Having commenced the Essex Way at the beginning of the year, I managed to complete it by the end of the calendar on one of the shortest days of 2013. The path meanders through the prettier parts of Central and northern Essex avoiding the conurbations of the Estuary, Chelmsford and Colchester.
The final section of the Essex Way is one of the prettiest parts of the walk and follows the coast of the River Stour's estuary. Starting out at dawn on a winter's day gives wonderful rose-tinted views of the river looking towards the northern shore. Only later on in the walk does the horizon become marred by the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich.
The best villages are the earliest: Manningtree (home of the Witchfinder General: Matthew Hopkins) and Mistley. The winding streets of Manningtree transport you back to the seventeenth century but before you get there, you have to walk through twentieth century housing estates, a railway line and older Victorian rows. It is an exercise in time travel across a mile and a half.
The land rises steeply from the banks of the Stour and you leave Mistley via the Mill, under the railway line and onto a series of muddy fields before entering the next village: Bradfield. And that becomes the walk: villages as milestones. All with their collection of churches and waymarkers: Bradfield, Wrabness, Ramsey and Little Oakley (the last is little more than an estate masking a suburb of Harwich). With such ascents come some good views over the peninsula: Janus with the Stour to the north and Clacton to the south.
What makes the walk is the final variation on the themes of Essex. Once you walk down the hill from Little Oakley you enter a world of marsh and drainage ditches. The path turns north along a dyke towards Harwich. The view south is palette of light and beige in the winter, but the downside is that the view is behind you. I got to see the port and a caravan park, not so wonderful. When you leave the dyke behind, the final stretch is the Promenade alongside Dovercourt. With some bathing huts, one cafe and a (very small) amusement arcade, Harwich manages to claw back a relic of its resort days. But the redoubt is even worse and scores a tad more negatively than Newhaven. Nevertheless, at least the path ends at a tower with a sign rather than at a vandalised derelict railway station (like the Vanguard Way).
Essex is a pretty county to walk around and is recommended for adventures on the flat. This will not be my last long distance walk in that county.