I find it strange how, although we might explore a place on foot while we are on holiday, most of us rarely take the time to explore our own local area, going off the beaten track. We tend to visit the same places again and again, whether for our daily walks with the dog or a Sunday afternoon stroll. Yet, there is the potential for some brilliant experiences to be had out there, simply by looking at a map and going somewhere different. Yesterday I did this very thing, walking the ‘Priory to Priory’ long distance route with my friend Jono, who himself is still a local at heart, having grown up here, albeit now living in the Cotswolds. We don’t get to see each other as often as we might like, given the distance across the country, so walking like this allows for a good catch up!
Starting in St Osyth, at St Osyth Priory, we finished at the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory in Colchester. This route took us through fields and past redundant Essex barns that I hadn’t previously encountered. Of course it still felt like Essex but I had to remind myself that I was merely a few miles from home.
A few drops of misty rain fell from the sky as we set out, but we were hopeful (and correct to be) that the cloud would soon lift and a bright day lay ahead of us. St Osyth is famously the driest place in the country, so persistent rain, even at this time of year, is very unlikely.
We trudged across autumn drilled fields, the mud clinging to our walking boots, and were impressed by the number of footpath signs on the route. There was barely any need for a map, although I must admit that at times it came in handy – especially when the path was slightly overgrown. ‘Is this really the way we should be going?’ we occasionally questioned ourselves.
The route we took was an enjoyable mix of fieldpaths, sea walls and riverside paths.
We stopped for a coffee break at Alresford Mill, noisily greeted by dozens of ducks which swam on the large millpond, stretching out before us as we relaxed our feet.
For me, the high point was when the channel opened out and Alresford Creek met the River Colne on route to the North Sea. Essex came into its own at that point, the sky and water becoming a single bright entity, winter wading birds calling all around, flitting around their temporary marshland home.
Following lunch at Wivenhoe, which has gained in recent years from a super new development – yes housing developers sometimes do the right thing(!), we walked along the River Colne, with Rowhedge to the south and the tall towers of Essex University clearly visible in the distance. We watched a heron paddle in the shallows.
It was mid afternoon when we eventually reached St Botolph’s, having made our way through the Hythe and Colchester’s eastern riverine reaches, notably different to affluent Wivenhoe. Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town and well worth a visit if you are considering a holiday or ‘staycation’ in Essex or Suffolk next year. St Botolph’s Priory was the first and leading Augustinian priory in England founded c.1100 but dissolved in 1536. It was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of Colchester in 1648.