juliamhammond

Posts tagged “Greater Anglia 2FOR1

On the trail of the Witchfinder General

Summer’s here and the skies are blue over my corner of Essex. Our river estuaries are at their most attractive at this time of year with plenty of birdlife making the most of the shallow water. Some of the best walks in the county follow the river banks and many are easy to reach by rail. So when Greater Anglia asked if I would like to help promote this summer’s #railadventure campaign, I jumped at the chance. Many of my favourite North Essex coastal towns and resorts are easily reached by rail, among them delightful Walton-on-the-Naze and Dovercourt’s historic lighthouses and Blue Flag beach. Regular readers of this blog might remember the super Greater Anglia days out I had in Harwich and Wivenhoe last summer – if you’ve never been, I’d definitely recommend them.

This excursion was inspired by a novel I found on a book exchange shelf in a guest house in Cape Verde. My charger wouldn’t function, the Kindle was out of juice and I’d resigned myself to a long flight back with no reading material. It was the only book on the shelf which was in English and when I turned it over to read the blurb, I found it was set in Essex. That book was “The Witch Finder’s Sister”, the debut novel by Beth Underwood which told the unsavoury tale of Matthew Hopkins, who held the position of Witchfinder General in 17th century Essex. Though born in Suffolk, Hopkins was closely associated with Manningtree and Mistley. Nowadays, they’re not only both reachable by train but a half hour walk apart.

L0000660 Portrait of Matthew Hopkins, the celebrated witch-finder.

The journey from Kelvedon required two changes of train but nevertheless ran like clockwork, taking just over half an hour in total. There’s even more opportunity to enjoy the countryside views on the way back – time it right as I did and there’s a direct train from Manningtree to Kelvedon taking just 20 minutes. It’s faster than driving, as well as being much less stressful. We’re wedded to the convenience of our cars, but on the train it’s nice to be able to get up and walk around – or sit back and relax on the comfortable seats. There was even sufficient time on the Colchester to Manningtree train to grab a coffee from the onboard buffet. For a less hurried walk when connecting to the Mistley train via the underpass my tip would be to find a seat nearer to the front of the train.

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Alighting from the train, my first impressions of Mistley were favourable. The port, once centred on the transportation of grain and malt for the brewing industry, is still operational but many of the old buildings that line the quayside have been renovated and repurposed. The malt extract works on the opposite side of the road are still in business and the smell of malt permeated the air as I strolled down towards the village centre.

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I couldn’t resist popping into Cooper’s Gallery to browse the colourful ceramics, paintings and textiles. Next time I shall walk in the opposite direction so that the gallery is my final stop; as it’s just across the road from the station I won’t have to walk far fully laden. This time, however, willpower was required as I wished to walk to Manningtree unencumbered by shopping bags. Liz, the gallery owner, was a mine of useful information about Mistley and the history of the quayside, lending me a calendar of old photographs to browse as I ate lunch at the T House cafe next door.

It was low tide and Liz explained how the partially submerged barge I could see from her window came to be stuck in the mud. Apparently, the sails of the Bijou caught alight during a bombing raid in 1940. So that the fire wouldn’t spread, she was cut free from her moorings and allowed to drift away from the quay. Burnt out, she’s been there ever since, the tide covering and uncovering this century-old vessel and gradually eroding what’s left.

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Across the street was The Mistley Thorn. The present day building was built as a coaching inn about 1723 and is now a restaurant with rooms to stay in. A pub stood on the site in the mid 17th century which was reputedly owned by Matthew Hopkins. He was supposed to have “examined” his first witch at the Thorn in 1644. An information board on the side of the Thorn tells a little of the story that Beth Underwood so cleverly adapted for her novel.

In an age of mistrust and religious upheaval, Hopkins decided there was more money to be made as a witch finder than as a lawyer, switching professions and assuming the role of Witchfinder General by 1645. Witch hunting set in motion a chilling sequence of denunciation, interrogation and finally execution. The trials were a joke. So-called witches were said to bear the Devil’s mark, a part of their body that didn’t feel pain. This could be a mole or a birthmark, which Hopkins prodded with a spike or cut with a blunt knife to see if it bled.

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Another method was to tie the alleged witch to a chair and throw her into a pond. God’s pure water would reject a witch, it was thought, and she would float, but if “proved” to be a witch, she would be hung. Hopkins used to carry out such practices at Mistley’s Hopping Bridge, a short walk from the Thorn. It’s said that his ghost haunts the site and is most likely to be seen when there’s a full moon.

