CSCC Reports 2009: Walton, Essex - Sea Kayaking - May 2009
On 9th and 10th May 2009 Bridget, Beth, Martin, Tim, Stephen, Chris and Dan J. explored Walton Backwaters and the River Stour.
The main business of the weekend was conducted on the Sunday and involved paddling from Dovercourt beach to Hamford Water to visit the seal colony. We unloaded our boats and gear at the public car park in West End Lane (very close to the sea) and set off at our scheduled time of 10.30am, three hours before high tide, to take advantage of the flood south.
Winds were light, the sea virtually flat and the tide seemed to be adding a good two or three knots to our paddle speed, so we soon reached the backwaters. As it was high water springs, we were able to explore much of Hamford Water. We encountered about a dozen seals. They came fairly close to us, but did not seem quite as playful as the seals we encounted in 2007 on the Farne Islands, although one or two seals followed us as we headed down past Garnham Island and Horsey island to Titchmarsh Marina. They were probably curious as to whether we would navigating the islands successfully. It was difficult to be certain that we were not paddling down a cul de sac. Apart from Horsey Island (which is much the largest island and has farm buildings on it) the islands are all virtually featureless. This led to lively debate regarding the preferred route and sea charts, GPS and OS maps were all consulted.
There aren't many good landing spots in the Backwaters; even at high tide there is so much mud. The Wade causeway on Horsey Island would have been a possibility, but we chose to take our break instead at the marina. Some of the more smartly dressed members of our party dined at the restaurant and battled with the sailing types to get a drink, while the others ate their packed lunches on the grass outside. Dan rescued a couple of kayaks which had started floating off and visited the excellent chandlery, picking the brains of the helpful staff on how to mend the skeg on the Aquanaut.
About half an hour after high tide we set off for Dovercourt again, going with the ebbing tide. There were plenty of yachts heading to and from the marina, but the crews were friendly and did not mind sharing the water with our kayaks. The water was a bit lively north of Stone Point, but we landed on the sandy beach at the Point and worked out that the worst of the waves could be avoided by ferrying gliding west over to the sunken barges. It was a bit of a slog as we approached Dovercourt, but we made it back at around 4pm. The trip distance was a little over 11 miles.
On the Saturday we had paddled up the non-tidal River Stour from Cattawade to Dedham (and back again). This river is as pretty as it was in Constable's day, particularly on the stretch from Flatford Mill to Dedham where there are some weirdly shaped trees and cows drink from the river. We stopped for tea at the National Trust tea shop at Flatford Mill and parked at the free car park at Cattawade which is very close to the river.
We stayed at the campsite behind the Strangers Home Inn in Bradfield (just to the east of Manningtree - tel 07914 792049). This campsite was level and had reasonable showers, loos and washing up facilities and was only £6 per person per night. The catch was that heavy machinery (perhaps an irrigation pump) was operating nearby for most of the night, making it hard to sleep. The Inn had a limited menu, but the meals were tasty. Unfortunately the choice of beer was similarly restricted and so we wandered along the road to the other pub in the village which was cosier and served real ale.
While we were in Dovercourt car park the proprietor of another campsite got chatting and told us that we should go to her campsite in Little Clacton instead next time round, mentioning that it was very quiet and that she brings tea round to the campers in the morning.
Our GPS track: