This is a walk with a difference. For 14 miles you can follow this industrial age canalised river, meandering gracefully through quiet countryside. The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation opened in 1797 to connect the Essex County Town of Chelmsford with the sea. Built to the designs of the famous engineer John Rennie, the Navigation consists of a series of 13 locks and 2 canal basins, including the sea-lock at Heybridge where cargoes were transferred to barges for transfer to the Springfield Basin.
The river Navigations opened up eastern England for the first time to the influence of the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, large shipments of coal and pig iron penetrated inland to Heybridge and finally Chelmsford. The landed price of coal was very important and low costs encouraged foundries such as Christies and Bentalls to develop in Chelmsford and Heybridge. When the railway arrived in 1846-8, the foundries were able to take full advantage of the improved communications to find new customers and markets for their goods.
The same pattern of development is repeated elsewhere in eastern England, at Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich, Peterborough and Bedford where eighteenth century foundries developed into major engineering undertakings in the nineteenth century. The river Navigations were the catalyst for this pattern of industrialisation.
As well at being the shallowest Navigation in England the Chelmer and Blackwater is also the only one still in private hands. The fall on the river provided power for many mills, each carefully bypassed by a lock system allowing the miller to carry on his trade. On the River Blackwater at Langford, just upstream from its junction with the navigation at Beeleigh, lies the Museum of Power which is another ERIH site.
Though no longer used by commercial barges, pleasure boats can be hired at Heybridge and Paper Mill Lock for exploring the Navigation. At Paper Mill Lock, too, you can see the original stables for the horses that pulled the barges, as well at the lodging or ´Bothy´ used by the ´bargees´ for overnight stay. Enjoy your refreshment at the superb tea-shop. At either end of the Navigation, Heybridge and Springfield Basins also offer a wide choice of eating places.