The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Essex

EWT-Abberton-Reservoir-004Looking for a family day out? Read our guide to the very best of Essex.

Essex has the longest coastline of any county in England, with 350 miles of it 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, it’s one of British tourism’s 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, there’s 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 or 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 buggyLeigh-on-Sea-IMG_1603-friendly tarmac, should explore stretches of the Maldon Maritime Trail, which is 12 miles long in its entirety, although can be easily 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, there is also the beautiful Essex countryside, brimming with a wealth of native wildlife. Combining your walk with a visit to one of the county’s nature reserves is a great idea, especially if you’re looking to get children interested in the natural world around them. Check out the RSPB reserves Clacton-Pier-2at 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 some time exploring Wallasea where you can spot both common and grey seals, as well as all sorts of birdlife. 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 day’s activity, why not potter around one of Essex’s 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 Tiptree’s tea room The Lock for tea and homemade cake), Burnham-on- Crouch Frinton-E012-00054(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).

If you want to escape completely 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. Osea’s tidal road also featured in the film Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Whatever your taste in relaxing days out, the Essex coast has something to suit – the only difficult part is choosing where to visit first!

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