Wobbin in Essex

Before this week, we had only ever passed through Essex in our enthusiasm to get to the wildlife wonders and reserves of Norfolk and Suffolk – we had never viewed the county of Essex as a destination in its own right. But this week we stayed a few days in The Wobbin, near Tollesbury, in the very rural south east of Essex around the Blackwater Estuary.

The Wobbin is a listed pair of old farm cottages built around 1800 and now knocked through into one. It does look like a rather large self-catering cottage for just two people and a dog but it is only one room deep.

This part of the Essex coast has miles of wild coastline and salt marsh and far too many nature reserves for us to have visited them all in one short break

The salt marsh at Tollesbury at high tide. Photo from the Wobbin website

The part of Tollesbury marsh closest to the village is used as a natural marina, although we only saw it at low tide when it looked a lot less desirable:

On the other side of the Blackwater estuary stands Bradwell nuclear power station, built in the 50s but now decommissioned since 2003.

There are plans to build a new Bradwell B nuclear power station close to the site of this old one, but these are yet to get officially sanctioned.

There are large numbers of dark-bellied brent geese over-wintering on this part of the coast. Around ninety-one thousand of these birds spend the winter in eastern England before returning to Arctic Russia to breed:

These small geese are about the size of a mallard duck.

Once you get on the seawall around the Blackwater estuary, you can walk for miles.

The English Coast Path, which will be 2,700 miles long when it is complete, follows the sea wall round the Blackwater Estuary
Walking along the sea wall at Tollesbury Wick nature reserve

Other than two training yachts packed with children, the only other vessel we saw in The Blackwater estuary was the Radio Caroline radio ship, Ross Revenge. This is now permanently moored in the centre of the river with a team of volunteers still broadcasting the sounds of the 60s and 70s via the radio waves to parts of Essex and Suffolk and also nationally online.

Ross Revenge with its tall radio mast. In the 1960s the BBC had the monopoly over radio broadcasting in Britain but the music being played was old fashioned. Pirate radio ships such as Radio Caroline were moored far enough out to sea to be in international waters and beyond British law and restrictions, but they could then broadcast new and exciting pop music back in to the British youth of the 60s.

There is a lightship at Tollesbury marshes. LV15 was built in 1954 and for thirty years did service around the British coast warning shipping of dangers at sea. She retired in the late 80s and was bought by the Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust who provide outdoor activities for kids who sleep onboard the lightship herself. She has been renamed Trinity and since 1991 rests her old bones in Tollesbury Marshes

She was full of children when we walked along to her. What a fantastically memorable experience for them

The RSPB reserve at Old Hall Marshes just to the north of Tollesbury is enormous and we had it entirely to ourselves:

Black-tailed godwit at Old Hall Marshes. Only about fifty pairs breed in the UK, although these birds will be over-wintering in Africa at the moment. The birds we saw at Old Hall Marshes this week are from a population that breeds in Iceland but over-winters here. Recent improvements of habitat in Iceland mean that our winter black-tailed godwit numbers have increased, but our summer breeding population is critically low and the subject of intensive conservation work to try to save them from extinction

We realised that this must be an eel ladder:

The green plastic brushes mimic grass – apparently elvers can slither themselves up grassy banks to get round obstacles:

We were also the only visitors at Essex Wildlife Trust’s Chigborough Lakes reserve. This ancient pollarded oak on the reserve has a girth of three metres according to the Ancient Tree Inventory:

There has been much rain recently and the clay soil of the area did make things muddy:

Our wood in Kent has a lot of goat willow which is now flowering, but all the action is high up in the crowns of the trees and difficult to view. This week in Essex we found a hedgerow of goat willow with the catkins down at eye level. Unlike hazel, goat willow is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. On the male trees, the catkins are covered in yellow pollen:

Goat willow is pollinated by both insects and the wind. The male flowers produce nectar along with the pollen to attract bees

The catkins of the female trees are made up of narrow green flask-shaped flowers. They also produce nectar to lure in bees and these bees may have previously visited a male tree and picked up some pollen to fertilise the flower.

Once pollinated, each of the flasks within the female catkin grows into a fluffy seed that gets dispersed by the wind

We were a bit disappointed with RHS Hyde Hall – both with the scale of the garden and with their policy that no dogs are allowed anywhere on site so we couldn’t even get Pops out of the car to stretch her legs in the car park. We did, however, love this windmill garden sculpture of sycamore keys that were gently circling in the breeze:

These living willow sculptures on the winter garden were also very impressive:

On our way out of Essex at the end of our stay, we called in at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, staffed by a band of enthusiastic and welcoming volunteers. After the First World War, the farmer returned to the land and continued farming whilst retaining the buildings. The airfield wasn’t used again in the Second World War because it was too marshy and so it remains the only intact Great War aerodrome in England.

A World War I biplane, the Avro 504K

The site covers 118 acres and they are working to improve the habitat for wildlife. All five species of British owl have been seen there and, working with ‘WildlifeKate’, they have cameras on a barn owl nest in the old generator building, a little owl nest and on ponds around the site. Their website has links to live feeds from the cameras:


It was great to visit Essex off-season and have it to ourselves but we couldn’t help wondering how it will be when the invertebrates are out and the birds are breeding. This lovely part of the country deserves another visit to find out!

2 thoughts on “Wobbin in Essex

  1. The marshes look very atmospheric, I love the look of The Wobbin and the red and white boats. Who knew that Radio Caroline was still going!

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