Cockle sheds Leigh on Sea
When I spotted the Pashley Princess I knew that Leigh on Sea was a town on the up. A quick walk around the town confirmed this. There is a thriving High Street with a good range of small independent shops. To get to Old Leigh on Sea you need to take the turning at the side of St Clement’s Church. The church with its distinctive Kent rag-stone and its prominent position will have been a welcomed sight for sailors in the past. There is a steep cobbled alley way that leads down to the old town and gives you some great views of the estuary.

The London to Tilbury railway was extended to Southend in 1856, this split the village in two. The railway forms a physical barrier between the old and new town. Close to the wooden bridge that will take you across the railway there are some very interesting buildings, former shops and pubs, that look ripe for development. The town’s proximity to Southend is evident as the imposing pier is clearly visible from the quayside. There is an information board in the Heritage Centre explaining that the more affluent people lived at the top of the hill and the struggling fishermen and their families lived around the harbour.

Osborne's Leigh on Sea
The trains enabled the fishermen to get their produce to Billingsgate Market quickly. Cockles have been the main shell fish caught in this part of the estuary. You can still see the cockle sheds and cockle boats. I had lunch at Osborne’s shellfish stall opposite the Crooked Billet Pub. Osborne’s have been at Old Leigh since 1880 and clearly are still doing a brisk trade as there was a steady stream of customers. Tables are available outside but you need to be prepared to share your lunch with fearless wagtails. In August there is a Fishing Festival and I did make a note to return then as I think that it will be an altogether different experience in the summer.

wagtail Leigh on Sea
Many of the old buildings have now been refurbished and used for other purposes. The Smithy is now the Leigh Heritage Centre. Their website provides a very good Heritage Trail which is about a 2 mile walk around the town. There are a couple of artist studios, craft shops, tea rooms and a restaurant. Oh and there are four pubs – The Crooked Billet, The Ship, The Smack and The Peter Boat. By train it is only 50 minutes from London so a great place for a day out.