The exact number of women who were targeted by Hopkins is not known, but it is thought that the prolific Hopkins was responsible for several hundred deaths. In less than two years the number of witches he convicted represented about 60% of the total number punished in England from the early 15th to the late 18th century. In 1646, a parson from Huntingdon by the name of John Gaule published a pamphlet exposing Hopkins methods for the nonsense they were. The Witchfinder General wrote back in an attempt to defend himself, but popular support for his actions had begun to wane. Hopkins retired to Manningtree, a rich man. He died in 1647 of tuberculosis and was buried in the churchyard at Mistley Heath; both the graveyard and his body are long gone.

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I headed to Manningtree, passing Mistley Towers, erected as part of a failed scheme in the late 18th century to reinvent Mistley as a saltwater spa town. The twin towers that remain are all that’s left of a grand Georgian church, designed by Robert Adams and eventually demolished in 1870. I walked over the Hopping Bridge – in broad daylight I saw no ghosts. A lone swan glided across the still waters of the pond.

Across the road, following the south bank of the River Stour along what’s known as The Walls, I encountered more of these graceful birds. Mistley has been traditionally associated with a large population of mute swans, which have made their home here since the 18th century. Back then, as barley and other grain was unloaded at the quayside, some would be blown by the wind into the waters of the Stour and its tributary channels. Not surprisingly, the swans hung around to feed off this grain and have done so ever since. These days, those that remain are part of a domesticated herd.

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The sun was out, fittingly for what’s termed the Essex Sunshine Coast, and I couldn’t resist an ice cream as I walked towards Manningtree. In Tudor times a centre for the cloth trade, later a port, Manningtree claims to be England’s smallest town (by area, not population). The town also gets a mention in the Shakespeare play Henry IV Part One, as Falstaff is likened to a “roasted Manningtree ox”. The Witch Finder’s evil reach extended to Manningtree too, for it was here that some of his victims were hanged, and the town sign bears his picture.

With bunting out and kids playing on the town beach, it was hard to imagine such troubled times. As I made my way to the train station, I thought what a pleasant afternoon I’d had on my latest #railadventure.

The lowdown

I received free train travel from Greater Anglia in exchange for writing this review of my #railadventure, but there are some great deals to be had for paying customers, particularly if you travel off peak. For instance, if you book in advance, tickets from Norwich to London are available at just £10, Cambridge to London at £7 and Southend to London at just £5 (all fares quoted are one way). Accompanied children travel for just £2 return and you don’t even have to pre-book for their ticket as this fare is valid on all off peak trains within the Greater Anglia network. On top of this, they are offering  2FOR1 on top London attractions, helping your summer holiday budget stretch further.

Discover destinations and ticket prices at www.greateranglia.co.uk and plan your journey at www.nationalrail.co.uk.

Did you feel inspired to plan your own rail adventure after reading this blog? Why not complete Greater Anglia’s survey using this link:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/5CG9TGG


Welcome to the Wiviera!

Fresh air and water are always a good combination.  With excellent rail links as well, it made the riverside town of Wivenhoe a good choice for my third outing with Greater Anglia this summer.  There’s an easy but very pleasant 4km walk that takes you along the banks of the River Colne from Hythe to Wivenhoe.  The really good news is that if you don’t wish to walk it in both directions, the path is easily accessible from Hythe station and leads you straight into the station car park at Wivenhoe.  Both the path and the railway line follow the banks of the Colne Estuary, offering splendid views.  As a walk, it couldn’t be more convenient if it tried!

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If you’ve been following my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’ve enjoyed days out by train to Harwich and to the East Anglian Railway Museum.  Greater Anglia have some very affordable advance fares across their network as well as £2 child fares and many other offers.  It’s well worth checking out their website if you’re at a loose end this summer.

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I set off from Hythe station just before lunchtime and walked along the riverbank towards the University buildings and on towards the new apartments that are springing up.  I’d come this route a thousand times – it’s on the way to B&Q and Tesco – but from the car, you just don’t see what’s under your nose.  There’s some fantastic artwork to be seen.

Information boards telling a little of the area’s history help provide context.  In parts, they form trail markers.  You can’t miss them in their steel cages.

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Following the river, I passed the iconic lightship and headed off in the direction of Wivenhoe.  Urban becomes rural pretty quickly and it’s a pleasant and flat walk past riverside meadows, reed beds and woodland.  Even on a weekday, there were plenty of joggers and cyclists using the trail, as well as a man in a wheelchair walking his dog.  This is a trail for everyone to share.

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Towards Wivenhoe, there’s a board marking the entrance to the Ferry Marsh Colne Local Nature Reserve; the name’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s well worth the diversion.  There’s plenty of seating along the river banks on which to sit and watch the birdlife and see what the ebb and flow of the tide reveals.  If you’re lucky you could even see otters or water voles.

