Hidden coves: the local beachy boltholes
So you’ve checked out Frinton’s candy-striped beach huts and ripped through Southend seafront with a toddler (and toffee apple) in tow. Now where? Here’s our inside-track on the county’s more secluded shores
Wedged between the weathered house boats of Mersea’s mudflats and the marshland causeway, ‘Monkey’ is a cracker of a beach that offers up myriad creeks to meander through as you unearth sun-bleached oyster shells from the caramel sands. Little ones will love the ample crabbing spots too, so bring a net, then head for nearby Company Shed or Oyster Bar for West Mersea’s signature dish: fresh, salty oysters served up with a hit of lemon and lashings of dry white wine.
A peaceful stretch of powdery sand, The Naze beach backs onto a crumbling set of cliffs that jut dramatically out into the sea and offer unrivalled views of the Essex coast. Often overlooked for neighbouring Walton-on-the-Naze, it’s a uniquely positioned spot for beach-goers keen to swap crowds for the Big Blue and boasts an eight-storey 18th century tower complete with art gallery, museum and tea room. Just be sure to bring a head for heights.
Home to Grayson Perry’s Turner-prize-winning ‘House for Essex’, Wrabness is a humble little corner in the north that deserves more coastal consideration. Set against the rolling hills of Manningtree, its generous slice of sandy coves hug a pretty stretch of the Stour Estuary and, dotted with rustic beach huts and a smattering of chalets on stilts, it’s not uncommon for passing dinghies to pull up on the sheltered shoreline for an impromptu picnic, adding a certain whiff of nostalgia to the sea breeze. Kids (and history buffs) might also want to give fossil foraging a go here: shark’s teeth and whale bones are common, prized finds.
Freshwater lido? Check. Pastel wash of pretty beach huts along the prom? Check. Splash-friendly bay the little ones will love while you masterfully launch the stand-up paddle board? Jackpot! This hidden gem of a beach town may be just 10 miles south of Colchester town centre, but it’s a far cry from the overrun beaches of Clacton and often proves more popular with dinghy sailors than day trippers. Follow the curve of the bay round to the Brightlingsea Marsh nature reserve for the quietest coves and hidden sun traps.
Bathed in a cream crush of cockle shells, Bradwell’s small stretch of beach marks the point where River Blackwater meets the North Sea and it’s an atmospheric find. Overlooked by monasteries and chapels, oyster sheds and layers of salty grey mist, consider this your new go-to hideaway when the weather won’t play ball and you decide to embrace the drizzle anyway and walk the tides in peace.
Set against an industrial backdrop of Harwich harbour, Dovercourt’s swathe of toffee-coloured sand and shingle beaches are often overlooked for busier seaside resorts to the south, but there’s something to be said for this quiet, historic pocket of coastal Essex – not least, it’s lack of crowds. Head for the far end of the beach for views up to Cornwallis Battery and Beacon Hill Fort, or trek out to the two Victorian lighthouses at low tide. Oh, and there’s always the resident seals of nearby Hamford Water National nature reserve to say hello to.
East beach serves up a prime golden-sand stretch for Southend Pier swervers. Think gentle lapping waves for paddling pooches (restrictions apply), buckets and spades galore, and a smattering of ice-cream vendors for that 11am gelato fix. In fact, you can get two out of three (no pooches, sadly) at Shoeburyness institution, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Fancy burning off that Cornetto afterwards? The beach also has a thriving community of kite surfers, so strap yourself in and fly like the wind.