Wivenhoe Trail

It’s true that you never appreciate what’s on your own doorstep. We live in Colchester, but very rarely do we follow the Wivenhoe Trail along the side of the River Colne from The Hythe to Wivenhoe.

It’s not a particularity long walk – it took us about an hour from The Hythe to the Black Buoy pub, along a well laid path that runs along the side of the river. It’s good for walking on or cycling, and as we found out when we did it, it’s good place for walking a dog as well – lots to sniff out and stare and wonder about. The trail is part of the
Town to Sea Trail, which starts in Colchester Town Centre, you can pick up a brochure about it at the Visitor Information Centre in Colchester. There are some beautifully made sculptures along the way, each one representing a piece of the rich history of the River Colne, Colchester and the surrounding area.

We did the walk on a cold November day when the tide was out. That meant that at the start of the walk the Colne didn’t look it’s best, you could see how silted up it is, but it did mean that you could appreciate the history of the river, and its influence on the life of the town.

smugglingThe start of the walk is opposite the red Colne Lightship, walking past the new student accommodation of the University of Essex. The buildings are well designed and are really helping to regenerate the area. Further along you can just spot the university campus slightly high up in Wivenhoe Park.

On the opposite side of the river are abandoned boats and jetties, plus the remains of heavy industry. The industry isn’t all in the past though, there are still working gravel pits, and small local companies, – the area is still at the heart of the town.

If you stand still and look around, you can soak up all that makes Colchester so individual; its incredible 2,000 year history, its industry that is constantly changing, and its academic and cultural life.

rowhedge2You quickly leave the urban areas behind. On your left are fields, with the railway line running alongside you. The path is edged by hedgerows for some of the way, in autumn full of red berries, and great for a dog to forage around in. On the right the countryside opens up, and you can see the fields around Rowhedge.
As you near Wivenhoe you pass through a tunnel of trees, and an entrance to Wivenhoe Woods that takes you through a tunnel under the railway line.

When arriving in Wivenhoe you can turn left by the railway station, or bear right and keep to the riverside. We took the turning to the station, then turned right and walk through the new houses back towards the river. The estate is on the site of an old boat yard, with interesting road names such as Dry Dock – where ships were one time built and Mulberry Harbour Way, a reference to the Mulberry harbours that were built in Wivenhoe ready for the 1944 D-Day landings.

Once by the river, on the opposite bank you can see the Roman River curving in in to join the Colne. This point of the river is wide, and in the past it was used for turning boats and barges around, when the port of Colchester, Wivenhoe and Rowhedge was still working.

The riverside walk into Old Wivenhoe is really attractive, the new houses have been well designed to complement the architecture of the waterfront.

The quay area in Wivenhoe can be very busy in the summer, with people on their boats, sitting outside the Rose and Crown pub and generally enjoying the view. On the day we visited it was quiet, but it gave us an opportunity to admire the buildings along the front. There are some beautiful bay fronted houses, with their gardens just across the unmade lane by the river with moorings for boats.

At this point we were getting decidedly hungry, so we decided to turn away from the river, and make our way to the Black Buoy pub. We walked up Rose Lane, past the home of Joan Hickson, famous for her portrayal of Miss Marple. There’s a Blue Plaque on the side of the house. Turn right to Black Buoy Hill and there is the pub. It’s always been a popular pub with Wivenhoe and Colchester residents, so when it closed recently any people were very upset. Incredibly though, it has re-opened as a community pub, owned and run by a group of local Wivenhoe people. They have done a fantastic job in refurbishing it. We had a drink – of
Colchester Red Diesel (sounds strange – but it really is a beer), and some lovely rustic garlicky mushroom sandwiches (see pictures below).

MAP1It would be easy to while away a good few hours discovering the lanes, alleyways and buildings of Wivenhoe, or following the trail along the river up to Ardleigh. We decided though to walk down to Wivenhoe Station to catch the train back to The Hythe. Being the arty sort of place that its is, Wivenhoe station has its own little art gallery, known as Off the Rails. The day we passed through there was an exhibition which we really admired called “Underground Maps Unleashed” by Wivenhoe residents Maxwell Roberts & Liz Newton. It’s a re-imagining of the iconic London Underground map that we all know so well – the Charles Rennie Mackintosh took our fancy the most.

Arriving at The Hythe, we we stopped to admire and read yet more artwork. This time art and poetry has been used to refurbish the station platform. The work tells the story of the Hythe , its industry and people in an imaginative and accessible way. There are several poems by local writers, including the inimitable Martin Newell, who always seems to capture the essence of Colchester and Essex, in this case with a poem about the early morning commuter trains, which was very evocative.

If you live in Colchester or are a visitor to the area, do walk the Wivenhoe Trail, there’s so much to see and discover, and at the end there’s a lovely village with lots to explore. We can’t recommend it enough.