Fri 11 May 2018 14:00Bradwell-on-Sea is one of my favourite places in Essex. A real mix of peace, history and an edge-of-the-world feeling which is so rare to find within a few dozen miles of the centre of London.
I often park up in the village outside the church of St Thomas and walk down to the coast - just over a mile or so. It's possible to do the walk and not see a single car passing you; only 863 people live in the village and there's nothing at the end of the road other than the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall. But that's what most people who visit Bradwell come here to see.
There's a small unpaved carpark at the end of East End Road and some newly erected "Saltmarsh Coast" signs which sprouted up everywhere on the Essex Coast in 2017. There is then a kissing gate which takes you on another path about 800 yards long towards the chapel. Both this path and East End Road were part of the old Roman road which took people through to the Saxon Shore fort of Othona, which was built in the 3rd century. (The village sign reflects the village's Roman heritage with the alternative name of the village, "Bradwell-juxta-mare").
The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall is a Grade I listed building and among the oldest largely intact Christian churches in England, being built in 654 by St Cedd. Some descriptions call it the oldest church in England, others suggest St Martin's Church in Canterbury dates back to 597, but who knows? What is known is that the church is built on Othona's old gatehouse, and uses much of the Roman stone from that fort.
After the reformation the church fell into disrepair and was used as a barn in the 19th century. Parts of the walls were rebuilt and it was returned to church use in 1920.
The church would have been on the seafront a thousand years ago but the sea levels have lowered and there's marshland in front of the church now towards the sea - but you can walk behind the church towards the sea wall and carry on around the Dengie peninsula until you come to Bradwell Waterside a few miles later. I didn't walk that far, but I did go past a lot of WWII fortifications and Bradwell Beach, a strip of sand on which I have never ever seen a single person sit on. I imagine the sea doesn't ever get too warm here.
It's just so astonishingly quiet here. The only reminder that you're not actually walking in Saxon England - other than the concrete sea wall, which is paved for some of the distance - are the twin reactor buildings of Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, decommissioned in 2002. The future of the building is up for discussion as China is thinking of reopening it as a nuclear facility at some point in the future.
Article written Fri 11 May 2018 14:00, last modified Mon 14 May 2018 17:00