Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Friday, 14 May 2021

Essex Coast Walk - Manningtree to Great Oakley

Overlooking the Stour estuary

A day walk along the Essex Way

A fine piece of walking along the Essex Way to provide some glorious views of the Stour estuary before turning inland to avoid Harwich and Dovercourt. Estuary views, marsh, woodland and open fields make for a varied scene throughout the walk.


This is a walk summary intended to provide the user with just the essential information in order to navigate the walk route. Fully detailed information notes, refreshment stops and walk features are not included in this. A full write up will be included in the near future.

to Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

  • Start location: Manningtree 
  • End location: Great Oakley 
  • Distance:   miles (  km)
  • Total Gain:   ft (  metre)
  • Total Descent:   ft (  metre)
  • Min Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Max Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Walk Time:  
  • Walk type: Linear
  • Walk Grade: Easy
  • Terrain: Footpath, Country Lane


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. There are links to printed maps and links to downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.



Grange Farm Camp SiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Grange Farm Camp Site, Thorpe-le-Soken - an excellent and recommended site with basic facilities and friendly staff. It is close to the railway station and has a resident owl!


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Train from Thorpe-le-Soken to Manningtree, the station is 15 minutes walk from the campsite. Be aware that at certain times there is no ticket staff and one has to use the ticket machine. This would be easy for single fares but for return fares it offers a multitude of return options and merely tells you that conditions apply to them yet refuses to enlighten you as to what the conditions are.

Return from Great Oakley on this occasion was the number 3 bus operated by First Group. It should be noted that bus routes and operators may change and one should consult Traveline Website to determine the available services.

Route Verification Details

  • Date of Walk: 05/09/2010
  • Walk Time: 08:30 to 15:30
  • Walkers: griff, kat
  • Weather Conditions: warm, hazy

Walk Notes

This walk was part of a weeks walking expedition along the Essex coast between Manningtree and Maldon. A base-camp was set at the central village of Thorpe-le-Soken which provided the necessary public transport connections to each of the days walks. In addition to the campsite, Thorpe-le-Soken provided restaurants and pubs to relax and muse over the days wanderings whilst rejuvenating with a decent meal and drink.

The expedition starts with a train journey from Thorpe-le-Soken to Manningtree which involves a change at Colchester. The trains are frequent and the Thorpe station is no more than a 15 minute walk from the campsite. It should be noted that the stations in this area make ample use of ticket machines which can cause some confusion as to which ticket is required when taking into account time of travel, day and route. In hindsight it would have been better to have pre-booked the tickets or at least determined the ticket required before the journey.

The walk uses the well way marked Essex Way for most of the route. This long distance trail is picked up in town, 15 minutes down the road from Manningtree station. This does involve road walking alongside the B1352, but there are pavements, and one is soon on the Essex Way when the High Street is reached, where the trail leads down to the waterfront at Quay Street and the first views of the extensive Stour estuary.

Mistley Towers
The hopping bridge

The path then follows the coast line through to the village of Mistley which is renowned as the home of Matthew Hopkins, the 17th century Witchfinder General. It is said that for 3 years between 1644 and 1647, Hopkins purged East Anglian towns of witches with dodgy accusations and trials that resulted and over 100 executions. Just before the waterside road that leads the way enters the village, there is a pond on the right which passes over a bridge where the pond overflow trickles down the estuary mud to the waters of the Stour river. The bridge is easily missed and probably many motorists pass over this without even knowing it is there as the only giveaway is the wall at the side of the pavement and a small rise in the ground. This bridge is known as the Hopping Bridge and the pond during Hopkins day was known as the Ducking Pond on account that the practice of ducking women into the waters in order to determine whether they were witches. A suspected witch would be cast into the pond and if she floated, then it was a sign that the baptismal water rejected her and therefore she was in league with the devil and most definitely a witch. Burn her as the crowd would heckle in the infamous parody of such a trial in Monty Pythons Holy Grail. On the other hand, if she drowned then she was innocent of the accusation. In other words, if Hopkins made an accusation then there was little chance of surviving. The bridge is said to be the haunted by the ghost of Hopkins who traditionally appears on the night of the full moon.

