There was a salty flavour to my June 2019 Essex swim trip, with many enticing and interesting swim spots swum and considered. These swims were part of six months of swim trips during summer 2019 to celebrate East Anglia’s waters, to mark becoming sixty, and to raise money for charities important to me.
I had to do much juggling of swim times to fit in with the best and safest points in the tide. I consulted locals and lifeguards, and made changes in the light of their comments. Locals know that even on the day you have to be flexible. At Brightlingsea we had to change our entry point for our salt dip. Rachel, Lily, Caz, Sarah and I dashed in cossies from the unheated lido, past the beach huts to the Colne estuary, and got in down the steps at the corner.
Tides matter a lot on the Essex coast and in the estuaries. At Alresford White House Beach entry and exit is a muddy sticky business if it is not high tide, but that is not easy to calculate. Rachel and I walked there from the ruined church as we thought the road would be flooded. It wasn’t, as the tide was not as high as expected, and we had to wallow in some mud on getting out rather than exiting the water onto a firm gravel beach.
The tide was too far out at Bradwell for more than a paddle in a rock pool and a river – though I was glad I went, as it is a beautiful and atmospheric place.
And Southend has fierce tides: lifeboats are always having to rescue people. You need to swim within one hour of high tide at Chalkwell, and within 3 hours at Thorpe Bay. The wind was Force 5 when I swam with Clare, Jane and John, and the lifeguard had to tow me back to shore behind his kayak when I got over-confident and tried to swim round the Crowstone with the others.
Sea pools are popular in Essex. A delightful tidal pool at Tollesbury Woodup is run by the local community. You swim at your own risk and take note of the depth markers or stay and play by the sandy beach. Families were enjoying it when I dipped there, including some from Maldon whose pool has been closed. You can also swim at the saltwater lake at St Osyth, used for water sports, as Rachel and I did, after lunch at their café with Viv and Linda.
Tide times meant I couldn’t drive to Mersea Island and back and keep to my schedule. The Strood – the road to the island – floods at high tide, especially a spring tide as on this trip. But it was fun to get the foot ferry from Brightlingsea, even in the Force 5 wind on the way back. It left me on a shell beach at the top of the island, and I realised I didn’t know the way to the agreed meeting place that I had assumed was nearby. But after some wrong turns and phone calls I met up with local Lisa, regulars Caz and Ed, and newbie Lillie B, and we walked down the beach in Cudmore Grove.
Our swim spot reminded me of Covehithe in Suffolk, with trees fallen down the eroding cliffs and bleached by the sea. Lisa had been to recce at low tide and had photos of groynes and obstructions that couldn’t be seen at high tide so that we could avoid them. We had a lovely swim in the lively sea and sociable sharing of cake and experiences, before I returned to take the ferry back.
On the way, with time to spare before the next sailing, I had a dip in the river Cud, under the eyes of a watchful swan and curious passersby.
Frinton on Sea and Walton on Naze were more straightforward, though it is further to walk out on the gradually shelving beaches if the tide is out, and you have to beware the sea wall at Walton if the tide is high. Both were delightful, quintessential seaside resorts with sand, groynes, and – at Walton – the usual attractions of shops and arcades. You won’t find these at Frinton, though, which historically kept the area beyond the railway line free of such anything so common or commercial.
We parked on the cliff by the decorative toilets in the immaculate park, and walked down the cliff path. Rachel and I swam in the warm and shallow sea, while Linda watched and Viv photographed us and the idyllic scene, before they went shopping and we went to Walton and I swam in a similar sea.
Once home I read about the fascinating and complicated Essex coast, including Tom Bolton, Low Country and Rachel Lichtenstein, Estuary. The end of the Thames at the Crowstone is in Caitlin Davies, Downstream. And there are some tempting places featured in Wild Swimming Walks and Justin Minns, Photographing East Anglia.
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