With over 350 miles of coastline – one of the longest stretches among England’s counties – it’s a mystery why Essex’s coastal flank isn’t more celebrated. The funfairs of Clacton-on-Sea and lengthy pier at Southend-on-Sea may be well-known but in truth they represent a fraction of a coastline that’s blessed with wide-ranging mudflats, salt marshes and quiet bubbling creeks. These remote sandbanks were once a favourite landing point for smugglers during the 18th century but now they’re a popular place for seabirds such as razorbills, cormorants and storm petrels. Take a boat trip from Walton-on-the-Naze to be in with a chance of spying porpoises and common seals.
The smugglers had to avoid the gaze of the many forts that lined Essex’s coast and Harwich’s Redoubt Fort, built to protect England from Napoleonic invasion, is one of its best preserved. The town was also the birthplace of Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower which carried the Pilgrims across the Atlantic to settle in America in 1620. Today, Harwich is filled with attractions referencing that historic crossing, from Captain Jones’ former home to a 1km-long Mayflower trail.
A place to stay: Monkey Beach Cottage
Not only does this cottage on Mersey Island offer spectacular views of Monkey Beach, the sea and moorings, it also offers a fascinating insight into history. At over 300 years old, the Grade II building is one of the oldest on the island and was once inhabited by farmworkers back when the area was covered by agricultural land.