Long sandy beaches that sweep northwards to the Naze
From the chalet parks of Point Clear to the dockyard activity of Parkeston Quay, this stretch has something for everybody. At its centre, the fun-of-the-fair resort of Clacton contrasts with genteel Frinton close by. Away from the hustle and bustle of roundabouts and cranes a serene world of salt creeks, marshes and islands lies behind the Naze, where the Walton Backwaters are the haunt of vast numbers of water-birds.
This small peninsula at the mouth of the River Colne is covered by the caravans, chalets, bungalows and shops of a holiday village, beyond which an open stretch of shingle gives a good view of Brightlingsea across Flag Creek. The beach is sand and shingle, with mud at low tide. Small ships sailing to and from Wivenhoe on the Colne pass close to the shore.
Some 400 acres of saltings and shingle are run as a nature reserve by the Essex Naturalists’ Trust, and only members are allowed on the reserve. Brent geese, sander-lings, curlews, redshanks and little terns can be seen there. A public footpath runs along the sea-wall.
The gatehouse of St Osyth’s Priory is the architectural glory of the area. Built in the 1480s in a richly ornamented design of flint and freestone, it leads into the grounds of the priory, whose later history is reflected in successive stages of Tudor and Georgian building. Most of the medieval abbey buildings have disappeared, including the church and cloister, but the 13th-century chapel of St Osyth still survives. Outside the priory, peacocks stalk about the lawns and deer browse in the park. The house and grounds are open in summer.
The village has a well-preserved centre with old weather-boarded houses. The
SEAWICK AND JAYWICK
Both these small resorts have safe, sandy beaches, though the massive sea-wall is a reminder of the size of the waves that can lash this exposed stretch of coast. The coastal strip is covered by acres of caravans, chalets and bungalows, cut off from the hinterland by the network of channels and ditches that drain St Osyth Marsh. There are seaside amusements at Jaywick.
After Southend, Clacton is the brightest resort on the Essex coast. As recently as 1860 it consisted only of the inland villages of Great and Little Clacton, and three Martello towers on the coast; one of these towers is now the coastguard station, with a children’s zoo in the dry moat. The town grew rapidly at the end of the 19th century, and is now the ‘capital’ of the Tendring Peninsula -so called after the village of that name -which lies between the Stour to the north and the Colne to the south.
Behind the long sandy beach is a traffic-free promenade, backed by sloping gardens leading steeply up to the broad Marine Parade. The lively pier has a wide range of entertainments that give it a perpetual fairground atmosphere.
North-east of Clacton is the quieter, largely residential resort of Holland-on- Sea, beyond which there is a path along the seawall to Frinton.
Clacton has two theatres. Fishing trips can be arranged, and pleasure flights operate from Clacton Airfield.
Developed as a resort in the 1890s by Sir Richard Cooker, Frinton still retains the gentility of those days, and is the only resort of any size in Britain without a pub. Its redbrick houses are built along broad, tree-lined avenues, leading to a sweeping expanse of grass called The Greensward. Below this, a fine sandy beach runs the whole length of the town. The main access for motorists is over the level crossing, as the railway seals off the landward side of the town.
Walton is a family resort, with an excellent beach, sandy and safe, but almost completely covered at high tide. The town developed as a resort from about 1830; in its early days it was renowned for its sea holly, whose candied roots were sold for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities.
The pier, open in summer, is at nearly half a mile the second longest in England after Southend’s. Walton’s first pier was built in 1875 as a jetty for the paddle-steamers plying from London, but at low tide it did not reach the sea. It was rebuilt to its present length in the 1880s after the original pier was destroyed in a violent storm. Today privately owned, it offers a giant wheel, side-shows, and fishing for brill, cod, dab, haddock, hake, whiting and sole.
