Youth Hostels Are Interesting Places

After a comfortable night at Blaxhall YH I thought I’d share my experience. There were 7 of us staying here and I was the youngest by about 15 years from geeky walker guy and the rest were all men over 70. More of a Geriatric Hostel. 

So I struck up a conversation with Mr geeky walker and he had walked South from Lowestoft for 2 days checking out some new kit (something I should have done). Like me he had a big pack but was bivvying in an extra small tent that looks like a slug and only weighs 800g. He knew the weight of all his kit (he buys it from a shop where all weights are labelled) and he’s even got special titanium tent pegs that weigh 2g. He was a serious loner and I was mildly concerned that this walk was turning me into someone like him. I am slightly envious that his pack only weighs 9kg (mine is about 15kg) but I don’t want to get too geeky about it. 

The other gentleman I chatted to is Doing a much more civilised trip as he cycles around Suffolk, his home county, to see all the sights he hasn’t seen – 200 miles in 10 days. Mind you he is approaching his 80th birthday, and I think his bike might be too. I enjoyed chatting to him although I’m not sure the feeling was mutual as he wanted to get on with scribbling notes for the book he’s writing about his trip. Look out for a book called One Leg, No Lycra, Adrift on a Cycle around Suffolk by Rob Barber. 

It just proves we’re a strange lot that stay at Youth Hostels!

P.S. I have the same sleeping bag and thermarest as Mr geeky walker, and I learned that I need to walk in shoes and then my feet might not hurt so much. 

WEEK 2 – Maldon, Essex to Blaxhall, Suffolk


70 miles walked 
(Total 161 miles)

What a stunning week of weather. It was enough to have me out camping 5 nights on the trot, which wasn’t as bad as it might have been although it does mean later starts in order to let my tent dry. 

I’ve made it around Essex, the county with the longest coastline and not somewhere on my list of places to visit. So here are a few of my impressions:

1. If you like walking and wildlife, particularly birds, then Essex is a great place to visit; it has miles and miles of sea wall to walk along with great views from an elevated position and 87 nature reserves (some with cafes). 

2. Of the places I visited, Burnham and Maldon were great for sailors, Mersea is lovely if you go outside of holiday season when it’s taken over by caravaners, and the main resorts of Southend and Clacton are good if you like traditional seaside resorts with long promenades, loud funfairs, chips and cheap lager. 

3. Mostly the people are really friendly. I have been stopped loads and engaged in conversation, and the people I’ve stayed with (Lindsey, Jo, Jackie and Dave) have been very kind and great fun. I have only met less friendly people in the bigger towns where I clearly stick out like a sore thumb. 

After 6 nights camping next this week, and with the benefit of 2 weeks of experience behind me, I have realised that I will be much slower on this trip than I had anticipated. All the other stuff around the walking, such as putting up and down my tent, sorting out places to stay, mapping my route, getting food…and the list goes on, take quite a while. The admin, combined with a heavy pack and sore feet, mean a revised target of 15 miles per day (dependent upon where I can stop for the night of course). I think I need to change my tag line to 5000 miles!

Day 14 The Solitude of the Suffolk Countryside

Sunday 19 April 2015

Hollesley to Blaxhall
14 miles
Blaxhall Youth Hostel

I think my admin is improving as this morning I managed to get up, cook myself porridge and a cup of tea, dry my tent (even though it wasn’t sunny) and all before 9.30 am. A record. 

Today’s walk began with a visit to HMP Hollesley, although not to visit anyone merely to walk through its grounds (I assume at least part of it is an open prison as there was a distinct lack of high walls). I didn’t see any prisoners but I did disturb a herd of deer – neither of us moved for ages and they were a lovely sight in the morning. 

Deer happened upon in a Hollesley field
Then it was a lovely walk along the deserted coastline flanked by salt marshes and fields of sheep.  

Walking the Suffolk Coastal Path with Shingle Street behind me and Orford ahead
 Late morning I reached the Butley River and, fortunately for me, the Butley Ferryman was there waiting to give me a lift across the river in the most sophisticated ferry I’ve been in to date – a rowing boat! I think it’s the same one they’ve been using since the service started in the 16th Century.  

The Butley Ferry
I stopped for lunch at the Quayside tea rooms in Orford, which is a really quaint little town opposite the stretch of shingle that was used for MoD secret stuff for many years. From Orford I turned inland, still following the coastal path as it has to cross the River Alde, and walked through the countryside and Tunstall Forest, headed for the Youth Hostel at Blaxhall. Nice not to have to put my tent up, to have clothes washing facilities and a curry. 

Day 13 Bye Bye Essex, Hello Suffolk

Saturday 18 April 2015

Harwich to Hollesley, Suffolk
13 miles
Run Cottage Touring Park

I was treated to another lie in this morning on another glorious day.  

