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John Ray & Blackwater Rail Trails Combined

25th March 2019


Glenn and I were looking for a 30 km work out and decided to do the two walks that I did the week before, the John Ray Walk from Braintree to Witham and the Blackwater Rail Trail from Witham to Maldon, in one day. We left a car in Maldon and Sue drove us over to Braintree for the start of the walk at Braintree Station. The weather was glorious; a nice sunny day rather chilly to start with but it warmed up to 13 degrees C early afternoon.

Since I described the walk in detail in last weeks walk, in this report I have just high lighted some aspects, particularly where we took a slightly different route.



Distance Time Elevation in meters


Hrs - Mins

Gain Loss Min Max
29.86 6H42 5H55 96 123 1 70




Start Point - Braintree Station

There is actually a sign pointing to the John Ray walk on the right hand
side of the station which I missed last week. Just behind it in the
distance you can see an apartment block under construction,
and the path goes just in front of this



The John Ray Park is just to the left


We had soon made our way down Hoppit Mead, skirted the playing fields and crossed the A120 over the pedestrian footbridge. We headed to the left of Hayeswood Farm to the point at the second footbridge. This was the point last week where I was unsure exactly where the path went. Last week I had to walk directly across a field planted with crops towards John Ray Cottage; this week the farmer had kindly mowed the crops so the route was more obvious.



Last week's walk

A more obvious path this week

A better shot of John Ray Cottage in the sunlight

Approaching the church; there is actually a curved arrow
indicating the way through the churchyard.

St Peter & St Paul's Church

John Ray's tomb



Another beautiful tombstone in the graveyard

The tomb of Margaret Ann Barnard of Black Notley Hall. Also that of John Osmond Barnard A.I.F.
who was killed at Fromelles, France in 1916. His story, shown below from UNSW records, is fascinating



John Osmond BARNARD

Regimental number 3216
Place of birth Earls Colne, Essex, England
Age on arrival in Australia 47
Religion Church of England
Occupation Farmer
Address Glenholm, 146-148 Phillip Street, Sydney, New South Wales
Marital status Single
Age at embarkation 44
Height 5' 6.75"
Weight 128 lbs
Next of kin Brother, Osmond Barnard, Black Notly Hall, Braintree, Essex, England
Previous military service Nil
Enlistment date 31 August 1915
Date of enlistment from Nominal Roll 31 August 1915
Place of enlistment Sydney, New South Wales
Rank on enlistment Private
Unit name 17th Battalion, 7th Reinforcement
AWM Embarkation Roll number 23/34/2
Embarkation details Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A29 Suevic on 20 December 1915
Rank from Nominal Roll Private
Unit from Nominal Roll 55th Battalion
Fate Killed in Action 20 July 1916
Place of death or wounding Fance
Date of death 20 July 1916
Age at death 48
Age at death from cemetery records 46
Place of burial No known grave
Commemoration details V.C. Corner (Panel No 11), Australian Cemetery, Fromelles, France
Panel number, Roll of Honour,
  Australian War Memorial
Miscellaneous information from
  cemetery records
Parents: Osmond and Elizabeth BARNARD. Native of Earls Colne, Essex, England
Other details

War service: Egypt, Western Front

Allotted to and proceeded to 55th Bn from 5th Training Bn, Zeitoun, 16 February 1916; taken on strength of 55th Bn, Tel el Kebir, 16 February 1916.

Embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force, 19 June 1916; disembarked Marseilles, France, 29 June 1916.

Posted missing, 20 July 1916.

Previous report of missing, now, 17 April 1917, to be reported as 'Killed in Action, 20 July 1916' on a statement by Pte A.H. Hardy, 3078.

Note, Red Cross File No 240201: 'No trace Germany. Cert. by Capt. Mills 10.10.19.'

Statement, 3076 Pte A.H. HARDY, B Company, 55th Bn (patient, No 9 General Hospital, Rouen): 'After the Fromelles attack on July 19th when returning to our trenches on the morning of July 20th, I saw Barnard lying dead in No Man's Land.'

Second statement, 3144 Sergeant Dennis O'DEA, C Company, 55th Bn (patient, 3rd Southern General Hospital, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England), 2 January 1917: 'I was with Jack Barnard ... on July 20th at Fromelles, we had taken a German trench the evening before. He was a middle aged man, and I told him to go to the rear of the trench where the fire was not so hot, but he would stay with his men. He had been detailed off to guard German prisoners, but he would go over with his lads. He was very popular and very brave, and never took care of himself. He was last seen wounded in the German trench by Pte Jim Perkins, 3049 ... just before we retired. He must have been left behind, and have fallen into German hands.'