Mistley Towers
Mistley Towers

One landmark that stands out as one passes through the village is the pair of 18th century neoclassical towers known as Mistley Towers that proudly stand within a graveyard opposite the village sign. These were originally constructed as the twin towers to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin as part of a scheme to turn the village into a fashionable spa town. Unfortunately the plan did not succeed and the church was demolished in 1870, leaving the towers as a sea-mark for shipping in the estuary. They were renovated in 1950 after falling into disrepair.

Beyond Mistley, the Essex Way leads inland through to the village of Bradfield. The England Coast Path will take the same route as there is no access along the coastline, presumably because the land is a part of Nether Hall which is all private land. Despite this, there are some commanding views over the estuary and one passes the 13th century church of St Lawrence at Bradfield. Like many East Anglian churches this one fell into ruins and was restored in the 19th century. There is reputed to be a secret tunnel connecting the church with the estuary that was used in the smuggling days of the 18th century. So many churches and pubs around the coastline of East Anglia have such rumoured tunnels and no doubt the large scale smuggling actions did make use of such methods of concealing their actions from the customs men.

St Lawrence at Bradfield
St Lawrence at Bradfield

It is from Bradfield that we head back down to the coastline to follow the estuary. This is now part of the Wrabness nature reserve, formerly an MoD mine depot. These days it is a mixture of grazed grassland, ponds, woodland and al; fronted by freshwater marsh. A haven for wildlife, insects and flora making it a pleasant ramble to pass through. Having said this, it should be noted that the path does lead along the marshy waterfront and on this occasion it was somewhat boggy in places resulting in one a very soggy boot for Kat.

The path continues beyond the nature reserve until it meets a section of woodland known as Coppers Wood where the waymarkers point the intrepid walker inland. The proposed route of the England Coast Path is to continue through the wood but currently there is no public access and therefore the Essex Way needs to be followed. This trail leads through to the village of Ramsey then cuts across the peninsular at the head of the estuary to then take opposite coast into Harwich.

On this day we had no definitive plans and at Ramsey we were left with two options. Either follow the E2 Euro route through to Parkeston Quay and then walk on to Harwich, or, continue with the Essex Way across country to Little Oakley. Having previously read other walkers accounts of this coastline, we knew that the coast on the Harwich side was inaccessible around Little Oakley due to a coastal explosives factory, therefore any coastal route would have to lead inland. Indeed this is the case with the proposed route of the England Coast Path which diverts up from the coast to Little Oakley.

We sat in the Castle Inn at Ramsey and debated the situation. It was true that we were attempting to walk the Essex coast and to avoid Harwich would, by some purists, be judged as cheating. When preparing for this undertaking I had read the reports from several walkers who had undertaken UK coastal walks in order to glean accessibility along the coast of Essex. Each of these hikers had their own set of rules on what constituted their method of following the coastline. However, is should be emphasized that we were not attempting to strictly walk the coast and therefore did not have any personal rules to abide by. The whole point of these walks is to set a challenge for a walk, research it and then undertake it with the coast being roughly the line to take. There were limitations to each days walk which were dictate by the public transport connections available. Also, the fact that ultimately this walking expedition was a pleasure activity and not a challenge. And that end point is what swung the decision, we at Griffmonster Walks are country souls at heart and the thought of traipsing the urbanised streets and roads of Parkeston and Harwich was not an idea that particularly enthralled us. Harwich would always be there to visit in the future if we desired.

Therefore, in conclusion and after a study of the OS map, and taking into account the bus timetables, we decided to take the Essex Way to Little Oakley then follow the a footpath from Oakley Cross through to Great Oakley where we could pick up a bus back to base camp. This proved to be a good decision. The walk was simple enough, there was a pub at Little Oakley where we could not refuse another refreshment break whilst waiting for the late afternoon bus, and it gave a perfect place and transport to resume the walk the next day. The plan worked perfectly.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2021-12-07

2012-07-10 : Initial Publication
2018-12-30 : General website updates and rework notes
2021-03-17 : Update website improvements and removal of ViewRanger reliance
2021-05-13 : Complete rewrite
2021-12-01 : Removal of ViewRanger links due to its imminent demise


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