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  • Writer's pictureAlex Lacey

Red Sands Sea Forts, Thames Estuary

I love an unusual day out. This weekend was a perfect example - we hopped on a train at some ungodly hour (around about 9.30am, but that is a lot earlier than I have been functioning during lockdown!) and headed off eastwards towards the Essex coast.

Arriving in Southend On Sea, which I was pleasantly surprised to find was a lot more put together than I was expecting. This might sound like snobbery, but a lot of English seaside resorts which were once booming centres of the British holiday trade have in recent

decades gone to rack and ruin, so it was lovely to see an open, pleasant town stretch out ahead of the train station.

A walk down the world's longest pleasure pier (to distinguish from entirely functional piers with no fish and chips or rollercoasters) at a hefty 1.4 miles long, and we boarded a boat out to the Red Sands sea forts.

These stunning forts were built as one of 3 clusters of Maunsell Army Forts in the Thames Estuary, with the sole purpose of shooting down enemy aircraft, which is exactly what they did. It wasn't so much the aircraft they were worried about, but their cargo, which were magnetic sea mines that they would drop in the estuary. These mines would sit below the water and the magnetic nature would mean that a passing ship would detonate them when they passed over them, without even having to make contact. Bearing in mind that London was one of the busiest ports in the world at the time, this would have created a stranglehold on the entry to the port.

These mad, Star Wars-looking things were created at 3 places - Nore Sands, Shivering Sands (yes, I know!) and Red Sands. Their aim was to shoot down the enemy planes before they were able to drop mines further up river. And they worked, shooting down 22 warplanes, 30 flying bombs, and even helped destroy one U-boat.

Since the war, they have been left in the water to rust, although Nore Sands was dismantled early on, and they became both a great location for pirate radio, and a fantastically unusual day out. I was blown away by sailing underneath these huge monsters, and absolutely loved seeing them in their rusting beauty.

We travelled with JetStream tours, who were affordable, very informative and friendly, as well as very Covid-compliant.

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