🇬🇧 🇬🇧 🇬🇧
Distance: 3 miles
Advice: A large part of the walk is on grass but is accessible for wheelchairs or buggies. Part of the walk also takes in the cliff edge where extreme care should be taken. In Brief: Walton-on-the-Naze is one of the most recognisable areas in Essex, although due to the sea it is constantly changing. Discover the changing times of this fascinating area through our walk.
Start: Make your way over to the Tower and use this time to explore the area. More info: This is a circular walk starting and finishing at the historic Naze tower, taking in some of the sights and sounds of the seaside town. Discover the history of the Naze and Walton Town and see some of the most beautiful unspoilt countryside in Essex.
Address: Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex
Parking: Park in the Naze carpark (charges apply) or a nearby street if available.
The Naze Tower
The Naze has been dominated by the historic tower for over 250 years but until now it’s remained a mystery for many.
Once known as Eadolfenaesse and also Waltonia, the town of Walton now takes its name from the Naze, the area of headland known, the world over, for its ancient fossils, unique wildlife and its ongoing battle against the sea.
For the last 250 years the headland has been dominated by the Naze Tower, built in 1721 by Trinity House long before lighthouses became commonplace. Its original purpose was to act as a marker for ships approaching the Harwich harbour, a duty which it still performs today.
At the beginning of the 20th century radio masts were erected at the top of tower in an attempt at long range transmission, the tower has also played a part in the many wars since the 18th century.
In the last couple of years the Tower, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, has been purchased by a local resident, refurbished and opened as a visitor attraction.
For hundreds of years the Tower, known locally as ‘The Landmark’, has been a symbol of Walton’s history, and as the Naze around it is gradually lost to sea it acts as a sign of what could be lost if the sea continues to eat away at the cliffs.
Residents and visitors to the Naze can’t miss the grand exterior of the Tower, but until now it’s interior has remained a mystery for most. Now open daily, during the summer, from 10am you can find out about its history as you climb the steps to the observation platform at the very top with breathtaking views for miles around. Admission is £2 per adult.
The Naze itself has also been the subject of much change, its constantly diminishing coastline is a constant cause of debate. Every year two metres fall into the sea, at the current rate the Tower would be lost to the waves within 20 years.
The Naze was originally farmland, then a privately owned golf course. During the Second World War the area was requisitioned as a watch-out location. In 1967 it was purchased by the local council and has been an area of public open space ever since, enjoyed by locals and thousands of visitors every year. The dense brambles and hawthorn provide a haven for hundreds of species of animals and insects and an important area for migrating birds.
Park in the Naze carpark (charges apply) or a nearby street if available.
Make your way over to the Tower and use this time to explore the area.
You will eventually come to The Foundry and a holiday park
Stage – 1
Over 50 million years ago Essex was beneath a warm sea. Rivers flowed into this sea bringing mud and silt which eventually became compacted and formed what we now know to be London Clay, which makes up the base of the Naze. The historic, and instantly recognisable, cliffs underneath the Naze have been the subject of public debate for decades. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the cliffs form one of the finest geographical sites in Britain. They are formed from London Clay at the base which is 54 million years old and overlaid with a sandy deposit called Red Craig, which is about two million years old.
Walk along the cliff top
The cliff faces are popular with fossil hunters who come to search for the fossils of the marine life like gastropods, nautiloids, turtles and many species of fish including sharks which would have swum in the sea millions of years ago. The London Clay is also famed for fruits and seeds of subtropical plants which have been carried by rivers into the sea.The cliffs at Walton have also produced some of the best bird fossils in the world.Evidence of the large scale cliff erosion can be seen on the beach. Two pillboxes which served as look-out posts during the Second World War up on the Naze have since fallen onto the beach below, serving as a reminder of the important role the Naze had in years gone by.The question of sea defences along the Naze is hugely controversial, while many believe the Naze should be protected by the Sea equal numbers believe nature should be left to take its course on the cliff faces.The cliffs are eroding at approximately two metres a year. For your own safety keep well back from the cliff tops.Take the route through the trees. Start the walk by travelling along the cliff tops moving northwards across the grassy cliff top, heeding the warning notices to keep well clear of the unstable edge. As the path descends across the top of the lower cliffs, Harwich can be seen ahead. Follow the path through the trees at the far end of the Naze until you meet a tarmac path, bear left on to it to walk on top of an embankment, above pools and marshes. Later on you’ll have a chance to go down onto the shore and explore the base of the cliffs.
