First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Plough and Sail out at Paglesham Eastend must be one of Essex’s remotest pubs, an end-of-the-road inn catering for locals and the odd inquisitive outsider who ventures this far.
Large, curiously-shaped old houses and widely scattered farms shelter (or hide, it sometimes appears) behind thickets of trees. Paglesham was a notorious haunt of smugglers back in Georgian times, and some of these handsome abodes were built from the proceeds, so local history asserts – notably the tall red-brick Cupola House with its outsize observation turret offering a gull’s-eye view of coastguard activity on the nearby River Roach.
A muddy path took us across flat fields of spring wheat and mouldering stubble where tottering Dutch barns and towering stacks of straw bales were the only upstanding features. At Paglesham Churchend we came to St Peter’s Church, where a rickety stone tomb enclosed the mortal remains of William ‘Hard Apple’ Blyth, churchwarden and grocer by day, smugglers’ ringleader by night.
Hard Apple cut a fantastic figure in his 18th century heyday, keeping hold over his ruffian gang by deeds of prowess such as wrestling bulls, munching wine glasses and drinking a keg of brandy at a sitting. Ferrying contraband, outwitting and outsailing the Revenue in his cutter Big Jane, Hard Apple used the tower of St Peter’s as a hiding place for smuggled goods. Occasionally apprehended, always slipping through the net, he died at the age of 76 in the odour of sanctity, uttering his final words: ‘I’m ready for the launch.’
Beyond Churchend we found the marshy bank of Paglesham Creek, a broad muddy tidal outlet. Oystercatchers and curlew made their plaintive piping calls from the great tangle of saltmarsh on Wallasea Island RSPB reserve across the river. We walked the flood-wall path towards the distant sea, watching shifting clouds of geese and ducks swirling over the far horizon. Flotillas of wigeon paddled across the creek, and a flight of dunlin switched direction, all together in one instant, passing so close that we could hear the whir of their wings.
Down at the tip of the Paglesham peninsula we paused before turning for home to contemplate a remarkable case of historical bathos. On this spot in 1870 Coastguard Watch Vessel No 7, downgraded and neglected, was finally broken up. Some forty years earlier, as survey ship ‘HMS Beagle’, she had carried Charles Darwin across the world on the voyage of discovery that gave rise to his epoch-making Theory of Evolution. Quite a claim for a forgotten hulk on this obscure stretch of a muddy Essex creek.
How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy; field and river wall paths
Start: Plough & Sail PH, Paglesham Eastend, Rochford SS4 2EQ (OS ref TQ 944922)
Getting there: Bus 60 from Southend-on-Sea
Road: M25, Jct 29; A127 to Southend-on-Sea; A1159 to Rochford; follow ‘Great Stambridge’ and on; Paglesham signed from Ballards Gore.
Walk (OS Explorer 176): Walk up left side of Plough & Sail (‘To The Coast’), past Cobblers Row and on (yellow arrows/YAs). At Well House (944926) left along road. In ½ mile at East Hall Farm, right (936926, fingerpost) to skirt buildings. Follow YAs across fields for ¾ mile to Paglesham Churchend. Pass church (926930); on past houses; on bend, right (924931) onto field track (YAs). In 700m, right (924936) along Paglesham Creek flood wall. In 2¾ miles at pillbox, turn right (953925) along River Roach to boatyard and jetty (948921); right to Plough and Sail.
Lunch: Plough & Sail, Paglesham, Eastend (01702-258242, theploughandsail.co.uk)
Accommodation: Holiday Inn, 77 Eastwoodbury Crescent, Southend-on-Sea SS2 6XG (01702-543001, ihg.com)
Info: Southend-on-Sea TIC (01702-212534), visitessex.com