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Bracing Bradwell-on-Sea

Smugglers, sea walls and a dying nuclear power station.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Stony and grassy paths with some road walking

Landscape Mudflats, salt marshes, beach, farmland, sea wall and nuclear power station

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 176 Blackwater Estuary, Maldon

Start/finish TM 024078

Dog friendliness A beach for a good romp and paddle; nuclear power station provides a poop bin

Parking Informal parking at entrance to footpath at East Hall Farm and free car park at Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

Public toilets Visitor Centre at Bradwell Nuclear Power Station

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1 Take the wide grassy path from the car park towards the sea and in ½ mile (800m) reach the ancient Chapel of St Peter's-on-the-Wall. Continue walking towards the sea for another 30yds (27m) and turn left at the T-junction. After 100yds (91m) climb the wooden steps to the sea defence wall.

2 At the fingerpost marking the religious community of Othona, turn right and walk along the wall with the sea on your right. For the next 2 miles (3.2km) your route remains on top of the sea wall, mainly a firm, grassy path punctuated with areas of concrete. On your left, and sometimes seemingly at a lower level to the sea, is private farmland. On your right, salt marsh gives way to white sand and shingle and extensive mudflats at low tide. The seashore makes a lovely detour but at high tide you have to remain on the concrete path. There are good views across the Blackwater estuary to Mersea Island. On the seaward side of the path there are concrete pill boxes, relics of World War Two. The second pill box marks Sales Point, from where there are views of the mooring area used by Thames sailing barges. Follow the path for a mile (1.6km) and you can see the framework of the beacon, a good place for spotting swooping cormorants.

3 In 1½ miles (2.4km) the bulk of Bradwell Nuclear Power Station is upon you. You may either continue on the route by the coast or make a detour to take in the nature trail around the station and/or call at the Visitor Centre. Our route continues along the sea wall to Bradwell Waterside.

4 At the jetty, turn left on to Waterside Road keeping the yacht club and Green Man pub on your right. Continue along Waterside Road with the marina on your right. Sean Connery, Bobby Moore and Roger Moore had a hand in turning this marina into a business venture in the 1960s. Continue past the marina and turn left into Trusses Road. At the T-junction, turn right towards Bradwell-on-Sea (a left turn here towards Bradwell Nuclear Power Station will take you to the RAF memorial at Bradwell Bay Airfield).

5 At Bradwell-on-Sea follow the High Street to its junction with East End Road where, on the corner, you will find St Thomas' Church opposite the Kings Head pub. Pass Caidge Cottages on your left, the village school on your right and continue for about a mile (1.6km) along the straight Roman Road, with maybe a stop at the Cricketers pub, before reaching the car park.

If you yearn for huge skies, bracing sea air and long yellow sands, with not a lilo or brolly in sight, then this walk is for you. The Dengie (sounds like Benjie) Peninsula, a vast area of pancake-flat marshes and arable farmland, really does seem in a world of its own, its haunting beauty attracting those seeking to escape the stresses of modern city life.

The Dengie Peninsula is bounded by the estuaries of the River Blackwater to the north and the River Crouch to the south. Yet for all its isolation, jutting out into the dove-grey waters of the North Sea, it was a place that needed defending. The Romans built a fort where the present Chapel of St Peter's-on-the-Wall stands, one of several along the coast built to fend off raiders. In the 18th and 19th centuries the chapel took on a different role as a hiding place for bands of smugglers, who would use it to store crates of whisky and rum and other contraband. Meanwhile, notable Bradwell residents, such as Hezekiah Staines, played part-time policeman by day and criminal by night, and spread rumours that the chapel was haunted. Maybe it is.

This walk starts on an isolated pathway leading to the Chapel of St Peter's-on-the-Wall, the oldest church still in use in England and certainly the sole monument to Celtic Christianity in Essex. Built by the missionary St Cedd in ad 654 it is almost entirely made from debris from the Roman fort on which it stands. In 1920 it took on its present name, and since 1948 has attracted pilgrims from all over the world. Each summer, services are held in the simple barn-like interior. If you choose to take this walk on a cold winter's day when the skies are white and the mists cast a ghostly shroud over the bleak windswept marshes, it's a perfect place for taking shelter from the elements. Once through the heavy wooden door you can imagine old smugglers stacking up their ill-gotten goods inside.

Perhaps the most incongruous blot on the landscape, as you continue along the sea wall to Bradwell Waterside, are the looming grey, grim blocks of Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, visible for miles around. It started life in 1962, but costs of continued operation now outweigh its earning potential, and the site is due to be decommissioned. You can take refreshment at the Green Man pub, a smugglers' haven in its day, before continuing to Bradwell-on-Sea, in truth a good way from the seaside. And to complete the contraband course, pause at the parish church where miscreants were incarcerated in a tiny square cell, the Cage, or punished at the whipping post.

While you're there

Call in at British Nuclear Fuels Limited's Visitor Centre at Bradwell Nuclear Power Station. Here you can find out all about electricity production, nuclear generation and decommissioning and the environmental aspects of supplying the world with energy. Telephone in advance for full details of their opening hours on 01621 873395.

Where to eat and drink

A rather limited choice confined to public houses. Take your pick from the Cricketers in Roman Road, the Green Man at Bradwell Waterside, or the Kings Head at Bradwell-on-Sea which has displays of old photographs of the area and a pair of llamas in the backyard to amuse the children.

What to look for

Look for the war memorial beside the disused airfield perimeter track at Bradwell-on-Sea. Surrounded by remembrance poppies, it is in the form of a battleship grey Mosquito aircraft appearing to plunge into the ground and is a poignant reminder of those pilots who never returned from operations during World War Two.

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