The large and diverse county of Essex has over 350 miles of coastline, making it an ideal holiday location, especially if you choose a self-catering holiday cottage and use it as a base from which to explore this fascinating region.

Essex may not be top of everyone’s list, but having the longest shoreline of any county in England means that it offers lots of variety and endless possibilities for family holiday activities, or just somewhere to relax and take in the surrounding natural beauty.

A Victorian Seaside Legacy

Clacton-on-Sea encapsulates the classic British seaside holiday. It was created as a seaside resort in 1871, with its iconic pier dating from this time. Clacton was also the location of Bill Butlin’s second ever holiday camp in 1938.

Clacton brings this legacy up to date with a thoroughly contemporary approach to seaside fun and entertainment, complete with an aquarium, thrill rides and other family entertainment, along with bars and restaurants.

Frinton has much more of a genteel feel, with its esplanade and avenues and vintage surviving Victorian beach huts. In its heyday it was a retreat for the aristocracy, while today it retains a sense of uprightness, even if that’s enforced with numerous by-laws. It does, however, have a certain quiet charm that’s a world away from Clacton’s brashness.

Uniquely, Walton-on-the-Naze is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and has a history of coastal erosion. Wooden groynes (barriers) and a concrete sea wall protect it now, but many pillboxes dating from the Second World War have since fallen from the eroding clifftops.

The area offers plenty of walking trails, nature reserves, three miles of sandy beaches and a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Red Crag cliffs, where many fossils have been found. Manmade attractions include a pier, yacht club and marina.

Southend boasts the longest pier in the world, and a buoyant cultural scene that includes a number of museums, galleries and historic houses. It has seven miles of coastline, the bustling entertainment of City Beach, and plenty of rides and rollercoasters to burn off your kids’ energy on.

Exploring Essex’s Intriguing Islands

Essex has a number of islands off its extended coastline, each with their own particular charm and character. Foulness is the largest of them, close to Southend-on-Sea, and a large number of tidal waterways separates it from the mainland. It’s a notable wildlife haven for birds and seals, and it has a fascinating Heritage Centre located in an old school house, full of local artefacts, some dating back to Roman times.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) owns the island, so visiting hours only apply at the time when the Heritage Centre is open.

On Essex’s Blackwater Estuary, Osea Island feels like something of an idyllic retreat. You can only reach it by a pebble causeway every seven hours, when the tides permit crossing. It has a rich history of occupation dating back to Neolithic times, and there are remains of ancient villages and Viking burial grounds here.

It’s a secluded spot that attracts a range of wildlife, from wild rabbits to a wide variety of owl species. Osea makes an ideal spot for sailing and fishing for sea bass in the estuary, and it also has a saltwater swimming pool and a tennis court.

More of a wilderness destination, Wallasea Island is an RSPB conservation project and a developing nature reserve. The RSPB is working to restore mudflats and saltmarshes to this wild landscape, and to provide a safe, natural home for many different species of birds.

For oysters, and the simple pleasures of watching the world go by, Mersea Island fits the bill, along with windsurfing, sailing and other watersports. It combines these seaside attractions with the country life of its eastern side and the Cudmore Grove Country Park.