Stage – 2
John Weston Nature Reserve
This reserve is located near the end of the Naze and can be reached along the public footpath that stretches along the cliff tops from the Naze Tower. The reserve is owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust.This Essex Wildlife Trust reserve lies within the Naze public open space. An area for blackthorn, bramble thickets and rough grassland it is home to hundreds of birds and animals. A walk through the reserve and you’ll also find four ponds or ‘scrapes’, three of them excavated since the reserve was established.Nesting birds include lapwing, redshank, and sedge and reed warblers, the latter having colonised the reeds that were introduced to one of the new pools. Beyond the reserve is the 1.5 mile long shingle beach, ending at Stone Point, which is an important nesting site for little tern and other shorebirds.It is an important landfall for migrants – for example the firecrest, red-backed shrike and barred warbler. It also attracts a good variety of winter visitors. The most common sight on the reserve is that of a twitcher, waiting to catch a glimpse of a rare bird.Join the concrete path.The reserve is named after the late John Weston, a leading Essex naturalist who was warden of the reserve until his death in 1984. Flowering plants and grasses include parsley water-dropwort, slender thistle, pepper saxifrage, fenugreek and bush grass. Being so close to the shore, it inevitably attracts shore-loving insects, including emperor moth, cream-spot tiger moth and saltern ear moths. On joining the tarmac path from the cliff top, bear left on to it to walk on top of an embankment, above pools and marshes and along the edge of the Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve.Where this tarmac path ends, bear left again to continue along a pleasant grassy path – still on the top of an embankment – above Cormorant Creek and the surrounding marshland. The Naze Tower dominates the skyline to the left.
The Backwaters are an area of tidal creeks, mudflats, islands, salt marshes and marsh grounds. The Backwaters, and Hamford Water, have RAMSAR classification which means they are an internationally important wetland for birds.Walton Backwaters and Hamford Water is an area of tidal creeks, mudflats, islands, salt marshes and marsh grasslands. The public footpath which runs along much of the seawall is a great vantage point for the many species of wildlife, including birds, insects and even seals.Carry on along the backwaters
You should spot the backwaters before you arrive as the clatter of the masts from the many yachts will greet you as you come up from the Nature Reserve. As you get nearer take a look at the many water activities going on.Like the nature reserve, the backwaters are hugely popular with bird watchers, it is an internationally important breeding ground for Little Terns and a wintering ground for Dark-bellied Brent Geese, wild fowl and waders. It also supports communities of coastal plants which are extremely rare in Britain including Hog’s Fennel.The Backwaters are also home to a colony of around 70 seals. Both harbour seals and grey seals can often be spotted resting on the mudflats.From point four you can see Harwich and on a clear day you may even spot the lighthouse at Southwold.Continue along the path in the direction of Walton town keeping the broader expanses of the Walton Backwaters on the right.
A once grand Iron Foundry stands at the end of the Backwaters. Formerly Walton’s biggest employer it had long since closed its doors.In the 19th century John Warner came to Walton with his family and immediately started to develop the area. Warner’s developments helped to make Walton into a thriving seaside resort. The opening lines of a poem in a Guide to Walton-on-the-Naze published in the mid 19th century said
Take the green path (L) not the driveway
When pleasure you seek
For a month or a week,
Or when your pursuit
Is your health to recruit,
To Walton repair.
When John Warner died in 1852 he left the estate to his son, Charles Boreham Warner who took a relaxed attitude towards any further developments, however when Charles died in 1869 the management passed to Robert Warner which proved a major boost to Walton’s economy. Before coming to Walton the Warner family owned and ran a large iron foundry in London, after purchasing land that backed onto Walton Hall estate, he built a second, this time in Walton.The Foundry was the main source of employment in the town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with between 150 and 300 people working there. They made everything from iron seats, portable cooking boilers and wind powered pumps. As well as this they produced material for the Indian Railways and were bell-founders for Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.After Robert’s death in 1896 the ownership of the Foundry passed to other family members. Gradually production declined and the grand Foundry was sold in 1921.Production continued, albeit, in a smaller way, until the eventual closure in the 1960’s.When you reach The Foundry take the grassy Public Footpath on your left as opposed to the gravel driveway.You will come out of the footpath on Naze Park Road.
