Notes on The Naze

A Remote Peninsula

The Naze is a peninsula projecting into the North Sea from the seaside town of Walton-on-the-Naze. It consists of an area roughly two and a half miles long by less than a mile wide, with an east – west sea wall cutting the promontory in two. North of the sea wall is an area of salt-marsh and sand. The southern part of the peninsula is urbanised with housing, caravan parks and a rather good chip shop, whereas the middle section is largely farmland. Along the eastern edge lies the small John Weston Nature Reserve, which terminates in unstable cliffs, full of fossils. The whole peninsula is joined to the mainland by a thin strip of land less than 300 yards wide.

Naze Tower
Naze Tower

On top of the highest point of the peninsula is the Naze Tower. This 86-foot tall octagonal tower was built in 1720 as an aid to navigation along the otherwise fairly featureless coast of Essex. The current tower is not the first to be built here, evidence of a previous incarnation exists on Tudor maps of the area. Initially the tower had a beacon on top so the sailors could see it at night. Throughout its existence the tower has undergone several changes of use; it was a teahouse in the 18th century, and a lookout post during the Napoleonic Wars and WWI. During the Second World War a radar station was established here and the crenellated top of the tower had to be removed to make room for the radar dish. These days it is a tea shop, museum and art gallery and visitors are able to climb the 111-step spiral staircase to the viewing platform at the top.

The nature reserve near the car park is usually quite busy – it's a popular spot to stroll and enjoy the sea air. As you head northwards, the land gently drops to sea level. Most people visit the beach, then turn back. But continuing northwards along the beach takes you into a magical place where the land merges into the sea. As you pass Cormorant Creek and continue along the sands, the beach is clean and empty; to the east is the North Sea, and to the west, a succession of creeks and marshes. At some point in the past an attempt has been made to protect these marshes – the remains of sea walls can be seen – but now they are left to the elements. About half a mile later, past Stone Creek, you reach Stone Point. Surrounded by water on three sides and salt marsh on the fourth, this place is remote, windswept and wild.

The cliffs at the Naze are formed of London Clay (54 million years old) at the base overlaid with deposits of 2 million year old Red Crag. The Red Crag is sandy, and contains a large number of fossils including shells, shark's teeth and whale bones. The London Clay deposits include pyritised wood and fish bones. The best time to hunt for fossils is in winter after a storm when the beach has been disturbed and new material exposed.

Crumbling Cliff
Crumbling Cliff

The cliffs themselves are unstable and are eroding rapidly, as can be seen from the WWII pill boxes. These were built on top of the cliffs, but now lie on the beach up to 60 yards east of the cliff line. The site of the medieval village of Walton is now a mile out to sea due to coastal erosion. The old parish church and all the surrounding houses finally succumbed to the waves in July 1798. And that erosion still continues today at the rate of about 2 yards per annum, despite protective measure which include a sea wall, a riprap, groynes and millions of tons of sand being added to the beach to replenish it. This means two things for visitors: 1) stay away from the cliff edge, top and bottom; the land could fall from under you or onto you, and 2) the tides sometimes come in all the way to the base of the cliffs. Keep an eye on the waterline.

The policy for protecting these cliffs in the future is, from the car park northwards, "No active intervention", i.e. the erosion will be allowed to continue. This is despite the area being a SSSI and an important area for nesting and migrant birds. The cliffs near to the urbanised area will however be protected. Next time you hear a politician talk about valuing the environment, think about the plight of the John Weston Nature Reserve.

To the west of The Naze lies a mass of low lying islands and creeks, collectively known as Hamford Water National Nature Reserve. The islands are mostly uninhabited and are a valuable resource for over-wintering birds including brent geese, avocets, redshanks, oyster catchers and lapwing. The waters contain oyster beds, and seals can sometimes be seen swimming around or lazing on the beaches. Walton Channel lies between The Naze and the islands, and on a sunny day is full of boats and yachts sailing to and fro from local marinas to the North Sea.