Look carefully for the helmsman at the tiller!!
Essex is perceived by many as being an ugly industrial wasteland, but that’s far from the truth. Yes, there are places which blight the landscape such as the Coryton Refinery to the west of Canvey Island, and the urban areas of Southend-on-Sea, Chelmsford and Brentwood, but for the most part, the County is agricultural in nature, being composed mainly of arable farmland. On the border, between Epping and Chingford, there’s the magnificent Epping Forest which is complemented with pockets of woodland throughout the County, Hockley Woods being a fine example. The countryside surrounding smaller towns and villages to the north east, bordering on Constable Country, and the swathes of farmland adjacent to the tidal rivers of the Stour, Deben and Orwell are truly beautiful.
The 'Percy R'
For me, a place of special beauty and charm is the Yacht Basin at Heybridge, from where the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal runs inland for thirteen miles through entrancing countryside towards Chelmsford, away from the bustle of busy traffic, a place where waterfowl and other wildlife abound, such as water voles, rabbits and kestrel that seek them for prey. Of particular interest to me are the fine character yachts that moor beside the quayside and along the Canal banks. Some are ancient and show their years by being little more than rotten hulks with nostalgic memories for ancient sailors, but others are genuine quality classic boats that may have seen the Dunkirk beaches. One vessel I particularly liked at the time of my last visit was a recently-built gaff cutter in the style of an early twentieth century Essex Smack, complete with baggywrinkle, and her mast was laced with linseed oil.
Can you find the duck?
What is intriguing for me is the variety of vessels that find respite from the winter winds as they nestle between the wooded banks of the Canal, and even more is the fascination of things nautical that one sees while ambling along the towpath. An absolute delight is an old whaler that’s been converted as a ketch, now held together with GRP sheathing. On her foredeck there are two anchors, a modern Bruce and a traditional Fisherman, plus a bundle of warp, untidily curled around the inner end of her varnished bowsprit. A painted oar is slung between her two masts for supporting a PVC cover over her nicely raised cabin. She has real character, and I know she performs well to windward with her drop keel, because she left my Paradox standing when I unofficially raced her up the Blackwater two years ago. The ‘Percy R’ is her name. Just look at the photos for a flavour of the scene, including the cute duck under her bobstay.
I made the photos large so that if you want to download one or more of them for desktop wallpapers they will be up to the mark.
Photos near the Chelmer and Blackwater canal