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A Meander Through Maldon

Combine historic Maldon, home of salt making, with a network of fascinating waterways.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 113ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Mainly grassy paths, narrow in parts and prone to mud after rain, some roads, 5 stiles

Landscape River estuary, some woodland, canal tow path, marshland and mudflats, some urban streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 183 Chelmsford & The Rodings, Maldon & Witham

Start/finish TL 853070

Dog friendliness Lots of water but dogs shouldn't take a dip, they could get stuck in mud. Watch out for Shetland ponies too

Parking Pay-and-display car park at Butts Lane

Public toilets Butt Lane

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1 From the car park turn left and walk towards Downs Road, keeping the houses on your left. The footpath drops quite steeply and soon you have views of the River Chelmer and the salt works. At the riverside turn left, cross Fullbridge with care, and follow the grassy embankment keeping the river on your right. Maintain direction and cross two stiles separated by a concrete cross path. Follow the often muddy path, which meanders uphill through the sloping meadow usually occupied by horses.

2 At the top of the hill turn right over the stile. Turn immediate right, along the downhill path through woodland and pass under the A414 Maldon bypass. Continue along the rising concrete path, and at the end turn right with the field (often with horses) on your left.

3 Maintain direction along the canopied green lane bounded by ancient hedgerows, keeping left to cross the stile. Follow the yellow waymark along the grassy path keeping left to emerge on to the gravel path via the timber gate.

4 On your right is Beeleigh Abbey. Continue past the abbey and at the end of the road turn right. Ignore the footpath on the left and pass Beeleigh Grange Farm on your left, and Beeleigh Falls House, an impressive Victorian villa, on the right. Go through the kissing gate and soon you hear the sound of rushing water of Beeleigh Falls.

5 Cross the timber bridge over the weir. At the end of the bridge turn right, keeping the river on your right. Stop at the second weir for good river views. Continue, keeping the river on your right, and go through the wooden kissing gate. At the canal lock turn right and walk, with the canal on your left, towards the red brick bridge. Do not cross the bridge, instead turn right on to the concrete path and then left on to the grassy path. Maintain direction with the canal on your left and the golf course on your right. Cross the next bridge and turn right, keeping the canal on your right. Continue under the Maldon bypass on to the grassy bridleway running parallel with the canal.

6 At the next bridge take the set of steps up to Heybridge Street. At the top turn right and join the B1018 towards Maldon. Maintain direction to cross the River Chelmer via Fullbridge, bear left into Market Hill, turn left into the High Street and return to the car park via Butt Lane on your left.

Top television chefs swear by the healthy attributes of sea salt and keen cooks will notice that they often refer to Maldon Sea Salt in their culinary creations. In this walk you'll not only discover picturesque pathways, historic buildings and estuarine bird life, but also pass the factory which has been the home of salt manufacturing since 1882.

Salt aside, it's hard to imagine that the rural riverside town of Maldon, perched on a hill above the River Chelmer, was once the scene of a bloody battle. But one morning, back in ad 991, the Saxon inhabitants awoke to witness 93 Viking longboats sailing up the estuary of the River Blackwater. The invaders, hell-bent on death, destruction and victory, were forced to camp at Northey Island, thanks to a receding tide which left their ships stranded. Word had spread that Sandwich and Ipswich had already been plundered, and under the leadership of Byrhtnoth, Maldon's heroic leader, a two-day battle on the marshes opposite Northey Island ended in a Saxon victory. Poor Byrhtnoth, however, died on the battlefield, his head carried off as a trophy.

Between the 17th and early 19th centuries Maldon thrived as a port town and centre of admiralty jurisdiction due to its position at the head of the Blackwater Estuary. In 1797 the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation opened linking the town with Chelmsford. Although the town lost out on port dues and maritime trade declined, Maldon retained its prominence, with a flourishing oyster industry and barge trade. Indeed, it was second in importance only to Colchester, and had already established is own abbey, grammar school, library and Moot Hall, which later served as a police station, a court and a jail house.

Thanks to the popularity of salt water bathing in the 18th century and the growing barge trade from London, Maldon flourished. By 1847 the town was linked to London by rail and a promenade park attracted wealthy citizens. Ships still come up on the tide bringing grain from Holland to the flour mill on the banks of the River Chelmer and you can also see the traditional Thames sailing barges, identified by their red sails. Many are now given over to pleasure sailing, but in days gone by they plied their trade along the east coast to London.

Today this smart town, with its narrow streets and attractive timber-framed buildings, many with 18th- and 19th-century façades, welcomes the boating fraternity. Landlubbers, more interested in Maldon's social history rather than messing about in boats, can explore the pathways along the River Chelmer or the tow paths of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, which meet in a complex of waterways at Beeleigh Falls.

What to look for

Mind your head at Maldon's museum in the old timbered building at Spindle's, just off the High Street. The museum is not giant-friendly, but shorties will find fascinating paintings, artefacts and portrayals of notable residents, including Maldon's celebrated 'fat' man, Edward Bright who, at the time of his death in 1750, weighed 44 stone (280kg).

While you're there

Call in at the Maeldune Heritage Centre in the High Street and see the Maldon Embroidery, which depicts 1,000 years of the town's history, from the Battle of Maldon in 991 to its anniversary in 1991. It took 86 volunteer embroiderers three years to complete the seven panels, which form a total length of 42ft (13m).

Where to eat and drink

Dozens of eateries and pubs, many over 500 years old, line the High Street. Kick off with a croissant and cappuccino at the Continental Coffee Company, stop for a pie and a pint and views of Northey Island at the Old Ship, or tuck into bangers and chips at Bunter's mobile café opposite the now defunct Maldon East railway station.

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