There may be people out there who do not believe that Essex has a coastline, outside perhaps of Southend and Clacton. Well, their proms make up five or six miles between them; that leaves nigh-on 350 to discover.
As ever with Essex, look at the map. The boundary-rivers of the county’s north and south, Stour and Thames, are two of the most-lauded in our nation. Between, the estuaries of the Colne, Blackwater and Crouch march deep inland, still unbridged until their tidal ranges subside. Vast stretches are internationally important for bird life, as migrants seek resting places after crossing the cold North Sea.
One acre in every ten of this nation’s saltmarsh is in Essex – look out for the blooming of the sea lavender in July; the tidal mudflats of the river creeks and estuaries wind for miles inland; and cockle banks arise at almost every turn from river to sea. Marshland behind the sea walls – raised mostly from around 1600, but in some areas from the passing of the ‘Law of the Marsh’ in 1210 – can hide little lagoons, and every borrow-dyke has its reed-bed.
There are even low cliffs too. Southend has a cliff funicular after all. But see also The Naze, its Red Crag crumbling speedily it is true, but uncovering immeasurably rich fossil deposits as it does. And in the Broomway, Essex has one of the two most dangerous offshore walks in England.
I approach the Essex coast as a walker, and since 2008 I’ve been working my way around it. Six stretches feature in Walking in Essex: the Naze; Mersea Island; Tollesbury; St Peter’s Chapel; Burnham-on-Crouch; and Leigh-on-Sea. A seventh, Paglesham, probably should have done, and will be included as a bonus walk.
Towns and villages
There are far fewer settlements than you might think. Harwich is the natural start point in the north, but beyond Dovercourt a mile south, it’s a lonely stretch until the Naze peninsula, overtopping Walton-on-the-Naze. From here, genteel Frinton and blowsy Clacton follow quickly, but after Point Clear there are creeks to Brightlingsea. The tidal Colne takes you past Wivenhoe to Colchester, the river’s first bridge.
Beyond, take a day to walk the most gastronomic of the Essex islands, Mersea Island. Back on the mainland, beyond the tiny hamlet of Salcott-cum-Verney long lonely marshes twist around the larger village of Tollesbury. The long Blackwater estuary takes you past Goldhanger to Maldon, and then follows the vast Dengie peninsula, hemmed in by Blackwater, Crouch and North Sea, with Burnham-on-Crouch an undoubted highlight (rather more so than the new town of South Woodham Ferrers).
Battlesbridge and Paglesham follow before Rochford, and then the possibility of circumnavigating Foulness Island, military permitting – perhaps not taking in the risky Broomway over Maplin Sands. From Shoeburyness, it’s built up all the way to Southend and beyond, so the pier at Southend seems a good place to stop, though then there’s friendly Leigh-on-Sea, the country park at Hadleigh Castle, and the RSPB reserve at Purfleet, as the capital (and the Thames Path) looms ever closer …
Read all about it
If you want more detail than my site or my book (which has six coastal walks), there’s a substantial guide to walking the Essex coast written by Peter Caton and published by Troubador Press, ISBN: 9781848761162. You could buy “Essex Coast Walk” through Amazon or alternatively keep a local bookshop in business.
I often keep time and distance records (logs) of my walks. This is useful if you’re planning to walk the coast and want to check on distances for days out. On times, I’m often a bit faster than most, so don’t rely on them!
Download here the record of my walk round the Essex coast (pdf viewer required).