How Essex’s coast epitomises the Great British seaside PLUS win a copy of Around the Coast in 80 Days
PUBLISHED: 14:37 09 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:42 28 April 2020
A visit to the seaside is not quite the same amid the difficulties of a global crisis, but adrift on an epic voyage around the entire coast of Britain, Peter Naldrett records the unique appeal of the Essex coast
There are few feelings more satisfying, calming and relaxing than standing barefoot on a sandy beach with the cool sea lapping at your feet, knowing you’re just about to go and tuck into fish and chips.
Sand between your toes and plenty of salt and vinegar on your supper – somehow there’s nothing quite so British as this, and Essex is blessed with some of the best seaside days out in the nation.
Over three months last summer, I found myself in the fortunate position of travelling up and down the country’s coastline to find the best beach-side days out for a new book I was writing, and I have to admit there was quite a bit of sampling the specialities at some of our most famous chippies.
The research mission for the book was a mouth-watering prospect. Journeying around the entire coast of Britain, I was to select the 80 best places to visit on the British coastline so that tourists from home and abroad could sample the best things to do where the sea meets the land.
Around the Coast in 80 Days is the result of the marathon adventure. It packs in hundreds of top tips for people who love amusement arcades, headlands, bays and picturesque towns.
There are some cracking destinations to spend the day exploring, from Blackpool in Lancashire to Balnakeil in Scotland, from St Ives in Cornwall to St Bees in Cumbria, but Essex was a highlight.
Before entering Essex, my tour had taken me in a clockwise journey from Liverpool and the last destination was the container-dominated town of Felixstowe. I was in need of some light relief, and I got plenty.
Some of our premier coastal locations are found right here in Essex and two of the book’s chapters are based in the county, showcasing towns with a glitzy seaside reputation.
Clacton on Sea is the epitome of a seaside resort because the whole town was solely designed as a coastal escape for Londoners, and there are few examples of this sort elsewhere in the country.
The building to occupy the skyline was the pier, built in 1871 and used as a landing area for building materials before thousands of visitors started being shipped in.
It was feared the pier might provide an easy landing opportunity for German troops in World War II, so it was breached and rebuilt when the hostilities ceased. Today the pier is still a hotbed of activity where thousands of visitors head to enjoy the best that Clacton has to offer – the fun rides, the amusements, the seafood.
Clacton’s history hasn’t always been sunny, though. In the mid-1960s the sands became the setting for one of the notorious clashes between moped-driving mods and motorbiking rockers.
The national newspapers – prone to sensationalising events even back then – labelled the exchanges as ‘riots’ and ‘battles’, and they were certainly unpleasant with punches thrown and deckchairs used as weapons in the skirmishes next to the sea.
Clacton on Sea today has benefited from investment since the 1990s to boost its fortunes amid the start of package holidays to the continent. The sea front is an attractive place to wander along with plenty of things to occupy a family for days on end.
Two of the best things to do in Clacton are in buildings that have been used by locals over many generations. The Princes Theatre is a beautiful building holding 800 people and putting on a wide range of productions.
The town’s Martello Tower is one of the 29 that were built along the south-east coast to defend England against Napoleon. Dating back to 1809, it’s one of the most inventively used of the remaining towers and provides a community hub with rotating displays and plenty of music events.
Leaving Clacton behind was a chore, but thankfully Southend on Sea and its phenomenal pier was on hand for the next of my 80 Around the Coast stops.
Southend famously has the longest pleasure pier in the world – stretching out for a stunning 2,158 metres and giving people at the far end a real sense of being offshore. Walking to the end is a lengthy affair, so it’s not surprising that many make use of the train that rattles over the wooden surface.
Find out the historic story of this world-famous structure at the Pier Museum, nestled in the old workshops beneath the shore’s train station. Just along the coast from Southend, the charming area of art galleries and seafood shacks at Old Leigh offer enough Essex culture to charm your socks off.
It’s a stand-out place that rightly earns its spot as one of the top coastal destinations.
And if the hustle and bustle of shops, eateries and amusements isn’t for you, head for the nearby mudflats at Two Tree Island, a nature reserve where brent geese are pulled in by a rare underwater eel grass they feed on.
At some point during the year, 40% of the world’s brent geese come here for a flying visit, forming part of the 153,000 bird community that is found on the Thames Estuary at any one time. Every low tide on these shores there are thousands of ragworms, cockles and razor shells burying into the sandy mud.
My enjoyable couple of days exploring the Essex coastline ended far too quickly and I can’t wait to return. Pressing onward with my circumnavigation of the British coast, next up was a RIB ride in the City of London and then a drive out to enjoy seashells and art in Margate.
The coastline of Britain is a fabulous asset for us all to enjoy. Treasure the wonderful stretch of it that hugs Essex.
Find out more
Around the Coast in 80 Days by Peter Naldrett is published by Bloomsbury and available now. It features a foreword by poet Ian McMillan and is priced £16.99.
Your chance to win
Peter Naldrett is offering three copies of his book to readers of Essex Life as a competition prize. To be in with a chance of winning this prize, fill out the form answer the following question:
Terms & Conditions
Travel not included. Prize is as stated and cannot be transferred or exchanged. No cash alternative. The information contained in this publication is believed to be correct and complete at the time of printing. Judges decision is final. No purchase necessary.
The competition closes at 6pm on May 31, 2020. Winners will be selected at random from correct entries after the closing date. Usual promotion rules apply, visit essexlifemag.co.uk for full terms and conditions.