Southend-on-Sea, on the Thames Estuary, is the nearest holiday resort to London and retains its popularity with day-trippers who invade the town in fleets of coaches, or use the fast train services. In fact, the faster journey times have made Southend a convenient London “dormitory town” for the thousands of commuters who make the daily journey to the City of London.
Southend’s best known man-made attraction is the Pier, which at 1.3 miles, is the longest pleasure pier in the world. It has a railway to take visitors to the end, where the panoramic views can be enjoyed from the sun-deck. The Pier started life in the 1830s, as a small wooden jetty. Modern development has created Pier Hill, which is topped by the Observation Tower, providing stunning views over the Thames Estuary.
Southend’s history as a holiday resort dates from the early years of the 19th century, when the villages of Leigh and Prittlewell began to expand along the seven miles of the Thames Estuary. Visitors can now find a range of beaches catering for families, as well as those who enjoy water sports. Close to the Pier, Jubilee Beach stretches eastwards to Thorpe Bay. This sandy beach contains “Adventure Island”, one of the largest family amusement parks in South East England, with both “white knuckle” rides and gentler traditional fairground attractions. East of the Pier can be seen the famous landmark of The Kursaal. This 107 year old dome was once said to contain every possible fairground device, but now features a state of the art tenpin bowling alley.
Westcliff is quieter, but has the Cliffs Pavilion, where international entertainers appear and West End shows are performed. The Archway Cafes are renowned for providing outdoor eating, overlooking the sea. Here also is Rossi’s famous ice cream parlour and restaurant, serving ice cream made from a recipe dating back over one hundred years.
Old Leigh, which is within walking distance of the Pier, is full of character. This ancient fishing town is regarded as the centre for the supply of the world’s best cockles. Family fishing businesses still operate along the waters of the Thames Estuary and eighty percent of the harvest is exported to discerning restaurants around the world. Fortunately, enough cockles remain for visitors to enjoy, which are supplied fresh from the pubs, restaurants and cockle stalls, which line the High Street of Old Leigh.