Day 77 Monday 31 May: Essex, the county of so many river estuaries, flowing into the English Channel above the mouth of the Thames itself. A lacey filigree of a coastline with high tide islands and low tide mudflats.
Straight line distances between Lifeboat Stations here are generally quite short. Two of Fondo’s shortcomings, a lack of wings and no floats, usually rule out these short routes. Cycleable routes are usually much longer, around an estuary or up to the next bridge. There are however, some great little foot ferries in convenient places, allowing us to stay closer to the preferred notion of this being a coastal cycle ride.
The first leg however, offers no option. It’s the inland route, skirting the Hamford Water Nature Reserve, then back to the coast at Walton (on the Naze) and Frinton ALB Station. “Walton and Frinton has celebrated over 120 years as a lifeboat station and its crews have been presented with 75 awards for gallantry. The lifeboat was one of 19 lifeboats that helped to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk”. More recently, just 50 years ago in 1966 “The Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum was awarded to Coxswain Frank Bloom and to each of his crew for their assistance given to the radio ship Mi Amigo (Radio Caroline)”. Meanwhile, many thanks to two current crew members, Richard and Trevor for picking up the messages and being there. Unlike most Lifeboat Stations this one, sitting proudly above Walton Pier, displays it’s service boards on the outside of the building, for all to read, any time of day. Down below, tied up alongside the pier, the present day Tamar Allweather Lifeboat lays waiting for its next historic or equally important routine distress call. Whichever it is, it’s ready for the next shout.
A short, coast hugging ride past Frinton (“No picnicking upon the Greensward”), along the sea wall via Holland on Sea to Clacton ILB. Thanks Richard and Tristan, ILB crew, for the cheery welcome. Here, by happy coincidence, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow ‘collector’ of Lifeboat Stations, the young Harry Mascall (as seen on TV!) and his equally amazing mum & dad. I’m not competitive, I’m a serious grown-up. But the race is on!
Time to find another ‘foot ferry’. No straight line option but the crossing of the River Colne from Brightlingsea to East Mersea cut out the 20+ mile inland detour via Colchester. The beach landing at the eastern end of Mersea island was a bit like a military assault. The ramp dropped as the mini landing craft hit the beach. But I was the only trooper, my weapon was a bicycle and nobody seemed interested in defending East Mersea. Having carried and pushed Fondo up and over the heavy going, steep shingle beach, the rest of the route to West Mersea was a doddle, a short & sweet 5 mile dash. The Lifeboat Station in this popular and very busy sailing venue was surrounded by tightly packed yachts and other leisure craft, all seeming to be jostling for position as close as possible to the all-protecting lifeboat. As the temperature dropped and the wind ‘freshenned’, the whistling and clattering of so much cable rigging pinging against hollow masts created an audible, exaggerated wind chill factor that sent icy shivers down the spine. Thankfully, the boathouse was still open. A welcome haven. Many thanks to Martin (LOM) for all the help and useful travel advice before and after my arrival, and to all the lovely lady volunteers in the RNLI shop. Already beginning to feel a bit travel weary, it was quite an effort to get going again, knowing that the last leg of the day was the longest. Another 30 miles to go, with no more ferry options. The north bound start of a big C shaped route around the Blackwater estuary, via Maldon was a struggle, with a very unfreshenning headwind.
Burnham-on-Crouch, today’s final destination, was eventually reached. Ye Olde White Harte Inne, built in the days when everything had to end in an e, was a sighte for sore eyes, achinge limbes and an empty stomache.