Tuesday October 16th 2018
We decided over the summer to walk during the first of Jen’s two half term weeks when most other schools were still operating so booked The Burnt Mill House B&B for the night of October 15th. The plan had been to travel from Burnham back to Rochford early in the morning, bus out to Paglesham Eastend and walk to Wallasea Island before crossing to Burnham on Crouch on the ferry. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the ferry website and only discovered at the last minute that it stops running at the end of September. So we needed a plan B. The route from Burnham onwards was also worrying us as it was a thirteen mile walk along sea walls with no way back inland. In the end we decided to strike north from Burnham on an inland route to Tillingham then head east towards the sea and walk north as far as the mouth of the River Blackwater. That would mean two walks of about eight miles which held a lot more appeal.
Having arrived on Monday and explored Burnham in the afternoon, we spent the night at Burnt Mill House. As the house was on our route, we were able to set off immediately after breakfast and were on the way by 8.30. Burnt Mill stands on Mill Road which is a quiet road with lots of detached houses in large gardens. All along the road, new houses were being built and where the lane ran out and the field path began was a building site where several more were under construction.
The footpath ran along the edge of fields parallel to the railway line and was difficult to find in places. The field had recently been sown with crops which were just coming through so we were careful to stay near the edge. Thankfully, there was enough path left for us to know that we were in the right place.
We passed the back of the farmhouse and came out onto a B-road on the southern outskirts of Southminster.
We followed the road into the built up area and arrived at the centre of the village by St Leonard’s Church which has a beautiful sundial. Unfortunately the morning was misty and the sundial was not at its best.
The village centre was very traditional with the church, the pub, the school just behind us and a shop. The shop furnished lunch and drinks and we had a rest on a circular seat under a tree outside.
From Southminster, our route continued north along the B-road with the option of a short cut across a field. We found the path very easily, but it ended at a house and we realised that our path had been ploughed out recently. We retracted our steps and walked up the road instead which was not a problem, as the roads were not at all busy. There was a lot of autumn farm work going on all day as we walked with ploughing, muck spreading, seed sowing and hedge cutting.
It was just as well the roads were fairly quiet because half a mile further on we were due to turn off onto a footpath over fields to the village of Asheldham. We found the stile and clambered over it with difficulty as it was very high only to encounter a fence across the footpath a few yards on. There was nothing we could do so we turned back, over the high stile again and continued up the road. Our reward was the sight and sound of a field full of pigs although when I tried to take a photo of the piglets their daddy was not impressed!
Also had we crossed the fields we would have missed the interesting village sign at the road junction.
As we walked on, a tractor came down the road, so we stood on the verge to one side. When he got to the road junction he turned and began to follow us flailing the hedges. This meant we had to speed up our pace to keep ahead of him!
Luckily we did not have far to go before the centre of the village and our turning. We set off along a much quieter road heading due east. The route would now take us along a series of lanes zig-zagging east then north until we reached Tillingham.
The first feature on the map along this road was an animal feed processing plant which also houses the Dengie Public Weighbridge. This meant the first part of the road was not as quiet as we had hoped but once we had passed the plant, it was much better. The next landmark was a church and we were very pleased to see some picnic tables outside the hall at the back. There was no-one about so we helped ourselves to a rest and, at this point, decided the sun was warm enough to take off the rest of the layers. The mist had cleared and it was lovely to feel the sun on the arms again and be walking in t-shirts – in October.
We had a good break here with a drink and a biscuit and found ourselves somewhat puzzled by this church. It looked as though it was out of use and had no signboards or identifying features. Its location next to Asheldham Hall suggested it might have been part of the big house at one time, and it was certainly not disused as there was some sort of machinery humming next to the hall. We left half an hour later, still bemused. Later research showed the church to be now in use as a residential study centre for schools, church groups etc. It is still owned and run by the diocese of Chelmsford and has been transformed inside to form space for about 30 people to stay for a few days. A lovely idea to reuse a church which is no longer needed.
A mile or so down the road we arrived at Dengie Manor and an almost identical church which is obviously very much in use as the parish church for Dengie. St James’s Church is grade 2 listed and has a prominent war memorial listing not only the few men who died in WW1 but also those who saw active service. Presumably all were local agricultural workers from this scattered community.
A little further along the road was the cemetery which was small, well-kept and very peaceful.
Soon we came to the junction with the wide pathway which was our planned route across fields and farm tracks into Tillingham. However the lane continued and would turn north not much further on to run parallel with the track. As the lane was rising slightly ahead we thought that at the top of the rise we might be able to see the sea. The temptation was great so we continued ambling along loving the sunshine and the peace and quiet of a country lane which only goes to a couple of farms before petering out and thus had virtually no traffic at all.
At the end of the lane we had to turn north but sadly we had not quite climbed high enough to see anything but trees.
We paused at the road junction as we could hear a vehicle coming south. It appeared round the bend and to our amazement was a land rover with flashing lights and warning signs of a ‘Wide Load’. He stopped and suggested we stand well back on the verge and spoke through his radio to the driver behind telling him we were there but out of the way. Another vehicle arrived from the Asheldham direction and was moved off the road. Two minutes later a lorry carrying a mobile home arrived round the bend and we were very glad that we had met it at a place where we could stand well back as it was taking up the entire road and hanging over the edge. It swept past us round the bend and headed towards Asheldham.
The other car continued on its way and all was peaceful again. It was just the last thing we had expected to see way out in the wilds.
We sauntered on enjoying the sun and the stillness. All we could hear was the drone of a tractor working somewhere, a pheasant calling and away in the distance the pop of a shotgun, presumably shooting birds or rabbits. The road went slightly uphill and at one point over the fields, we could finally see the sea!
The lane now twisted and turned but progressed steadily northwards. On one of the bends a field entrance had a large concrete block and we elected to stop here for lunch. The view was lovely across fields and we enjoyed our rest in the sunshine.
After our break another half hour or so walking brought us to the outskirts of Tillingham. On the way we moved over to the verge as we could hear a vehicle approaching way behind us, sounding its horn at regular intervals. As it rounded the last bend we saw it was a post office van and was, as we had gathered, giving warning of its approach as every blind bend.
We had been looking out for a path across a field which would take us into Tillingham centre but the field had obviously been recently ploughed and, although the line of the path was visible, we did not want to walk across.
The alternative was to keep going to the main road and up the pavement past houses so we did that. We soon emerged into the village square with its pub and church. It was busier here but still quiet and we enjoyed a drink outside the pub and the chance to use their toilets.
After a while we decided somewhat reluctantly to make a move and phoned a taxi to take us back to Burnham, pick up our bags from the B&B and head for home. It was, we decided, the best walk Essex has given us so far and more so because we had not quite expected to be doing it. We found beautiful villages, quiet lanes and tiny churches and everywhere, as we have found all the time in Essex, lovely people.