Sea, sand and salty air
PUBLISHED: 11:54 01 February 2013 | UPDATED: 10:38 21 February 2013
What could be more relaxing than pottering around quaint little seaside towns and villages, taking a gentle walk along the seafront, or enjoying a leisurely cruise? The Essex Discovery Coast has all this to offer, and more...
Sea, sand and salty air
What could be more relaxing than pottering around quaint little seaside towns and villages, taking a gentle walk along the seafront, or enjoying a leisurely cruise? The Essex Discovery Coast has all this to offer, and more
Essex has the longest coastline of any county in England, with 350 miles to be explored, boasting a diverse offering of charming towns and rural beauty spots that are just ideal for a relaxing day out. In fact, its one of British tourisms best-kept secrets whether you prefer to potter along coastal footpaths or the promenade, plan to enjoy the views out to sea through the window in a coastal pub or from the deck of a boat, and take home holiday snaps of historic buildings or of native wildlife, theres something for everyone in this beautiful part of the world.
Whether you prefer a gentle stroll for a mile or two, or a more ambitious ramble, there are plenty of coastal walking routes to suit everyone. Wheelchair users and families with pushchairs might like to stick to seafront jaunts, such as the mile-long stretch between Martello Bay and Clacton Pier, which also takes in the promenade gardens as well as the sea views, parts of the Walton-on-the-Naze coastal walk which takes in the Essex Wildlife Trust John Weston Nature Reserve, or possibly the paths of Cudmore Grove Country Park on Mersea Island.
Anyone looking for a short route not difficult walking, but including grassy footpaths rather than buggy-friendly tarmac might like to explore stretches of the Maldon Maritime Trail, which is 12 miles long in its entirety, but which can easily be split up into sections taking between 10 and 15 minutes each. Alternatively, why not explore the countryside between the River Roach and the River Crouch, just north of Southend? Those hoping for an easier ramble can choose from one of the shorter routes, starting from 1.8 miles, while keen walkers might like to tackle the whole 25-mile loop that takes in both estuaries. Other picturesque longer routes include the walk between Frinton and The Naze (relatively easy-going, but almost eight miles in length), a nine-mile route around the Tollesbury Wick Marshes (great for wildlife watching), or a circular walk that begins in Leigh-on-Sea and heads to Benfleet, taking in Hadleigh Castle on the way, before travelling back by Benfleet Creek (just over seven miles, or just over eight if you take a detour to a pub on Leigh High Street).
Of course, the beautiful Essex countryside is interesting enough, but our region also has a wealth of native wildlife, so combining your walk with a visit to one of the countys nature reserves is a great idea especially if youre looking to get children interested in the natural world around them. Check out the RSPB reserves at Rainham Marshes, South Essex Marshes, and Wallasea Island, or one of the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre sites near the coast, at Abberton Reservoir, Fingringhoe Wick or Thameside Natural Park.
Alternatively, why not book a boat trip to see native birds and animals from a different perspective? Spend two hours exploring Wallasea or Foulness Island with Brian from Nature Breaks and spot both common and grey seals, as well as all sorts of birdlife, or for a more elegant way to see wildlife from the water, book a day trip on one of Topsail Charters historic Thames Sailing Barges the company offers birdwatching cruises that include lunch and an optional guided walk.
For a similarly gentle and relaxing days activity, why not potter around one of Essexs sleepier seaside towns, or perhaps visit a museum or historic building? Places to take in along the Discovery Coast include Harwich (discover its Maritime Heritage Trail), Heybridge (work up an appetite sauntering along the sea wall, then pop into Tiptrees tea room, The Lock, for tea and home-made cake), Burnham-on-Crouch (enjoy a steam train ride at Mangapps Railway Museum then have a hearty lunch at The Oyster Smack Inn) and West Mersea (collect shells and watch the boating world go by at the beach, then head to The Company Shed to sample the local delicacy).