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But it was Wivenhoe that I’d come to see.  From its railway station, I found myself on the charming quayside in just a few minutes.  Wivenhoe Quay is packed with buildings of historic interest, among them The Nottage, open on weekends, housing a museum with an eclectic collection of nautical items.  Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon until September 3rd you can visit to learn more about Captain Nottage, the Victorian army officer and keen yachtsman whose name is on the door.

Next door to The Nottage is the excellent Rose and Crown pub.  Its outside tables are perfectly placed to watch the comings and goings along the Quay and the food’s not too shabby either.  In the sunshine, there are few places in Essex more attractive for an al-fresco lunch.

I wanted to see something of Wivenhoe and began to explore its quiet streets.  Just along Rose Lane, I noticed a blue plaque commemorating the great Miss Marple actress Joan Hickson, who once made her home here.  Around the corner, I couldn’t resist browsing the produce on offer in the Village Deli.  Owner Mike had an interesting take on the calorie issue presented by the ice cream on sale.  According to him, if you use the attached spoon correctly, the calories can be neutralised and thus don’t count.  That’ll be a salted caramel tub for me, then, and…

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Along the High Street I found the Wivenhoe Bookshop, the kind of place that almost doesn’t exist anymore.  Staff member Sue told me they’ve worked hard to create a space that works as a community cultural hub as well as a bookstore.  Coming up there are writers’ workshops, book signings, a knitting group and even a philosophy breakfast, reflecting the University of Essex presence on the edge of town.  You don’t have to be a local to get a warm welcome.  The place has a homely feel – the sofa in the back room was just the kind of sofa you’d want to sink into on a rainy afternoon.  I was blessed with blue skies so it was time to move on.

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My final port of call was to The Sentinel Gallery, run by the delightful Pru Green whose enthusiasm for art is catching.  Inside, work from some of East Anglia’s most talented artists was on display as well as some of the most colourful pottery you’ll find in the county.  The modern structure features angular lines and huge panes of glass.  It stands in stark contrast with the very traditional buildings that surround it, but it doesn’t jar.  And the light which floods into the exhibition space is incredible.  Even if you’re no art expert, this place is worth a visit, though don’t come on a Monday or a Tuesday as they’re closed.

Wivenhoe, I decided, had much to recommend it and if you want to see for yourself, there’s a ton of special events still to come this summer.  The Sunday, August 20th, sees the Wivenhoe Crabbing Competition, great fun for all the family; register on the Quay from 10.30am.  The town hosts its Beer Festival from September 1st to 3rd with the Art Sea Music Festival following close behind on September 9th.  Throughout the summer season, a weekend foot ferry links Wivenhoe to Rowhedge and Fingringhoe so long as the tide is high enough.  With limited parking in Wivenhoe, it’s a really good idea to take the train.

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With thanks to Greater Anglia for providing transport to and from Wivenhoe.

Links

Rail tickets and offers from Greater Anglia

https://www.greateranglia.co.uk/

The Nottage Maritime Institute

http://www.nottagemaritimeinstitute.org.uk/

Rose and Crown pub

https://www.facebook.com/Rose-Crown-Wivenhoe-173216156080059/

Village Deli

http://www.wivdeli.co.uk/

Wivenhoe Bookshop

http://www.wivenhoebooks.com

The Sentinel Gallery

http://www.thesentinelgallery.co.uk/


Stepping back in time at the East Anglian Railway Museum

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Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train, and I ride on the footplate, there and back again.”  Chances are, if you’ve just sung this rather than read those words, you grew up on a diet of Chigley and you remember as fondly as I do Lord Belborough and his steam engine Bessie.

But until yesterday, though I’d been on many a steam train, I’d never experienced what it’s like to ride on the footplate.  Thanks to train driver Michael and his sidekick Kim, whose role is that of fireman, I got to tick it off my bucket list.  Stood between Michael and Kim, I tried to keep my balance and time my barrage of questions to avoid interfering with their safety checks and operational duties.  With a carriage-load of passengers on board, even on such a short demonstration trip, it was important that things were done properly.

Teamwork was key, with both volunteers working together to ensure everything ran smoothly.  It was hot work.  As Kim stoked the firebox with coal, the blast of heat coming from inside was palpable.  Kim wiped a smear of coal dust from his nose and grinned as I wiped the sweat from my own forehead.  I was glad this was the museum’s 1905 vintage engine when Michael mentioned that had I ridden on the footplate of one of the other two working engines I’d have been much hotter, as the furnace would have been level with our faces instead of by our feet.

Whatever your age, there’s something special about a trip to a railway museum and the chance to see a working steam engine.  If you’re reading this and nodding your head in agreement, then I’d recommend you visit the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne.  While riding on the footplate was a special treat, visitors will sometimes be able to take advantage of the museum’s “Taster for a Tenner” promotion where you can learn how to drive a diesel loco for just £10.

