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Waltzing Around Walton-on-the-Naze

A day beside the Essex coast exploring a town with two seasides.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Grassy cliff paths, tidal salt marsh and some town streets

Landscape Cliffs, sandy beaches, creeks and marshes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 184 Colchester, Harwich & Clacton-on-Sea

Start/finish TM 253218

Dog friendliness The ozone drives dogs a little mad so take care on narrow paths along cliffs

Parking Pay-and-display at Mill Lane and Naze Tower

Public toilets Mill Lane and Naze Tower

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1 From Mill Lane car park turn right into the High Street then left into Martello Street. Bear left along New Pier Street and go on to Pier Approach. To your right is the Pier, its ½ mile (800m) length makes it the second longest in England, after Southend. From here there are good views of the beaches of Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton.

2 Turn left and, with the sea on your right, walk along Princes Esplanade through East Terrace at the end of which is the Maritime Museum. Continue walking along Cliff Parade and the cliff tops to Naze Tower. Built by Trinity House in 1720 as a navigational aid, it was to join many Martello towers which were constructed along the east and south east coasts of England to fend off Napoleonic invasion. Nowadays, the grassy area in which the tower stands is a good place to rest and recuperate with a hot drink and a picnic at the wooden tables.

3 From the car park café walk inland to Old Hall Lane, turn left and then right into Naze Park Road. At the end of Naze Park Road, where it bears sharp left, turn right on to the narrow path and left on to the field-edge path passing two small ponds filled with wildlife.

4 After 100yds (91m), turn left on to the cross path, go through the gate and on to the permissive path which follows the sea wall, keeping the caravan site on your left and Walton Channel on your right. This wide expanse of mudflats, islands, channels and small boats, ever changing with the tide, is a paradise for seabirds and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Skippers Island, an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve, is the habitat of rare seabirds and wildlife and full-time wardens are employed to protect them. Follow the sea wall for ¾ mile (1.2km) then bear half left down the embankment and into the field.

5 Walk 70yds (64m) to a path between the primary school playing field and houses and enter Saville Street past a row of old cottages on your right. Take the first right into North Street, continue to the High Street and turn right. Turn right again into Mill Lane and return to the car park.

In the early 19th century Walton-le-Soken, as Walton-on-the-Naze was then known, emerged as a seaside resort attracting fashionable folk from London and county families from Essex, who used bathing machines to dip their toes in the waters. The first terraced houses brought genteel residents, a hotel provided visitors with accommodation and before long the area became as popular as Southend with a pier packed with pastimes. Although Walton's name has since changed, two neighbouring villages, Kirby-le-Soken and Thorpe-le-Soken, still retain the original suffix.

Nowadays visitors can enjoy amusement arcades, tenpin bowling, restaurants and sea fishing, and the holiday atmosphere is complete with kiss-me-quick hats, jellied eels and seaside rock. But if you wander north of the town and its lovely wide sandy beaches, you'll discover a haven for bird life in the John Weston Nature Reserve, named after a local warden, and a multitude of sailing craft tucked in the creeks.

Part of the town is situated on a headland called The Naze, hence its name. The word originates from the Anglo-Saxon 'ness' or 'naes' meaning a headland, while Walton may mean 'walled town' from the sea wall. Natural erosion has played a big part in the development of Walton-on-the-Naze, although some would class it as terrifying destruction. In 1798 Walton's second church was washed away and at low tide they say you can still hear the bell ring; in 1880 its first pier was destroyed by heavy seas; World War Two gun emplacements and pillboxes built on the Naze itself fell on to the beach and in the next few years, the Naze Tower, a Grade II listed building, which is only just 100yds (91m) from the cliff edge will also be at risk.

Conservationists predict that unless coastal erosion is stopped, or at least slowed down to managable levels, then the area known as the Walton backwaters and home to thousands of birds, seals and other wildlife, will disappear along with a large part of Walton itself. It may come as no surprise that even the lifeboat here lacks a permanent mooring. In fact it is the only lifeboat in Britain to have a mooring in the open sea. It is near the end of the pier and, when the alarm is raised, the lifeboat crew cycle the length of the pier and use a small launch to reach it.

Choose a summer's day for this gentle walk, which takes you through the town and along the seafront to the Naze Tower. You can walk along the beach or along the promenade depending on the tidal conditions. Year round, Walton-on-the-Naze is a delight to explore. In winter you'll see waders and a range of wildfowl, including brent geese and, in summer, you may be lucky to spot rare avocets, which breed here. They have unusual upturned bills which they sweep through the water collecting shrimps and worms.

What to look for

You can see the geological structure of the cliffs from small promontories or from the beach. At the top of the cliffs the boulder clay and gravel date from the Ice Age. Below are red crag and the slippery grey deposits of London clay, which at the bottom look like brown flakes. Sand martins nest here.

While you're there

Call in at the Maritime Museum and see the exhibits relating to Frinton and Walton's close association with the sea and farming. This former lifeboat house also has displays on lifeboat history, including snippets on how the local lifeboat was regularly called out to pirate radio ships in distress in the 1960s.

Where to eat and drink

There are lots of cafés, fast food and fish and chip shops along the Esplanade and in the High Street. Open year round is Grandma's in Newgate Street, a delightful low-ceilinged restaurant offering steak and kidney pie and other treats. The Victory pub is next door while White's offers pie and mash and jellied or stewed eels. A snack bar beside Naze Tower keeps hungry walkers happy too.

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