Barry Howard, Senior Manager of The Asheldham Centre has produced the following. As part of the Directing Staff at 'HUNTER Outdoor Training' he leads day, night, and multi-day winter backpacking expeditions across our area and thus knows the vagaries, and unique terrain and weather patterns experienced which can mislead unaccompanied group leaders.
This information section has been compiled as a response to a large number of group leaders who have expressed interest in walking out on 'The Dengie', our remote, 60 sq miles, of freshwater marsh, isolated farmland, and seawalled coast.
Dengie is mysterious, beautiful in all its various seasons, with big skies, and very few buildings. Its flood defences include wide rivers, high sea walls, deep water filled ditches, and the odd redbrick pumping station. The residents are wary of strangers, and invariably react should you be found on their private land without permission. Most farms are a few metres above sea level. Most land is at or below sea level. Cover and protection from wind, and horizontal rain is, in many places, non-existent.
Be in no doubt that this landscape is flat; very flat. Thus there are few if any easily identifiable landmarks to get one's bearings on; at night this makes way-finding at least interesting, at worst difficult and challenging....this is a very challenging area for some when they are walking. And it is this very nature which has a strong appeal once you try to 'take it on.'
Despite (or because of) the flatness, the north or east wind will cut across the area producing a windchill that is, outside of summer, below freezing one day in every three; in winter that rises to two days in every three, and in winter at night usually three days out of every three. When walking, backpacking, guiding, working, and instructing, we wear full winter mountaineering multi-layered clothing with multi-functional survival gear in our rucsacs. Please be aware of this.
Walks and treks in high summer are, here, in desert conditions; there are no places to re-fill water bottles, and very few trees grow on The Dengie; distances are difficult to judge due to heat haze, and few cars travel what few roads there are. Walking in these conditions demands carrying a day's water each, wearing lightweight clothing which protects the whole of the body from the sun, and a full-brimmed hat. We have had more cases of heatstroke out here than on summer mountain expeditions.
South of Bridgewick one can be two hours from the nearest building, mobile phone reception is not guaranteed, ambulances do not cover the area, the Essex Air Ambulance does not have a night-flying capability, and public road access to the sea wall is non-existent. Thus day-walks do not take place in this south east corner; should group leaders wish to 'explore' this area then they would be very wise to be accompanied by one of our guides who will have risk-assessed the day's activities and will have put into motion an emergency fall-back plan.
Clothing needs to include strong footwear, full waterproof outer jacket and overtrousers, base and mid layer - and fleece-type jacket which are insulative, and hat, gloves, and scarf. For night activities: walks and emergency training - torches are essential; take a small rucsac with spare food and clothing; Hunter Instructors may well give clients extra safety and survival equipment to carry in their sacs.
Notwithstanding this, the area is very good for challenging young people in outdoor work; remoteness from central heating, streetlights (there are none), no towns, few villages, few shops, and long distances, and the need to be personally organised can be a powerful tool to start to change perceptions on urban living.
Should you wish to undertake treks out into The Dengie please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.