Beating the Bounds 4: Maldon to SWF via Purleigh

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The well-worn pilgrim’s path of St Peter’s Way

Whoever escaped/ Kept a weather-eye open and moved away.
Seamus Heaney (trans.) Beowulf

A volte-face of an old favourite: the walk from South Woodham Ferrers to Maldon via Purleigh. The trick with this walk, in either direction, is to leave early enough to reach The Bell in Purleigh before they stop serving food. I got the 8.25 bus (31x) from Burnham clocktower to Maldon, which gave we enough time to check the charity shops (one purchase: Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf – 99p) and visit Maldon Library before departing proper.

The local history section in Maldon Library is an impressive three bays of shelves and could easily have formed the basis of a day’s research in itself – but despite the rainy morning I was determined to walk today. So I was scanning rather than reading, recceing rather than researching. I departed Maldon along Spital Road which is met by four footpaths before it becomes the A414, only one of which (PROW 253_35) is listed as a public right of way in the Essex Highways map.

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Near the A414 roundabout you can look down into West Station Yard Industrial Estate, where the old Maldon West station of the Great Eastern Railway used to be. I took the turning in West Station Yard and travelled south past the Mighty Oak brewery and between some buildings to take the makeshift steps and unlisted cut-through that connects with (PROW 253_10). Footpath 10 merges into footpath 1 as it continues south.

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Maldon West station as it was
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System D steps

Footpaths 10 and 1, in this stretch,  are a paved combined footpath and cycleway that leads towards Morrisons’ carpark and a junction that reveals something about Maldon’s development. At the junction, footpath 1 bends east on its way to Essex Road, straight ahead south the paved path continues as a non-PROW route to Morrisons car park, just to the east of that a raised embankment marks the old route of the rail line into Maldon West, and just to the east of that footpath 52 travels south.

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No public right of way

There’s no physical obstacle to continuing south into Morrisons carpark and through that on to Limebrook Way and it feels the obvious route to follow – but a sign alerts us to the official conditions of access: ‘Entry is only permitted to shoppers and those with the written permission of Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc’. We have no free right of transit here, this is enclosed space – all the shoppers going back and forth to their cars gives the appearance of liberty of movement but that liberty is actually proscribed – this is a private not a public area. As a teenager in the 1980s I briefly volunteered on the archaeological dig that explored the ground here prior to the development of agricultural land into Wycke Hill Business Park, an estate of retail and light industry. That transformation was permitted through the exercise of local government’s ability to change the allowed land use of a site, an ability it exercises on behalf of the public in order to best serve the public interest. Changes in how a piece of land might be used often increase the sale-value of that land and thus the authority’s ability to do so increases the asset worth of the landowner. The authority can therefore use its discretion in awarding change of use of land to more profitable exploitation by making it dependant on the public benefiting from that wealth creation it has facilitated. Alongside the sharing of the wealth through construction of public goods, the process also provides an opportunity for the establishment of new public rights – such as the right to access. Well that didn’t happen here.

Perhaps it was felt that footpath 52 already served the purpose that a path through the Morrisons land would serve, or that the raised embankment, part of Essex Wildlife Trust’s Maldon Wick nature reserve, created an alternate publicly accessible route south. But that section of Maldon Wick is currently fenced off (due to safety concerns?) and some of that fencing on the east side of the embankment is currently falling over and blocking footpath 52 – so neither route is functional. The walker must ignore Morrisons conditions of access and stride across the car park.

At Limebrook Road, the next challenge is crossing over what is a busy ring-road and the B1018. On the opposite side is the long accessible stretch of Maldon Wick reserve and footpath 8 but there’s no pedestrian crossing anywhere nearby, you just have to chance it with a run across the road. Once again, the needs of the walker have been ignored here in favour of the motorist. Perhaps the least the development of Wycke Hill Business Park could have done for the walker was facilitated a crossing point – with a between the traffic lanes island – but there is none, let alone a zebra or pelican crossing. If the free flow of traffic at this point is considered too important to disrupt with any kind of crosswalk, then a bridge might have afforded a solution for pedestrians. The clear opportunity for a pedestrian bridge is a span between the isolated stretch of Maldon Wick north of the ring road and the main body south of it, such a bridge would also do something to restore the nature corridor the road disrupted. It would have to be high enough to let trucks and double decker buses underneath it – but that doesn’t seem too difficult a task to achieve.

Anyway, there is no bridge – so I just ran across the road and climbed up the steps into Maldon Wick reserve. A sign, not far inside details the donation of the land to the Essex Naturalist’s Trust by Peter G.I. Mann in 1986, ‘so that its wildlife could be protected for all time’. Immediately the birdsong of spring overcame any lingering thoughts of traffic, and I felt very peaceful, beginning what felt like the walk proper, now in natural surrounds and away from streets and roads. Nearby a view through the trees reveals the future, the roofs of new houses are the first indication of Maldon’s ‘garden suburb‘ to be, that will eventually engulf the north part of Maldon Wick in a new development of at least 1710 dwellings. All the modern talk of garden cities and garden towns seems to be a marketing spin for new development that people don’t tend to want, using the word ‘garden’ as a magick charm to dispel resistance. The evocative power of the word garden – the vision it creates of a symbiosis of human cultures with the natural word – is indeed a powerful one, which reveals deep longings in the human psyche for a rapprochement with the wild world we have defiled. ‘Garden city’ or ‘garden suburb’ thus suggests a meaningful covenant but sadly, its manifestations to date are all over-promised and under-delivered. Ebenezer Howard’s original ideas and the progressive evolution of those ideas by others are too often ignored.  Maldon District Council’s Draft Local Development Plan does at least refer to Garden City principles and to the Town & Country Planning Association’s publication Creating Garden City and Suburb today – a guide for Councils (2013) highlighting some key necessary characteristics in relation to the natural world, people’s needs and community ownership – whether these will actually manifest in any form past the standard identikit model remains to be seen.

