End: St Mary's Bay
Length: 6.25 miles.
Map ref: St Mary's Marsh stretches from Ordnance Survey ref West 785780 to East 830788
Thousands of south Essex people look across the Estuary to St Mary's Marsh every day, yet how many have actually set foot there? It is certainly worth the journey across the Thurrock Bridge to walk the Kent shoreline and to explore this huge, remote, green place, the wildest stretch of countryside on the Thames Estuary. There is also the boon of seeing Southend, Leigh and Canvey as you may never have viewed them before, as distant, slightly mysterious presences across the water. St Mary's Marsh is Charles Dicken's country, the setting for arguably his greatest novel, Great Expectations. But watch your step. I once fell into a drainage ditch on St Mary's Marsh, while I had my nose stuck in a copy of the book.
ROUTE: Starting in the village of Cooling, take the footpath south of Cooling Church, marked “Saxon Shore Way”. Just past Child's Farm, turn left onto footpath. Follow signs east across Northward Hill, until you reach the lane called Decoy Hill Road. Turn left, passing Decoy Farm, until you reach the Estuary shoreline. Turn right along the waterside path, around St Mary's Bay. At the far side of the bay, follow the path south marked “Sheepfold”. After 0.75 miles, a footpath crosses the route. Here turn right back to Decoy Hill Road, and from here retrace your footsteps.
Pic: St Mary's Marsh, seen from the southern side of Canvey Island on a rainy day