Winding and weaving for over 360 miles along a lacy web of golden beaches, switchback creeks and ragged inlets, the beautiful Essex coastline is the longest of any English county, as well as one of the most diverse.
Its beauty and sheer individuality often come as a surprise to visitors, many of who associate Essex with the cosmopolitan buzz and fast pace of its big city neighbour. Yet, despite its proximity to London, the Essex Discovery Coast is worlds apart.
Best known perhaps are its fun-filled resorts like Clacton, Southend and Walton, with their gently-shelving sandy beaches and traditional piers packed with rides and amusements. But even here there are some surprises in store. Did you know for example that, at 1.34 miles, Southend’s pleasure pier is the longest in the world? Or that its beautifully-restored cliff railway is one of only a handful built to the unusual 4ft 6inch gauge format? Or that its seven miles of shoreline currently lay claim to seven seaside awards, making it one of the cleanest stretches of coast in the country?
Jostling for attention with its own famous pier as well as a quirky road train and dazzling floral displays, it may also surprise visitors that Clacton is the multiple winner of a coveted Blue Flag and prized for its watersports. And that, just up the coast, Walton is as much about fossils as family fun.
Few visitors will also have heard of some of the county’s smaller gems. Historic Maldon, home to the iconic red-sailed Thames Sailing Barges that once ferried goods along the east coast to London; or Leigh-on-Sea with its cockle sheds, clapboard artists’ studios and old cobbled streets.
Pay a nod to genteel Burnham-on-Crouch bristling with elegant Georgian houses or the tiny sailing mecca of Brightlingsea with its colour-washed beach huts and Blue Flag beach, the only Cinque Port north of the Thames. Together they hint of the centuries of history that await discovery along the county’s coast. Harwich in particular comes as a surprise. Here, away from the international port with its monstrous cranes and ferries and cruise ships, is a town that has played a vital role in our national history, the maze of medieval streets crammed with over 200 listed buildings. Or head south to the Thames to Tilbury Fort, built by Henry VIII to defend London against invasion, where you can uncover centuries of history under the watchful eye of the great ships that ply their way from Tilbury Docks.
They’re just one of several discoveries you’ll come across on your visit. From sharks’ teeth eroded from the cliffs at Walton and tiny Osea Island, where the postman only calls at low tide to a small but growing population of seals, many a distinctive rust-red from the iron oxide content of the rich Essex mud. Seal-spotting trips operate along the Crouch and Roach Estuaries as well as along the quiet Walton Backwaters, setting for the children’s classic Secret Water by Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame, where little has changed since Ransome sailed here in his little yacht, the Nancy Blackett.
It’s a place that sums up this part of the world. A place where tides rule and nature and man exist in harmony under the vast East Anglian skies.
Little-known, utterly individual and full of rather nice surprises. www.visitessex.com/coast