Harwich Things to Do

  • Cosmic Sea Cat (- ex-reident!)
    Cosmic Sea Cat (- ex-reident!)
    by arturowan
  • Passenger ferry passing Ha'penny pier...
    Passenger ferry passing Ha'penny pier...
    by arturowan
  • Things to Do
    by johngayton

Most Recent Things to Do in Harwich

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    A quaint place to relax...

    by arturowan Updated Jan 5, 2015

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    I think many foreigners visit my country, expecting it to be "quaint" - Harwich as a town, ain't that, but it does have its quaint features; relics of the past that managed to survive the neglect of the local council, & none more so than Ha'penny Pier...
    This isn't the extensive boardwalk you'll encounter in nearby Walton-on-the-Naze, or Clacton-on-Sea, replete with amusement arcade & rides, but just an L-shaped jetty, that, like many features of Harwich, was never really completed...
    All the same, no visit to the town is complete without a stroll on its old timbers, cramful with benches & a seasonal kiosk selling souvenirs & seafood, & a cafe (not to be confused with The Ha'Penny Cafe, across the road in Pier Hotel...)
    The LV18 has been moored alongside the pier, so it is also a perfect platform in order to observe this well-preserved vessel at close quarters...
    There is also a quaint looking tourist information booth, & perhaps its most interesting feature is the map illustrating the area of Bathside Harwich that was underwater in The Great Flood of 1953 - with a to-scale Plimsoll line to show where the top of the floodwater was at the time...
    It's a popular place to go crabbing, fishing, or just while away the time, observing goings on at the ferry terminal, fishing boat quay, or across the bay at the Dooley container terminal, in Felixstowe... As long as it doesn't rain, then Ha'penny Pier shouldn't dissapoint as a central stadium for any spotter of dockside activity, (& if this centre of the local scene doesn't interest, then I think it tells a lot about the dullness of 1's attitude...)
    I have sat on Ha'penny Pier, in the dark, just watching the waves lap at the wooden structure, carrying the bright lights on the calm water, across from Felixstowe...
    It's a magical sight, & no visit to Harwich should overlook this historic feature of its characterful & essentially iconic waterfront...

    A description of Ha'Penny Pier, from 1941
    "We bought our tickets from the small wooden hut on the edge of the jetty & then walked onto the pier to wait for the ferry to come in from Felixstowe. The pier was made from railway sleepers & we could look down between the planks & see the water lapping down below, this gave us a shiver of half pleasure, half fear...The ferry came in at a lower level than the main pier & we had to walk down the wooden steps to a smaller jetty. In between the steps I could see the sea, & I was very aware that if I slipped I would fall straight into the sea..."
    (taken from Bread & Cheese ...& Sevensies, by Doreen Pearce)

    Passenger ferry passing Ha'penny pier... Ha'penny pier & Pier Hotel - Harwich's heyday... Harwich International Shanty Festival... Typical everyday scene from the pier... 0riginal pier, before additional kiosk...
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    The Redoubt...

    by arturowan Updated Oct 14, 2014

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    The Redoubt is a sunken, 180' circular fort that was built between 1808 - 1810
    It was constructed in response to the threat of a Napoleonic invasion, at the same time that 29 Martello towers were built around the coastline...
    French prisoners-of-war are said to have been employed in its construction, on a site where a house first had to be demolished, a mature elm, which had served as a navigational mark, was felled...
    The design was evolved from similar round forts at Dymchurch, & Eastbourne, with hoists lifting shells from below grounds, to the gun emplacements...
    18 sunken casements, held the ordnance & was capable of housing 300 troops inside...
    The Redoubt was originally armed with 24-pounder cannon, but was remodelled to house increasingly heavy weaponry, to meet advancing technology, in 1861-2
    The emplacements had to be strengthened in order to withstand 68-pounder cannons, though 3, 12-ton, Rifled Muzzle Loading guns were added in 1872
    During this update, a hawser holding 1 of the monster cannons snapped under stress, causing a nearby soldier to be decapitated by the swinging iron barrel...
    His ghost is still said to haunt the Redoubt, & local paranormal researchers who have gained permission to stay on the site after dark, have reported footsteps on the deserted parade ground...
    A further 3 emplacements received 12-pounder, Quick Firing guns in 1903
    However, by this time, work was already starting on the Beacon Hill Fort, (see separate tip) on the other side of Harwich, which meant that the Redoubt would be retired without ever having served a shot in anger!
    The only service the Redoubt actually achieved, was during WWII, as a detention centre for British troops awaiting trial, some of whom have left grafitti, which can still be seen...
    After the war, the Civil Defence service used the Redoubt, before it again was made redundant, surrounded by the towns allotments, its dry moat became a local dumping area for rubbish...
    After listing as an ancient monument, the Redoubt received extended restoration by the Harwich Society (see separate tip), beginning in July 1969
    Battle re-enactments are held at the Redoubt during the summertime, & the Harwich Shanty Festival goes there in 0ctober...

