On the map, the closest coast to Barnet seems to be that of Essex. I know the beaches are rammed at weekends so that swayed the decision to go to the coast on a weekday.
The roads through Essex have seen better days and are busy with articulated lorries heading to Harwich, but it's worth the drive for the pleasures of Walton-on-the-Naze. It's a classic nuts'n'bolts seaside town with chip shops, a cacky pier (that you can't walk to the end of) with an amusement arcade, some basic rides and lots of serious fisherman; and sea and sand as far as the eye can sea. The beach is fantastic, with yellow sand so clean and lovely you could almost eat it, divided into family-size sections with wooden breakwaters, and lines of colourful beach huts bursting with people drinking tea, drying off, reading, smiling and generally looking happy to be alive.
You can walk around the coast, eat chips, buy an ice cream, and it was very tempting to try out some of the rides but a three mile walk in the bracing wind wore us out. We decided to go to Frinton for a cup of tea, which was a mistake. Frinton belongs firmly to the elderly in spirit, and has an air of 'keep out' so overpowering that we gave upon the cup tea after sitting for fifteen minutes at a café where the waitress chatted with the regulars, and completely ignored the incomers.
Walton on the Naze won hands down: friendly (local chaps directed us to their favourite chippy), fun and very beautiful. It even has nicer beach huts. The ones at Frinton have their backs to the sea and even the little swifts that flitted about underneath them didn't save the day. Next time I'm taking my swimming costume to Walton- that sea looked irresistible, and that sand looked so soft on the feet.
Also: Walton-on-the-Naze likes cash not credit cards!