With the weather forecasts all predicting lots of rain and then the cold of winter to come in the next few days, yesterday seemed like the last chance to have a decent long walk this year, so I took the opportunity to head out on the Essex Way. The Way skirts around the outskirts of Colchester so I decided to walk out to West Bergholt and pick it up there, then head along it through the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale.

pringlesThe walk out to Bergholt is one I’ve done a few times. It’s relatively easy to do from the centre of town, and gets you out into the countryside quite quickly, taking advantage of the open space around Cymbeline Meadows. The main path from there takes you out past the farm at Lexden Lodge, then around a bit of the golf course and over the railway at Bakers Lane. The only problem with the countryside feel here is the ever-present roaring of the A12 which you pass under a little way after Bakers Lane, marked by the Pringles can-topped fence. I’m not quite sure if this is just creative litter disposal or the beginnings of some outside art, but they look interesting and the earliest ones have clearly been there for a while.

bergholtpathLeaving the A12 behind, the path continues across the golf course where I managed to get a little lost and so almost get hit by a ball flying over a hill. I soon managed to find the correct path and avoid any more inadvertent golfist attacks, plunging back into the undergrowth and the first bit of the path that was both boggy and strewn with branches blown down in the high winds earlier of the week. It’s still easily passable, and only a short cut through that leads out to the bottom of a lane that gradually widens as you head into West Bergholt and get to join the Essex Way properly.

essexwayOne of the good things about the Essex Way is that it’s pretty well waymarked and the red-on-white waymarkers are quite easy to spot so it’s hard to get lost on it. It also helps that it’s in a lot of open countryside so the paths tend to be straight and easy to find too. It cuts through West Bergholt than out past Armoury Farm, over fields and around an orchard to take you into Great Horkesley where it follows the roads for a bit before heading onto country lanes again. This isn’t the most interesting part as you’re just walking along the A134 and then another road for a while, but it passes quickly and there aren’t really any other ways to get from one side of Horkesley to the other without using the road.

alpacaThere were a couple of interesting sights around the edge of Great Horkesley, as the path left the road and headed into the countryside. First up, there was a paddock with some alpacas (I think, though they could be llamas) that watched me curiously as I walked past. Unlike other farm animals they didn’t either run away at the sight of a human or flock to the fence to greet me in expectation of food, just stood still and kept an eye on me until I was gone.

fallentreeThen just past them there was a rather large tree that had fallen down, almost completely blocking the lane. There was just about enough space for me to squeeze under it (shorter and more flexible people would have found it no trouble) but there definitely wouldn’t be any vehicles getting through there. There wasn’t anyone there, so there didn’t seem any immediate urgency to remove it, but I expect it’ll be gone by now. However, if you want to go and see for yourself (or just be stared at by alpacas) it was around here.

After that, it was out across more fields, surrounded by the scent of the onions that were growing in them. This was one of the most open and exposed parts of the walk, so it’s naturally the time the weather chose to go very grey and windy though the rain held off. Luckily the open fields did have a small wood in them to shelter from the wind in and have a cup of tea while sitting on another fallen tree, thought this one looked like it had been like that much longer.

dancingtreeFrom there, I roughly followed the path of the way (with a few shortcuts, as it does tend to meander in some places) through Boxted and Langham, and got to see the remains of a tree by the road that looked like the remains of a giant frozen in the middle of some ancient rave. You can find it just outside Boxted, near the interestingly named Wet Lane. It’s on one of the short cuts I took to shorten the route a little from one of the way’s meanders so you’ll have to leave the Way it, but this is one part where that are plenty of other interesting paths around and they all tend to intersect each other eventually.

I didn’t follow the Essex Way all the way into Dedham as I’ve walked around there a few times and find the Suffolk side of the river to be a nicer walk than the Essex side. I left the Way and crossed the Stour at Stratford St Mary, then managed to initially take the wrong path and found myself wandering in thick undergrowth for a while before getting back to the road and carrying on down to the right one. For future reference: the path under the A12 is a few hundred metres south of Stratford St Mary, at the second footpath sign, not the first one.

dedhamviewingpointThe path on the Suffolk side of the Stour is right next to the river, while the one on the Essex side (at least to the west of Dedham) is further away in the fields for most of its length. Yesterday was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen it – I think I only saw one other person in that stretch – and the sound of the A12 soon fades away as you’re walking along. I did spot this strange Roman-styled folly by the river which appears to just be somewhere for people on the other side to sit and watch the river, but please let me know in the comments if it has some other purpose.

startledhouseJust after to that there’s the Dedham lock and weir which I crossed over and then followed the road into the village. I had thought about carrying on down the river (on the Essex side this time) to Flatford Mill, then on to Manningtree to get a train home but my legs were pretty tired by this point after fourteen occasionally muddy miles, and I realised that not only was the bus to Colchester from Dedham due soon but that it also stopped at the bottom of my road. By that point in the day, the idea of a very short walk home was too good an idea to pass up.