Looking across at Felixstowe as the sun rises
I even had time to consume a sumptuous full English breakfast at the hotel because the first ferry to Felixstowe didn’t leave until 10.15 am.  

the ferry landed at Felixstowe with one of several huge container ships in the background
Harwich Harbour was a little choppy as it was really windy and I got sprayed with the builders tea brown water of the North Sea a few times. Refreshing. It was nice to finally leave Essex behind and feel like I’m getting somewhere. The walk through Felixstowe was nice, yet more military history and some rather grand houses as I moved further away from the port. 
I had to get another ferry across the Deben River to Bawdsey and then I spent most of the afternoon trudging slowly along shingle beach, which is hard work but a good workout. I passed 7 Martello Towers today, some of them must have been on Grand Designs as they looked like people’s homes. I spent most of the afternoon on my own, not passing anyone and walking headlong into a strong wind, which was quite peaceful really. It wasn’t until Shingle Street, a long stretch of shingle with a small village, that people started appearing; lots of kite surfers taking advantage of the combination of wind and sun.  

Lots of kites out at Shingle Street and a path of shells laid to mark the way to the Lifeboatmen Cottages
Just as I left Shingle Street I happened across a group of sea kayakers who had set up camp on the beach. They are doing a 14 day challenge to raise money to save turtle doves. Good luck to Jonny and his crew. 

After luxury last night it’s back to camping tonight. 

Day 12 A Day off in Harwich

Friday 17 April 2015

Rest day
The Pier Hotel

I had a lie in and didn’t get up until 7.30 am and then it took another 2 hrs to dry my tent. Fortunately Jackie and Dave were on hand to feed me tea and toast and let me sit in a comfy chair. For anyone that thinks this is a luxurious lifestyle here is a photo of me in bed this morning. Don’t knock the hat, without it I’d be freezing!

Me in bed – it’s cold camping in April
I had decided to take the day off as my friend Sally had agreed to meet me so I wanted to finish early. I could only get as far as Harwich today anyway because the ferry to Felixstowe only runs at weekends. As the route was mostly on roads I thought I’d treat myself to a bus ride instead but, better than that, Jackie and Dave gave me a lift. Sally and I went for a nice lunch in a greasy spoon cafe and I kept popping out to do my washing at the laundrettes. I felt like I was in Eastenders! The afternoon was an opportunity to do more planning for next week (which takes ages at the moment) before a sumptuous meal in a posh restaurant. After camping all week and my belt requiring tightening an extra notch I figure I’ve earned it.

Day 11 The Naze

Thursday 16 April 2015

Circular walk around The Naze
9 miles
2nd night camping at Grange Farm, Thorpe-Le-Soken

I decided to stay put for a day and walk The Naze before heading to Harwich tomorrow. Without the need to pack up my tent I thought I’d make my own breakfast this morning – porridge and green tea (I don’t carry milk) – before heading back to the train station, this time with a much lighter rucksack and no poles. I felt so free. The small town of Walton is not particularly noteworthy, other than having the 2nd longest pier after Southend, as it looks like it’s glory days were in the past. The Naze, however, offers fantastic views and in particular from the top of its Tower, built in 1720 as a navigation point for shipping. 

The Naze Tower – the 2 men at its base are engineers who told me it needs re-pointing so from June will be clad in scaffolding
From here I could see Harwich, Felixstowe and as far as Orford, but it wasn’t bright enough to see Kent today.  

panoramic view from the top of Naze Tower, from Clacton round to Felixstowe
 There’s a lot of military history here as the tower was used in both world wars (by the Navy for hoisting semaphore flags in WW1 and the Army as a radar site in WW2). There are lots of pill boxes; many now in the sea as a result of coastal erosion. Aside from the history there’s also plenty of wildlife and I enjoyed a walk on the sea wall around Walton Marshes, yet another Essex nature reserve. 

After a pot of tea at the Tower Cafe I thought I’d wander back to Frinton as I missed it yesterday rushing for the train. Frinton is definitely the more upmarket of the 3 resorts (Clacton, Frinton and Walton) with its Art Deco houses and quieter feel. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have a pier with obligatory fun fair?

Got the train back to the campsite, did a bit of washing and was sitting doing nothing hoping it would dry draped over my tent when my neighbour, Jackie, thought I looked cold and made me a cup of tea. Well, before you know it I’ve had tea, coffee, my washing is hung on her line and I’m walking to the shop to buy a bottle of wine while she makes me dinner (Spanish chicken and chorizo rice). I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Jealous of Jackie’s motorhome and thinking I want one. Finished the wine and my washing is now in her tumble dryer…this motorhome has everything!  

Jackie and Dave and their amazing motorhome (it’s not a campervan!)

Day 10 Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside

Wednesday 15 April 2015

East Mersea to Frinton-On-Sea
15 miles walked
Camping at Grange Farm, Thorpe-Le-Soken

Morning ablutions were cheered up somewhat by reading Chris’s comments to my blog. Today was the hottest and sunniest so far, which also made it the sweatiest. Jo kindly made me porridge and tea while I packed up a dry tent and then I made my way to the end of Mersea Island to await the 1015 ferry across the River Colne.  

I love foot ferries
 The ferry man kindly gave me free passage in honour of my trip and the fact that I was going to Point Clear because apparently no one goes there. When I arrived I saw why. It was a bit derelict and rubbishy, and yet more caravans. Its only redeeming feature is the first Martello Tower in the line between Brightlingsea and Aldeburgh, defending us against Napoleon.  

