Text and photos by Patrick Meehan
It was a walk of two parts really.
At the weather-delayed 12pm start-point on Station Road, a 27mph southern blusterly moaned and groaned beneath dark, rain-sodden skies as it strummed the overhead power lines with a wild, Wagnerian fury. Then, around 1:30pm as we reached the banks of the River Stour, the wind veered south-south-west, dropped to 17mph, turned off the rain’s stop-cock, and tore a hole in the gloomy cloud ceiling to reveal a sunny blue sky. Walk-leader Ian Robinson had been in touch with intended walkers earlier in the morning, keeping everyone appraised of the walk status. [On bad weather days, it’s always a good idea to be alert for email or text messages from the walk-leader, just in case logistics have to be changed at short notice].
Less than five minutes after setting off, we arrived at Grayson Perry’s ‘A House for Essex’ (pictured above). As this building is an ‘object d’art’ as well as bookable accommodation, it divided opinion – as most art is wont to do. For some, it was an ugly carbuncle; an unsightly desecration carelessly plonked onto the lush, rolling landscape leading down to the River Stour. For others, it was a unique and uncompromising statement of Essex culture, and a welcome and diverse addition to the local area. Check it out here, and make up your own mind: https://www.living-architecture.co.uk/the-houses/a-house-for-essex/overview/
The rain was still falling shortly afterwards when we entered Stour Wood, an ancient woodland of mainly sweet chestnut, said to have been originally planted c. 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
The wood was coppiced until the 1970s, and this work has now been resumed by the RSPB on a long (20-year) cycle. Coppicing keeps the wood in optimum condition for the local flora and fauna, especially for the forty or so species of breeding birds that include the treecreeper, wren, dunnock and woodpecker. It’s said that in spring and early summer you might even hear a nightingale. [Coppicing: the cutting of certain tree species to near ground level every few years].
Amidst the mumbling ghosts of Rome’s long-dead legionnaires, we walked upon a trail of autumn gold. The leaves, hastened to the ground by the chastening winds were willing accomplices on their eternal journey back to dirt and clay, root and branch, and eventually leaf again; the sacred cycle of life in perpetual motion. All around us.
Whilst the violence of the weather was less evident on the forest trail, you could still hear sharp gusts whipping the tallest branches. And despite a temperature of now 16°C, the rain leaking through the overhead canopy ensured most of us kept our wet-weather gear on. https://www.thesuffolkcoast.co.uk/shares/Wrabness_Explorer_Guide-AONB.pdf
The transition from Stour Wood to the nearby Copperas Wood was accomplished via a short walk along Wrabness Road – where we were ambushed by heavy, sleeting rain the moment we broke cover. Thankfully, it was only a matter of minutes before we were able to duck into Copperas, a 13.8 hectare nature reserve owned and managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. This is another ancient sweet chestnut (and hornbeam) coppice in which around 100 bird species have been observed, out of which c. 43 are nesting. The Great Storm of 1987 caused severe damage here, and some areas have been left to regenerate naturally.
The day had opened up considerably when we emerged from the wood onto Copperas Bay – part of the Stour estuary – and we stopped shortly afterwards for a half-hour late lunch on the now sunny south bank of the river.
Once around the eastern flank of the bay, we crossed Stone Lane onto the beach walk section of the route, and this brought us within sight of the magnificent Royal Hospital School across the river in Holbrook; it would be a constant reference-point for the next mile or so before we ventured back inland towards our journey’s end.
Bypassing Wrabness on its north side, we re-entered the village from Wall Lane to the east, arriving back at Station Road at about 3:15pm. After a somewhat challenging start, our merry band of eleven had completed c. 8 miles on an afternoon of exploration and culture that stretched from the ultra-modern to the very ancient. Walking through history indeed.