A trip along the Essex coast can be extended to the north bank of the Thames to Tower Bridge. There is much waterside development along this stretch particularly on the Isle of Dogs and Wapping. With the A12 and A13 East Anglia is within easy reach. The Essex coastal journey should also take in the River Orwell which although being in Suffolk has an exit to the sea through the Essex port of Harwich.
Travelling the eastbound route along the north bank of the Thames there are a number of ancient villages such as Grays and Tilbury that have been subsumed over the last two hundred years into larger urban towns. The port of Tilbury is very much an active commercial port.
At Coryton you have to leave the coast firstly to pass the large oil refinery and then to go north of Canvey Island.
Two hundred years ago Old Leigh, Westcliff and Southend on Sea were separate villages each with their own identity. Thorpe Bay did not exist. Now these villages all run into each other with some fine houses having wonderful views over the Thames to the Kent shore. Those with a maritime leaning can log the ships in and out of the Thames.
Old Leigh nestles between the railway and the shoreline and has some old boat yards and charming eateries.
The coastal journey now runs north to the rivers Roach and Crouch. The Roach is a remote river that runs south from the River Crouch. It has some lovely secluded anchorages in some of the creeks.
The River Crouch is a famous yachting river with a regatta that once rivalled Cowes. There are several old and venerated yacht clubs on this river such as the Royal Corinthian and the Royal Burnham. The Crouch runs some 11 miles from mouth to navigable head. It is a lovely river with many anchorages and eateries that can be reached by dinghy.
North of the Crouch is the Dengie Peninsular. It is a long and largely uninhabited stretch of coast all the way to Maldon at the head of the river Blackwater. At the north eastern tip of the peninsular is the chapel of St Peter’s on the Wall. It takes some getting to but is well worth the effort.
The ancient town of Maldon, where a battle was fought against the Vikings in 991AD, has for many years been a Thames sailing barges centre. These barges used to carry coal and grain from the east coast up the river to the rapidly growing metropolis. It is said that in their heyday standing on the coast at Lowestoft they could be counted in their hundreds. Many barges have been maintained and restored now carrying fare paying passengers.
At the mouth of the Blackwater is Mersea Island with another of the great East Anglian yacht clubs at West Mersea. The island is some four miles long and a mile wide and is connected to the mainland by the road known as the Strood. This road is passable most of the time but gets flooded at high water on spring tides. Locals always carry a tide table with them.
The River Colne runs north from Mersea Island up to Colchester. All the wharves at Wivenhoe, Rowhedge and the Hythe have closed so for the first time since the Romans were here, this is no longer a commercial route for shipping. Brightlingsea at the mouth of the river still has an active commercial wharf and can take small coastal vessels.
From here the coast runs north east past Jaywick, Clacton, Frinton and Walton. The coast needs no sea wall here as the land rises back from the beach giving some wonderful sea views along the seafront esplanades. Frinton with its famous cliff top greensward is a sought after place to live with some very fine houses in the numbered avenues.
Between Walton and Harwich the coastal route meanders a considerable distance around the creeks and swatch ways of the Walton Backwaters. Maurice Griffiths, an eminent local yachtsman wrote a much loved book about the magic of the swatch ways and it was from here that Arthur Ransome’s –‘Swallows and Amazons’ family “didn’t mean to go to sea”.
Next we come to Harwich, which in spite of the enormous container port on the Suffolk side of the harbour, is still a bustling harbour in its own right. Trinity House has a maritime base here while at the Parkeston Quay end of Harwich an increasing number of cruise liners visit.
The last stretch of the Essex coast runs from Harwich to Manningtree along the south side of the River Stour. This is a wide river with extensive mudflats at low water. Mistley, just short of Manningtree is really the navigable head of the river. It used to be a busy little port but trade has dropped off in recent years.
The Essex coastline ends at Manningtree however as the Essex port of Harwich is also the mouth of the lovely River Orwell we should include this latter river in our sketch of the Essex coast. The Orwell is a beautiful tree lined river running up to Ipswich Docks. This is still a regularly used port for commercial trade. The river is a mecca for yachtsmen with many visitors from Holland at the peak of the season.