The Essex coast has an appeal you can’t quite put your finger on. It captures the imagination. It’s evocative, dramatic and yes, to be honest, rather bleak. There’s something beautiful about its harshness. If you also love it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been yet, here are three atmospheric locations waiting for you to discover them…
1. Canvey Island
If you’re looking for chocolate-box, picturesque coastline this isn’t it. Canvey’s marshes are dark, brooding and richly atmospheric. Over the years, they’ve inspired a host of musicians including Nick Lowe, Dr Feelgood and Elvis Costello as well as getting a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
- Pretending you’re on the marshes of Dickens’ Great Expectations – You can’t help but call to mind the iconic opening of Dickens’ classic when poor Pip encounters the terrifying Magwitch as you wander round the marshes. And with good reason too – Dickens knew the area well and describes the local pub, The Lobster Smack Inn in Chapter 54 of the novel.
- Edgy photographs – Salt-marshes are a unique and unusual landscape that photograph well. The area is extremely flat, lying just a few metres above sea level – giving the impression that the marshes stretch on forever. Album-cover opportunities are endless.
- Bird-watching – Despite its empty and barren appearance, the area is teeming with wildlife. Skylarks, grey plover, wagtails and dark-bellied brent geese can all be spotted here.
While you’re there…
- Grab a drink at The Lobster Smack Inn, where Dickens himself drank.
- Treat yourself to dinner at The Labworth Restaurant, an iconic Art Deco building with great views over the coast. Currently offering 3 courses for £20 on selected evenings throughout September.
Famed for its sea salt used all over the globe by any chefs worth their salt, Maldon is supposedly one of the oldest towns in Essex. Nestled at the end of the Blackwater estuary, this too is marshland. The Maldon Mud Race is held here annually, where locals compete in a 500m, waist-deep mud dash for charity.
- A pub lunch overlooking the estuary – the Queen’s Head Inn is a charming red-brick building right on the banks of the Blackwater which does great seafood sandwhiches and Ploughman’s.
- More literary imaginings – Surely Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series must have gotten his nickname from the Blackwater estuary? East Anglia, with its networks of rivers, canals, marshes and estuaries correlates perfectly to where the Tully family’s seat in the Riverlands sits on the map of Westeros.
While you’re there:
- You thought Tough Mudder was tough? Why not sign yourself up for next year’s Maldon Mud Race. You can find more info here.
This is Saxon land: Bradwell’s St.Peter-on-the-Wall Chapel dates from c.660 is one of the oldest Christian churches standing today in Britain. Still wild and unspoilt today, Bradwell’s white sandy beaches are ripe for beach-combing. There’s great cycle routes in the area too, including along the sea wall.
- Wild, unspoilt coastline without too much development on (don’t expect to be entertained by amusements or piers here!)
- Ancient History – St. Peter-on-the-Wall Chapel is a must visit. One of the oldest churches still-standing in Britain today. The Church was built by the Anglo-Saxon monk Cedd, who was sent for from the monastry at Lindisfarne (an ancient Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland) by the King Sigbert of the East Saxons, as Christianity spread across the country. You can go inside the Church, read more about its history there and leave an offering on the shrine inside.
- Beach-combing along white sandy beaches – Most of the Essex coast has more orangey, clay-coloured sand, so this is a rarity. Last time I was there I found a beautiful and huge oyster shell with smaller oysters attached to it.
- Cycling – Why not bring your bike along and cover more of the area in your explorations. You can cycle right along the sea wall as well as along cross-country cycle routes. The flat land makes for a pleasant and relaxing ride.
I’d recommend you bring a packed-lunch with you as there’s not much in the way of facilities!