When it comes to museums and historic sites, the options are many and varied. Museum-wise, the rich pickings include the treasures to be found at the Mersea Island Museum, Leigh Heritage Centre and the Maldon District Museum. The Castle ruins at Hadleigh are a sight to behold, especially if you can be there at sunrise or sunset, while the military history of Tilbury Fort makes for a fascinating afternoons sightseeing. Some of our regions more unusual structures have been preserved and given a new lease of life by turning them into arts venues, which means theres always something different to see Jaywick Martello Tower near Clacton-on-Sea and the Naze Tower at Waltononthe-Naze are both well worth a visit or for a more conventional art appreciation experience try the Beecroft Art Gallery in Westcliff-on-Sea.
If your idea of relaxation is very holistic mind, body and soul focused then take advantage of the luxury wellbeing facilities at Lifehouse Spa Resort, close to the coast on the Tendring Peninsula, or at the Crowne Plaza Resort Colchester, just a few miles from Tollesbury. Or you might prefer to escape completely and choose a short break on a privately-owned island, such as Osea Island, surrounded by four miles of tranquil beaches and coastline, abundant with wildlife and rare birds. The island featured as a backdrop for the filming of Superstar, the ITV talent show searching for the lead role in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Oseas tidal road also featured in the film Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame.
Whatever your taste in relaxing days out, the Essex coast has something to suit the only difficult part is choosing where to visit first!
Heres our pick of the best coastal picnic spots...
The Naze, Walton-on-the-Naze
If its low tide, picnic on the beach, otherwise place your blanket down in the nature reserve at the tip of the Naze, and watch the birdlife as you eat. The constantly eroding cliffs make for an ever-changing landscape and an excellent source of fossils. Why not book on to one of the Nazemans day-long fossil hunts and have your picnic during the lunch break? To find out more, visit www.nazeman.fsnet.co.uk
The Lock, Heybridge Basin
There are plenty of picnic spots off the canal towpath that stretches from The Lock at Heybridge Basin to Maldon. Take your own nibbles and watch the world go by during the summer the Basin is alive with a frenzy of small craft, and you can also keep an eye out for our native birdlife. If yours is an impromptu picnicless visit, then simply head to The Lock (www.trooms.com) or The Old Ship (www.theoldship.co.uk) for a drink and a bar snack or meal.
The Esplanade, Frinton-on-Sea
If you love the idea of a beach picnic, but hate the possibility of sand in your sarnies, then make the journey to Frinton-on-Sea and lay down your blanket on The Greensward between the Esplanade and the beach as its about a mile and a half long, youre bound to find an uncrowded spot. Enjoy the views out to sea as you dine alfresco, and even if you encounter a shower, you can stay dry by making a dash to the charming Clock Tower shelter.
Hadleigh Country Park, Hadleigh
One of the largest country parks in Essex, Hadleigh Country Park overlooks the Thames Estuary, and is a wonderful place for an outdoor dining experience. If you dont fancy using the dedicated picnic area, then take one of the footpaths that criss-cross the 387-acre site, and find your own spot. The castle ruins provide a particularly evocative backdrop if youre seeking a romantic location, or for a woodland setting, head towards the Benfleet Downs area to the south west of the car parks. For details visit www.hadleighcountrypark.co.uk
Stour Estuary Nature Reserve, Wrabness
Featuring a small picnic area with two tables, this RSPB reserve right on the northern border of Essex offers a lovely secluded spot for a quiet bite to eat. The picnic area and some of the shorter paths are suitable for wheelchair access. Theres also a woodland trail, which is best accessed during dry periods, though the biggest draw for wildlife enthusiasts are the species that live on the estuary including wading birds, ducks and geese. For details visit www.rspb.org.uk
Find out more...
Beecroft Art Gallery
Crowne Plaza Resort Colchester
Essex Wildlife Trust
Harwich Maritime Heritage Trail
Jaywick Martello Tower
Leigh Heritage Centre
The Lock, Heybridge
Maldon District Museum
Mangapps Railway Museum
Mersea Island Museum
Nature Breaks Wildlife Cruises
The Company Shed
The Oyster Smack Inn