I guess it’s time to start my new series of posts. From now on, every Sunday I’ll be posting details of a walk – usually around the Colchester area – with some photos and links included for you to find out more. This serves a double purpose – getting me out for some more exercise and hopefully also encouraging people to get out walking around here more. While we may not have the stunning mountain scenery of some parts of the country – what’s termed a hill round here is normally referred to as a speed bump in the rest of the country – there are interesting places to go, and one of the benefits of being without steep slopes is that it’s a lot easier to walk longer distances.
We’ll start with a very easy stroll down the river to Wivenhoe:
To deal with the basics first, this walk is about 5 miles long, and will take you about 1 1/2 to 2 hours at a normal walking pace, though may take longer if you want to explore some of the diversions. It’s almost all flat with no steep hills and the main route’s all on proper pathways so you only need comfortable shoes to walk in. There are no major hazards, except the odd patch of stinging nettles to the side of the path, but the path is also a cycle path for most of the route, so you will need to keep an eye out for them.
We start near the heart of Colchester, at the North Bridge on North Station Road. From the bridge, head east (the same side the houses in the picture are on) down either of the paths along the river – I prefer the north side (where the houses are) as it gets more sun and isn’t as overshadowed by the trees.
A short way down the river you reach Middle Mill, and close by is the entrance into Castle Park – just follow the path round to the right – or carry straight on if you’ve come down the path on the south side. There have been a series of mills on or near this site over the years, but the old wheels are now all that remain – one thing you may notice throughout this walk is how much industry used to occur down by, along and on the Colne, and what’s left behind now it’s gone. If Castle Park is closed for an event, see the notes below about how to bypass it, or you could carry on round here and follow the alleyway between Upper and Lower Castle Park
When you enter the park, keep to the left and follow the path by the river. This will take you through Lower Castle Park, then out the gates on the other side where you’ll come to a junction of paths and bridge. The Wivenhoe Trail should be clearly signposted from here, but it’s simple to follow the path by the river (keeping it to your left) anyway.
(Occasionally, Lower Castle Park is closed for events. If that’s the case, then bear left at Middle Mill and follow the cycle route – bikes are banned from the main section of the park – around. When you cross the bridge by Leisure World, you’ll be back in this spot)
Carry on down this path between the river and the Riverside estate (it’s set back from the river so you won’t see much if it). The river widens at a couple of points to create some quite large ponds, and you’ll often see ducks and swans around here. If you have the time, then some obvious paths lead off to the left around the river to take you closer to the wildlife and meadows. Follow this path down until you reach the road at the bottom of East Hill, then take the crossing over and follow the path to the right, where you’ll see one of the Town-to-Sea Trail signs (like the one at the start of this post) and National Cycle Network sign showing you the way. You might need to start watching out for cyclists more at this point as there are a few tight corners where they might surprise you by emerging suddenly
The path takes you around by East Bay House, which used to be a Youth Hostel but is now a private house and then through the rundown area by the Old Mill, which is waiting to be renovated and developed, but nothing has happened as yet. The path comes out from there and through some nice allotments, then passes under the railway (and just for a little bit of politics, out of Castle Ward, which I represent) while going up and down some very gently slopes which are possibly the biggest climbs you’ll have to do on this walk. Carry on down this path – the big towers you should now be able to see in the distance are the University – until it ends and makes a turn into a residential street (Haddon Park).
From Haddon Park, the ‘official’ Wivenhoe Trail path leads out and over a short bridge, then heads down Hawkins Road, but I’m not a fan of this route for walking as it’s mostly an industrial estate. Instead, don’t cross the bridge and stay to the right, crossing the road at the bottom of Hythe Hill, then carrying on pass the Blackheath Reclamation building onto Hythe Quay and walk down there until you reach the Colne Causeway bridge. You can actually see the river when you’re taking this route, and should you need refreshment, you’ll pass a small shop and a pub (The Spinnaker) just before you get to the bridge. Cross the bridge, then take the crossing over the road and follow the signs for the Wivenhoe Trail again, though if you have the time, you can continue along the side of the river by the Lightship to see some more of Hythe Quay.
The bridge is the last point at which you can cross the Colne and remain dry without a boat, by the way.
You’ll now find yourself in quite a developed area heading towards the University Quays student accommodation, with the old Colchester Docks on the opposite side of the river. If you didn’t take a break at the pub, there’s a cafe on the quayside here should you need a drink or more. The flats and the rest of the development around Lightship Way are relatively recent, so some of the area is still fenced off, but the river starts getting busier around this point as while there’s no longer anyone using the dock buildings, small craft do head off from here towards Wivenhoe and the estuary and you might see some moving about. Keep close to the river and you’ll see where the path continues towards Wivenhoe, though it now becomes a more uneven path at this point.
The path now follows the river all the way to Wivenhoe, with the University of Essex and the railway line to your left. You’ll find it gets a lot quieter – save for the occasional train – as you head down the path, and you can watch out for the various wildlife that makes its home around the river and the meadows here. There are nice views over the river and down towards Rowhedge too. There’s a side path here that leads off to the University – though watch out when you cross the train lines – leading up a path through a small wood to Boundary Road. There’s not much to see at the University, but if you need to abandon your walk for any reason, it does bring you out next to a bus stop where you can get a bus back into town.
As you get closer to Wivenhoe – though there are some side paths that will lead you into other parts of the town before – the path heads through some trees and turns away from the river a little. There’s a route off to the right here that offers a nice diversion through a bit of a nature reserve, and it’s nice being here around the end of the day when the setting sun creates some nice patterns of light as it comes through the trees, though it does make looking across towards Rowhedge difficult.
You’ll now be walking next to the railway track and towards the end of the Trail at Wivenhoe station. However, rather than go to the station, double back just before the end and follow the boardwalk there around until you come out onto a road. Turn right, and head through the archway under the house – you’ll see a road sign saying Spindrift Way – then turn left and follow that path.
Keep to this path with the houses to your left and what I think is a small area of salt marsh to your right, which goes round what were parts of Wivenhoe docks and associated buildings, but is now another housing development. After a while, and a few twists and turns, you’ll be at the West Quay and walking past the Dry Dock. You can carry on down past all the boats in the harbour and towards the main part of the quay where, if it’s a nice day, you’ll likely see quite a few people sitting around outside the Rose and Crown pub.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of the first of my Weekly Walks. There’s plenty to do in Wivenhoe – the town centre is to your left, complete with shops, cafes, more pubs and the train and bus station for getting back. Or if you’ve still got lots of energy, you can turn around and head back to Colchester the same way.
Hope you’ve enjoyed it, there’ll be another walk next Sunday.