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    High Lighthouse...

    by arturowan Updated Oct 9, 2014

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    Daniel Asher Alexander was the architect commissioned to design & engineer the Harwich high lighthouse, which stands 7 floors tall, with an originally coal-fired lantern...
    The red-brick tower has 9 sides, with a decorative stone roof, capped with an urn, which has no purpose in the function of the light...
    It was erected under the supervision of John Rennie Senior, & was paid for by General Rebow, who charged vessels for their use...
    The lighthouse was first used in 1818, but made redundant as soon as 1863 owing to a shift in the channel in Harwich Bay...
    Although no longer used as a lighthouse, the 90' tower still provides a landmark to mariners today...
    After closure, the lighthouse became a private residence for a while, but is now in the care of The Harwich Society...

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    Harwich Maritime Museum...

    by arturowan Updated Oct 9, 2014

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    Harwich Maritime Museum is housed in a disused former lighthouse, built along the esplanade, in the old town area of Harwich Green...
    The actual lighthouse is 1 of a pair, 150 yards apart, both built in 1818...
    The lighthouses was made redundant in 1863, due to the altering course of the channel, & the matching pair of cast iron lights in Dovercourt, replaced them briefly, until the channel shifted again...
    The shorter lighthouse has a similarly pointed stone roof to the taller of the pair, & architraves over windows, so creating an attractively proportioned structure...
    It is 10-sided, with a balcony all around the light, & a ground storey projecting canopy, that forms the only public shelter along Harwich seafront...
    The Harwich Society now maintains the building...
    The white rendered lighthouse has served as the Maritime Museum since 1980 - inside are pictures & models, charting the history of the Royal & Merchant Navies in Harwich...
    0pening times - 10:00 - 17:00 daily, May Bank Holiday - September
    Admission - £2

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    Lifeboat Museum...

    by arturowan Written Oct 9, 2014

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    The Harwich Society maintains a museum to the towns lifeboat service in the old Victorian lifeboat house, Timberfields...
    The lifeboat shed was first built in 1921
    Amongst the exhibits pertaining to Harwich itself, is the former Clacton-0n-Sea lifeboat; Valentine Wyndham-Quin, which was in service from 1968 - 1984
    0pening hours - 11:00 - 15:00 - Mondays - Wednesdays; from May Bank Holiday - September

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    Treadwheel Crane...

    by arturowan Written Sep 27, 2014

    The treadwheel crane was built at the old Naval Shipyard, (now Navyard Wharf - see separate tip...) in 1667
    It was moved to Harwich Green, & is now a Grade II listed building, as the only remaining double-treadwheel crane of its type, in 1932
    Each wheel was capable of containing a standing man, at 16' diameter x 3'10" wide, spaced 4' apart, constructed in oak, upon a common axle...
    The crane was operated by a pair of men walking inside the wheels, however, the lack of any purposeful brake meant that this design was prone to serious accidents...
    During its working life, it was known as a House Crane, because it was fully enclosed in wooden boards, though those froming the roof have since been substituted with pantiles...

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    Go container port spotting...

    by arturowan Updated May 6, 2014

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    Felixstowe is the biggest container port in UK & 4th busiest in Europe, & I've many times found it a fascinating place just in order to observe the arrival & departure of ferries & international container ships unloading...
    However, because the terminus is so expansive, going to Felixstowe itself to spot the activity, is like 'not being able to see the forest, for the trees'...
    The best place to see the comings & goings of the sea traffic, & dockside activity, is actually from Harwich - an English county & an hour's drive away from Felixstowe, but less than a mile away, 'as the seagull flies'...
    Sitting on Ha'penny Pier, or on the shorefront, is enough to feel you might reach out & touch the huge container ships, & the best experience is when they reach dock, then pirouette 180degrees, so as to be facing out to sea, when unloading is completed...
    I've found the best panoramic view is from inside Beacon Hill Fort, the derelict remains of a concrete & steel leviathon, restructured from a WWI gun emplacement, in response to the Luftwaffe's constant bombing of the docks in this area...
    Although the fort construction has deterioted more due to British vandals & the encrouchment of brambles, than anything the enemy managed to do to it, there remains enough solid concrete to form viewing platforms across to Felixstowe & into the channel where the shipping lane is actually quite narrow, due to erosion...
    This means that all sea traffic has to approach at an acute angle, then be navigated home by pilot cutters - an operation that warrants observation, especially when the giant container ships, fully laden from the Far East, threaten to block out the entire horizon...
    Felixstowe is 1 of only several ports in the world with cranes tall enough to unload these monsters, decks stacked several containers high, & it's all a sight that never fails to impress me...
    Almost all the major names in shiping haulage can be witnessed here, including COSCO, CHINA SHIPPING LINE, MAERSK SEA-LAND, & MEDITERRANEAN SHIPPING COMPANY, whose vessels seem to go from here to every far reach in the world...
    But, it's not only container vessels that might be viewed from Harwich Quay - as the photo's show, old steamships & spritsail barges also visit, & there is the permanent mooring of the LV18

