A stroll along the sea wall from Paglesham Eastend to Paglesham Churchend, in the footsteps of smugglers, 'wife-farmers' and oyster fishermen.
Distance 6.3 miles (10.1km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Grassy sea wall, field edge, unmade tracks, 5 stiles
Landscape River estuary, salt marsh, mudflats, grazing and arable farmland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 176 Blackwater Estuary, Maldon
Start/finish TQ 943922
Dog friendliness Big skies and lots of water, but keep on lead along sea wall, where sheep are grazing.
Parking Informal street parking at Paglesham Eastend beside Plough and Sail Inn
Public toilets None on route
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1 Walk to the left of the Plough and Sail Inn along a driveable track, and after 100yds (91m) follow the fingerpost straight ahead to the left of the house called Cobblers Row. Maintain direction along a good field-edge path, with arable fields either side, until the path narrows and you approach houses in the distance. Keeping the red brick wall on your left go through the white wicket gate, with the brook on your right, and along the lawn of Well House. Go through another wicket gate and turn left on to the permissive path which becomes an unmade road.
2 At the corrugated barn of East Hall, follow the Roach Valley waymark, right and then left, and maintain direction along the good, grassy field edge. Walk by paddock fencing, with Church Hall on your right and the pond on your left, to St Peter's Church at Paglesham Churchend.
3 Keeping the church on your right, continue along Churchend High Street to the Punch Bowl Inn. Maintain direction for 50yds (46m), take the concrete path to your right and after a few paces follow the Roach Valley waymark, left, which soon becomes a grassy field-edge path running parallel with a waterway on your left.
4 Take a short clamber up the grassy embankment and, leaving the Roach Valley Way, turn right on to the sea wall of Paglesham Creek. Keep to the path as it meanders by Paglesham Creek, which widens as you approach the River Roach. To your left the salt marshes stretch towards the River Crouch where you have views of the marinas of Burnham-on-Crouch and the warehouses and timber yards of Wallasea Island. Much of the landward side of the embankment is given over to sheep grazing which makes this walk somewhat difficult for larger dogs as enclosures are often divided by wooden stiles and low voltage electric fencing.
5 As the path bears right, with the river on your left, maintain direction past oyster beds until you reach the boatyard. Go down the steps from the sea wall and pick your way through boats and machinery to the gate. Squeeze through the gate and follow the unmade track until you pass a row of cottages on your left, followed by Cobblers Row and the fingerpost on your right that was the direction for the outward journey. Turn left and return to the Plough and Sail Inn at Paglesham Eastend.
Paglesham, just a few miles from Southend-on-Sea, is bordered to the north by the River Crouch and to the south by the River Roach. Its origins go back to Saxon times and its population survived mainly by rearing sheep that grazed on the flat marshlands. But its remote position on Essex's east coast, and its proximity to waterways, attracted smugglers who would sail up the river bringing in their ill-gotten gains to pass on at a profit to anyone who was happy to make some easy money.
Smuggling was such big business that at one time the entire population of Paglesham was involved in one way or another. In the 18th century one famous resident, William Blyth - also known as Hard-Apple Blyth - was considered to be one of the most notorious smugglers Paglesham ever produced. He started out as the village grocer, progressed to churchwarden and was reputed to have torn up church records to use as wrapping for his butter and bacon. Brazen Blyth would not only evade Customs officials but his party piece was spending evenings at the Punch Bowl pub drinking whole kegs of brandy and crunching wine glasses. This unusual diet and lifestyle clearly did him no harm. He died in 1830, aged 74, and was buried at Paglesham church.
'Wife-farming' seems to have been another popular pastime. Daniel Defoe, in his travels around Paglesham, noted that some men boasted that they had fifteen or more wives. Stories circulated at the time that the women who couldn't stand the rigorous lifestyle and bad weather here, either died from the cold or abandoned their more robust husbands for a more comfortable existence in the uplands from where they originally came. The men simply chose a replacement.
When the villagers weren't smuggling or 'wife-farming' they were engaged in oyster farming, a lucrative business which peaked in the mid-19th century. Oysters were considered common food for Londoners who couldn't get enough of them, and the shortage provided the people of Paglesham with plenty of work. Scores of fishermen would sail out along the estuaries of the Crouch and Roach and return to have their oysters processed by one of the big companies, such as the Roach River Company, now long gone.
On this walk you will see sheep grazing along the grassy sea wall and marshland, just as they have done for centuries, but you'll have to look hard for smugglers in the creeks and estuaries. Oysters are still farmed locally and an annual oyster festival brings a flurry of foodies to the pubs.
Two pubs provide great food and a smugglers inn atmosphere. Choose between the Plough and Sail Inn at Paglesham Eastend or the Punch Bowl Inn at Paglesham Church End. At the latter, crews of smugglers once played cricket in the nearby field, but would keep their cutlasses and loaded pistols within arm's reach just in case the law caught up with them!
Paglesham Creek is the habitat of a host of visiting wildfowl. Look for brent geese, black-tailed godwits and shelduck and in winter you may see short-eared owls. You may be lucky and spot insects such as the rare Scarce Emerald damselfly or the Roesel's bush-cricket. In the sea wall look for rare plants such as sea barley and beaked tassel-weed.
Paglesham Eastend is home to the delightful OBS cottages, a small row of cottages out of the 120 homesteads in the village. The initials stand for Olivia Bernard Sparrow, a 19th-century benefactor who owned nearby South and East Hall farms. Lady Olivia built the cottages and, with the help of the Revd Herschell, provided schooling for the poor children of the parish.