Discover Essex’s most scenic waterside walks
If the idea of a park picnic leaves you cold and another trip to the beach bores you, it's time to explore the patchwork of picturesque waterways Essex is renowned for. From languid strolls along tumbling streams to full-on river safaris, here's some of the region's most immersing routes
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.
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.
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 riverside 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.
Bourne Mill, Colchester
A wetland full of countryside nooks and historical landmarks, this three-mile circular walk is easy going on the calves and perfect for little ones with little legs. Beginning at Bourne Mill – which once powered the industries of Colchester – the River Colne slopes off towards Bourne Valley, the Cannock Mill and Almhouses of Winsley Square. You’ll scoot past 19th century pubs, spy duck-filled Distillery Ponds and paddle alongside flocks of regal resident swans. Our tip? Do your research with the National Trust before you set off: yes, it’s Insta-worthy, but you’ll get more out of it if you absorb this waterway’s glittering past.
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.