Naze Tower has sat proudly atop a north Essex cliff for more than 300 years, since being built by Trinity House as a navigation aid for ships heading to Harwich. In its three centuries, it's never made much of a fuss, quietly stepping up for various roles including signalling station in the Napoleonic wars and radar tower during the second world war, before being awarded Grade II* listed status to ensure its longevity (crumbling cliffs below not withstanding).
And yet, most visitors to the area pass through without ever knowing of the 26m high, octagonal tower's existence. Always curious about a chance to see the world from a different viewpoint, we paid it a visit.
Approaching Naze Tower feels like approaching the edge of the world. The town of Walton-on-the-Naze gives way to a few solitary houses, before you turn into a field car park, the tower looming overhead. A visitor centre and small cafe are all that break up the landscape; grassy nature reserve straight ahead, seemingly-endless sea and crumbling cliffs to the right, it feels surprisingly solitary for being just a couple of miles up the coast from the bright lights of Walton-on-the-Naze.
The tower is accessed by a solitary door on the ground floor. Inside, its diameter is larger than expected, though the staircase is narrower. Rather than the old stone steps we were expecting, the only way to explore the eight floors above is via a spiral black metal staircase. Up, up and away we go.
The first and second floors are usually home to a tea room, closed due to Covid during our visit, but the restaurant-style table and chairs remain, frozen in time and awaiting the return of normality. The centre of the third floor is empty, but pictures and canvasses are mounted on the walls, allowing the room to function as an art gallery. Beautiful though the art is, all eyes are drawn to the TV screen hanging in a corner above the window, offering a live stream to the kestrel nest in the window box outside. Though we were informed at the entrance that there are currently chicks, they don't make an appearance on our visit.
To our mind, the fourth floor is the most interesting, housing a museum about the tower. It covers history, geology, and attempts to save the tower from the crumbling cliffs nearby. Shark's teeth, second world war bullets, and a model of the tower made from 12,000+ matchsticks are on display.
Further works of art are displayed on the whitewashed walls of the fifth and sixth floors, and the seventh floor hosts the bottom of the final, central staircase which takes us up to the eighth floor roof, the real reason we've climbed those 111 steps.
The hexagonal viewing platform is only a few feet wide, and offers 360 degree views over the surrounding areas. On a clear day, an information board informs us, sights as far away as the Kent coast to the south and the BT Research Centre at Martlesham Heath in Ipswich to the north are visible.
Reader, it was not a clear day on our visit. The vast expanse of North Sea to the east was obvious, as was the grassy area making up the Naze nature reserve to the north. Squinting hard, we could just make out the giant freight cranes at Harwich Docks, but nothing beyond that.
Looking west into Essex, the shimmering waters of The Twizzle (fantastic name) and Coles Creek at Kirby le Soken were the extent of views, and peering south, the pier at Walton was the main landmark.
Despite the haziness, Naze Tower is still a fascinating way to see the area from above, including a unique view of the eroded cliffs which threaten its existence below. Plus, the feeling of stumbling upon a little-known treasure always makes for an enjoyable day out. Just take care on the narrow staircase on your way back down.
Naze Tower, The Naze, Old Hall Lane, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, CO14 8LE. It's located a 30-minute walk along the coast from the town of Walton-on-the-Naze, which also has the nearest train station.
While in the area, why not visit the many, many beach huts of Walton-on-the-Naze, or these other seaside towns and islands in Essex. Take a look at our map of day trips near London for other ideas for days out.