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The Tranquil Backwaters of Chelmsford City

Today I downed tools at around 4.45pm to make the most of the glorious sunshine we had across Essex today. By all accounts most of the country was in bathed in sunshine also. I left my Great Baddow office and strolled up to Sandford Lock and then along the Blackwater Navigation to Chelmsford.

It was a lovely walk, the birds were singing, the river was full of fish, there were ducks, swans, baby horses, people cycling and running, parents walking with their children, a man in a canoe, several people tending to their boats, and many more making the most of the weather. I even saw a picnic on the fields between Barnes Mill Lock and Moulsham Mill.

What struck me as I walked along the Blackwater into town was how tranquil and beautiful the route was, and how lucky I was to be able to take such a nice walk into town, or should I say the city, on the spur of the moment.

Sandford Lock and the Blackwater Navigation

Blackwater at Sandford Lock

The Southern loop of the Blackwater at Sandford Lock

Although my walk actually started at my office, the first part of the journey is not a lot to shout about. The walk really starts on Sandford Mill Lane, off the Maldon Road (A414) in Great Baddow.

The lane soon ends where a footpath starts. Immediately I came to the river and was surprised to see that it was full of fish. There were a couple of teenagers in waders out catching them.

I took a photo of the fish but it did not really come out very well. Not sure what the southern loop of the Blackwater at this point in the river is actually called, maybe it has a name in its own right.

Boats of Sandford Lock, Chelmsford

Boats of Sandford Lock, Chelmsford

Once I got to the main Blackwater at Sandford Lock it was like being on holiday again. Many years ago I used to go on canal boat holidays with friends and this area reminded me of those days.

There were a few people out tending to their boats, no doubt getting them ready for some barging. Let’s hope the water levels stay high enough.

There were also several people out running, cycling and walking along the paths in the area. There are also some lovely ponies / horses which a family was patting. That was towards the A12, the opposite direction to town though.

I learnt two things about the Sandford Lock and Blackwater navigation today. The first is that there is a boat that does trips on a Sunday along the water. The Blackwater Rose can take up to 12 passengers along the river. They charge around £5.50 per adult, less for kids, and the trip takes around 1 hour. Call 01206 853282 for more info or visit

The Essex Police Speed Boat

The Essex Police Speed Boat

I also learned that Sandford Lock is currently home to Essex Police’s speed boat! OK, this is not the sort of police speed boat seen in Miami Vice, but hey, we have a river speedboat!

Although you cannot see it in the photo, the cover on the outboard motor says Essex Police. So it really is their boat! I wonder how often it gets used.

Fishing on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

I do not fish, and never have. However, I can see how it can be a pleasant pastime especially in an area is tranquil as the Blackwater. There is a sign up detailing the fishing rules. You cannot fish from 15th March until 16th June as this is a “Main River” and subject to Environment Agency Byelaws. No fishing within 30 metres of a lock, near boats etc.

Blackwater - a nice spot for running, cycling, walking or fishing

A nice spot for running, cycling, walking or fishing

You can fish anywhere along the navigation from the tow path bank providing you have a rod licence and a valid day ticket or club membership. Day tickets are available from local tackle shops in advance (try Ronnie Crowes in Great Baddow) or from a Maldon Angling Society bailiff on the bank. For more places to fish in Essex see Essex Fishing Lakes and Rivers.

I continued my walk towards town along the tow path. Soon several runners and cyclists were passing me. The path is narrow so you have to keep your wits about you and be ready to move out of the way of the more athletic people in the area. There were also several dog walkers who had parked up near Sandford Lock.

Barnes Mill Lock

Bridge across the river near Barnes Mill Lock

Bridge across the river near Barnes Mill Lock

I soon arrived at Barnes Mill Lock on the edge of Chelmer Village, just off Chelmer Village Way. There was not a lot to see from the river side really, but Barnes Mill looks impressive. I think it is a residential property now though. It is here that I crossed the river to continue on towards town across pasture for horses.

I rather liked the white metal bridge so photographed that. Although I fear my 2008 G1 Google phone’s camera did not do it justice (that’s it, blame the tools).

The lock was actually full of rubbish, included a half submerged tyre. It seems that the lock gates have remained firmly closed for some time, I assume to preserve the water in the navigation for as long as possible.

The Fox and Raven

the back of the Fox and Raven in Chelmer Village

The back of the Fox and Raven in Chelmer Village

As my walk continued I passed the back of the Fox and Raven pub in Chelmer Village. I have been there a few times before but never sat in the beer garden at the back.

In fact, I had never noticed it before. I could smell char-grilled steaks / burgers, and suddenly fancied something to eat. I could certainly hear people enjoying themselves at the pub. I also started to fancy a pint at this point on the walk.

A swan on the Blackwater

A swan!

I fought the temptation to make a detour and marched onwards to town.

