Southend Seaside Chic

September 2020, after months of lockdown, restrictions lifted enough for myself and a friend to take a day trip out of London. We met at Limehouse in London and boarded a direct train to the Essex coast – specifically Southend-on-Sea, to discover where the Thames meets the sea.

Like most people I’d heard of Southend, but I’d never actually been there. To be honest, despite having lived in London for years, most of the Essex coast was an unknown as well. If it weren’t for Covid, it might have remained a mythical place too.

The train passed places I’d heard of but had no knowledge of: Benfleet (and nearby Canvey Island), Leigh-on-Sea, before we disembarked at Southend Central.

For context, I grew up in a Victorian seaside town, and some of my earliest and happiest childhood memories are of the three consecutive years I holidayed in Blackpool with my dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the late 70s. I love a shabby British seaside, and my intention is definitely never to sneer.

Coincidentally my daughter’s lockdown school project was on the Victorians and their holidays, so I knew full well that Southend has the longest pleasure pier in the world, at 1.33 miles (or 7080 feet).

There’s a little train for those that don’t want to walk, but my friend and I chose to walk to the end and back.

Train on Southend pier.
The wheelchair accessible train on the pier.
Only a mile to go…

1.33 miles feels like a really long way out to sea when you’re stood on 120+ year old iron and wood! When we visited the sea was like a mill pond, but I can’t imagine being that far out on a stormy day.

One way to mark your everlasting love for your partner is to scratch your names or initials into the wooden shelter at the end of the pier. Well, till the next person comes along in the next couple of hours…
The end of the pier boasts – among a cafe and other delights – an RNLI station, from where the crews are able to launch. Massive respect for the RNFLI volunteers that risk their lives to help others in trouble around the UK and Ireland.
Couple sat on a bench at the end of the pier.
The end of the pier – Essex to the left, north Kent to the right.

Once back on dry land, having put in our 2.66 mile walk, we felt that we’d earned our fish’n’chips lunch, and used pot luck to select one of the many options on the Southend seafront.

Multicoloured boats stacked on end.
Run down grand Victorian building.

After that we decided to head east, not entirely sure what to expect. The takeaways and arcades started to thin out, replaced with hotels and B’n’Bs.

These then gave way to large houses with sea views. We walked and walked, passing lots of expensive-looking houses, many beach huts too, but never really arriving anywhere.

The abandoned yacht that had run aground, seemed to typify the place. Stuck. Stranded. Waiting for someone to rescue it.

A yacht washed up on the beach.

So where do you end up if you head east from Southend? Well, you pass lots of lovely and not-so-lovely beach huts, and things seem to peter out.

There’s a prohibited military firing range, and if you cut inland, things get very mundane very quickly.

After a 4-mile walk along the shore, we plotted a course to Shoeburyness train station (the end of the line), via the Victorian Garrison buildings, and a pub for dinner.

This end of our trip was arguably the most interesting part, but by this point we’d explored enough and were ready for a pint and a meal.

Little did we know we were actually just round the corner from Wakering Stairs and the Broomway, supposedly the UK’s most deadly path! I guess we’ll save that for another trip.

Yacht stranded on the beach.

The always-excellent John Rogers explores the area around Shoeburyness, near the end of our walk, in the below video.

Walk the Broomway – the UK’s deadliest path – to Foulness Island with Lorna Jane Adventures and her guide Tom Bennet in the video below.