Coastal Connections

Welcome to the Saltmarsh Coast, seventy-five miles of beautiful wilderness and tidal estuaries, interspersed with quaint villages and historic towns. Hidden in the corner of Essex, but only forty miles from London, there is so much to discover throughout our dynamic and diverse coastline. From internationally significant wildlife reserves, to the iconic sailing barges and modern watersports, there is plenty to see and do in the Maldon District.

Exploring the Saltmarsh Coast Trail
The coastline of the Maldon District is forever changing with tidal influence and seasonal impact. The district has two estuaries, the Blackwater and the Crouch and both of them are of international importance to overwintering birds such as Plovers, Redshanks, Black Tailed Godwit and Brent Geese.

The shores of the estuaries have a mix of mudflats, saltmarsh, shingle and shell banks which in turn encourages a diverse range of habitats for wildlife. The flora and fauna, found on the coastal plants, include lax-flowered sea lavender, golden samphire and birds-foot clover.

In addition, the Maldon District is a paradise for sailing and water sport enthusiasts. Both the River Blackwater and the River Crouch offer open water for sailing, canoeing, fishing and more. There are also a wide range of boat trips available throughout the year, where you can discover the district's scenery and wildlife.

Seal trips are available from Burnham Quay and offer you the chance get out onto the water and see these animals in their natural environment. Take a trip on the historic Thames Sailing Barges with Topsail Charters and the Thames Sailing Barge Trust. Or you can explore the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation at a leisurely pace aboard a canal boat.

Thames Sailing Barges

Hyhte Quay

The Hythe Quay, Maldon

The word 'Hythe' is an old Saxon word and roughly translates to landing place. For well over a thousand years the Hythe Quay has been, and remains today, the gateway to Maldon for vessels arriving from the sea. During the last hundred years, the importance of the Hythe Quay as a place of trade for cargo carrying vessels has gradually been eroded and today the barges berthing alongside the quay mainly carry passengers on pleasure trips.

The Hythe Quay is a must see for any visitors coming to Maldon, and at one end of the quay is the popular Promenade Park and at the other end you will find public houses, restaurants and a chandlery.

Should you wish to visit the Hythe Quay by boat and require a berth alongside, please contact the River Bailiff.


Bow of Thames Sailing Barge Hydrogen

These barges were once the lifeblood of Maldon's prosperity, facilitating trade of straw, manure, and horse feed with London.

The flat-bottomed hull enabled the vessel to navigate the winding, shallow creeks of the Essex coast. The barges were economically efficient and easy to sail too, needing only two crew. Barge trade reached its peak around 1914, meeting the demand for bricks and cement as London grew. Later they played an important role in WWII during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Competition from motorised transport led to a decline of barge trade and many of these hard working vessels were broken up or abandoned.

For more information on the Thames Barges, you may like to visit the Society for Sailing Barge Research.

The barges today

Thistle, Thames Sailing Barge

With the growing efficiency of road and rail transport, the barges have had to continue to evolve to fit new uses. The last surviving Thames Sailing Barges have been lovingly restored by private owners such as Topsail Charters, and have also been restored by charitable trusts, such as the Thames Sailing Barge Trust.

These days they operate as pleasure craft, training vessels and even corporate hospitality centres. Some barges moored at the Hythe Quay are open to the public from time to time and most are available for charter.

You can enjoy a trip out on these iconic barges, and visitors are always eager to get on board, many are invited to take the helm, others sit back and enjoy a leisurely sail or a meal on board.

Nature in the Maldon District

The Maldon District has acres of unspoilt countryside, breathtaking coastline, tranquil rivers, a historic canal and places to indulge in your favourite outdoor pursuit. Walking and cycling are a great way to explore areas off the beaten track. The Maldon District has a number of schemes dedicated to encouraging rare species of plants and ecosystems.

