Two new stretches of the England Coast Path have opened in Essex today (13 July), creating a total of 85 miles (137km) of new walking route.
The first new route runs from Tilbury to Southend-on-Sea — one of England's newest cities — where it joins up with the second new stretch, running from Southend up to Wallasea Island. You can complete them both in one (lengthy) stroll, or break it down into smaller sections.
100 miles of the England Coast Path — a National Trail which will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world when complete — was already open in Essex.
With these new sections open, 40% of the county's coastline is now accessible to walkers. The new route passes through a varied landscape, including coastal habitats, and marshes ideal for birdwatching. Due to the nature of the marshy landscape, the route includes a couple of lengthy detours inland to avoid estuaries, particularly at Pitsea and Rochford.
Here are a few things to look out for along the way:
- Gravesend Ferry: Close to the start (or end, depending which direction you're going in) of the route is the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry, meaning you can start (or end) your walk in Kent. It even links up to the Grain to Woolwich walking route, which opened a few months previously.
- Tilbury: The route begins close to Tilbury Docks and the London Cruise Terminal — site of the Empire Windrush's arrival in the UK in 1948, commemorated in a flag, plaque and special exhibition at the cruise terminal.
- Tilbury Fort: Not far from the start of the route is Tilbury Fort, a 16th century defence structure used by Henry VIII to defend London, and later the site of Queen Elizabeth I's 'Tilbury Speech' as the Spanish Armada approached.
- Canvey Island: Technically not an island, but rather a marshy area connected to the mainland by two roads. It is, however, an important nature reserve, home to the weevil, ground beetle and a moth which were previously recorded as extinct in Britain.
- Hadleigh Castle: You may get a glimpse of these castle ruins as you wander through the Two Tree Island Nature Reserve area, just before you reach Leigh-on-Sea.
- Leigh-on-Sea, Chalkwell, Westcliff, Southend-on-Sea: A quartet of neighbouring seaside towns/cities and beach resorts, each offering their fair share of refreshment opportunities, amusements and seaside fun.
The first part of the route finishes in Southend, so you can pat yourself on the back and tuck into a rewarding ice cream here. Or you can continue immediately on to the second stretch, where you'll pass:
- Shoeburyness: Another seaside town, home to beach huts and military defence architecture.
- Southend Airport: After Shoreburyness, the route heads inland to avoid marshy area, and along the River Roach to its first crossing point, located near the town of Rochford and located within half a mile of Southend Airport's runway.
- Wallasea Island: A little-known RSPB nature reserve spread across a huge landscape, with several species of bird to be seen throughout the year. Also notable because three million tonnes of material excavated during the construction of Crossrail was used to create the nature reserve.
Several stations including Pitsea, Benfleet, Leigh-on-Sea, Chalkwell, Westcliff, Southend's four stations (Central, Victoria, East, Airport), and Shoeburyness are located on or close to the walking route, so you can tackle it a section at a time if you prefer.
This follows the January 2022 opening of a new walking route connecting London to the Kent Coast, and Kent also recently unveiled the Cantii Way cycle route.
Check out the map of the whole route. See the National Trails website for specific details of this route (although at the time of writing, this is still awaiting updates), and find out more about how the English Coast Path is developing.