Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep. This was the sound that greeted us. Maldon’s recycling centre was a hive of activity as we walked past; perhaps an unlikely gateway to one of Essex’s hidden gems, but this is the juxtaposed reality of this oh so maligned of counties.
Essex is a gloriously diverse county, and I am proud to call it my home. Writers such as John Alec Baker, as well as simple curiosity, have encouraged me to explore its extent, especially those places that go against the stereotypes of London’s north-eastern neighbour. Northey Island is one such place that I have wanted to visit for quite some time and have now achieved my ambition. Owned and managed by the National Trust, Northey is a heavenly expanse of saltings, grazing marsh, hedgerows and low sea walls and was my birthday escape last weekend.
We left the recycling centre, the car park and the crowds, behind us, and made our way along the sea wall towards Northey Island. The grassy wall was bordered by barbed wire on one side, sending a clear message to any curious intruders (human or animal), and the glistening mud of the Blackwater on the other. High tide was a good few hours away, which would give us enough time to walk around the island and have a picnic, always important to accompany a good walk.
The short causeway was raised, built up with rocks to aid vehicular access, covered on either side with seaweed and in much better condition than similar tracks I have experienced elsewhere in the county. The Essex coast has several of these ‘semi-permanent’ roads, only accessible at low tide, the rest of the time at the mercy of the water.
Northey Island is perhaps most famous for the historic Battle of Maldon, which took place during the reign of Ethelred the Unready in AD 991. The Anglo Saxons were defeated in the bloody battle against the Vikings, despite having the upper hand before the fighting commenced. Earl Byrhtnoth (Saxon) allowed the Norsemen to cross the causeway from Northey Island unhindered, with the battle taking place on fields near the Blackwater, to the south of Maldon. A famous poem was penned sometime after the battle, in memory of those involved.
It was difficult to perceive such noise and killing as we walked around the serenely peaceful island, seemingly miles away from the rest of reality. It was a stronghold for all manner of insects, especially butterflies and bees.
The walk was only an hour or so, but we returned to Maldon, the beeping of the recycling centre and the car afresh, knowing that we had been somewhere remarkable; a place that has been shaped by humans for centuries, but that still appears entirely distant from the modern world.