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Harwich's Seafarers and Wanderers

An easy town walk discovering Harwich's exciting maritime past.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Town streets and promenade with gentle cliffs

Landscape Coast, beach, cliffs and town

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 197 Ipswich, Felixstowe & Harwich

Start/finish TM 259328

Dog friendliness Between 1 May and 30 September dogs have to be on lead on promenade and cliff walks

Parking Free car parks at Ha'penny Pier and informal street parking

Public toilets Beside Quayside House opposite Ha'penny Pier

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1 With your back to Ha'penny Pier turn left along The Quay and follow the road into Kings Quay Street. Turn left just before the colourful mural, painted by the Harwich Society and Harwich School in 1982 and again in 1995, which depicts local buildings and ships. Follow the road, with the sea on your left, until it turns inland. Take the path by the sea, which is the start of the Essex Way, a long distance path of 81 miles (130km) connecting Harwich with Epping. Pass Harwich Town Sailing Club and maintain direction along the Esplanade where at low tide you can walk along the shingle beach.

2 Pass the Treadwheel Crane on your right and continue along the seafront taking care along the sloping concrete walkway. Keep the raised, fenced area of Beacon Hill Fort and the gun emplacements from World War One and World War Two to your right. As you pass the breakwaters around the bay there are views of the holiday resort of Dovercourt. Ignore the steps to your right and continue along the Essex Way, walking parallel with the upper road of Marine Parade on your right.

3 Turn right into Lower Marine Parade and pass the War Memorial and Gardens at the junction with Fronk's Road and Marine Parade. Maintain direction passing the Cliff Hotel on the left and then go left into Kingsway, opposite the statue of Queen Victoria. Turn right into the High Street and bear left into Main Road, passing the police station on your left. Walk for 250yds (229m) and turn right up the track to see the Redoubt, a Martello-style fort, part of the defences against Napoleonic invasion. Continue to pass Cox's Pond, once owned by local bankers of the same name. They are better known in military circles as Cox and Kings, the Army bankers.

4 Pass High Lighthouse on the right, turn right into Wellington Road and left into Church Street passing St Nicholas' Church. Turn right into Market Street and left into Kings Head Street, pausing to admire the timber-framed Elizabethan houses including No 21, the home of Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower.

5 Turn right into The Quay, where Quayside Court faces the sea. Now a block of apartments, Quayside Court was built as one of the Great Eastern hotels in the 19th century and catered for travellers from the Continent who would arrive by steamer at what is now Trinity Quay and continue their journey to London by rail.

One of the main gateways to the Continent, Harwich is a must for aficionados of all things maritime. The town lies beside the grey North Sea on an isthmus between Dovercourt and Bathside bays, overlooking the Stour and Orwell estuaries and drew not only invaders and traders to its shores but adventurers and explorers too. In the 12th century a violent storm caused the rivers to break their banks and form the promontory where Harwich stands today. Realising its strategic importance the lord of the manor developed the site into a walled town. You can see the remains of his wall in St Nicholas' churchyard.

The walk begins at the Ha'penny Pier where you can spot ferries sailing to and from Europe, against a backdrop of giraffe-like cranes rising from the flat Felixstowe coast. Keeping the sea to your left you'll see traditional inns, such as the Globe, in Kings Quay Street. Such pubs were once stormed by press gangs who kidnapped boys for service in the Royal Navy. Trying to escape forceable enlistment, hapless lads would scurry like rats into the labyrinthine passages linking the houses, but many were caught and never seen again.

The town has played host to some famous faces too. Sir Francis Drake dropped in on his way to Spain and Queen Elizabeth I stayed here, remarking that 'It is a pretty town that wants for nothing'. Diarist Samuel Pepys was the local MP and Lord Nelson sojourned here with Lady Hamilton. Home-grown boys include Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower, the ship in which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Plymouth to the Americas in 1620.

Wander at will and see the quirky, two-wheel man operated treadwheel crane on Harwich Green or climb the Redoubt, built to fend off a threatened Napoleonic invasion, for great sea views. Along the seafront is a pair of 19th-century lighthouses. The first is the Low Lighthouse, now the Maritime Museum and the other, just 150yds (137m) inland, is the High Lighthouse. They were built by General Rebow, a get-rich-quick entrepreneur who charged each ship a penny per ton to come into port. When Rebow got wind that the sandbanks were shifting he craftily sold the lighthouses to Trinity House. On the way to Dovercourt you'll pass Beacon Hill Fort, dating back to Roman times, although the gun emplacements here are of World War One and World War Two vintage. As you round the breakwater there are fine beaches and another pair of cast iron lighthouses mounted on stilts, built to replace the earlier ones at Harwich. They, too, became redundant (in 1917) but serve as yet another reminder of Harwich's seafaring history.

What to look for

Look for two quite different walls. One is the Flint Wall in Kings Head Street, made from ship's ballast, and the other is the remains of the 12th-century town wall. The latter is in St Nicholas' Churchyard, opposite the vestry door, where at ground level you can see part of a wall built of septaria, a poor quality stone dredged out of the local estuaries.

While you're there

Visit St Nicholas' Church built of pale yellow brick in simple Gothic style. Crusaders prayed here before leaving for their journey to the Holy Land; royalty worshipped here on their way to the Continent; and other luminaries, such as Willoughby, Drake, Nelson, Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe almost certainly dropped in when they lodged at Harwich.

Where to eat and drink

There are plenty of pubs to choose from, many dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Options include the Globe in Kings Quay Street one of the oldest buildings in Harwich, the Angel Inn and the Ship Restaurant next to the shipyard and the Alma Inn, a former wealthy merchant's house.

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