I should probably write up more walks on here as not only is it motivation for me to get out more, I do get quite a few visitors from Google looking for information on walks in and around Colchester. Maybe that should be my niche…

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It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

(Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five)

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Another week in Parliament which means another week where our “independent-minded” MP has steadfastly agreed with whatever the whips tell him to do. This included Monday’s vote on the “Tampon Tax” (removing VAT from women’s sanitary products), but he’s provided a detailed explanation as to why he didn’t vote for it (original Facebook post here).

It’s a long post that meanders around making digs at the EU, claims that the content of the motion wasn’t deliverable and praise for the minister involved, and it all sounds like a reasoned and well-meaning way to explain his vote, until you look at the actual motion he voted against. It reads:

“(1) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement on his strategy to negotiate with the European Union institutions an exemption from value added tax for women’s sanitary protection products.

(2) A Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament a report on progress at achieving an exemption from value added tax for women’s sanitary protection products within European Union law by 1 April 2016.”

That’s it (you can see it here). It doesn’t mandate any actual change in Britain’s laws, but merely asks that the Chancellor explain his strategy for negotiating an exemption and for a minister to make a statement on it sometime in the next six months. So, when Quince writes:

However, this amendment was not deliverable. Parliament cannot make the change on its own. We need all EU states to agree to this change. Why vote for something that is non-deliverable? I think it diminishes respect for Parliamentary votes.

He’s either misunderstood or is misrepresenting the content of the motion he voted against. The motion doesn’t ask Parliament to make the change, it merely requests that the Chancellor include the issue in his negotiations with the EU and report back to Parliament on how that negotiation is progressing. He then tells us:

In responding to the amendment, the Finance Minister (David Gauke MP) made it clear to the House of Commons that he would be taking this issue to the European Commission and other member states to make the case for zero rating. When we have the same goal, why tie the hands of our Ministers and restrict their ability to achieve what we are all aiming for?

He doesn’t bother to explain how the motion would have tied the hands of any ministers, unless he believes that the basic level of accountability involved in telling Parliament how things are going is a hugely onerous burden. Indeed, if the Minister really is sincere in saying that he’ll be making the case, why were the Government whipping their MPs to vote against this motion which merely asks them to do what they’re already doing?

Where's Will this week?

Where’s Will this week?

It seems our MP has yet again forgotten that being “independent-minded” doesn’t mean anything unless you’re prepared to act on it, not do as you’re told then try to explain you way out of it when you’re called on it. But he got to be on TV behind David Cameron again this week, so I’m sure he’s happy.


BOCA RATON, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at the Century Village Clubhouse on September 28, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. Biden continues to campaign across the country before the general election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

BOCA RATON, FL – SEPTEMBER 28: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at the Century Village Clubhouse on September 28, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. Biden continues to campaign across the country before the general election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Biden won’t be making a third bid for the US Presidency, and the assumption is that his political career will come to an end in January 2017 when his second term as Vice-President ends.

There is, however, a way it can continue and not just in unlikely scenarios where a weary Democratic National Convention turns to him to break the deadlock between a faltering Hillary Clinton and a not quite surging enough Bernie Sanders. It comes in a simple omission from the US Constitution: the 22nd Amendment limits any holder of the Presidency to no more than two terms in office, but no such limit is placed on the Vice-Presidency.

It looks increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President, while the prolonged Republican flirtation with Donald Trump and other odd figures from the fringe right continues unchecked. That would give Clinton a great opportunity to reach out to moderate Republican voters and try to draw them over which would bring benefits to other Democrat candidates in Senate, House and state races. For many reasons, Hillary has problems reaching out to those voters but what if she chose a running mate with a proven track record of bipartisan action and who has received great praise from Republicans for his work? A Clinton-Biden ticket would be a huge positive for the Democrats, and give them the opportunity to win back lots of electoral ground from the Republicans. There’s even precedent for it – George Clinton was Vice-President for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, while John C Calhoun served for both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

And if Biden doesn’t want to do it, there’s another former Vice-President out there who might be interested. There might even still be some Clinton-Gore campaign materials left to be recycled…

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Back during the General Election our then Conservative candidate said this to the local paper:

Which of your parties specific policies do you LEAST agree with?
Will Quince (CONSERVATIVE): “I PLEDGE to be an independent-minded MP and will always put my constituents first. If that means voting against my party, then so be it. There will always be difficult decisions to take but I will never forget that the people of Colchester are my boss.”