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This summer, Greater Anglia are making it better than ever to travel by train.  For a number of attractions across East Anglia and London, the East Anglian Railway Museum being one of them, presenting your rail ticket gets you 2FOR1 admission.  If there’s just two of you, Greater Anglia’s advance fares will also keep your costs down.  For larger groups, check out the Group Save tickets, a good deal for families and groups of friends looking for an affordable day out.  Even better, Group Save can be used in conjunction with the 2FOR1 offer.  With rail tickets for children costing from just £2, arriving at the EARM by train makes a lot of sense.  Chappel and Wakes Colne station lies between Sudbury and Marks Tey on the pretty Gainsborough Line.  From Marks Tey there are frequent connections to London’s Liverpool Street as well as Ipswich and beyond.

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I chose to time my visit to coincide with one of the EARM’s regular special events.  The 1940s Vintage Tea Dance marries our nostalgia for the age of steam with a love of music, dance and reminiscing about the war.  Headlining the event were the fabulous Fox, Wiggle and Sass.  Perfectly co-ordinated in red polka dot dresses, hair coiffed in immaculate victory rolls and lips painted a perfect scarlet, the girls had the Forties look down pat.

Aimee (Fox), Amy (Wiggle) and Gemma (Sass) hail from what they term the Bermuda Triangle of Essex: Layer de la Haye, Finchingfield and Witham.  Over the last four years, they’ve been hired for countless weddings and private parties, but coming back to the EARM is special as it was the first gig they ever played.  This talented trio made performing the harmonies and melodies of iconic Forties classics like “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and “It’s a Good Day” as well as swing hits like “Sing Sing Sing” look simple.

Watching them perform was a full house – or rather goods shed – of people, many in 1940s costume themselves.  Servicemen danced with WVS volunteers while onlookers sipped tea from vintage china and ate cream teas.  Sharon from Swing Jive Sudbury was on hand to teach everyone the basics so even complete beginners could join in the fun.

Also in the goods shed, Bunty Bowring had laid out a fascinating collection of 1940s vintage clothing, showing how in times of rationing, make do and mend were of vital importance.  Together with husband Richard, who was dressed as one of the Home Guard, she shares her passion for all things wartime by giving regular talks to various local organisations.  Outside the goods shed, meanwhile, members of the Suffolk Regiment Living History Society had brought their rifles, kit bags and even their trucks and The Viaduct mini-pub was open for those wishing to sample the local beer.

The event had been fun, but  to leave without exploring the museum’s regular exhibits would have been a travesty.  I began at the signal box where a series of colour-coded levers ensured a train couldn’t enter a stretch of track while another was in the way.  The blue one shown in use here is pulled to activate a points lock, making sure the points don’t move as the train’s wheels pass over the top.  Young kids will love pulling the levers so much it will be hard to drag them away.

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Across the footbridge, the restoration shed gives you the chance to see some of the museum’s many engines and carriages being brought back to their former glory.  Many of the volunteers work on these projects on Wednesdays, making this a good day to find out about what’s going on.  There’s plenty of restored rolling stock to have a look at, including some vintage wooden carriages and recreations of station buildings and platforms.

The exhibitions in the on-site heritage centre explain the impact of Beeching’s cuts on the Gainsborough Line, which once would have continued on to Cambridge.  Sudbury’s population grew sufficiently to save the Marks Tey to Sudbury stretch from the same fate.  But other long-lost lines are covered too, including the Crab and Winkle Line which ran from nearby Kelvedon to the coast at Tollesbury.  Take a walk around Tollesbury Wick and at low tide, you can still see the railway’s wooden sleepers  disappearing into the mud.

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EARM staff say that visitors often remark on how much there is to see at the museum and I’d have to agree.  I made it through the level crossing gates back to the regular platform just in time to catch my train.  Whether you time your own visit for an event day or not, you’re sure to have a rewarding and enjoyable day out.  The volunteers were without exception keen to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.  Best of all, taking the train instead of the car gave me the chance to mull over what I’d seen and done.  My verdict: I’m going back – and next time I’m taking a 2FOR1 friend.

With thanks to Greater Anglia for courtesy train travel to and from the museum and to the East Anglian Railway Museum for a great day out.

Links

Greater Anglia’s offers

https://www.greateranglia.co.uk/offers/offers-in-east-anglia

East Anglian Railway Museum

http://www.earm.co.uk/

Fox, Wiggle and Sass

https://www.facebook.com/foxwiggleandsass/

Swing-jive Sudbury

http://www.swingjive-sudbury.co.uk/

Richard and Bunty Bowring

Email: bowring40s_talks@hotmail.co.uk

Suffolk Regiment Living History Society

https://www.suffolklhs.com/