Walking, Hiking & Trail Running

Best Walks In Essex | Top 5 Walking Routes In The English County

Go on some walks in Essex with the help of our handy guide to the county's best walking routes

It’s easy to underestimate the county of TOWIE as a haven for natural beauty, but this guide to the best walks in Essex proves once and for all that the county is worth a good stroll. You don’t need to spend much time outdoors here to understand why the area’s countryside has inspired artists, musicians, and writers alike for centuries. From 6,000-acre woods to haunted villages, famed painting sites to abandoned oil refineries, these walking routes in Essex have got something for everyone.

The Oak Trail, Epping Forest

Constable’s Footsteps, Dedham

Salcott Circular, Salcott to Tollesbury

East Mersea Island

The Benfleet Circular via Canvey Island

The Oak Trail, Epping Forest

Keep your eyes peeled for wild fallow, hare, and skylarks when walking through the Epping Forest Oak Trail (Credit: Getty Images)

Distance: 11km

Time: 3.5 hours


Sitting comfortably between London’s concrete jungle and Essex is Epping Forest, a nearly 6,000-acre wood (take that, Milne) bustling with enough wildlife and greenery to inspire some of England’s greatest artists. Famed for its connection to William Morris, the home of a mysterious lead guitarist in Paul McCartney’s lyrics, and the backdrop for Damon Albarn’s memories of a heatwave; it’s been a place of some cultural significance over the years.

Weaving its way around Epping Forest is its own Oak Trail, which takes walkers through a variety of some of the most scenic spots the woodland has to offer. From its scenic deer sanctuary to its great wood pastures and striking veteran beech pollards, the Oak Trail has a number of notable landmarks.

Starting at Theydon Bois tube station (which sits towards the end of the Central Line, leading out from central London), you’ll pass the remains of an Iron Age hill fort at the Ambresbury Banks, a herd of incredible black fallow deer at the 140-acre Deer Sanctuary, and majestic wildlife in the Buffer Lands. Keep an eye out for skylarks, hares, fallow and muntjac deer while you’re on the trail.

Constable’s Footsteps, Dedham

It’s easy to see how Dedham inspired Constable to paint his most loved work (Credit: Getty Images)

Distance: 10km

Time: 3 hours


John Constable’s most loved and famous artwork, The Hay Wain, has captivated audiences since it was painted in the early 19th century and the scene it depicts remains recognisable today. A 10km walk through the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale will take you on a relaxing journey through the countryside sitting between Essex and Suffolk, giving you a chance to stop and take in the scenic spot that inspired Constable to create one of the most visually striking representations of Essex we’ve seen for (genuinely) centuries. Mapped and cared for by the National Trust, walking in Constable’s footsteps will see you go on a picturesque tour of the hidden beauty that’s nestled within Essex’s countryside.

Starting at Manningtree station, you’ll follow a stream-adjacent path through the Cattawade Marshes. From there you’ll pass the bank to the hamlet of Flatford before a short detour to the famous Flatford Mill and site of Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ painting. From there, continuing on to Dedham will see you stroll through an RSPB wildlife garden, riverside meadows and tree-lined footpaths. It’s all extremely Constable.

Salcott Circular, Salcott to Tollesbury

Allegedly haunted, and eerie enough to believe that’s true, a stroll from Salcott and Tollesbury will be one to remember (Credit: Getty Images)

Distance: 7 km

Time: 2.5 hours


Usually known for its bustling piers, arcades and theme parks, the Essex coastline is also home to some of the most fascinating hives of nature in the country. Marshes, rivers, reservoirs and creeks dominate the eerie landscape of the Salcott Circular, so dress accordingly. Off the beaten track, the Salcott Circular will take you between two of Essex’s coastal villages, Salcott and Tollesbury, both of which have haunted histories to be investigated if you’re feeling brave…

Starting at the RSPB’s Old Hall Marshes, the route, which can be altered to your liking, will take you through extensive grazing marshes, reedbeds and saltmarshes that make up the beautiful scenery across the flat landscape. If the weather’s clear enough you’ll make out Mersea Island across the estuary, two offshore islands and the heights of Colchester town in the distance.

The walk can be extended to nearer to 10 miles with a stroll around the sea defences, but, if you’re going to walk that far, we highly recommend a four-kilometre trek westward instead (it’ll lead you to the door of The Queen’s Head pub in Tolleshunt d’Arcy). With all that spooky history flowing through the marshes, the least you could do is treat yourself to a pint right?

East Mersea Island

West Mersea might steal the island’s show every year, but there’s beauty to walk through at East Mersea (Credit: Getty Images)

Distance: 5.6km

Time: 2 hours


Sitting off the coast of Essex, tethered to mainland England by a tide-sensitive causeway and surrounded by the murkier waters of the estuary is Mersea Island. Treasured by Essex, Mersea is an island of two halves; it’s western side built more for tourism, the eastern half left for its wilderness to thrive.

Though we recommend a walk through the eastern half, West Mersea is well worth a visit, too. Occupied by the finest seafood restaurants in the county, boating docks interwoven with watersports, and holiday homes, cafes, the like, West Mersea has remained a popular holiday spot for all the right reasons. But East Mersea, with its wildlife, farmland and salt marshes, is where we think you’ll get the most out of your visit.

After the car park, start your walk by heading straight to the beach, where the keener-eyed walkers amongst you will see the effects and remains of 300,000 years of erosion (bones of prehistoric bison, bears and wolves decorate the shoreline). You’ll pass a pillbox and the remains of a civil-war-era fort before reaching the budding wildlife of the salt marshes. A dark, lonely Oyster Fishery is a sight to take in before you tackle the remainder of your journey, a route that’s marked by paths, gates and, of course, a pub. Pop in to The Dog and Pheasant to get a taste of East Mersea culture.

Public service announcement. Be sure to time your trip well. At high tide, the causeway becomes submerged and only the finest / silliest / most reckless of swimmers are able to return to mainland Essex.

Benfleet Circular via Canvey Island

Don’t underestimate it – Canvey Island houses some of the most interesting spots in Essex (Credit: Getty Images)

Distance: 23km

Time: 5-6 hours


A walk like no other, the remains of an industrial age in Essex finds itself scattered across Canvey Island and Southend-on-Sea with the try-and-find-it abandon of a ‘Where’s Wally?’ book. By simply following the sea wall, you’ll come across landmarks and landscapes exclusive to this Essex island. Amongst the fascinating landscape of the Essex coast, you’ll find oil refineries (both working and abandoned), golf courses, beaches, piers, restaurants (we recommend Lobster Smack, a pub that happens to be the oldest building on the island), yacht clubs, marsh lands, sandy beaches, story-telling murals and, of course, the North Sea.

An unrivalled spot in Essex that deserves every minute of your time and attention, the mis-matched landscape is bound to treat, confuse, and inspire those in need of some variation from their walks in the county. We’re not saying you’ll paint the next Hay Wain, Constable, but a place like Canvey Island might just power your imagination in a different way. Easily accessed by public transport, with bus stops never far from the circular route, forget what you think you know… a trip to the island is worthy of your time.

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