Total Pageviews

Monday, 25 April 2011

Walk 30 Dovercourt, Harwich and Mistley

Walk 30   Dovercourt, Harwich and Mistley (Essex)

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

Map: L/R169
Distance: about 9 miles
Difficulty: quite easy, a few hilly parts but mostly flat
Terrain: roads and paths
Access: Parking at Harwich and Mistley
Public transport: A good walk to do using the train with a regular service to Harwich, then back to Mistley station followed by a walk to Manningtree station with its links to Ipswich and Colchester.

Full access to the coast from the last walk at Beaumont Key and Kirby-le Soken begins at Dovercourt, south of Harwich.

The walk is divided into two parts. The first involves a return walk to Dovercourt from Harwich centre then a drive or train ride to Mistley for the second part. The train is on the Mayflower Line (Manningtree to Harwich) which held its 150th anniversary in 2004. There are two short stretches of coastal path near Wrabness on the Essex Way but access to them requires a considerable amount of inland walking which I felt was not worth the effort.
Leaving the centre of Harwich walk south to Dovercourt until the path starts heading inland around the marshes then retrace your steps. There is much of interest to see in this area. Dovercourt with its bay is the resort area of Harwich. It has a sandy beach and leisure facilities behind the long line of beach huts. The Dovercourt lighthouses are distinctive landmarks. They were built in 1863 and replaced by buoys in 1917, however, they were restored in the 1980s following a successful appeal for money. Further information is displayed nearby.

Further along it is worth walking nearer the road which rises above the seafront. A statue of Queen Victoria rather oddly looks inwards to the town rather than out to sea. Not far from here was Dovercourt Spa. This was opened on the seafront in 1854 to coincide with the arrival of the railway to Harwich. Hundreds of people came to drink the waters from the chalybeate (a natural spring containing iron salts). The spa was known to exist before 1670. It was demolished during World War 1 after the medical officer of health suspected the purity of its water.

Continuing towards Harwich there are two more lighthouses. The first is the low lighthouse near the seafront and, the second, the high lighthouse is a little more inland. Both lighthouses were built in 1818 and replaced earlier wooden structures. They were the leading lights into the harbour entrance but owing to the silting up of nearby Landguard Point they no longer guided ships safely and became known as ‘misleading lights’. They were replaced by the iron lighthouses at Dovercourt in 1863. The low lighthouse now contains a maritime museum. The high lighthouse was renovated in 1975 by the district council to commemorate European Architectural Heritage Year.

A little further north on Harwich Green is the restored Treadwheel crane. This is the only surviving example of a two-wheel man operated crane. It was built in 1667 on the site of the naval yard and was moved to this site in 1932. It was operated by men walking on the interior of the 16 foot diameter wheels. The earliest known type of this crane was built by the Romans and they were common in the middle ages in this area. In the eighteenth century many were operated by donkeys rather than men.

The Old Lifeboat House is not far from this point. It was built in 1876, closed in 1917 and is now a boat store. The new lifeboat station is further around the harbour. A little bit inland is the Electric Palace built in 1911. This is one of the oldest purpose built cinemas to survive complete with its ‘silent screen’, original projection room and ornamental frontage. It was closed in 1956 but reopened in 1981 with films again shown regularly. Its patron is the film actor Clive Owen.

In Harwich, near to the harbour are several interesting buildings reflecting the town’s maritime history e.g. the wooden boarded Pier Hotel. Across the harbour to the north can be seen the port of Felixstowe. The harbour and town were important in the 14th and 15th centuries as bases for sea battles against Holland and France. The Mayflower sailed to America in 1620 but originally came from here; the master Christopher Jones lived in the town. Later, Samuel Pepys was a frequent visitor to Harwich in his role as Lord of the Admiralty.

In both world wars the town was important as it was closer to Germany than any other suitable harbour. In World War 1 the area was a base for destroyers and submarines and the German U boats surrendered here in 1918. In World War 2 it was a base for destroyers, corvettes, and mine sweepers. Dutch, Polish and French ships also operated out of here and the town accommodated Czechoslovakian soldiers. 

On the edge of the harbour is a small building which marked the end of the Halfpenny Pier; it now houses a Mayflower exhibition. The pier, originally called The Corporation Pier, was built in 1853. Later it changed its name to reflect the charge to walk on it. When it first opened it was 343 feet long but half was destroyed by fire in 1927. It was used by paddle steamers and cross channel ships in the late 1800s and early 1900s until it was replaced by Trinity Pier a short distance away.

Walking to the far edge of the pier there are some large modern buildings belonging to Trinity House. This corporation came into being during the time of King Henry V111 and its main functions are care of lighthouses, aids to navigation e.g. buoys/lightships and safety at sea.

From the most northerly point of Harwich is a view across the estuary of the River Stour to Shotley Gate. On the train to Mistley the stop at Harwich International Port there were some fairly impressive ships waiting at the quayside.

Mistley is an attractive place overlooking the River Stour. One of the significant landmarks is a Victorian Brewery with its malt houses. The Mistley Thorn pub is on the site of an older pub in which Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, tried and condemned dozens of local women to death in the 1600s. He was a resident of nearby Manningtree. Another landmark is a pair of 18th century towers near to the road. These were the legacy of an attempt to turn the town into a spa and are the remains of a church built there. Walking to the west out of Mistley is an attractive river side path. It was spring when I went and there were hundreds of mute swans on the river side.

If using the train you can carry on to Manningtree (mostly by road) or return to Mistley.

Snaps show: the treadwheel crane, Harwich; The old lifeboat station, Harwich; the international port, Harwich; Mistley Towers; Queen Victoria statue, Dovercourt; Electric Palace cinema, Harwich; The Pier Hotel, Harwich; Trinity House, Harwich.


No comments:

Post a Comment