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal




A really interesting story lies behind the comment above that the "Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A29 Suevic on 20 December 1915". The "Suevic" was one fo five "Jubilee Class" (so-called because the commissioning of these ships coincided with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria) built by Harland and Wolf for the White Star Line for service on the Liverpool - Cape Town - Sydney route. In 1907 she was approaching Plymouth and ran aground at full speed on the Stag Rock on Maenheere Reef a mile off the Lizard in Cornwall. They could not re-float the vessel, but as the rear 120 m was undamaged, it was separated from the bow by dynamite (no oxy-acetylene cutters in those days) and towed to Southampton. A new bow section was constructed by Harland and Wolf and the ship was repaired. During the first World war it was requisitioned and in military service was known as His Majesty's Australian Transport HMAT 29 and made several journeys, one of which John Osmond Barnard was abord.In later life the vessel was sold to a Norwegian company and was converted to a whaler, and was eventually sunk by the Germans as it tried to sneek out of Gothenberg with other vessels during WWII.

The full story of the Suevic can be read on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Suevic



Suevic Memorial Board at Lizard Point



We continued on our way and eventually arrived at Fambridge Hall. We were photographing the blue plaque on the wall when the owner of Fambridge Hall engaged us in conversation. He explained that he had put up the plaque to remember his parents, and that on the death of his father he had planted a cherry tree in front of the hall to commemorate his death on 1st April. He added that the tree usually burst into blossom around that date each year, so it was a kindly reminder of his father.






We continued on our way, past Cressing Temple, along Temple Lane, and down the farm track towards Whiteheads Farm.

Here we studied the map so as not to make the same route error that I had made the previous week, but our concentration was disturbed by an extremely aggressive dog who followed us for a while and was intent on taking a chunk out of our leg! We got much closer to the official route that I had done the previous week but we went slightly off piste towards the end. We did eventually get on to the official path which goes parallel to Tarecroft Wood, and eventually came out onto Rickstones Road. We crossed here, and went down Rectory Lane



This looked like the correct path, but we were slightly off piste!

A "des res" down Rectory Lane.... The Old Rectory currently valued at around £2.5 million!

The map indicated a "metal barrier" down Rectory Lane where the path goes off at 90 degrees. We came to such a path right next to a new and extensive property development. We took this path and it followed the housing development around to the right.



We eventually came to Forest Road and Forest Road pond, which has been there since the middle of the 19th century. The seat commemorates Councillor Dr. Bob Evans who was a town and district councillor for many years. This would be a good place for lunch if you are doing the entire John Ray & Blackwater Rail Trail route, but we decided top press on to Witham Station where I knew there was a small coffee stand.

We continued down Forest Road until we came to the junction with Cypress Road; here the path goes off to the left and afetr a couple of hundred meters turns left into Cut Throat lane, parallel to the railway line. Afetr a short distance you cross a railar track via a pedestrian crossing and on the right is a huge factory. This is Bairds malt which makes approximately 48,000 tons of brewing and distilling malts annually using barley from East Anglia. The trail turns into Albert Road and on towards Witham Station.



On reaching Witham station we had clocked up 16.8 km, so it was time for a coffee and a short rest.

We followed the same route for the Blackwater Rail Trail as I had done the week before until we came to the T-junction in the rail with the zig-zag ramp with hand rails leading down to Blackwater Lane.






Last week I turned left here ; as the official route goes right towards the Maldon Road,
we decided to try this way this time.


Turning right along Blackwater Lane towards the Maldon Road. This route goes through a travellers area where lots of fun far rides are stored and is not a particularly attractive route.

We walked down the Maldon Road for a short while before turning left , just before the A12 underpass, down Templar's Green to regain the original trail. This led us under the A12 and on towards Witham Road and Blue Mills hump back bridge.


Under the A12

Overall I prefer the route I took the previous week which went on a footpath across the fields to the "official route" which goes through the travellers settlement and along the road. We ticked off the scenic points as we headed back to the dis-used railway track; the humpback bridge at Blue Mills, the railway trestle bridge; St Peter's Church.

View of the hump back bridge at Blue Mills from Benton Hall Golf course

Approaching the trestle bridge

The trestle bridge

A typically colourful Essex clapper board house

St Peter's Church

Back on the railway trail

The rest of the walk went exactly as my walk the previous week, and we soon arrived in Maldon.


We passed the Rose & Crown on our way back to High Street East carpark;
we both knew what the other was thinking; after 6 hours and forty minutes wouldn't
it be nice to pop in for a pint! But we resisted.......