Now administered by Essex Waterways Ltd (a subsidiary company of the Inland Waterways Association), the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation is a comparatively little known but immensely enjoyable waterway. Far removed from the helter-skelter of ’Estuary Essex’, it offers delightful cruising through quiet countryside. Furthermore, since its takeover by IWA, standards of maintenance have improved immeasurably and a wider range of facilities are available throughout its length.
Heybridge Basin is one of those places – like Glasson Basin in Lancashire – where saltwater and fresh meet. There’s a mingling of sailing craft and narrowboats, of yachties and canallers. It’s a gloriously unspoilt, atmospheric location, and a handful of good pubs serve to make a visit even more enjoyable.
The historic town of Maldon is carefully skirted and then the waterway charts a lonely course through the Essex countryside, its route punctuated by regular locks but relatively few signs of civilisation. The banks are lined in many places with willow trees, the wood from which is still used to make cricket bats. Villages, like Little Baddow and Woodham Walter, are set well back from the navigation but repay exploration. Eventually tiring of the rural idyll, the C&BN runs alongside the busy A12 before terminating at Springfield Basin on the outskirts of Chelmsford. It would provide a fitting finale to the route if the waterway could be extended into the town centre, but plans to achieve that objective have made little progress so far. In the meantime, the basin now provides good moorings and a range of amenities.