Essex is a county in East England. It shares its borders with several other counties, including Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Greater London and the River Thames to the south, and the North Sea to the east.
The east coast of Essex is characterised by deep, winding estuaries, while inland, large rivers – such as the Stour – bend slowly through the countryside. There are marshes too, and great woodlands, islands and wildlife-rich nature reserves – all good reasons to head to Essex for a weekend of walking.
Here are four walking routes to get you started.
Best walks in Essex
3 miles/4.8km | 1.5 hours | easy
The River Stour – which forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex – could be the most celebrated river in the country after the Thames. Why? Because it features in one of Britain’s favourite artworks, The Hay Wain, painted by John Constable in 1821.
Remarkably, the same scene can be viewed today. Preserved (but not fossilised) by the National Trust, this is the apex of a much-loved river walk.
5.6km/3.5 miles | 2 hours | easy
Covering roughly seven square miles, Mersea Island off the coast of Essex is the UK’s most easterly inhabited island. Evidence of a pre-Roman settlement has been found here, and legend has it that a Roman centurion haunts the Strood, the road that links the island to the mainland.
It’s a land of two halves: you’ll find restaurants and cafés in West Mersea, offering the oysters and shellfish that the island is famous for, as well as a vineyard selling locally produced wine. While East Mersea is all salt marshes and farmland, fantastic for a stiffly breezy, cobweb-clearing spring walk.
It will take you five hours to walk around the whole island, but if you’re looking for a shorter route, a circuit around Cudmore Grove Country Park and its environs is ideal.
Pentlow, Clare and Cavendish
6.9 miles/11.1km | 4 hours | moderate
The Stour Valley is gentle and undulating, an ever-changing patchwork of woodland trails and farmland fringed with sleeping hedgerows. Sprinkled with small towns and pretty bucolic villages of thatched painted cottages, and complete with a reassuring cluster of cosy tea rooms, this is an area to be savoured.
Starting from the historic wool town of Clare, Suffolk’s smallest town, the route links three of the area’s most charming churches, wending its way along the Stour Valley to Cavendish in Suffolk and Pentlow in Essex, before returning on the Stour Valley Path high above the river.
5 miles/8km | 3 hours | moderate
Often swept by a bracing sea breeze, the marshes are ideal for blowing off the cobwebs and getting in some winter exercise. From the nearby village of Tollesbury, a flat, five-mile circular walk sticking almost entirely to footpaths takes visitors out along the sea wall, passing close to the hide en route.
It is remarkable that this landscape, so apparently wild and remote, is on the doorstep of so many people – it is less than 20 miles from Colchester, Chelmsford, Braintree and around 30 miles from Ipswich. The marshes even make for an easy day trip out of London, providing a welcome escape from urban life in the depths of winter.