My determination paid off, as shortly after passing the pub I caught sight of a swan. It was ahead of me on the river and travelling the same direction. At this point the river starts meandering so I decided to take a short cut, dodging the stingers and horse poo, and managed to cut the swan off at the pass, as it were. The swan seemed pleased to see me as it cruised carelessly along the river.

A baby horse in Chelmsford

A baby horse in Chelmsford

The next nice sight was seeing a horse with its baby (foal? I am not a horsey person). Another reminder that it is Spring. In this part of the field / meadow / flood plain (and it does indeed flood when we get a lot of rain) there are many horses grazing away.

Some horses even stroll underneath Chelmer Road, which is essentially a bridge at this point that links the Army and Navy to Chelmer Village. Never before while crossing the bridge in a car did I think that there may be horses sheltering beneath my wheels!

Chelmer Road Underpass

Chelmer Road Underpass, with Cave Paintings

As I approached Chelmer Road I had a real feeling that I was now finally leaving the countryside and entering town (city!).

The road was busy, and pretty jammed as it was rush hour. To get from the fields to the south of town to the path on the north side of the Chelmer Road you have to go through a very urban underpass that is covered in graffiti.

However, this urban decoration does not last for long, soon it is all quiet and peaceful again (apart from some loud dog walkers who prefer to yell than use a lead ….).

Next on the journey was the final lock of the day….

Springfield Lock

Springfield Lock, Chelmsford

Springfield Lock, Chelmsford

Springfield Lock is to Chelmsford as Canary Wharf is to London. You may think that I jest (I partly do) but it is a great little area.

It is pretty, quiet and many of the flats overlook the water. There are still a few boats too. The water is clean and considering how close we now are to Chelmsford town centre, it really is a pleasant area. Not actually listed as one of the best places to live in Chelmsford, but it probably should be.

An interesting information panel shows that the river was often used for pleasure cruises back in 1899.

There us a great photo of a very busy boat passing under the bridge from July 1899. There were probably far more people on the boar than health and safety will allow today.

Springfield Lock, 1899

Party Boat leaving Springfield Lock, July 1899

Moulsham Mill and the River Can

Moulsham Mill and Bloke in a Canoe

Moulsham Mill and Bloke in a Canoe

From here I headed along the river path, passed the back of the Moulsham Mill, which today is home to offices, craft outlets, meeting rooms and also has hosted science fairs in the past.

Just here I was the only canoeist of the day. It was still a little early for the after work canoeists I think, as it was just before 6pm. Maybe most canoeists prefer the summer weather – but today was fantastic.

This is the stretch of river just before the point where the rivers Can and Chelmer merge together to form the Chelmer and Blackwater navigation. Although you can hear the road traffic it is still a lovely area for walking.

Chelmsford Sea Cadets boat house

Chelmsford Sea Cadets

The final points on my walk saw the Chelmsford Sea Cadets boat house, which is really not much to look at. However, the sea cadets themselves, at least I think it was them, were have a ball shooting some hoop. For those that enjoy fishing, there are some fishing spots along this part of the river.

I continued towards town and was soon on French’s Walk and passing the Meadows Shopping Centre. I stopped for a coffee at Costa at just gone 6pm, I think I was lucky to get served. The coffee was good and it was still warm enough to sit outside in shorts and T-shirt.

A great journey from Great Baddow to Chelmsford, the pretty route.

Journey's End - Coffee at Costa

Journey’s End – Coffee at Costa

I walked back to Great Baddow along Baddow Road. The journey into town took about 90 minutes and the journey home around 35 minutes. Nothing much to report on the journey home, although I took some photos of some business and pubs in Great Baddow, however, that really requires another post.

I was out walking and drinking coffee (plus a quick burger ….) for around 2 3/4 hours. Was a great way to finish the day. Writing up my walk has taken almost as long!

You can see all the photos from my walk, plus a couple of random shots from the other day, here:

  3 comments for “The Tranquil Backwaters of Chelmsford City

  1. Michael Morgan
    September 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Having just read most of your walk did you think it a shame the boats, especially the narrow boats, cannot cross above the wier from Springfield Basin and into the town at Parkway? aparently the services i.e.gas water etc were moved years ago but the link never came about. There are some low bridges in the town but they could be raised later when non boaters see the boats by the cafes.
    Incidentally the ‘Police Speed Boat’ is the Waterways work boat. The Police cover is to show the boat and engine numbers are registered with the police.
    Regards Michael. Sandford Lock House.

  2. EssexPortal
    September 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Michael, it is a shame. I do feel that Chelmsford really does not make good use of its two rivers at all. They should form focal points in the town but with the exception of some improvements in the Meadows area, there is not a lot of river action.

    Sorry about the Police speed boat mistake – that makes more sense!

  3. September 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    It’s a genuine shame that you’ve never sat in the beer gardens at The Fox And Raven. The view is incredible.

    I’m a proper townie (as in, I was born in a concrete jungle) so to me Springfield is quite rural and picturesque. My mother came over from Cheltenham over the weekend to visit and she simply fell in love with Springfield and Chelmsford in general.

    She also loved the Fox and Raven!

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