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The draft LDP also indicates that development should allow ‘easy access both within and outside the garden suburb, allowing good connections with adjoining places and services in a range of ways’ – which I take to mean – not just by private motor vehicle. The suburb will certainly need paths that connect it with the existing town and the document mentions ‘enhanced walking & cycling routes’ – perhaps this will solve the Limebrook Road crossing. But I basically feel sad at the thought of housing enclosing the nature reserve, I’m trying to give credence to the idea that the nature reserve might inform the garden suburb, rather than vice-versa – producing a diverse mosaic environment that’s more biodiverse, has more biomass and sequesters more carbon than the largely monoculture agricultural fields it will displace, while providing beautiful carbon neutral homes for folk at affordable prices and rents, vibrant community owned facilities and rewarding local employment opportunities. That, after all, is what we need.

I’ve seen foxes on this route before and there are a number of badger setts, but you really need to be still, not walking, to really see the fauna here. All I spotted this time were rabbits, a jay, small birds. This route is a smooth and pleasant track south away from the roads, so it’s a pain when all of a sudden Maldon Wick ends and the way ahead is blocked. There is a continuing path along the route of the old rail line but it’s not a PROW. Strictly, to get to Purleigh, I should have left Maldon Wick earlier and gone west on PROW 248_3 until it met the southwards PROW 248_8 becoming PROW 257_21 at the parish boundary of Purleigh and continuing through New Hall Vineyard and then on to Purleigh village as PROW 257_22. Backtracking isn’t much fun though and the landowners of the route ahead seem serious about you not walking there. Another option is clear and well-worn however – an unofficial track along a field edge that quickly affords access to New Hall Vineyard and a short walk though the vineyard gets you to Baron’s Lane, where another unofficial path goes up the slope to exit on to Church Hill beside the cemetery. It’s a much preferable and quicker route.

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The Bell, Purleigh

So I made it to The Bell shortly after 12 when they open for lunch. Accompanying my food I had a pint of my old favourite, Brewers’s Gold (Crouch Vale Brewery, abv 4.0%, Brewed with 100% extra-pale English barley malt and flavoured with heaps of choicest Brewers Gold hops, sourced with care from small-scale growers in the Hallertau). After finishing the food I decided to indulge in a second pint and decided to switch to Captain Bob (Mighty Oak Brewing Company, abv 3.8%, Hops: Nelson Sauvin, Northdown,  Malts: Maris Otter Pale, Crystal, Black). Thus breweries of both my departure and arrival points were honoured.

Leaving The Bell I went south towards Purleigh Hall and onto PROW 257_26. At the motte I turned west on to PROW 257_25 and walked to Howe Green Road. A short hop south on Howe Green Road then west again now on PROW 257_15 to Hackmans Lane. A short hop north west on  Hackmans Lane, then on to Flambirds Chase past Flambirds Farm toward Stow Maries Aerodrome and west on PROW 243_3. A short walk on the road towards Charity Farm then south on to the bridleway PROW 243_7. After passing Hawes Wood, turning west on to the track PROW 261_3 to Crow’s Lane. West on Crow’s Lane, proceeding onto Edwin’s Hall Road then turning south towards the radar station and down the hill along the well used, but not registered track, that connects with the bridleway PROW 298_25 – becoming PROW 298_46 on the other side of Burnham Road and into Woodham. It worries me that the route from Edwin’s Hall Road to PROW 298_25 is not registered, as I’ve been walking that way since I was a kid, and the radar station has just been sold to person/s unknown with unknown plans for the hilltop. The Chelmsford development plan already seeks to put more housing on the fields between Burnham Road and the B1418 up to Woodham Ferrers (old Woodham/top Woodham), with pressure to build new houses across Essex – how long before Bushy Hill is in their sights?

Footpaths used:

Maldon Parish Footpath 35 (PROW 253_35)
Maldon Parish Footpath 10 (PROW 253_10)
Maldon Parish Footpath 1 (PROW 253_1)
Maldon Parish Footpath 52 (PROW 253_52)
Maldon Parish Footpath 8 (PROW 253_8)
Hazeleigh Parish Footpath 3 (PROW 248_3)
Hazeleigh Parish Footpath 3 (PROW 248_8)
Purleigh Parish Footpath 21 (PROW 257_21)
Purleigh Parish Footpath 22 (PROW 257_22)
Purleigh Parish Footpath 26 (PROW 257_26)
Purleigh Parish Footpath 25 (PROW 257_25)
Purleigh Parish Footpath 15 (PROW 257_15)
Cold Norton Parish Footpath 2 (PROW 243_3)
Cold Norton Parish Bridleway 7 (PROW 243_7)
Stow Maries Parish Footpath 3 (PROW 261_3)
South Woodham Ferrers Parish Bridleway 25 (PROW 298_25)
South Woodham Ferrers Parish Bridleway 26 (PROW 298_26)

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