The UK’s First “Power trail” – The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Series


The 1st December 2011, 12pm will go down in caching history as the time that the UK’s first “Power trail” was published. A lot of cache series have been accused of being powertrail before, however the definition of one is “a trail with many closely spaced caches, each placed as close to its neighbors as the cache saturation guidelines allow” [Source] None of the large cache series that we have done match this, and none of them have admitted to being Power trails. This series is loud and proud “I am a power trail, and if you don’t like it then don’t do it

The series runs along the river from Heybridge Basin right up into Chelmsford town center over a distance of 14 miles. There are other caches along this stretch as well, some of which we had previously found meaning that we were able to find 95 caches in a day! Those who haven’t visited the area would be able to pick up 110 caches across this distance. It took us 8 hours, 15 minutes to walk the stretch. I’ll add that because it’s a linear series you do have to get back to the start! You could walk and make it 28 miles, or you could catch the bus right back to where you started. There are details on the cache page. In our case, we got a lift back. The thought of walking all that way back in the dark really didn’t appeal to us. You could however break up the series into little chunks to cut down the amount of walking you would need to do at once.

I aim here to give a bit of a “review” of the series and share our experiences on it… I have also created an EveryTrail trip here. We started at 8:36am at Heybridge Basin at “Duck End Mill, Finchingfield“. This may slightly confuse some as Finchingfield is miles away! Let me explain: The caches are named after attractions in Essex. Each cache page has a write-up and in some caches photos of that attraction, meaning that you can also learn about some of the great places that our county has for visitors.

Heybridge Basin

Mel had ensured that we were well equipped with a couple of loafs of bread to feed the ducks and swans along the river. We had huge flocks heckling us for bread from the river and at one point it was a duck feeding frenzy!!!

Mine, mine, mine, mine...

We were also greeted by a very friendly family of swans who swam right up to us. They didn’t hiss, but calmly waited for their bread. They even gently took slices from Andy’s hand.

Please kind cachers. Could we have some of your bread?

Nom, nom, nom!

After we had passed through the wild bird hangout, we carried on to Beeleigh lock passing under several bridges. We were plesantly surprised when we saw some amazing graffiti under one of these bridges. It was a shame, however, to see that other Graffiti “Artists” had just sprayed random squirts over the lovely artwork.

Argh!

So sad to see the decent graffiti ruined.

After about 2.5 miles we had reached Beeleigh Lock, one of the 12 locks along the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation route that we were walking. This is the point at which Chelmer and Blackwater meet where fresh water above the weir and tidal salt water below create a special wildlife environment. Here we saw the floodgates that protect Heybridge from High Spring Tides.

Beeleigh Lock

A sun-kissed view from the bridge

Other than swans and ducks, we spotted some cows paddling the river along the route to Hoe Mill Lock. I’m always happy when there’s a barrier between us and cattle. A river is as good a barrier as you can get!

Cows at a safe distance

Having a paddle!

3.5 miles into the walk and we were at Ricketts Lock. The loud gushing noises of water drew me down to the jetty for a closer inspection of what was going on under the hunchback bridge. Sadly not many boats along the river today so we were unable to see it in action.

Ricketts Lock

A controversial aspect of this cache series is that the COs state that you can bring your own film cannisters and help maintain the series. If you find a cache or logbook is missing then you are welcome to replace it rather than log a DNF. Although this is a common thing with US power trails, I know this doesn’t gel well with some cachers and there is the fear that GZ could be littered with multiple containers. The COs have been clever with this series however and the chances of that happening are very slim because the vast majority of GZs look like this:

Cache security!

The hint for this cache is “Base of tree” and you can see here that the container fits snuggly into a little plastic pipe in the ground and is then covered in sticks and leaves. If the pipe is there and the container is not, then after confirming it hasn’t got lost under any nearby natural debris you can replace it without fearing that will be littering GZ.

4.5 miles into the journey and we were at Hoe Mill Lock. The perfect place to stop on one of the benches for a quick refreshment break whilst enjoying the scenery. Hoe mill lock was built at the end of an artificial canal cut which detoured around Hoe Mill, which was demolished in 1914. Larger lock chambers here allowed broader barges to pass through. At this point you see the largest lock gates on the whole navigation series, giving a 8ft 3ins fall. Across the lock you can see the 1797 Lock Keeper’s house.

Hoe Mill Lock

Views from Hoe Mill Lock

After Hoe Mill Lock we headed past the 700 year old All Saints, Ulting Church. We had found the cache that was here previously, which was just as well as it’s the other side of the river! The church looked lovely from this angle though.

All Saints Church!

This was a very muddy stretch along the river. The slipping and sliding really tested the old leg muscles and we had to be very careful where we stepped. Whilst walking along this section Mel had a few phone calls from other cachers and we learnt that we would have some extra company once we were at Papermill Lock. We were really amused by a sign that we spotted outside one of the houses along the opposite side of the river. Good job we didn’t fall in! πŸ˜‰

Yikes!

After 7 miles we were half way along the series and at Papermill Lock. Here we were joined by chunkyBMW, Cookie Cook, and Stephie4. This was a lovely spot for half way along the series as there is a lovely cafe with homemade cakes, and toilets. Here in 1792 were two mills; one grinding mica as part of the paper making process and the other grinding corn. Here you can see the former stables for horses, and the Old Stable Tea Rooms. These lock gates were also built to a larger size to allow broader barges to pass through.

