To escape from the bustle of Harwich Harbour, Janet Harber guides us upriver to the peaceful anchorage of Erwarton Ness

First-time visitors to the East Coast would do well to begin with the Orwell and Stour rivers. Whether you are approaching from the South Coast or from Holland, Harwich Harbour is an accessible destination port, conveniently situated at the confluence of these two rivers. From Harwich, to the south in Essex are Walton Backwaters, the Colne, Blackwater, Roach and Crouch rivers, and to the north the Suffolk rivers of Deben, Ore and Alde. The Thames and the Kent rivers Medway and Swale can be explored by way of Dover or Ramsgate, or perhaps from the Crouch.

The approaches to the Stour from either the Orwell or from Harwich Harbour are busy. Care must be taken navigating around Shotley Spit and The Shelf, while avoiding the dredged shipping channels. After you have negotiated the ferries and cruise ships and passed Parkeston Quay, the Stour becomes a quiet and peaceful river, separating the county of Suffolk on the north shore from Essex on the south.

Once the tide is away and the extensive mudflats on either shore are uncovered, there is a distinct lack of places to stay afloat above Wrabness, where there are rows of swinging moorings on the south shore. It is possible to lie afloat to the west of the south cardinal buoy near the entrance to Holbrook Creek.

When the wind is in the north, a sheltered anchorage can be found off Erwarton Ness on the north bank of the River Stour, about two miles upriver from Shotley. In fine weather this is a popular destination but there is usually plenty of space. Bear in mind, though, that this anchorage is not at all protected in either easterly or westerly winds.

Erwarton Ness

Erwarton Ness

There is good holding in mud, near the South cardinal beacon that marks the Ness. The favoured spot is out of the fairway, just up or downriver of the beacon and about one cable off the sandy strand that runs above the High Water mark. The drying edge of the mudflats is a little inshore of the beacon.

If you stay overnight, you’ll need a riding light as there is some tide-dependent coaster traffic up and down to and from Mistley near the navigable head of the river.

Near the remains of the old quay and some prehistoric-looking tree stumps it is possible to land on the foreshore a couple of hours either side of HW. As well as the quay, in years gone by there was a hard running out across the mudflats extending from the Ness Farm track.

A footpath runs along the shore in both directions. Walking west you soon come to an area of saltings where the curiously named Johnny All Alone Creek flows out into the Stour. Now stopped up by a sluice, this little creek, no more than a rill, was once a port of call for trading barges. The Wrinch family, still landowners on the Shotley peninsula, had a fleet of eight barges. During the 1800s and early 1900s the hay and straw from their farms, loaded from local creeks and quays, was taken to London. On their return voyage the ‘stackies’, as these barges were known, brought back horse manure, or ‘London mixture’, to be spread on the fields.

It is possible to walk inland to the tiny village of Erwarton but sadly the Queen’s Head pub was closed in 2009 and has never re-opened, so you will need to take your own refreshments.

The sunsets that can be seen from the Stour are among the East Coast’s finest.