As I noted at the time, this was a prime example of not actually answering the question. Rather than actually mentioning Tory policies he disagrees with (of which I’m not convinced there are any), there’s instead a pledge without substance to be ‘independent-minded’.

Maybe I’m being harsh to him. Maybe he has actually been voting against the Tory whip in support of his constituents. After all, he does say they are his boss. So when 5,000 families in Colchester (a higher number than anywhere else in Essex) will be affected by George Osborne’s cut in tax credits, what did our ‘independent-minded’ MP do to support them? Obviously, he put his constituents first and…voted for them.

That was just the first vote on them, though. He had another chance yesterday to show how much this will affect his constituents by backing a vote to reverse that decision. Surely our ‘independent-minded’ MP would use this chance to stand up for the 9,100 children in Colchester families who’d be affected by these cuts? You’d think so…but he voted against the motion to reverse the cuts.

Maybe his fiercely independent mind has led him to believe that tax credit cuts are a good idea, no matter how much it will affect people in Colchester? Perhaps his voting record will show this was a rare outbreak of loyalty to the Government? Let’s check his voting record which shows that our ‘independent-minded’ MP has voted against the Governmnent a precise total of 0 times. The most commonly used word on that page is ‘loyal’ and ‘rebel’ is not to be seen at all.

quincecommonsIt’s even more obvious now than it was in April that calling himself ‘independent-minded’ while refusing to identify a single area in which he disagrees with his party was a piece of misdirection. Far from showing any independence, his voting record reveals that he’s just lobby fodder for the whips, doing as he’s told and nodding through whatever they want, regardless of what might be good or bad for his constituents. Still, he gets to sit behind David Cameron and nod enthusiastically sometimes, so what does he care?


With a depressing predictability, the drums of war are being pounded again. This time, it’s because we need to remove both IS and the Assad regime from Syria, to make things safe for refugees to return home.

Now, I don’t doubt that a properly resourced military force could achieve both of those aims while perhaps also stopping Turkey using the military action as cover for attacks on the Kurds. Once the Western militaries are properly equipped and deployed, it’s a bit of a ‘proper application of overwhelming force’ issue. That’s as long as we assume no one intervenes on the other side and blows the whole thing up into an even bigger conflict, but let’s assume benign scenarios for now.

Assuming everything goes to plan with the military action, I have one question: what happens next? Because we’ve gone to war to remove other regimes without having considered what the answer to that question is, and that’s helped put us we’re in the situation we’re in today. Iraq and Libya aren’t points in favour of the ‘if we get rid of the current regime, things will just work out’ thesis and yet we’re being offered the same yet again. We’ve now got plenty of evidence that just bombing somewhere and hoping for the best in the aftermath isn’t a very good idea, yet it seems to be on the table yet again.

I know calling for war helps various keyboard commandos and armchair generals (some of whom must have made it to armchair field marshal by now) feel good about their moral clarity while denouncing those of us who dare to ask questions, but surely given the history of our interventions in similar situations, wanting an answer to ‘what happens next?’ isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

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A quick break for a charitable plug

A couple of months ago, I told you about the members of my family who were walking 100km in a day for charity, and thanks to those of you who supported them on that. Now, inspired by seeing them do it, my partner Karen is giving it a go herself and will be doing the London to Cambridge Challenge at the end of August to raise money for DEC’s work in Nepal following the earthquake. If you’ve got a spare few quid, you can sponsor her here, and every donation will be very gratefully received as she works towards her target.

As well as through JustGiving, those of you in and around Colchester have another option to help her out. Karen runs Colchester Acupuncture in the town centre and one of the services she offers there is the traditional Chinese Tui Na massage. So, to raise more for charity, she’s offering half-hour taster Tui Na taster sessions for a donation of £5 (or more, if you’re feeling generous!) at her treatment room in Trinity Street.

So, please help out with a donation if you can – and if you’re in the area, come along and try a massage. Click on the image below or visit her website for more information.