An unknown tract of wilderness in South East England


A vast tract of the Essex coastline remains inaccessible by boat (unless you’re in a gun-punt) or from the hinterland by car. It is therefore a lost world of salt marsh, sea wall, dyke and lonely farmland. It is called the Dengie Hundred. Thousands of cruising yachtsmen sail past it every year on the way from the North Sea to Burnham-on-Crouch. Hundreds of racing yachtsmen tack past the featureless sea-wall on the north side of the Crouch each year during Burnham Week. Others passing through the desolate Rays’n Channel from West Mersea, Brightlingsea and the Blackwater cutting off the long jog out to the Spitway will be aware of the distant moody acres of Dengie. But yesterday I decided to get a closer look.
So crewman John Hayes, his border collie, Annie, and I walked from Burnham-on-Crouch to Bradwell-on-Sea: an 11 mile odyssey of sea wall. The grass covered wall snaked away in front of us and disappeared into fog. The air was dank, the going damp, but the temperature mild: my back-pack had soon produced a black patch of sweat on my light nylon anorak.
‘Stop,’ said John, four miles out from Burnham, ‘I can hear voices.’ We peered ahead into the gloom, but not even the slow moving neap flood tide made a ripple as it slithered into the Crouch. Then I heard it: a low baying sound as though some ghostly hunt was riding to phantom hounds, ‘That’s the brent geese you can hear,’ I told John, a townie sub-editor from the Financial Times.
Their eerie ‘baying’ reminded me of the late Walter Linnet the wildfowler whose cottage at St Peter’s on the Wall, sits on the wrong side of the seawall, who, many years ago, was out in his punt hunting a flock of brent geese when he came across a duffle bag with a man’s head in it. The owner of the head was one Stanley Setty, a London taxi driver murdered in a gangland killing, dismembered, and distributed via light aeroplane over the Dengie Flats. ‘They thought that was the sea,’ said Walter of his killers, ‘and that was, too, til the tide went owt.’