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    LV18

    by arturowan Written May 6, 2014

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    Light Vessel 18 was the last manned lightship in England, & is now moored at Harwich Quay...
    This is a temporary berthing because as usual, Harwich council do not want anything to do with what Harwich as a town is all about, to be seen by the public, let alone for it to attract tourism to the area...
    According to them, the LV18 is an "eyesore!" - mainly because of its colour...
    Councillor Lawrie Payne's opinion, on the LV18 coming to town, as reported in The Harwich & Manningtree Gazette, was;
    "I think this is a sad decision; I think this is a bad decision; & I think this is a decision I will be challenging & trying to overturn!" (September 2010)
    How peculiar, for a Labour party councillor to find a ship the colour of his own party campaigning livery, so objectionable...
    Just look at the photo's & make your own mind up about whether the LV18 is an "eyesore", or just a venerable old ship which deserves a retirement berth in a place with a nautical past?
    What do the council know - the LV18 is what Harwich IS ALL ABOUT!

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    ROUGHS SANDS FORT...

    by arturowan Updated Apr 23, 2014

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    Look out to sea on a clear day, from anywhere along the Harwich, Dovercourt, or Walton-on-the-Naze coast, & on the horizon will be seen a structure that resembles a table with extra thick legs... This is Roughs Sands fort, yet another wartime relic in the Harwich area & the most northerly of the offshore forts sited in 1942 to deter minelaying in the sea & to shoot down enemy aircraft...
    Several other such forts were constructed to commission of the H.M.S. - to a design by civil engineer, Guy Maunsell, after whom their design is named...
    H.M.S. Roughs Tower was built in Tilbury dock, then towed by tug into location, 8 miles out to sea from Harwich, where the pontoon base was flooded, so as to sink it to the Roughs Sandbar on 11th February 1942
    The fort has a hollow, flooded concrete base, with 2 hollow towers which formed the living quarters for the crew & also acted as bouyancy stabilisers when the structure was hit by heavy waves...
    The top platform was made from steel girderwork, with a generator & anti-aircraft gun, which was used regularly during the Luftwaffe's return-bombing of Harwich area...
    Due to their isolated location & windowless living quarters, the forts were not regarded as ideal posting by the servicemen who were stationed upon them, especially during wintertime...
    Indeed, there was 1 incident during the Roughs Sands service life, of a gunner becoming so desperate by the confinement of concrete walls, that he ran off the platform & attempted to drown himself, but was rescued & sent to an asylum...
    When not serving offshore, the Roughs Sands men were stationed at H.M.S.Badger, which was actually a pair of Nissen huts on Harwich Quay...
    In 1945 the forts were all decommissioned due to the end of hostilities, without any official line on what to do with them, allowing local fisherman to plunder the forts for precious metals...
    Come the 1960's, the forts suddenly drew the attention of the pirate radio entrepeneurs, seeking offshore havens from which to broadcast without a licence to the English audience, starved of pop & rock music on the fuddy-duddy BBC...
    Radio Caroline founder, Ronan 0'Rahilly is said to have boarded Roughs Sands, intending to broadcast from there, but decided instead to use an old fishing ship, (MV Amiga & The Ross Revenge...)
    0n 2nd September 1967, Southend businessman & ex-major, Paddy Roy Bates, occupied Roughs Sands, declaring it "The Principality of Sealand"(!)
    At this time, British international waters only extended 3 miles, so the new 'king of Sealand' proceeded to publish his self-styled passports, stamps & currency...
    Right to occupy the fort was since challenged by foreign pirates, but they were fought off, & despite firearms being deployed to defend the fort in the Bates' name, British police never investigated - a sign at the time that the government accepted his 'right to rule'...
    However, despite ongoing attempts to have 'Sealand' recognised as an international nation, the now late major Bates was never taken seriously...
    In 2006 the venerable wartime generator caught fire & the security guard onboard had to be airlifted to hospital, suffering with smoke inhalation, while the Harwich fireboat drenched the fort in seawater...
    Ironically, their action to save the tower, actually put it out of action, because the hollow towers containing electrical equipment serving UK unlicensed internet servers, were flooded in the rescue effort...
    The Bates family maintain their control of Roughs Sands & sell Sealand souvenirs from their website, but UK international waters now extend 12 miles offshore, so what the future holds for this supposedly 'independent international state', only time will tell..

