There’s so much to do in Maldon that if you can spare a night on your travels it’s well worth finding a local site to pitch up the campervan for a couple of days.
It’s a waterside town at the end of the River Chelmer — at the point where it drains into Heybridge Basin. The banks of the river there are lined with boats, many of which are historic Thames Barges that were previously used for taking cargo up to London.
Although they aren’t used for that purpose any more many of them do still sail and you can take a cruise on them in the spring and summer or, in the autumn and winter, head below deck for tea and cakes while moored at the quayside. We particularly like grabbing tea in Hydrogen, a barge built during the reign of Queen Victoria, which serves products sourced from the local high street.
It’s a very cosy bolt hole on a chilly afternoon.
The waterfront is perfect for walking as its paved, so neither muddy nor uneven. Head along it towards the mouth of the river and you’ll find the statue of Byrhtnoth, the Anglo Saxon leader who fought the vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991. He was such a believer in fair play that he allowed the vikings to come across the water to a better position, but this turned out to be the cause of his downfall. He was killed, along with many of his troops.
There’s also a large park — Promenade Park — which has plenty of space for ball games, a kids’ water park, a large lake, lots of car parking, an arboretum and formal gardens. If the weather’s good, it’s also somewhere you can grab an ice cream and cool down. For more active visitors, there’s a BMX track, model boating pond and sand pits.
The annual Maldon Mud Race kicks off from the banks of the river on the edge of Promenade Park. It takes place every spring, although it used to be a Boxing Day tradition. Entrants must race across the river at low tide, when the mud is deep and pretty cold. It doesn’t sound particularly far, but the 500m course takes a long time to complete if you’re not at the very front of the pack as it gets extremely boggy and churned up.
If you want to attend, make sure you get there early as there are always very large crowds and the event attracts TV coverage from right around the world. YIt’s been held for over 40 years now, and you can find the date of the next Maldon Mud Race by checking out its web site.
Elsewhere in town, there are lots of old churches to look at and, further up the hill, a small high street with some independent shops. Hunt around behind the small shopping centre and you’ll find a mural to the fat man of Maldon who died in 1750, weighing 47.5 stone (301.5kg). His stomach measured 6ft 11in and his coat was large enough to fit seven people at once.
Maldon is probably best known for the Maldon Sea Salt company, which makes its salt using water drawn from the river. Unfortunately you can’t go inside the surprisingly small wooden factory, but you can at least say that you’ve bought Maldon sea salt in Maldon itself.
You may also have heard the town’s name used in War of the Worlds, HG Wells’ sci-fi alien invasion story:
People were watching for Martians here from the church towers. My brother, very luckily for him as it chanced, preferred to push on at once to the coast rather than wait for food, although all three of them were very hungry. By midday they passed through Tillingham, which, strangely enough, seemed to be quite silent and deserted, save for a few furtive plunderers hunting for food. Near Tillingham they suddenly came in sight of the sea, and the most amazing crowd of shipping of all sorts that it is possible to imagine.
For after the sailors could no longer come up the Thames, they came on to the Essex coast, to Harwich and Walton and Clacton, and afterwards to Foulness and Shoebury, to bring off the people. They lay in a huge sickle-shaped curve that vanished into mist at last towards the Naze. Close inshore was a multitude of fishing smacks — English, Scotch, French, Dutch, and Swedish; steam launches from the Thames, yachts, electric boats; and beyond were ships of large burden, a multitude of filthy colliers, trim merchantmen, cattle ships, passenger boats, petroleum tanks, ocean tramps, an old white transport even, neat white and grey liners from Southampton and Hamburg; and along the blue coast across the Blackwater my brother could make out dimly a dense swarm of boats chaffering with the people on the beach, a swarm which also extended up the Blackwater almost to Maldon.
About a couple of miles out lay an ironclad, very low in the water, almost, to my brother’s perception, like a water-logged ship. This was the ram Thunder Child. It was the only warship in sight, but far away to the right over the smooth surface of the sea—for that day there was a dead calm—lay a serpent of black smoke to mark the next ironclads of the Channel Fleet, which hovered in an extended line, steam up and ready for action, across the Thames estuary during the course of the Martian conquest, vigilant and yet powerless to prevent it.
Maldon is very close to Happy Campers HQ. Follow the A414 east out of town and it will take you through Danbury (a small town on a hill overlooking Chelmsford where the lakes make for a nice short walk). From here, Maldon is clearly signposted, with brown tourist signs also pointing to Burnham, which is equally worthy of a visit.