The delta on London’s doorstep: a walk around the Thames estuary

The coast from Southend to Sheppey is an atmospheric landscape of big skies, historic forts and nature reserves. And the Thames Estuary Path makes it easy to walk an area that inspired Dickens and Dr Feelgood

As a child playing on the beach in Southend, I used to think the hazy land I could see on the far horizon was France. It was actually the Isle of Sheppey, but the opposite shore of this wide estuary was so distant and unfamiliar, it might as well have been another country. My sense of geography has improved since then, but my knowledge of the mysterious outer reaches of the Thames estuary remains sketchy.

If the Thames between Westminster and Greenwich is the show that London puts on for tourists, the stretch beyond the Thames barrier is backstage, where the ropes and pulleys that keep the glittering spectacle in place are hidden. As the river widens to meet the North Sea, the city’s ornate bridges, Victorian warehouses and slick waterside apartments give way to petrochemical plants, power stations, cement works and landfill sites.

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