First stop is Leigh on Sea, which hosts the closest fishing activity to London and is the capital of the estuary's cockle-harvesting business. Up until the 1980s cockles were raked from the sands by hand but today vacuum dredgers suck up them in huge quantities. There are only 14 licences to fish for cockles allocated for the whole of the Thames Estuary and eight of them are held in Leigh. While the boats supply the traditional and tourist markets in the area, most of the catch is exported to Europe.
Leigh's economy grew on the raking of cockles because of the miles of sand revealed by the receding tides, which is also why Southend has the longest pier in the world - it needed to be that long so that boats could use it and people could get a glimpse of the sea at low tide. I was too early to be able to get onto the pier and was sorry to have missed White Arkitektur's Cultural Centre and Cafe which was erected in 2012. The structure was prefabricated at Tilbury Docks, shipped along the Thames and craned into position - a much more appropriate addition than the detritus I had found at Hastings.
I cycled through Jaywick Sands before hitting the seafront at Clacton. I had first heard about Jaywick when it was featured in an issue of Archigram many years ago. As I recall the magazine celebrated the informal architecture of the place and the interventions made to the bungalows and shacks by their occupants. The nearest thing in England to favelas and barriadas. The Archigram Group had probably been pointed in the direction of Jaywick by the Bartlett history Professor and writer Reyner Banham who lectured on the Essex settlement to his architecture students. More recently the poorly-serviced plotland development that once provided a place of escape for east Londoners has been named the most deprived town in the UK and in 2015 was featured in the Channel 5 programme 'Benefits by the Sea.' Today, there seems to be little evidence of the delights of customisation.
In comparison to Southend's 2kms long pier, Clacton-on-Sea's is a minnow at 360m. In her excellent book, Excellent Essex, Gillian Darley describes the role of entrepreneurial engineer Peter Bruff in the founding of the town. The pier opened in 1873 and visitors would arrive by sea. In the 1860s Bruff had developed Walton-on-the-Naze as a seaside resort and built a railway line connecting it to Ipswich.
Before I got to Clacton I had stopped briefly in Rayleigh to take a phone call; as I moved off I dropped a small bag with my video memory cards, AirPod and GoPro chargers inside. I was ten miles down the road to Colchester before I realised what had happened and hotfooted it back to the spot where I stopped, but no bag to be seen! I set off again and was another ten miles down the road when I received a phone call. "I'm Holly Street, my father has found a bag with your name in it." I didn't have time to make another trip into Rayleigh so I arranged for the bag to be sent to my home. Thanks, Holly! and Holly's dad.
From Clacton to Frinton-on-Sea was a lovely ride along their nice wide promenade with a following wind. I had to make a slight detour for the no cycling request as the route narrowed as it came to a row of beach huts perched out over the sea.
Overlooking the sea at Frinton is the Frinton Park Estate which was planned in the 1930s to include 1,100 houses, a town hall, college, churches, a shopping complex, and hotel. Oliver Hill was the principal architect and selected a stellar group of young, progressive architects, including Wells Coates, Maxwell Fry, Tecton, FRS Yorke and Frederick Gibberd to design sections of the estate. But the project foundered. The modernist, experimental design and such as concrete construction proved difficult to sell. Only about 35 houses were built; Oliver Hill had designed 12 of them , of which ten survive. The style is more popular now and a number of the houses have been restored.