The Thames dominates many things to do in Castle Point. There are four walkers in this photo of Canvey’s Chapman Sands. From memory it was August. Why only four walkers? Because almost no one outside of Castle Point knows this hidden beach exists, let alone a sunken island of sand that rises twice a day.
Swim with seals in Castle Point. Fish for bass and bathe in warm creeks and mud baths.
The best beach in Essex. Not many people know this sandy spit rises on Canvey’s eastern tip at low water. Tidal knowledge necessary as this can be a hazardous place if timings are wrong.
Marsh End Sands
Swim under the eye of common seals while they fish for bass from this sandy spit that adjoins Chapman Sands.
Allow at least 40 minutes if leaving from the shore at Southend (51.536499, 0.67713439). Mostly accessed by only the strongest swimmers who cross the Ray Channel an hour before low tide from the end of cockle paths in neighbouring Southend.
Britain’s warmest and most important creek – the place where King Alfred defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Benfleet, in 894.
Walk the shoreline from Benfleet Station to Leigh Station. Alternatively, launch a kayak or canoe for free from Two Tree Island boat ramp (51.532515, 0.62656403) to explore or fish the creek on the incoming tide.
A former Roman fortification and, perhaps, an ancient oyster farm. Remnants of a settlement can be seen on the south-east shore of the island between the sea aster and purslane.
More than 8,000 waterfowl arrive on this grazed saltmarshes in winter to feed on polychaete worms and bivalve molluscs.
Thousands of black-tailed godwits, curlew and dunlin winter around the connecting salt marshes of Vange and East Haven creeks.
Forage for chestnuts, in Castle Point. Hunt for fossils in upturned tree stumps and their roots, or go look for the rarest butterfly in Britain, the heath fritillary.
A wasted childhood. Spent springtime in my favourite Essex wood placing bluebells in the giant stack of a wood ants nest and watching the insects acidic bites turn the flowers pink.
A place to bivvy between the brambles in sweet scented honeysuckle and soft bracken.
Forage for chestnut and hazel nuts in early autumn.
North Benfleet Hall Wood
Look for fossils in the sandy, gravel and clays of giant hornbeam and oaks that have fallen in storms.
South Essex’s largest ancient wood is the last known stronghold of the rare heath fritillary butterfly.
Bluebells, wood anemone and primrose fill this woodland floor with a flush of blue, yellow and white colour in spring.
Wild camp in Castle Point across common, glen and heath between trifid pools and forest glades.
Walk in on the Fane Road Track, an ancient salt road that retains some of ancient mystique and magic.
A plateau of ephemeral pools fill with sunshine yellow from trifid bur-marigold when they open in spring. The trifid pools dry up by summer, only to be replaced by bean shaped flowers of pastel-lemon gorse.
This sloping grass heath is only found outside of Thundersley in Epping Forest. Unmown patches of heather and gorse surrounded by alder are the only surviving remnants of the great forest that once covered all of Essex.
Watch ships sail the Thames past Castle Point, from Sandpit Hill, then climb the Norman ramparts of a derelict castle.
The best view in Essex. Breathtaking.
A Norman keep of no significance, other than we can climb its walls and celebrate its passing. Food at the Salvation Army restaurant is excellent.
A old landfill site. A testament to skill of planners to turn something rotten into something new. A rarity: a view of the Thames that our ancestors never had.
All ancient and sacred sites in Castle Point are now occupied by churches.
St Peter Church
A significant beacon and pre-Christian druid temple.
St. James the Less Church
More than 1,000 years old. Free guided tours of the site are put on by St James the Less Church staff. Call 01702 556160. Tours last 50 minutes.
St Mary’s Church
This holy site was celebrated by King Alfred at the Battle of Benfleet; a Christian church has been there ever since.
Teas, cockles, beers and beds in Castle Point.
Salvation Army Farm Colony
Similar to the stilted cafe at the RSPB’s Rainham bird reserve, the farm eaterie is perched high above the shore line. Eggs are collected from the farm’s chickens. Outdoor seats provide Thames views. A base from which to explore Benfleet and Haleigh Downs, on bike or foot.
Buy fish and chips at Stan’s and then walk to the UK’s largest residential lake. Particularly wild after dark, but don’t camp as the diligent and knowledgeable fishing club wardens don’t like it.
It was better when the breakfast / snack bar was ‘open air’; but brunch at the Labworth is still one of my favourite pastimes. Watching shipping containers drift by on the Thames in calm silence is uniquely… calming. The service is always outstanding.
The drive down Haven Road feels like a journey into the bowels of Essex; it’s not a pretty one, which is why I try to walk in from the sea wall. A lunch-time pint mixes well with salt air as part of an island hike. Charles Dickens wrote much of Great Expectations at this pub, and then – quite reasonably – penned it into the book.
Dutch Cottage Museum
Tea only, but, like a Kitkat, worthy of the break.
Chefs that cook food right in front of my eyes rate highly. The owners of this open-plan takeaway-kitchen serve up dishes to order for all palates and tastes. My ‘Plan B’ when foraging expeditions across Thunderseley Glen prove fruitless.
Talks, workshops and Essex tours
Workshops for schools, scouts, guides, community groups or businesses. Learn how to wild camp and forage, or where to hike, canoe and cycle in Essex. Also, talks on the unique history of land ownership in Essex, and how to enjoy the outdoors by understanding all the laws of access.
Phone – 07947 160007
Email – email@example.com