I'm sitting on a grassy slice of England that probably won't be here in ten years' time [photo]. The cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze are an unstable layer cake of clay and sand [photo], and every so often another few metres crumble and fall to the beach below [photo]. The first time I saw a minor landslip I assumed it must be a rare event, but now I'm almost blasé about spotting tumbling streams of fine golden sand and claggy rock [video!]. Walton's cliffs are supposed to be packed with world-class fossils, though I've not yet managed to find even a shark's tooth, let alone an evolutionary missing link. Up top is a broad expanse of mowed grass peppered with picnic benches, safely back from the edge but affording no view of the dangers beyond. For the perfect panorama you have to climb 100 or so steps up the Naze Tower, a turret-y navigational aid built in 1720 before the advent of lighthouses. Spiral staircases link its seven floors, containing tea rooms, a small museum and an art exhibition. And the view is excellent, from Felixstowe round to Frinton, via the glistening curve of an estuarine marsh [photo]. Visit soon, before time and tide steal the clifftops and even the tower away.
The two mile walk round the Naze is rather special. This marshy tongue of land pokes north towards Harwich, with seabirds and wildlife the only permanent residents. They enjoy the nature reserve at the peninsula's core [photo], and visiting humans get to enjoy a single remote path around the perimeter. Make sure you stick to the overgrown upper track on the sea wall to get the full view of creeks, yachts and salt marsh. There'd be more birds at migration time, but there's still plenty of flapping, swooping and worm-tugging going on. Painted ladies flutter by, yellow rape plants bend in the onshore breeze and there's even a cuckoo to be heard in the bracken. Delightful, and far less busy than the sandy beaches of the main resort [photo]. Essex folk are here in sunny Walton today in large numbers, prowling the promenade or hemmed in behind flapping windbreaks on the sand. There's much tanned paunch on show, from both sexes, while grinning children lick lollies in the surf. And I'm now sat on the tip of the pier, the third longest in Britain, with a handful of hardy anglers waiting for an offshore fishy tug [photo]. As the lady in the tiny Tourist Information Office said, if the choice is Clacton or Walton-on-the-Naze, this place wins every time, no contest.
Seaside postcard: Frinton-on-Sea South of Walton pier the shoreline is overlooked by more beach huts than I have ever seen in my life. Stacked four or even five avenues back up the slope, they look like a timber village of oversized dog kennels. Like the majority of second homes, most are locked and empty, but some are thrown open to reveal towels, lilos and bottles of orange squash [photo]. A single line of huts stretches over a mile south to Frinton, above groyne-edged sandy segments dotted with tanners, sporty kids and picnickers. The People's Enclave of Frinton, beyond the clifftops, likes to think of itself as an exclusive bastion of Middle England. There's nothing downmarket in their High Street [photo] (although there is now a pub, the Lock and Barrel, which for some heralds the unstoppable march of depravity). Old ladies pushing two-wheeled trolleys coexist with teenage clusters in bikinis and t-shirts, at least for the summer months. At the top of the town is The Barrier, a level crossing which marks the entrance to Frinton Within. Houses on the southern side of the railway line have premium value, and local newsagents know to stock more Mails and Telegraphs than all the other questionable publications combined. Sadly for many, last month National Rail committed sacrilege and replaced the old manual crossing gates with automatic drop-down barriers [photo]. They don't like change round here, but they can't keep it out forever.