    The Principality of Sealand... THE passport 0fficial Sealand paperwork... Entry & exit is awkward... Cosmic Sea Cat (- ex-reident!)
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    One Of A Kind - The Treadwheel Crane

    by johngayton Written Nov 21, 2013

    If walking down the waterfront past the Green you'll notice this oddbod of a wooden building. This is another of the Harwich Society's preservation projects and a very unique one it is too.

    This is a two-man "Treadwheel Crane" and is the only one of its kind in the UK. It was built in 1667 at the Admiralty Dockyard for hoisting heavy shipbuilding materials into place. The two oak wheels, a bit like 16-foot diameter hamster-wheels, were operated by two labourers who would walk inside them to provide the power for the geared lifting mechanism.

    This type of crane has been used since Roman times but most more-modern examples were built with a single wheel and the power usually provided by donkeys.

    The wheel was moved to its present location around 1932 and has been restored to almost its original condition - visits can be arranged through the Harwich Society.

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    Another Cracking Pub - The Hanover

    by johngayton Written Nov 20, 2013

    If you like your pubs traditional they don't come much more traditional than The Hanover Inn. This is a proper community pub where the friendly owners take pride in being involved with the local groups and organisations.

    Us thirsty passers-through are equally welcome with a good selection of beers on offer, as well as all the other things pubs sell.

    They also offer B&B accommodation which looks very reasonably-priced but I haven't, as yet, given that a try but I am keeping them in mind should I, for some unexplainable reason, miss my ferry LOL.

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    The Alma Inn - Ideal For An Afternoon Pint!

    by johngayton Updated Nov 20, 2013

    The town's Alma Inn has seen its ups and downs over its 160, or so, years but is now under new (as of May 2010) ownership and has been transformed into a slightly upscale, but still traditional, bar and dining rooms.

    I haven't had a chance to eat here yet but the menu certainly looks worth trying, featuring mostly local produce and, of course, fish straight from the boats.

    As a pub this a friendly little boozer with a good range of well-kept, reasonably-priced, beers and all the other bits and bobs you'd expect including a proper coffee machine.

    Update October 2013 - The pub is going from strength to strength. It's now using the local brewery, The Harwich Town Brewing Company (pic #2) and is as welcoming as ever - the rather luscious redheaded barmaid tells me she's getting a bit broody ;-)

    Pub Frontage
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    Watching The Container Ships

    by johngayton Written Dec 28, 2012

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    Across the harbour from Harwich's town port is the Port of Felixstowe which is the UK's largest shipping container operation. The port handles about 40% of all UK container transport, about three and a half million units anually, and the ships using it come from all over the world.

    The ships carefully edging into dock are fascinating to watch, arriving laden with gravity-defying towers of containers. These are often piled higher than their superstructure, making them look as if they should be unstable. It comes as no surprise that the loading and unloading of these is a very Hi-Tech skill, ensuring that the weights are distributed carefully so that the ships keep their even keel.

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    Where To Find The Local Brewery!

    by johngayton Updated Dec 19, 2012

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    Harwich's 5-barrel micro brewery is an unprepossessing little shed just up from the town's railway station, pretty much opposite the High Lighthouse. It may be nothing much to look at but the beers are excellent with a full range of brews including a mild, a porter, session bitters and a couple of strong ales. In addition to the regular range they also experiment with various one-offs and seasonal offerings. Website has a full list with tasting notes.

    Brewery tours can be arranged for groups of ten or more but if all you fancy is a sample then the Old Bell is your best port of call.

    Unprepossessing Building
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    The Electric Palace Cinema

    by johngayton Written Aug 2, 2010

    This fascinating little building is one of the UK's oldest purpose-built cinemas, constructed in 1911 soon after an act of Parliament laid down specific safety features which cinemas had to adhere to.

    It ceased operating as a cinema in 1956 but was reopened after painstaking renovation (which restored many of the original internal and external features) in 1981 by the volunteer Electric Cinema Trust, an offshoot of the Harwich Society, and now shows mainstream release films every weekend. This is a members-only cinema with an annual membership of £4 but membership is open to all.

    As well as being a cinema it also hosts regular jazz nights and on the last Thursday of the month features classic films.

    Building Frontage Restored Entranceway
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