There may be people out there who do not believe that Essex has a coastline, outside perhaps of Southend and Clacton. Well, their proms make up five or six miles between them; that leaves more than 550 to discover – roughly London to Paris, then back again.

As ever with Essex, look at the map. The boundary-rivers of the county’s north and south, Stour and Thames, are two of the most-lauded in our nation. Between, the estuaries of the Colne, Blackwater and Crouch march deep inland, still unbridged until their tidal ranges cease. Vast stretches are internationally important for bird life, as migrants seek resting places after crossing the cold North Sea.

One acre in every ten of this nation’s saltmarsh is in Essex – look out for the blooming of the sea lavender in July; the tidal mudflats of the river creeks and estuaries wind for miles inland; and cockle banks arise at almost every turn from river to sea. Marshland behind the sea walls – raised mostly from around 1600, but in some areas from the passing of the ‘Law of the Marsh’ in 1210 – can hide little lagoons, and every borrow-dyke has its reed-bed.

There are even low cliffs too. Southend has a cliff funicular after all. But see also The Naze, its Red Crag crumbling speedily, but uncovering immeasurably rich fossil deposits as it does. And in the Broomway, Essex has one of the two most dangerous offshore walks in England.

Picture: the borrow-dyke looking back to Tollesbury

Tollesbury Wick marshes

Walking the Essex Coast

I’ve walked most of the Essex coast: all of it from Harwich to near Shoeburyness, and large parts of the rest. Most of this took place between 2008 and 2014. Six of my favourite sections appear in my Cicerone guide Walking in Essex, but all of it is written up here, in three sections – see the buttons below.

There’s a full guide to walking the Essex coast written by Peter Caton and published by Troubador Press, ISBN: 9781848761162. You could buy “Essex Coast Walk” through Amazon or alternatively keep a local bookshop in business.

In due course a 295-mile stretch of the England Coast Path will stretch from Tilbury to Manningtree (counter-clockwise, unlike my own walk). For an update on the present position, see the gov.uk website.

Harwich to Colchester
Colchester to Burnham-on-Crouch
Burnham-on-Crouch to Foulness

Practicalities

There are far fewer settlements than you might think, and outside the obvious coastal towns there is often little accommodation, or even habitation for mile after mile.

The high-tide point on the River Stour, and hence the Suffolk border, is a few yards from Manningtree station. Parts of the estuary bank downstream to Harwich are taken by the Essex Way. Beyond Harwich (or more properly Dovercourt a mile south), it’s a lonely stretch until the Naze peninsula, overtopping Walton-on-the-Naze. From here, genteel Frinton and blowsy Clacton follow quickly, but after Point Clear creeks lead to Brightlingsea. The tidal Colne takes you past Wivenhoe to Colchester, and that river’s first bridge.

Beyond, take a day to walk the most gastronomic of the Essex islands, Mersea Island. Back on the mainland, beyond the tiny hamlet of Salcott-cum-Verney long lonely marshes twist around the larger village of Tollesbury. Its marshes are perhaps the most atmospheric of all on the Essex coast. The long Blackwater estuary takes you past Goldhanger to Maldon.

After Maldon you circle the vast Dengie peninsula, hemmed in by Blackwater, Crouch and North Sea, with Burnham-on-Crouch an undoubted highlight, rather more so than the new town of South Woodham Ferrers. Battlesbridge and Paglesham follow before Rochford. I’ve continued as far as the entrance to Foulness Island; the mediaeval Broomway to the island has a reputation as one of the two most dangerous estuarial walks in England.

Maybe one day I’ll continue round Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea, joining the Thames estuary. I have walked from there through friendly Leigh-on-Sea to Benfleet. The England Coast Path will dip out (or in) at Tilbury, but as long as you avoid the occasional refinery or similar, it is possible to continue near the river all the way to the historic boundary of Essex at the River Lea confluence by Canning Town. The best bit, known as Rainham Marshes, is now a nature reserve owned by the RSPB, and features in my Walking in London. Six more coastal walks feature in my Walking in Essex.