Moving down the flat, marshy coast, past the muddy mouth of the River Blackwater, the Dengie National Nature Reserve, the inlets and creeks of the River Crouch which have spread over Foulness Island, the Thames Estuary lies ahead. There are several towns on the north bank before reaching the first vehicle crossing point, Elizabeth II Bridge and the Dartford Tunnel. But are they river of coast? They have ‘sea’ in their names and so I have included them in our trip around coastal settlements, and they are on a tidal stretch of the river.
The town is right on the mouth of the estuary where the Thames meets the North Sea. It has two beaches. East Beach is a sandy/pebbly beach with a grassy area behind it. Shoebury Common Beach has beach huts on both the beach itself and along the promenade.
Originally a village at the ‘south end’ of Prittlewell Priory, Southend developed as a seaside resort in the early 19th century. It boomed in Victorian times and spread to embrace surrounding villages. Cliff gardens and a tree-lined esplanade with a Victorian grandstand overlook a sand/shingle beach which turns to mud at the low tide mark. On the seafront there are fairground rides, a water theme park and countless bars, ice-cream parlours and cafes.
The pièce de résistance for visitors to the resort is the pier. At over two kilometres in length, it is the world’s longest pleasure pier. The shore at Southend consists largely of mudflats, so the sea is never very deep even at full tide and recedes 1.6 km from the beach at low tide. Large boats were unable to stop near to the beach and none at all at low tide. In 1830 a wooden pier was opened. The railway reached Southend in the 1850s and brought with it a great influx of visitors from east London so the wooden pier was replaced by an iron structure in 1887. The first pier used a horse tramway to convey goods & visitors to the pier head. On the new iron pier an electric tramway was installed and by 1891, tracks ran along the pier and trains were in use.
At Leigh use one of two bridges to cross the main railway line and find time for the old times. A narrow street of cottages, shops and pubs oozes history. The cockle boats unload their catch at the quayside. The original cockle sheds are located along Cockle Shed Row. The shell fish are processed here and a pint of cockles, winkles, whelks, oysters or brown shrimps can be purchased for immediate consumption.