This is a good short walk at any time of the year. It’s through the small town of Manningtree, along The Walls which follow the banks of the River Stour and then on to Mistley. However, its a walk particularly suited to the winter months, when you don’t want to walk across muddy fields.
If you’re travelling by car the best place to park is at free car park by the Co-Op supermarket, Riverside CO11 1US. The car park is at one end of the town, as you arrive from Colchester or Ipswich. This is the same end of town as Manningtree Railway Station
When you leave the car park, turn left and walk along the High Street. Manningtree is said to be one of the smallest towns in England, but the High Street has a range of shops including a bakers if you need to buy a sausage roll and a bun for a picnic, a delicatessen and a fish and chip shop. There’s a number of gift shops, and a library in an attractive old corn exchange.
In the centre of the High Street is a building called the Market Cross. On the side of the building is a sculpture of The Manningtree Ox which is mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1 to describe Falstaff.
After the Market Cross comes Townsends gift and book shop, which in the 18th century was the Packet Inn, where parcels could be collected. It was a good hotel to stop at on the journey from London to the East Coast.
Along the High Street behind the plaster or Georgian fronts of the houses are timber framed buildings. It’s rumoured that there are tunnels connecting many of the houses, used by smugglers in the 18th century to bring contraband in to the country. (Think Poldark without the romance – or the good looks.)
On the left is the town’s war memorial, whilst on the right if you look carefully you can see all that remains of St.Michael’s and All Saints Parish Church which was demolished in 1966. You will have to look carefully as all that remains is the end of one wall.
You now turn downhill to the River Stour at Wherry Corner. I think this is one of the best views in this part of North Essex. The River Stour is often described as being one of the most beautiful rivers in England. At this point it is wide and tidal as it opens up in to the estuary as it enters the North Sea. You can see across the river to Suffolk, just half a mile a way by road, but because of the river it seems like another country. Wherry Corner is named after the boats that used to sail up the river taking passengers from port to port. It’s believed that the diarist Samuel Pepys used to catch a wherry from Manningtree to Harwich when he was the MP for the town.
The walk now follows The Walls to Mistley. On the right are old maltings that have been converted into apartments. There are usually a number of ice cream vans and coffee sellers parked up along the walls, the coffee sellers particularity welcome on a winters walk.
The River Stour is a nationally important area for bird watching. In the winter you can see dunlins, redshanks, brent geese, pintails, ringed and grey plovers. You can also spot the famous Mistley Swans. They are quite fearsome, so don’t try to feed them or make friends with them, but they are a beautiful site on the river. There aren’t so many as there used to be when they were able to feed off the waste from the malting process that was discharged in to the river.
Look out for the Hopping Bridge as you come to the end of the walls, this is where the self-styled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins is said to have swum many of the women he accused of being witches.
You’re now coming in to Mistley which is the larger of the two towns. The Mistley Towers are at the entrance to the town on the left hand side. They are all that remain of a Georgian church built on the site in 1776 by Robert Adam. The churchyard can be visited at any reasonable time (that’a the wording on the English Heritage website), and a key can be collected from the Mistley Thorn pub just 5 minutes down the road to gain entrance to the the towers themselves.
Further in to the town you will come across the Mistley Swan in it’s little pond. Behind the Swan is the The THouse, a family run cafe, with fantastic views of the river.
The big industrial building that you can see is the last remaining maltings – EDME, which processes malt to go in many of the foods that you can find in the supermarket. You can often smell the malt, it’s a smell you either love or hate.
The Mistley Thorn is a very popular pub/restaurant which serves lovely food, but also famous for its connections to Matthew Hopkins, who it is believed owned the building at one time. On the side of the pub is a board giving a brief history of Hopkins cruel reign of terror between 1645 and 1647.
The little lane at the side of the Thorn takes you to The Green, which has a row of very attractive workers cottages over looking it. Look out for the village pump and poster about the local bylaws as you walk down the lane. Cross the Green, and then follow the footpath which will take you along the edge of two fields, the one on the left often has horses grazing in it. After the fields you will come to the churchyard on you left, and a gate that takes you in to the grounds of the Victorian parish church of St. Michael and St. Mary. It’s a very active church and the doors are quite often open to welcome visitors.
Turn left and walk through the lych gate and out on to New Road. Turn right and walk past the church, you’re walking back towards The Walls. You will come back to the Mistley Towers, with the Mistley war memorial standing on a little island in the road in front of it. Now, instead of turning right back in to Mistley, turn left and go beck towards Manningtree. Walk the length of the Walls, follow the road to the left at Wherry Corner and you’re back in Manningtree on the High Street
Instead of returning to your car, or going for something to eat and drink at this point, take time to turn left and walk up South Street. At the top is an area also known as The Green, and this is where Matthew Hopkins hung a number of women who he had accused of being part of a group of witches living in Manningtree. It’s a very peaceful area now with some impressive houses (and see if you can spot a Colchester Borough bus depot tucked away to the left of the Green – it has the boroughs coat of arms on it). Over looking The Green is the oldest pub in Manningtree The Red Lion, which is always a good place to stop for a drink.
This is the end of the walk, but if you have time, and its not too chilly on a winters day, do take the opportunity to explore the many lanes that run behind the High Street at this point.