The shift of seasons brings a different character to the ever changing landscape. As spring turns to summer, colourful wild flowers illuminate the hedgerows. As autumn and winter approaches, the Brent Geese arrive from Siberia and a rich variety of wading birds reclaim the mudflats. The district has a number of nature reserves, providing ideal habitats for often rare and unusual species.

Most of the nature reserves in the Maldon District are located along its coastline, and many are managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust, the RSPB manage Old Hall Marshes in Tollesbury, as well as Wallasea Island, and Northey Island is owned by the National Trust. These nature reserves are ideal for walkers, wildlife enthusiasts, or anyone who wants to experience the diverse habitats of the Maldon District.


RSPB Wallasea Island

RSPB Wallasea Island Wild Coast project is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme for the 21st century, on a scale never before attempted in the UK and the largest of its type in Europe.

Northey Island

Small island in the Blackwater Estuary with a large area of undisturbed Saltmarsh. Site of special scientific interest. Site of the Battle of the Maldon in AD991. Guided tours by prior arrangement.

Dengie National Nature Reserve

The Dengie National Nature Reserve is a large and remote area of tidal mudflat and saltmarsh between the Blackwater and Crouch Estuaries near Bradwell-on-Sea.

Chigborough Lakes

An area of worked-out flooded gravel pits to the north of the River Blackwater. It has a variety of habitats including willow carr, open water, small ponds and marshy areas, rough grassland, and willow and hawthorn scrub.

RSPB Old Hall Marshes Nature Reserve

An opportunity to see an abundance of coastal wetland bird species in their natural environment.

Blue House Farm

Blue House Farm was bought by the Essex Wildlife Trust in 1998 with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other donors.

Shut Heath Wood

This 50 acre reserve is just below the crest of the Great Totham Ridge and includes 23 acres of ancient woodland forming part of the Chantry Wood complex. A wonderful carpet of Bluebells can be enjoyed in the spring.

Oxley Meadow

This Essex Wildlife Trust site consists of two flower-rich meadows surrounded by dense, mature hedgerows and is renowned for the annual display of large numbers of green winged orchids and adders tongue fern.

Tollesbury Wick Marshes

One of Essex Wildlife Trust's best reserves. A large (600 acres) tract of ancient grazing marsh that is managed as a traditional coastal farm using the Trust's own rare breed livestock to encourage a superb variety of wildlife.

Barge Graveyard

As seen on Channel 4's 'Britain at Low Tide', below is a list of the wrecked barges on the River Blackwater by the Promenade Park in Maldon. The programme highlights the excellent work that CITiZAN’s (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) dedicated network of volunteers are doing. CITiZAN is the first systematic national response to the threat of erosion to significant archaeological sites along the coast and its tidal estuaries.

The CITiZAN project focuses on exposed archaeological sites such as the remains of prehistoric forests, Roman buildings, ancient salt-working sites, lost medieval ports, fishing settlements, coastal defences from both World Wars and countless abandoned boats, barges and ships. The project also delivers training on a community level to create an infrastructure and network of volunteers with the skills to be able to record and monitor the highly significant, but fragile and threatened archaeological sites.

The list below was compiled by Colin Swindale and he can vouch for all these vessels as he was able to read the names carved in them before and after they were moored (with the exception of the Canvey).

  • Canvey of Maldon was built in 1876. She remains grubbed out from a boatyard upriver and was dumped here, she was partially broken up 1948.
  • British Lion of Rochester was built in 1879.
  • William Cleverly of Rochester was built in 1899. Lancashire of London was built in 1900. She is buried under Maldon Yacht Club’s Dinghy Park.
  • Lady Helen of London was built in 1902 (stern).
  • Pretoria of Faversham was built in 1902. She was partially broken up downriver and the bottom only was dumped here.
  • Mamgu ex Cawana of London was built in 1904. She was built as a yacht and owned 1924-1929 by the Marine artist W. L. Wylie.
  • Vicunia of London was built in 1912.
Barge Graveyard on the Blackwater
Barge Graveyard on the Blackwater