Thursday 11 August
Today was one of those days that began like it wasn’t going to go to plan, and then didn’t but ended up being much better. Mate woke up early to grey windy skies and rain, but by the time Skipper surfaced the weather was improving and the bike bags were lugged across our (absent) neighbour’s deck to be built on the pontoon, ready for a lift from the obliging water taxi. The crew left me to snooze and went off to Beth Chatto’s garden in Elmstead Market, a pleasant cycle ride of about eight miles through Essex country lanes.
Apparently the gravel garden is unusual and particularly stunning, begun as an experiment in the owner’s quest to put the right plant in the right place. Designed with drought-tolerant plants and not irrigated, it offers ideas and inspiration to gardeners wanting to adapt to the effects of climate change, whilst achieving beauty and harmony in their horticultural environments.
After a light lunch and a little retail therapy, the intrepid duo set off on a different route home, the result of the Mate’s research on Google Maps. They stopped off at a well-stocked farm shop to fill the panniers with a selection of goodies, and continued down a long hill to Alresford Creek. The map showed the Ford of the name…but the road petered out to a gravel track that ended on the soft, muddy banks of the creek, definitely not crossable on wheels. Undaunted except by the thought of the long push back up the hill to rejoin the main road, Skipper applied his iPhone to the task of finding an alternative route, soon determining a footpath along the water’s edge. They set off through summer-long grass, following the top edge of a dyke, the words “mad woman” heard at regular intervals. The bikes are designed for this type of terrain(!), it was very peaceful and the Mate identified four black-tailed godwit feeding in the mud. Eventually they reached the head of the creek at Tide Mill, complete with leat running from the millpond and a wooden water wheel. At the top of the track leading to the road was a gate with a notice…prohibiting cycles. On the way back into Brightlingsea a supermarket was raided for yet more provisions, and they arrived home worn out from a round trip of 20 miles. They filled my tanks up with fresh water and we went back to Pyefleet Channel to anchor for one last night.