12 of the most scenic walks in Essex
Looking to get out the house and hit a picturesque walk this winter? We've curated some of the most stunning jaunts in Essex for you and the fam, from waterside wins to calming countryside hikes.
Hanningfield Reservoir, East Hanningfield
Part of the Essex Wildlife Trust, this working reservoir and nature reserve spans 870 acres of mature woodlands and wild meadows, making it the ideal spot to get lost in for the day with your binoculars/the kids. Tread the labyrinth of foot trails through the ancient oaks and stop off at one of the myriad bird huts (I love Lyster Bird) to watch the swallows and swifts dip in gin-clear pools. Given the vast range of routes on offer, families will love exploring the woodlands at leisure (or, at least until you’re all so cold you have to hike it back to the car). However, if you’ve got little ones in tow and a long, meandering ramble isn’t an option, we recommend the Wind in the Willows sculpture trail. Comprising characterful wooden sculptures from the classic book, children will love the brass rubbings they can make along the way (crayons and trail map available for £1) and exploring the ‘Wild Wood’ where Mr Toad and co lie in wait.
Beeleigh Falls, Maldon
Set against a backdrop of old butterscotch quarries and leaden gravel pits, this stretch of the River Chelmer is arguably one of the most memorable and weaves its merry way from Langford Museum of Power down to Beeleigh Lock. If you follow its curves to the Mill and Beeleigh Grange Farm, be sure to keep the old gravel pits to your right and cut up towards Utling Wick, where you’ll discover the waterway’s hidden gem: Beeleigh Falls. This intricate series of platforms and locks merges the tide with fresh water, attracting the most beautiful waders and waterfowl.
Palace Walk, Danbury
Surging past the village’s grand Tudor Gothic Palace, this ancient network of canal locks meanders leisurely through Danbury Country Park and Old Hare Wood before picking up pace at Cuton Lock, Stonhams Lock, Little Baddow Lock, Blake’s Wood nature reserve and on past Danbury Church. A solid five-mile wander, be sure to seek out the crumbling war shelter at Cuton Lock and say hello to friendly Kingfishers, who streak the sky blue as they dip and dance for minnows at dusk.
Always a crowd pleaser with the sailing set, this route launches at Tollesbury Marina and hugs the seawall for unrivalled views of the Blackwater Estuary’s lattice of salt-marsh and mud creeks. Oystercatchers, terns and little ringed plovers may thread their way with you to Shinglehead point, where ribbons of green signal Rolls Farm. Follow the natural footpath here to loop back round to Church Street and sink a well-deserved wine at The Harbour View Bistro & Bar.
Fambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch
This calming countryside ramble begins at Fambridge Yacht Haven marina and peruses the rolling hills of Althorne before bouncing gently along the river’s blue grey tides to bunting-festooned Burnham-on-Crouch. The sea wall path ends here at the town’s harbour, where an orchestra of yacht masts chime in the wind and a rug of wild flowers carpet the quay. Ice-cream stop, obligatory.
Whetmead Nature Reserve, Witham
Following the River Brain for four miles, this meadow-rich route is teeming with wildlife and often throws up sightings of muntjac deer, cruising purple crests of Mandarin ducks, and playful otters floating their way downstream. Beginning at Chipping Hill Bridge, drop down onto the river trail and head south, where you’ll cross a small bridge before reaching the tranquil duck pond. Rest here under a fringe of weeping willows, then make the final leg to Whetmead nature reserve, where perfect sunset vistas of the River Blackwater await.
The Thames Estuary Path
Up for a challenge? This 29-miler along the Essex strait wiggles its way through some of the county’s most dramatic landscapes, from a tapestry of mud flats in the south and Tilbury town’s industrial docks, to the sheaf of cockle-shed bays that bid the Thames goodbye in Old Leigh. Positively brimming with biodiversity, a criss-cross of bubbling creeks and clay-like marshes dominate this low-lying riverscape, but the trail is clearly marked out and you can easily break it up, too: stations along the London Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness line serve to slice the route into manageable weekend romps.
Frinton-on-Sea to Walton-on-the-Naze
With its ice-cream coloured beach huts and generous nod to nostalgia, a slow stroll along the Southcliff prom from Frinton-on-Sea in north Essex to the wide, pale-ale-coloured beaches of neighbouring Walton-on-the-Naze are what windswept New Year’s walks were made for. Stretching two beachside miles from Frinton high street to Walton’s historic wooden pier, take in the bracing views out across the North Sea before stopping for trad fish and chips at Yates Fish Bar. This is one coastal delight you don’t want to miss – especially when the waves are rolling in and the sun is shining.
Starting at the buzzy seafront attraction Adventure Island make your way west along the prom until you’re completely clear of the casinos and crowds, and bound for a series of artisan beach cafes that sit under the arches. From here, this three-mile seaside potter will thread through characterful boat yards that clink and clatter in high winds, cobbled lanes dotted with salty dogs, and gorgeous deserted coves. Once you’ve hit Old Leigh, stop for one of the town’s famous cream teas or head beachfront for an alfresco fish platter at The Peterboat.
A nature reserve comprising 102 acres of unique coastal landscapes overlooking the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries, this two-hour route spans more than three miles of rustic Essex coastline and will take you past an oyster fishery, 17th-century fort and Langenhoe Marsh – aka, birdwatchers’ paradise. Rich in wildlife, be sure to stop and spot the resident flocks of wildfowl, soaring peregrine falcons and dipping sparrowhawks.
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 ancient monasteries, 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 and walk the tides anyway. Start with a slow saunter past the decommissioned Power Station before embarking on a six-mile circular sea-route ramble, which takes in spectacularly haunting views out to Mersea Island, as well as a charming chapel, mash-studded nature reserve and WWII memorial.
Wrabness to Manningtree
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 nearby 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. Grab your budding David Attenboroughs and set off on a fossil-foraging mission along the six-mile stretch of shoreline – shark’s teeth and whale bones are prized finds here.
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