Monday, 8 February 2010
Colne Walking: To Mersea
The disappointing thing about walking to Mersea from the Hythe is that you only get to walk along the Colne to Rowhedge and then it's through fields and on roads.
Yesterday Anna and I set out through the drizzle and the oppressive grayness on a walk to Mersea. Mersea is where Anna spent the first four years of her life. Many of family members have lived there, fished there, grown up and had families there. It was where her grandmother lived. It was where she visited almost every weekend in the summer. It's a special place for her and I've enjoyed taking trips there, getting to know it bit by bit, being witness to her rediscovery and deepening appreciation for it.
We've been talking about walking there for quite a while now. She wants to write an essay on it. I've been saying I'd be happy to go as long as it's not freezing or wet. Well, that's exactly what yesterday was. More than that, though, it was muddy. That was the fun part. There's nothing like stepping into a big patch of mud, feeling your foot sink it or even slide, and then that suction when you try to pull your feet out. I had to re-tie my shoes because they were getting pulled off. I had a good time playing in the mud and I much preferred the mud to the roads.
Thank goodness Anna brought along two bright vests to each of us to wear while we walked on the roads because there were some blind bends and scary patches in which drivers drove faster than what seemed safe, especially from the side of the road. In some places there was no shoulder to speak of and in others there was a little strip of slippery mud to the outside of the while line. Cars didn't slow down. Some sped up. Motorcycles roared past and one dude on a dirt bike did a wheely to impress us girls.
On either side of the roads, though, was mud. Mud walking along the Colne to Rowhedge, mud along the brook that we crossed, mud in a field that still had some beets left in the ground, mud on Mersea. My shoes were covered in it. Later in the evening, sitting at an Indian restaurant, I even found mud on the front of my knees. Not quite sure how it got there.
Another thing we picked up along the way were some thistle-like prickly balls that stuck on Anna's shoe laces. I thought they made rather nice ornaments. (Still looking for the name of these.) We found them in a field into which we took a wrong turn. The field was full of rabbit holes and some root vegetable that looked like turnips, or radishes, or beets.
Anna found some sphagnum moss along the south side of the river wall just before Rowhedge. She was excited to find it and said it was quite rare. She picked up a patch that had already been pulled up and turned it over to find a woodlouse crawling on it. Gross, I thought. She put a piece of it in her pocket.
It was a day for getting wet. I was picking it up on my clothes, on my face, on my glasses. My hair was frizzing and I could see the curls peaking out from my hood. The wind was blowing, just slightly, but cold enough that you took notice, especially when it ran over wet surfaces. Water came from the ground up, too. We walked through a flooded field where I jumped from grassy patch to grassy patch in an attempt to not water log my boots. This lead to a brook that required a bit of jumping. We made it across without picking up any extra water.
Other highlights included stopping in some nice pubs that served good food and not eating, only to arrive at Mersea where no pubs were serving food, not even the Company Shed or the Oyster Bar. Not after 5 and not on a Sunday night. That left us with Indian at a restaurant called Titash, which had me giggling inappropriately. Early in the day, trying to identify some little birds in a bit of woods just past Rowhedge, I confessed to Anna that I was getting pretty good at identifying a tit when I saw one, but I could never tell what kind of tit it was. They don't tell to stay still while I get a good enough look to sort it out. I'm also working on identifying trees, and despite having spent an hour looking at www.british-trees.com just a day earlier, I still couldn't tell you one from the next except to say that I looked that one up but can't remember that name from the next one. I'm proving to be utterly useless at this. Anyway, I couldn't tell if I saw an Ash at all along the walk, but I probably wouldn't have been able to identify it even if I had, and especially not without its leaves.
Mersea is a place that has a lot of weird ideas around it. To me, it's just another low-lying, unattractive location in Essex. To people who are from Essex, it's this muddy reject of a place where inbreeding is suspected and you might go for a day out at the beach if you can't get to anywhere else. Or it's a special place that holds memories of childhood and summers, warm mud beneath the sea, seagulls, fishing, oysters. Oysters is probably what it's best known for. There's a front garden near the mainstreet that's made up of oyster shells, the white insides turned up to the sky. There's a pub called the Black Pearl that has a beautiful sign: moonlight on a dark sea with a oyster open and showing it's dark pearl in the foreground. Then there's the Coast Inn - cute name, cozy pub with a fire and a black dog.
Across the water we could see Bradwell, an oddly shaped nuclear power plant. It's funny how different things look from across the water. I've stood on that shore and looked at Mersea. I've stood on Mersea and looked at Bradwell. Over on the Bradwell side, on the Dengie Peninsula, there are a few farms. One of those farms features several gigantic stacks of hay. Their shape mimics that of the power plant. From Mersea, Bradwell looks like one of those gigantic stacks of hay. I'm sure if we'd stayed on a bit at the water front, that would have changed as the orange-yellow lights came on all over it, but was getting cold and we were getting hungry.
Anna took me by the house where her grandmother had lived. It was a place of gathering. Everyone seemed to go there. She developed Alzheimer's before she died. That's got to be frightening. She was saying she misses her grandmother. I could relate. I miss mine, too, and I called her later to tell her so.
After eating, we took the bus back to Colchester. I figure we walked about 12 miles, detours and all. It was a great way to spend a day. I haven't had a good long walk since the last day of Big Ben to Brussels. It's so satisfying to walk from one place to the next and not have to retrace steps or walk in a big circle. It's so satisfying to arrive at some place new.