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Neither land nor sea

tooltipDiscovering Britain walk

Discover the tidal creeks and mudflats of the Thames Estuary in Essex

greater london greater london

Thirty miles from central London, the River Thames widens into a great estuary on its way to the North Sea. Mud, marsh and water blend into one. 

Container ships navigate the deep channel as they come and go from the docks at Tilbury. On either side, the flat horizon is punctuated by the chimneys of oil refineries and industrial sites. 

This often seems like a barren and bleak landscape. It can appear grey and lifeless, even on a sunny day. But it is actually a dramatic and constantly changing environment. This walk between Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea explores the tidal creeks, salt marshes, mudflats on the edge of the estuary. Discover how dynamic they are and meet a range of wildlife that are specially-adapted to existing here.


Also find out how humans have learned to live in this marginal environment between the land and sea – battling the tides, earning a living and defending their shores.  


Walk Info


5 miles

Mostly flat with a steep climb near the end

tooltipMostly flat with a steep climb near the end

Suitable for:
Children’s activity available for this walk

tooltipChildren’s activity available for this walk

A popular place for dog walking

tooltipA popular place for dog walking

East of England
Shaping the landscape Preserving the landscape Exploiting the landscape
Benfleet railway station
Marine Drive, Leigh on Sea
Getting there:

tooltipDirect trains from London Fenchurch Street (45 minutes)

tooltipAccessible from M25 Junction 29 (15 miles)

tooltipServed by local buses running between Basildon and Southend-on-Sea

Essex Estuary

Two Tree Island
© Adrian Murphy

Essex Estuary

Fishing nets, Old Leigh harbour
© Jenny Lunn

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Route map

Select pins on the map to find out more about each point of interest on the walk

Walk kit

Choose between an audio or written guide: download and enjoy!


Written guide
A flat route mostly on urban streets

tooltipHelp with downloading - Double-click the icon to download this PDF file. You can save it to your computer or open it now. The file is designed as a booklet. To print it choose ‘Booklet Printing’ from your printer options.

Audio guide
A flat route mostly on urban streets

tooltipHelp with downloading - Double-click the icon to download this ZIP file of the audio commentary (mp3 files) and accompanying booklet (PDF) which contains maps and directions. You can save the audio files to your computer then add them to your mp3 device. This will vary for each device but you can use any supplied software (such as iTunes, Windows Media Player) or drag and drop the files. The PDF is designed as a booklet. To print it choose ‘Booklet Printing’ from your printer options.

A flat route mostly on urban streets

tooltipHelp with downloading - Double click to download this GPX file and load it on to your GPS device.

Photo Gallery

Find out what you might see on the walk - click on an image to view full size

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Find out what other people said about this walk

This walk was on completely new territory for us and we appreciated learning about the various settlements, the different geographical features plus seeing estuary wildlife. It was well worthwhile.

Howard and Elaine, Oldham, Lancashire

An enjoyable, easy walk along an estuary which revealed a part of Britain I'd never known before. Read more on Adrian's blog:

Adrian Murphy, London

I loved the walk - lots of dogs and lovely countryside. Crossing to Two-Tree Island was very, very muddy - it took my Dad ages to clean our boots afterwards.

Alex Flintham (age 9), Romford, Essex

We just wanted to say how much we enjoyed our walk from Benfleet to Leigh-on-Sea. Despite horrendous rain and wind in the morning, we battled through to enjoy a calmer afternoon as we approached the historic cockle-sheds and churchyard. We had the PDF guide on our iPad the entire way and I read from it at each stop. It was a truly wonderful walk and we do appreciate the 'bleak beauty' of the area. The estuary is truly an enchanting place to be in early winter.

Tom and Katherine, London

Send your review


Find out more about the walk story and places of interest along the route

External links open in a new window

350 Miles: An Essex Journey

Jason Orton and Ken Worpole

Essex County Council

Hadleigh Country Park

Leigh on Sea Endeavour Trust

The New English Landscape

Blog about the changing landscape and coastline of Essex by photographer Jason Orton and writer Ken Worpole

Old Leigh

Community website

Osborne Bros Seafood Merchants

Canvey Island

A community archive

Met Office

Climate change and the Thames Estuary

The Only View Is Essex

Photographs of Essex including the Estuary


Thames Estuary 'one of the UK's most internationally important waterbird sites'

Southend on Sea Borough Council

Leigh Old Town Conservation Area

The Workhouse: the story of an institution

Labour colonies


The RGS-IBG would like to thank the following people and organisations for their assistance in producing this Discovering Britain walk



Ken Worpole for creating the walk and sharing his passion for the Essex coast


Helene Burningham for her commentary on estuarine environments and providing excellent photographs


Caroline Millar and Jenny Lunn for researching and editing the walk materials and taking photographs


Adrian Murphy for testing the walk, providing photographs and useful feedback


Nick Stanworth, Gemma Coate and Rory Walsh for additional assistance with compiling walk resources


Jonathan Webb ( and Sandra M Dean ( for their aerial photographs


Peter Higginbotham (, Dave Bullock ( and Andrew Areoff ( for kind permission to use images from their collections


Thomas Kraft, Lip Kee Yap, Mike McAlevey, Oneblackline and Urby for images reproduced under Creative Commons Licenses


thank you
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