PUBLISHED: 10:48 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013
Cathy Brown explores the delights of the Essex coastline and its estuaries with some inspirational ideas to best enjoy one of our county's most celebrated features
IT IS 100 years since Kenneth Grahame's words, 'There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,' were first published in his classic novel, The Wind in the Willows.
However, the words remain as true today as they were in 1908 and the Essex coastline provides some of Britain's best waters for that time-honoured pursuit. Messing about in boats can mean anything from ambitious offshore cruises to pottering about in creeks, mooring in bustling seaside towns or anchoring in deserted backwaters, taking the dinghy ashore for supper in a smart waterside restaurant or to the beach for a barefoot barbecue.
Essex has modern marinas like Titchmarsh and Burnham, traditional fishing and trading ports including Wivenhoe and Maldon, historic yachting centres such as Tollesbury and West Mersea, as well as timeless anchorages throughout the estuaries. There really are destinations to suit every taste and every mood, and with the longest coastline of any English county, Essex is at the top of the league when it comes to pleasure boating.
A first choice for sailing families with young crew. On a fine weekend in the school holidays you'll struggle to find room in the most favoured anchorages or space on the shoreline for the dinghy, whether in the Walton Backwaters or on the Blackwater, but you'll be guaranteed to find lots of friends to share the Swallows and Amazons experience.
How better to study the flocks of waders and other sea birds that throng the internationally-important habitat of Hamford Water in the Walton Backwaters than from the cockpit of an anchored yacht? You're almost guaranteed to see rarities including avocets and egrets - and you'll probably see seals, too.
Essex has an absolute wealth of historic inns close to the water. What better on a summer's evening than to sit outside enjoying the sunshine and good local fare? The Old Ship Inn and The Jolly Sailor at Heybridge Basin have the extra attraction of watching yachts going through the lock. The Green Man at Bradwell and the Plough and Sail at Paglesham are two of the many that claim to have been haunts for smugglers. You can visit The Company Shed at West Mersea to sample local seafood or try The Victory or The Coast Inn on Mersea's Coast Road? If you need a gourmet treat after tying up, The Pier at Harwich is literally across the road from the Halfpenny Pier yacht pontoon or the Harbour Lights Bar & Restuarant at Titchmarsh Marina.
There's nowhere to moor a yacht at Clacton and Frinton, but if you don't mind a walk, you can get from Titchmarsh Marina to the seafront at Walton-on-the-Naze, and enjoy the sandy beach and pier amusements.
Brightlingsea is another welcoming, traditional resort, while the traditional fishing port of Leigh opens the door to the delights of Southend.
After a day on the water, a leg stretch is always welcome. Favourite riverside routes include the circuit from Bradwell Marina, round the sea wall to St Peter's Chapel (Britain's oldest church), and then back along the Roman road.
The canal towpath from Heybridge Basin offers another enjoyable stroll, and the river wall, almost anywhere on the estuaries, provides a perfect vantage point for yacht spotting and wildlife watching.
The beauty of yacht cruising is that you can have everything you need right there on the boat. You don't need to go ashore and spend money. Once you have dropped the anchor or picked up a mooring, anywhere on the Essex coastline, what could be better than just sitting in the cockpit, soaking up the sun and enjoying a glass of wine? The county's coastal scenery may be famously flat, but it's never dull. The skies are spectacular, and sunsets and sunrises are always to be treasured from onboard.