Papermill Lock

Views towards the tea rooms

We took a muddy walk along the river for 7 caches over then next mile until we reached the Church Road Bridge where we stopped to admire the views from the bridge.

Views of the river

The next stretch is the longest of the series without anywhere to park or join the series, so we trundled on with our power caching mission enjoying the views, bridges, and locks that we passed. We also passed by Little Baddow Mill.

Swans gathering near Little Baddow Mill

Little Baddow Mill

After passing under the A12 we started to join up with cache’s from fr8y’s 500 Trail. As we grew ever closer to Chelmsford we saw plenty of Pill Boxes that were used to defend the area.

A pillbox on the other side of the river

Another of the pillboxes

By the time we reached Barnes Mill Lock it was quite dark out. Barnes Mill was a former weather boarded corn mill. There was also a fulling mill at this location in the 15th century which was used by the Coggeshall Abbey nuns for cloth making. The present corn mill at this spot dates from around 1800 and at its peak worked up to 6 millstones. The Marriage Family, well known Essex millers used to run this mill for many years. In 1918 the Fleming family took over the running of the Mill. In 1957 the millwheel’s shaft broke and the mill fell into disuse, before being converted into a house.

We got to the last cache at about 4:50pm. It was dark, but we were still smiling just long enough for a victory photo to be taken!

We did it!!!

My oh my did we enjoy our first Power Trail! A film can every 500-ish feet wasn’t as boring as I thought it would be because you have the wonderful views of the river and information boards along the stretch to learn about the canal.

A few tips for future visitors

  • A couple of miles from the start at Heybridge Basin is a Tesco Extra which is on the other side of the river, but accessible by crossing a bridge. Here you will find toilets and a place to stock up if you need food for the series
  • You can easily walk the series in one go even with the shorter daylight hours if you start early enough. Simply park at Heybridge Basin (For free), catch a bus to Chelmsford, and then walk back.
  • In some sections the paths are REALLY MUDDY. Wear decent walking boots and be prepared to slip and slide.
  • You can bike the series, you’ll need a mountain bike though.
  • Try to spot the information boards along the series which are at a lot of the bridges and locks and will tell you more about the canal.
  • Take a spare film can and logbook or two with you. You will know if a cache is missing and the CO is happy for you to replace it and log it
  • Papermill lock is a good half way point to aim for. There are toilets and a tea room with tempting cakes for your break in the middle. The toilets are only open when the tea room is open though

I hope this blog entry comes in useful for anyone hoping to visit the series. It was absolutely brilliant and I can’t express how much we enjoyed the walk, the views, the caches, and the company. Happy Caching!!!

12 Responses to “The UK’s First “Power trail” – The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Series”

  1. Ben Says:

    Did you DNF any Cass? πŸ˜‰

  2. Helen n Brian Says:

    Excellent write-up on our local Navigation!

  3. andy K! Says:

    Great review Cass, I’m looking to do it in one go before Xmas πŸ™‚

    Andy

  4. PeCeH Says:

    A well-written and very welcome review, Cass. We must add that we are slightly envious of your photographic skills. The pictures are really well done and give a good flavour of the delights which await the walker along the Navigation. Well done!

  5. Simon Says:

    Hi Cass,

    We did a small section on Sunday with the Buggie from Heybridge up to the Tesco. How much of the rest of the path is buggie accesible would you say?

    Cheers

    Simon

    • geocass Says:

      Hi Simon,

      Depending on the type of buggy you’d be able to get to most of it! The section from Hoe Mill lock up to Papermill is probably the worst. If you work downwards from Chelmsford you’d probably have the best paths for buggy accessibility. You’ll notice when you get to a point when the ground immediately turns muddy and stays muddy! I think the paths were mostly ok from Tesco to Hoe mill.

      Cass

      • Simon Says:

        Cheers Cass,

        We brought a robust offroad buggy as we knew we’d need it! Forgot to say before but loved the review and Jen also likes to see cows with a big river between her and them!

  6. Anita Szaniszlo Lewis Says:

    Cant wait to do this. Never thought about catching the bus and walking back – was worried we may miss the last bus but that idea is the perfect solution!! Unfortunately I am on crutches for a while so will have to do this when my torn calf has healed. brilliant blog Cass πŸ™‚
    Szanfam4

  7. Danny / EssexNightClubs Says:

    Great blog!
    You have inspired us to give this a go!
    Shall go soon with nihcuk, MorganJW2001, Max & Kerry Reynolds.

  8. jane Says:

    Call that a ‘power trail’ wink wink lol!! Looks like a great trail. I wanted to stop at Papermill Lock when I came to the event but we didn’t have time!! I watch one or two of the older caches along there! I see the caches are all disabled at the moment which is very sad. They are not really buried in the true sense of the word. Hope the reviewer has a rethink!
    Great review and photos. Thanks for making my armchair caching so much fun!
    Jane

  9. CBN Cycle Route Series | GeoCass UK GeoCaching Says:

    […] Cycle Route series. This was an extension to the original CBN series along the canal that we had walked in 2011 meaning that we still had caches CBN 113 to CBN 141 left to […]


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