Essex has more to offer than just night clubs and tanning salons: it’s home to some of the most scenic seaside towns in the country. While some of these towns technically lie on estuaries rather than oceans, all of them offer beautiful beaches and soothing waves for locals and visitors alike. Whether you want to try your hand at some water sports, or simply enjoy a good portion of fish and chips with the sand between your toes, these towns have everything you need for the perfect seaside getaway.
With over three miles of sandy beaches, Walton-on-the-Naze is definitely one of Essex’s hidden gems. Located near to the better-known seaside towns of Clacton and Frinton, Walton offers visitors quieter and more relaxing beaches than its over-crowded neighbours. What’s more, it’s one of the driest towns in England, with an average rainfall of less than 20 inches per year, making it perfect for visitors all year round.
There’s plenty to do in this quaint seaside town. Not only does it host the second-longest pier in the country, but there’s also a yacht club and marina, where you can learn more about sailing, or simply take in stunning views of the sea. The beach itself is adorned with cafes and food kiosks and the town of Walton itself — which is just a short walk from the beach — is full of pubs and restaurants, including its famous pie and mash shop.
The Naze — a peninsula just north of the town of Walton — is a must-see. It’s home to the “Tower at the Naze”. The tower — which was originally built in the early 1700s as a navigation aid for ships — is now a gallery and tea room, as well as an outlook point, which offers visitors panoramic views of Walton, Felixstowe and Suffolk. The Naze also hosts a nature reserve — an important site for migrating birds and the home of a variety of fossiliferous clays and sands, which date back to around 55 million years ago.
Yes, that’s right: Essex has its own island! In fact, it has multiple islands, but Mersea — the most easterly populated island of the UK — is perhaps the most beautiful of them all. Despite the fact the whole island spans just eight square miles, there’s plenty to do and see. The island’s calm, shallow tidal waters make it the perfect place to try out a water sport for the first time, and is also an ideal spot for confident swimmers. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the sandy beaches are gorgeous, tranquil spots to take in sea views and the sound of crashing waves.
The west of the island is the most popular area. It’s famous for its oysters, but is also a great spot for crabbing, or just relaxing on the beach. If you’re looking for a quieter experience, head over to the easterly side of Mersea. With its Cudmore Grove Country Park, the east is just as impressive, but a little less crowded. It has both sandy beaches, as well as luscious meadows, making it perfect for a variety of walks. It’s also ideal for history geeks, who are bound to come across some World War II pillboxes and 300,000-year-old fossils when exploring the country park.
Leigh-on-Sea is a district of the famous Southend-on-Sea (which hosts the longest pleasure pier in the world). Unlike Southend, Leigh doesn’t tend to get as crowded with Londoners escaping the city for the weekend. It does, however, benefit from its close proximity to Southend in terms of ice cream! Leigh is a great spot to pick up some of Essex’s famous Rossi ice cream, which was first produced in Southend in the 1930s. Rossi’s cafes and kiosks in Southend itself tend to be overly busy, but you can get yourself a tasty scoop in Leigh without having to stand in line.
Leigh is situated on the northern side of the Thames estuary, meaning you can see Kent on a clear day. The best part of Leigh is definitely its old town, with its narrow, cobbled street, small art shops and pubs, which serve local ales and fresh fish, straight from the estuary.
If you happen to visit Leigh in June, keep an eye out for the Leigh Folk Festival: the country’s biggest, free folk festival. It takes place across 40 venues in the town, including pubs, sailing clubs and Leigh’s library. Over 200 artists perform at the festival: not only folk musicians, but also story tellers, poets, actors and dancers.
More than just the home of Maldon sea salt, the quaint seaside (technically estuary) town of Maldon has plenty to offer whatever you’re interested in. One of the best places to relax with a pint or a portion of chips is the Hythe. This was originally established as a port for cargoes to unload hay and straw for London’s horses. Today, however, the Hythe is home to a variety of beautiful, docked boats, as well as two pubs, where you can enjoy some refreshing beer and local fish dishes.
Also be sure to check out Promenade Park. This park lies on the banks of the Blackwater river, and is a great spot for kids and adults alike. It’s home to the Splash Park (a water playground for kids), crazy golf, crabbing, boating and a delicious seafood bar, which sells Maldon’s famous, fresh oysters. The park is also the starting point of a variety of boat trips for visitors to enjoy. Keep an eye out for sunset cruises: these only depart on specific days, but offer visitors beautiful views of the Essex coastline as the sun goes down, as well as tasty seafood platters for those on board. The Promenade Park is also the home of the Maldon Mud Race, which takes place around May or June each year. This messy race has taken place since the 1970s, and today, people still take part to run through the muddy park to raise money for a whole host of charities.