Road sells and serves a variety of locally caught seafood including the local flat oyster. Nothing posh here, the focus is on the quality of food. The road eventually meets up with the coastal path passing by caravan and camping sites – it is a popular area for summer time visitors.
The path winds its way round past the mud and sand before turning inland up a track where you will pass St Edmund’s church. The rector here from 1870-1881 was Sabine Baring-Gould author of Onward Christian Soldiers. Next is East Mersea which is popular with visitors especially in the better weather (caravan and camping sites available at this end of the island too). Follow the road past Bromans Farm then the footpath to Cudmore Grove Country Park. This is an attractive well-cared for haven for nature, especially wildfowl. Continue along the path to the ferry.

On arrival at Brightlingsea take some time to stroll both ways along the front. The town is the only Cinque port outside of Kent and Sussex. It still swears allegiance to the mayor of Sandwich (Kent) in a 400 year old ceremony. The attractive town has a rich maritime heritage and a Bronze Age site was found here in 1990. It was expanded primarily for fishing (particularly oysters) and shipbuilding but only vestiges of these industries remain. Yachting is now very important and it is the home of international and national championships.

On the west beach are beach huts and nearby the recently restored, slightly leaning, Bateman’s Tower. This folly was built in 1883 by John Bateman to help his consumptive daughter recover. In the town, Jacobs Hall is reputed to be the oldest timber framed building in England.

Brightlingsea made the news in 1984 during the miners strike when there was an attempt to import coal – this was thwarted by pickets. In the 1990s live animals were exported to Europe from here amid strong protests about their transport conditions. The scale of the protests led them to be called ‘The Battle of Brightlingsea’.

Snaps: three views of Brightlingsea and two of West Mersea.

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