The Naze – the word is the same as Nose or Ness – is a wide area of grass and gorse north of the town, crowned by a tall octagonal brick tower built in 1720 as a navigational aid. Below the Naze, 40 ft sandstone cliffs drop to the shore; they are rich in fossils dating from the Ice Age. A IV4 mile nature trail at The Naze gives the opportunity of seeing migrating birds in spring and autumn, and butterflies such as the Essex skipper and painted lady in summer. There are good views to Harwich and Felixstowe, and a I 1/2 mile walk along the sea-wall to Frinton.
KIRBY LE SOKEN QUAY
The quay is reached down Quay Lane from the village of Kirby le Soken. A footpath along the sea-wall gives good views over Walton Backwaters. The village takes its name from Norman times when it paid ‘socage’, or rent, to St Paul’s in London.
Reached down a lane leading to Quay Farm , this quay, now lonely and derelict, is built of squared blocks of stone from Old London Bridge, built around 1200 and demolished in 1831. There are wide views across the marshes of Walton Backwaters, a solitary wilderness of tidal saltings and reed-fringed islands, the haunt of geese, sandpipers, terns and other water-birds. The parish is called Beaumont-cum-Moze, moze being Old English for ‘marsh’.
FLOWER OF THE CREEKS Hog’s fennel, a yellow flowered member of the carrot family, grows profusely on clayey banks of creeks near the sea, such as the Walton Backwaters. It is similar common fennel, but has fibres at the base of the stem. The root is also known as Sulphur-weed.
Most of the great seafarers of the past have come to Harwich before setting out on their voyages, among them Raleigh, Drake, Fro-bisher and Nelson. In 1340 it was the assembly point for Edward Ill’s fleet which defeated the French at Sluys, in the first major sea battle of the Hundred Years’ War, The Mayflower, in which the Pilgrim Fathers set out from Plymouth in 1620, was an east-coast trading vessel which sailed from Harwich some time earlier and was chartered in the Thames for her American journey. Her master, Christopher Jones, lived in King’s Head Street.
Another famous figure connected with Harwich was the diarist Samuel Pepys, commemorated by a plaque on the Town Hall. Pepys was Secretary of the Admiralty and MP for Harwich in Charles II’s time, and the Merry Monarch himself took the first pleasure cruise from Harwich. Those days are recalled by the unique 17th-century treadmill crane, which stands on The Green just south of the harbour. Worked by manpower, it was designed to handle ammunition and stores.
QUIET BACKWATERS Kirby le Soken Quay overlooks the Walton Backwaters, a tranquil wilderness of reedy islands lying like the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle behind The Naze.
In contrast to the reminders of the past, such as the crane and the old High and Low lighthouses, today’s Harwich is a paradise for the ship-spotter. Fishing boats, Trinity House vessels including lightships, the modern Harwich lifeboat and ferries leaving from Parkeston can all be seen. A passenger ferry runs regularly across to Felixstowe from the Halfpenny Pier – so called because when it was opened the toll was a halfpenny – and in summer there are evening cruises on the Stour and Orwell.
The quayside at Harwich is the best place from which to see the big ships leaving Parkeston, itself so crowded with lorries that sight-seeing there is discouraged. From Parkeston, regular freight and passenger services go to the Hook of Holland, Esbjerg in Denmark, Gothenburg in Sweden, and Hamburg in Germany. Parkeston gets its name from Mr Parkes, the first chairman of the Great Eastern Railway in Victorian times, who built Parkeston Quay as a terminal for the packet-boat service to Holland.
Beyond Harwich Green is the resort area of Dovercourt, which has a sandy beach backed by a sea-wall. On the beach are low wooden groynes – walls built to check the drift of sand – and a pair of disused lighthouses on stilts. Built in 1863, they were replaced by buoys in 1917.
Launching facilities are available at Harwich Sailing Club (on the east side of the old town). There are two town trails, both less than a mile in length.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Beth Chatto Gardens. Elmstead Market, 10 miles NW of Clacton. Weekdays.