I grew up in Constable Country, the north-east corner of Essex that was John Constable’s stomping ground 200 years ago, so I’ve always had a soft-spot for the place. The landscapes I grew up with, riding bikes around Colchester, Mersea Island, Halstead and Danbury arguably match anything else we see in the UK, so when I hear the stereotypes trotted out – the Essex girls and Basildon boys – I find myself having to work hard not to be offended.
When confronted with the stereotypes spouted by those who have never experienced the real Essex I want to ask: Have you visited the eerily spiritual Chapel of St Peter on the Wall? Have you pondered John Clare’s nature poetry while wandering in Epping Forest? Because those places are the real Essex, just as much as Southend sea front, or kicking out time at the Sugar Hut.
A couple of weeks ago I took the trip to the end of the Southminster line and beyond, to Bradwell-on-Sea, out on the Dengie Peninsula. It’s an isolated and isolationist sort of place, despite its proximity to London. We ran 10 miles around the coast, across fields, past the nuclear power plant – in the process of being decommissioned – and on, to the seventh century Chapel of St Peter on the Wall.
We passed peace cults and ghost ships and a handful of dog walkers, but little else. It reminded me that however trapped you feel by the city and the weight of modern life, it’s rare that you’re more than an hour or two from isolation and a connection with the past.
The route we took is available on Strava here:https://www.strava.com/activities/242271360