Point Clear Martello Tower
 Two hours later I reached the biggest set of holiday caravan parks I have seen. Apparently this area is a holiday Mecca for East Londoners from Dagenham and Barking, and it seems like lots of them own static caravans. I carried on through Jaywick to reach Clacton-On-Sea. Jaywick is the most rundown, poverty stricken place I’ve seen. Half the houses were boarded up, there was rubbish everywhere and every adult I passed was drinking a can of extra strong lager. A couple of places had extremely loud music blaring, one was country music and had speakers on the walls and an old bloke sat out the front. Another had younger inhabitants and I drew a few expletives just for walking by. 

Clacton-On-Sea was busy with people enjoying the summer sun in April (not sure anyone goes to school) and I took the opportunity to cool my feet with a quick paddle in the sea. Think I might have had a swim if I had been somewhere else. I saw the world’s supply of motorbility scooters going along the promenade and didn’t bother stopping for lunch as I didn’t fancy a bacon burger, chips or any of the other fare on offer. Yet again I drew more comments from passers by, mostly rude, and often commenting on the ‘ski poles’.  

Clacton beach on a glorious April day
 Quite a lot of the beachside promenade was closed as £36M is spent on new fish tail groynes to improve the sea defence. I counted 11 cranes and 5 dumper trucks in operation. Impressive to watch.   

that looks fun!
 I busted myself the last 4km in the afternoon heat to try and make the 1603 train from Frinton-On-Sea to the campsite at Thorpe-Le-Soken and missed it by 3 minutes. Gutted as that meant a 57 minute wait for the next one. 

Day 9 Strolling along Mersea Beach

Tuesday 14 April 2015

West Mersea to East Mersea
6 miles
Camping at Broman’s Farm

Up early to pack tent and get the bus to Colchester and then out again to West Mersea as I didn’t fancy walking the roads. Had to pack the tent away wet as I couldn’t get it dry and hadn’t sorted anywhere to stay tonight due to no wifi last night. My first admin faff on a stunningly sunny day by the seaside. I am finding out that the admin takes a lot of time (packing tent away, patching feet, pitching tent, washing myself and my underwear at least, drying everything, finding places to stay, booking them, finding food [or cooking it], blogging, mapping next section…have I missed anything?), so much time that it’s a wonder I have any time to walk. Thank goodness it’s been sunny and I’ve had some help with planning, but I am now of the view that 20 miles a day is an impossible target for me and I need to aim for 15 max, certainly at the moment. This will either cut down my trip or lengthen it but I’ll work that out later. Current speed is 2-2.5 mph when taking into account stops for foot care, photos, admire the view, cafes etc. I am slow! But this is meant to be fun. 

All of that preamble was me justifying the bus ride followed by the leisurely 6 mile stroll along Mersea beach in glorious sunshine (I already have a tan so I’ll be weather beaten in a few months) to tonight’s stop. Broman’s Barn was booked up but lovely Jo took pity on me and allowed me to pitch my tent in her garden. She did my washing, let me on wifi and offered me breakfast. At a low ebb earlier in the day when everything seemed impossible Jo’s hospitality cheered me up and gave me hope that it might just all work out.  

Who wouldn’t want to stroll along the beach in this weather?
Beach huts in West Mersea

Day 8 The Essex Sea Wall Goes on Forever

Monday 13 April 2015

Maldon to Tollesbury
13 miles
Tollesbury Marina campsite

What a difference a day makes; not a breath of wind for most of the day. My first night camping was a success and I survived the overnight wind and rain. I only woke up cold once and overall I was pretty comfortable; however, it’s the packing up that’s always the worst. As expected it didn’t go as smoothly as I’d have liked and, after managing to get the inside of the tent as wet as the outside, I spent 20 mins in the toilet block drying the tent under the hand dryer. Considering I was charged £12 to camp I was happy I’d paid for the extra electricity. With no cafe open and no will power to get my stove out it was breakfast on the hoof when I finally got going 1hr45 after I woke up. Fortunately it was another beautiful day with hardly anyone about and just the sound of the birds and the smell of the seaweed to complement the stunning views.   

Looking back up Blackwater River to Maldon
Another day walking the Essex sea wall with the saltwater river on one side (they used to collect the salt for Essex cheese) and the Borrowdyke on the other, and generally no one about. Bliss.  

the Borrowdyke and Sea Wall
I did come across Joyce’s field, which is being allowed to re-flood naturally and has a duck decoy lake where thousands of ducks were caught and sent to London to be somebody’s dinner in the 1800s. I also saw 2 people oyster farming, which is what I could have eaten in Maldon if I liked them (I had a prawn sandwich instead).   

Oyster Farming Blackwater River
I made it to Tollesbury Wick Marshes, yet another Essex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve, but unfortunately no cafe! I found the Marina and set up camp for the night; this time I had to cook as nothing is open in Tollesbury on a Monday.  

Dinner for one – rice with pepper and tomatoes. Yum!