Motorhome travel: Beside the sea in Essex
For me, the joy of a motorhome holiday should begin with the journey so, for our autumn break to the Essex coast, we avoid the standard route from Nottingham (A1, M11) and take Mobes (our ’van) on the A52 east of Grantham. This takes us through Lincolnshire farmland to King’s Lynn where we (or, rather, I) enjoy a full English breakfast.
Suitably filled, we head south at Swaffham through an area I’ve only ever looked at on the map, but to which we will definitely return, Thetford Forest. We are greeted by an explosion of colours as the leaves are beginning to turn. With the sun shining we feel very much in the holiday mood. Rolling up at a campsite in Weeley, a few miles inland of Clacton and Walton, we find we are not booked on.
Here the lesson beginneth: when browsing and picking multiple campsites to stay on, remember the name and location of the site you’ve actually booked! With the aid of Jane’s smartphone, we eventually turn along the gravel path to Grange Farm Campsite in Thorpe-le-Soken and, yes, this is it. It’s a lovely small site adjoining a working farm and equine centre, a short walk across fields and along the gravelled Mill Lane into the one-street village. Thorpe-le-Soken is blessed with the beautiful St Michael’s Church and four good hostelries (I can confirm that the beer in the Bell Inn is very good).
By the time we get back to the site, it is extraordinarily dark, giving a fantastic vista of the stars. The next morning, the sun is out and, despite it being a Sunday morning in late September, there are plenty of folk in Clacton’s tidy town centre. We are by the classic pier, so it’s all amusement arcades and rides including the prominent red and white helter skelter. The end of the pier has the obligatory café and we join the throng watching the multitude of fishing rods scouring the depths.
From here, Clacton looks very pleasant with beach huts, the gardens above and behind and a couple of martello towers, one of which doubles as a coast watch. Riding our bikes out of Clacton, with the long pier of Walton-on-the-Naze about eight miles away visible in the distance, we see people in the sea and family groups enjoying tea and cake outside their beach huts. At Frinton we stop for ice cream and to look at the fine eleventh century St Mary’s Church.
Rounding a headland, we are confronted by Walton’s pier backed by a small bluff on which ranks of beach huts are ranged. The corrugated covering of the pier is unsightly, but it protects historic fairground rides that are a joy to behold. There are dodgems, a waltzer, a lovely carousel and – the best of the lot for me – replica WWI biplanes that go round and round and up and down while the riders scream and whoop, pretending to be the Red Baron. The long walk down the pier is on classic wooden slats and gives a great view of the RNLI Lifeboat Station.
Accessing Mersea Island by motorhome
Mersea Island is accessed by The Strood, a Roman causeway that can get covered at the highest tides. The word ‘causeway’ summons up pictures of cobbles and getting stranded. Can Mobes, our motorhome, handle it, I wonder?
The tide is out at its extremity when we arrive, so we have no problems reaching Fen Farm Caravan Site in East Mersea. The site affords fine views out to the North Sea. We are thankful to have our bikes, though, as there are only two buses per week from this end of the island. We are informed that a footpath runs all the way around the island and is suitable for bikes, but this is not the case; I have to lift the machines over countless kissing gates. Despite that, it’s a beautiful route following the unique coastal marshes covered in a carpet of distinctive red marsh grass.
The centre of West Mersea is unremarkable, so we quickly make our way down to the harbour area. This is a rustic and bohemian area with myriad boats of varying sizes and styles converted to dwellings. There are hundreds of yachts, pretty clapboard fishermen’s cottages at the end of the road and, most importantly, a café for tea and cake.
Dawn the following day brings wonderful sunshine. A special day (my birthday) demands a special place and on our journey to Burnham-on-Crouch we see a sign for Tiptree. The name is just so quintessentially English; the sort of place where people make jam! Lo and behold, as we enter the village, we see Wilkin and Sons famous jam factory and, after a look round the informative museum and a coffee and slice of cake, it’s into the shop.
Our base at Burnham-on-Crouch is the CL at Burnham Wick Farm, a working farm with views over fields. A nice walk brings us to the footpath atop the flood defences of the Crouch Estuary. Various wading birds are visible in the mudflats revealed by a low tide. Also revealed are the sad remains of several sailing craft, possibly erstwhile Thames barges that once plied a route from here to London.
On a brighter note, myriad modern craft are bobbing about on the shimmering waters of the Crouch and the waterfront promenade in the town itself is a highlight of the trip. The path is raised up, complete with floodgates to stave off the highest tides from the low-lying land on which the town stands, with pleasant seating terraces above the water. A wonderful line of Regency merchants’ houses catches the eye and three pubs vie for trade from passing walkers.
Dropping down from here, the High Street has a wealth of elegant buildings, including a cinema. Taking pride of place is the arched octagonal clock tower dating from 1877. The tower was built in memory of Laban Sweeting, a local oyster farmer who contributed much to the town. The tower is a wonderful edifice and shows how much the townsfolk thought of him.
Talking of wonderful edifices, Southend Pier is, for me, the ‘daddy’ of all piers. I first visited the pier on a dark autumn evening in 1970, catching the small green and white train along its mile-plus length and I vividly remember the sound of the lapping water in the darkness. We are staying at Shopland Hall CL, an equestrian centre a couple of miles from Southend.
Rather than heading straight for ‘Sarfend’ (sorry, it’s impossible to resist trying to replicate the local pronunciation), we ride east to Thorpe Bay and down a tree-lined boulevard to the seafront. The view is wonderful: from Shoeburyness in the east and over the Thames estuary to Kent. As our heads turn westwards, seemingly extending virtually all the way to the Isle of Grain is Southend Pier.
Dark clouds are fast approaching so we make tracks and the whole ride back to our motorhome is done with a storm on our tails. It’s a short ride to Rochford and train to Southend Victoria for our visit to Southend Pier where six coaches of the tiny diesel locomotive, Sir John Betjeman, await. The fine weather has attracted plenty of visitors to this extremity of Essex and we make for the outdoor café to enjoy the view
A sign advertising traditional fish and chips beckons; there is nothing better than sitting watching the sea come in whilst eating fish and chips. Essex may have waited a long time for a visit from me and my motorhome, but it certainly won’t be waiting so long again.
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