Stage – 5
============================================================================Walton Town / Naze Park
The real old village of Walton is now nine miles out to sea on the west rocks, its old church having finally fallen into the sea in 1798. The new town grew in the early 19th century. Today, Walton thrives as a holiday resort.Walton’s early history is one of a scattered farming community. The old name of Walton-le-Soken (still visible on the Church today) shows that the area once formed a “soke” with its neighbours Kirby and Thorpe. These villages were once owned by the Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral and enjoyed special privileges and powers.Walton was much smaller than Kirby. Coastal erosion meant that much of the land, used for farming, was soon lost to the sea. The old church finally fell victim to the waves around the turn of the 19th Century.
Naze Park Road
Around this time the new town began springing up where we know it today, and Walton become a seaside resort. As the popularity of the seaside increased Walton began to boom. The coming of the railway and the building of the pier allowed travellers to make their way to Walton from the nearby towns. The building of hotels and other amenities gave rise to what might be described as Walton’s Victorian heyday.Three developers dominate this period in Walton’s History – John Penrice who built the Marine Hotel and the first Pier, John Warner who owned the foundry and built the East Terrace and Peter Bruff who is best known for bringing the railway to Walton in 1867.Bruff had a grand vision of a Walton connected to Frinton with a tramway along the landscaped cliffs connected to the railway. This was, however, never fully realised, and eventually other projects took him away from Walton.Today Walton-on-the-Naze retains a strong flavour of its heyday. A recent regeneration project is transforming the high street whilst still maintaining its old charm.Walk up Naze Park Road towards the sea, go across the park, walk along the seafront adjacent to Cliff Parade and travel along the Greensward.For those who would like a shorter route do not go across the park, instead carry on up Naze Park Road which leads into Old Hall Lane and turn off into Sunny Point which will lead you back to the Naze.
Walton Coastguard Station and Maritime Museum
Both the old lifeboat station and the new coastguard building provide a fascinating insight into the maritime history of Walton-on-the-Naze. Walton-on-the-Naze is home to a busy coastguard and lifeboat station and has been since the 1880s. The records of lives and ships saved are engraved on plates surrounding the Lifeboat House.In the days of pirate radio in the 1960s, the Walton lifeboat was regularly called out to pirate radio ships in distress. Two of the best known, Radio Caroline and Radio London, were both moored off the North Essex Coast.The new coastguard station Today’s lifeboat is moored near the end of the pier and is the only lifeboat in Britain to have a permanent mooring in the open sea. When needed, the lifeboat crew cycle the length of the pier and then use a small launch to access the lifeboat.The old lifeboat house is now home to the Walton Maritime Museum housing a collection of Walton memorabilia. The museum is open daily from July to October from 1400 to 1600. Admission is £1. Exhibits include local archives, natural sciences, weapons and war, personalities, science and technology, social history and the maritime history of the town.The Thames branch of The Maritime & Coastguard Agency are the new coastguard station based at Walton, monitoring ship distress calls and coordinating search and rescue operations for the whole of East Anglia, they are now housed in the new coastguard building next door to the museum.Continue to walk along the seafront adjacent to Cliff Parade. You will soon come to a junction with Green Lane where you will find the Walton Maritime Museum and Coastguard Station.The museum is open daily from July from 1400 to 1600, admission is £1.When you’ve finished at the museum walk across the road and down the slope onto the beach. (If the museum is closed or you don’t fancy going in why not enjoy an ice cream or stop of in the café opposite?)
Walk northwards along the beach back up towards the Naze.
Stage – 7
Today Walton beach is lined with beach huts and cafés and despite many improvements and modernisations still retains much of the charm and flavour of its Victorian heyday. Steps: Ensure you read the warning signs Around the beginning of the 19th Century Walton started to become a seaside resort. As the medical benefits of sea air and salt water were promoted Walton boomed and began to rival other towns like Southend for popularity.
The Fossil Cliffs
The coming of the railway and the building of the pier were just what Walton needed. Thousands of visitors from nearby overcrowded towns made the journey by rail and the pier allowed steam ships to drop off day trippers from London and Ipswich. Climb the steps to where you started. In around 1830 “The Hotel” was opened, later to become “The Marine Hotel”, which allowed visitors to stay for longer breaks. Today Walton beach boasts the second longest pier in Britain (Southend being the longest) and thousands of beach huts. Miles of sandy beaches still prove as popular as ever during the summer months.
Carry on walking up the beach back towards the Naze.