Dovercourt’s historic lighthouses

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The twin lighthouses at Dovercourt have been a fixture on the landscape since the 1860s.  Iron-framed, they sit 200m apart, linked by a stone causeway that extends out into Dovercourt Bay.  As you can see from the photograph above, this is completely covered at high tide.

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The differing heights of the two lighthouses are significant, allowing the lights to be aligned as ships approach.  The inner lighthouse stands 15m high, while the smaller one is about 4m lower.  Commissioned by Trinity House in 1862, they replaced the two redundant lighthouses in Harwich, a short way along the coast, which had become unreliable due to migrating sand bars in the Stour Estuary.  For more on Harwich, see my earlier blog post here:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/harwich-the-town-that-rocked/

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With the installation of marker buoys indicating the approach to Harwich harbour, the Dovercourt lighthouses became obselete, like the Harwich ones before them.  In 1917, they were decommissioned, falling into a state of disrepair before being renovated in the 1980s.

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The beach today is one of just five in Essex that has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag in recognition of the cleanliness of both the beach and the water.  Off season, the beach is dog friendly, and with Felixstowe’s dock cranes framing the horizon, it’s a pleasant place to let them run.  If you’re planning to take your pooch, make sure you clean up after them to keep the beach in pristine condition.

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Coggeshall

Coggeshall scores high on my list of favourite Essex villages, with two National Trust properties within a short stroll of each other, a clutch of historic buildings and more than it’s fair share of tall tales and legends.

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Make your way first to Grange Barn.  It’s one of Europe’s largest and oldest timber framed buildings housing sheaves of corn from about 1230 onwards.  In those days, the village was run by the Abbots of Coggeshall, who collected tithes and owned the market place near to the Cistercian abbey which today is privately owned.  Incidentally, the abbey can be visited as part of the Invitation to View initiative and opens about five times a year.

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Grange Barn was reworked and rebuilt about 1380 when the large doors you can see in this picture were added.  Small gates were cut out of the doors; this was to allow the through draft of air which was necessary for the process of threshing.  In 1538, Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and the barn came under the ownership of Dairy House Farm next door.  In the 19th century, it was attached to Grange Farm, but by the 1970s, it was disused and in a state of disrepair.  After restoration, it passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1989.

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Inside, you’ll find some information about the barn and its history as well as some interesting agricultural machinery and carts.  If you find this interesting, then I’d recommend a visit to Cressing Temple Barns about 15 minutes up the road.  Read about them in my blog here:

https://essexology.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/cressing-temple-barns/

The second of the two National Trust properties in Coggeshall is Paycocke’s House.  This early 16th century house is renowned for its elaborate wood panelling and owes its splendour to the thriving wool trade in East Anglia at the time of its construction.  You can read more about Paycocke’s here:

https://essexology.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/paycockes/

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The centre of Coggeshall is also worth more than a quick look.  There are said to be over 300 listed buildings in the village, which given its population of under 5000 residents is good going.  Many of them are close to the intersection of Stoneham Street and Church Street.  Look out for the Clocktower, now a dog-friendly eatery, which was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.  The nearby Chapel Inn also has a long history, licensed since 1554.

An interesting facet of Coggeshall’s history is its early reputation for stupidity.  An old Essex proverb goes:

Braintree for the pure and Bocking for the poor; Coggeshall for the jeering town and Kelvedon for the whore.

Let’s gloss over poor Kelvedon and focus on how Coggeshall came to get this epithet.  According to legend, one day Coggeshall’s clock chimed 11 times at noon.  The puzzled villagers didn’t understand why, but they got wind that a clock at Lexden in Colchester had struck 12 times at 11 o’clock.  Thinking they had found their missing chime, the sent a rider to Lexden to collect the missing stroke.

Sadly, that’s not all.  Stories abound as to how the village’s lack of brainpower manifested itself.  One tale recounts how the villagers built a church but forgot to include windows, so they set out some hampers to catch the light, wheelbarrowed them into the church and opened them up to release the light they’d caught.  Other acts allegedly include winching a cow up onto the church roof to graze the grass that was growing there, knocking down one of the village’s two windmills as it was thought there wouldn’t be sufficient wind for them both and chaining up a wheelbarrow when a rabid dog bit it, just in case it went mad too.

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If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “a Coggeshall job” comes from, used to describe a pointless or poor piece of work, now you know.

Abberton Reservoir & the Dambuster connection

Largely taking its water from the River Stour, Abberton Reservoir is the largest in Essex.  But as well as being an important source of fresh water for North Essex residents, it’s also a wetland site managed by Essex Wildlife Trust.  The location is a key overwintering ground for migratory birds.  The damp ground hosts lapwing, curlew and golden plover and where the grass is better you’ll see wild geese.  Other birds that are commonly spotted include grebe, coot, swan and wigeon populations.

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An estimated 40,000 birds come each year, attracted by the shallow waters at the edge of the reservoir where they can peck about in the mud.  There’s also a breeding colony of cormorants, unusual as they nest in inland trees rather than on the more common coastal cliff ledge sites.  There are plenty of footpaths in the vicinity as well as a well-stocked visitor centre.  You can’t quite circumnavigate the reservoir but you’ll get a close look at the water in many places.

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But this tranquil place hides a chilling secret.  During the war, Abberton was one of the practice locations used by RAF 617 Squadron, more famously known as the Dambusters.  Preparations were intensive, with emphasis on low flying and simulated night flights.  Though participating pilots didn’t know what the target of Operation Chastise was going to be, the reservoir location offered some vital clues.  The Layer Causeway would have simulated a dam and was closed to passing traffic while the planes were overhead.  But the reservoir, finished just a short while before war broke out, was itself a target.

The Ministry of Defence was concerned that Abberton could be used as a landing site for seaplanes and placed 312 mines across the reservoir.  They were held in place with steel cables attached to concrete blocks.  At the end of the war, most were exploded; soldiers were ordered to fire at them from the banks of the reservoir.  Some, however, were holed and sank.  A prolonged period of dry weather in the late 1980s led to 22 of these mines being exposed on the reservoir’s banks and the army were called in.  Seven still had some explosives intact and were blown up.  Since then, a specialist diving unit has carried out a thorough survey and the reservoir is now officially clear.