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Passionate encounter with the last of ancient Essex

Regulars | By Patrick Barkham | November issue

Like many walks that fire the imagination, this one begins with an adventure straight from the pages of Winnie the Pooh. The creeks that make ‘the Ray’ an island are filling as quickly as a bath when I set off on a gentle circumnavigation of this mysterious, uninhabited place. I follow a dapper set of fox prints on the sand, slowly circumnavigating an alluring dome of tangled scrub barely three metres above sea level. After twenty minutes, I halt, momentarily shocked by the sight of fresh boot prints in the sand. They are, of course, my own.  I’m as jumpy as an imaginative child because Ray Island has a gift for the eerie. It is set within Essex’s Blackwater Estuary, the source of inspiration for Gothic classics old and new, from Sabine Baring-Gould’s magnificent Mehalah to Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. Ghost stories cling to this 110-acre island: there’s a...

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