A Day at Coalhouse Fort: Exploring a Historic Landmark

A great option for a cheap or even free day out, Coalhouse Fort in Tilbury, Essex was built in the 1800's to protect the Thames Estuary. Whilst unfortunately the fort is not currently open to the public there are a number of things to do around it to fill an afternoon. Set in a large area of parkland you can go for a walk, do some crabbing, play in the playground or have a spot of lunch at the cafe. Essex Mum Katy says "this is one of my favourite places to visit in Thurrock- we've never had a bad day out there."

A brick building with windows and the words Coal House Fort painted across the black doors.

Coalhouse Fort isn't currently open to the public, but there is plenty more to explore in the surrounding parkland

Visiting Coalhouse Fort Park

Why Coalhouse Fort Park is a good place to visit with children

  • You can enjoy watching the model boats on the miniature boating lake.
  • It's a great location for crabbing.
  • There is a playground with slide and swings.
  • You can grab a drink, bite to eat or ice cream at the Engine Room Cafe.
  • Explore the site and visit the bunkers.
  • There is plenty of grass for running around or picnics. 
  • It is popular dog walking spot so furry family members can come too.
  • If you like to play Pokemon Go there is plenty to keep you busy. 

An information board stands aside a footpath where visitors explore Coal House Fort
There is lots to explore in Coalhouse Fort Park

What is there to do at Coalhouse Fort Park?

A visit to Coalhouse Fort Park makes for a relaxed day out with plenty to see and explore. 

Coalhouse Fort

The fort itself is a brick structure built between 1861 and 1874. It was one of several forts built to protect the Thames Estuary from French Invasion and added to the defence provided from the 16th Century Tilbury Fort just a few miles away. Coalhouse Fort is built from granite reinforced with iron, and 5 foot thick roofs of brick and concrete. In World War 2 additional guns and defenses were added.

The Fort and surrounding land were purchased by Thurrock District Council in 1962, the land was developed into the park and the Fort housed a museum. Since funding ended in 2020 the fort closed to the public and it is not known when this might change. If interested in military history then Tilbury Fort is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. 


While the park is right on the Thames Estuary it is the boating lake which is the popular spot for crabbing. Bring your own crabbing kit, bucket and bait to save money, although you can normally buy buckets and nets at the café. If you are new to crabbing check out this guide and buy your kit in advance.

Exploring The Parkland

Coalhouse Fort Park is on the Thames Estuary with beautiful views over across to Kent. The area around the fort has plenty of paths which are popular with families and dog walkers. 


The playground is a little tired, but it ticks the box and it gets points for being enclosed. It has some baby and normal swings and a climbing frame with slide. There is plenty of space to run around on grass outside the playground and the views of the fort, lake and Thames Estuary help make walks more exciting for Children.

A brightly coloured childrens playground situated amongst trees and grassy areas
The playground at Coal House Fort

What you need to know before visiting Coalhouse Fort Park

Where can I eat at Coalhouse Fort Park?

The Engine Room Café is near the entrance to the Fort.  It sells hot and cold drinks, food and cakes. The food and cakes are lovely and reasonably priced. They are open daily (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10am to 4pm. There is some indoor seating.

If you want to bring your own food (or all the cafe seating is taken) there are picnic benches and lots of open grass space for a picnic blanket.

The Engine Room Cafe at Coalhouse Fort Park
The Engine Room cafe is based in an old Engine Room serving electricity to the Fort.

What age children will enjoy visiting Coalhouse Fort Park?

Coalhouse Fort has aspects to appeal to all ages, although the playground only has 1 baby swing and the rest of the equipment is best suited for 4 years and up.

There is lots of deep water in the park area so keep a close eye on young children.

Is it suitable for pushchairs?

Yes, there is a paved pathway the whole way around the fort. If you want to explore further you might find some areas a little muddy and tough going.

Are there toilets?

There are toilets next to the cafe which are suitable for disabled access and baby changing.  We have been unable to confirm opening hours for these, so they may only be 10am to 4pm when the cafe is open.

Is Coalhouse Fort Park dog friendly?

Yes, Coalhouse Fort Park is a popular place to visit with dog walkers. It looks like the café is dog friendly too.  Keep dogs on a lead if you want to avoid them going for a swim in deep water or getting super muddy.

A body of water surrounded by grass and a metal fence
Scenic walks at Coal House Fort

An information board showing a map of Coal House Fort and images of what wildlife can be spotted including varieties of birds
Map of Coalhouse Fort Park area

What to take with you when visiting Coalhouse Fort Park

  • Crabbing line/nets, buckets and bacon for bait- the cafe usually sells buckets and nets however they were on order when we visited so if you have some at home take them along to avoid disappointment. You can pick up a set of nets and lines from Amazon here.
  • A miniature boat if you have one for the boating lake. 
  • If you're planning to go to the Thames estuary shoreline take your wellies as the clay there makes it a bit hard to walk.
  • Money for the ice cream van, they take cash or card.
  • Take carrier bags for rubbish, they do have a couple of bins but they are not close together.
  • The outskirts are mud so if you fancy an extra walk take waterproofs and suitable shoes.

Two crabs sit beside each other in a body of water
Don't forget your crabbing line and nets

How to get to Coalhouse Fort and where to park

Princess Margaret Road, 
East Tilbury, 
RM18 8PB

There is a free car park which opens at 8am and you can also park along the road leading to the fort although it is tight and there are not many spaces. On sunny days aim to arrive early as it can get busy and the road into the car park is narrow.

What Else Is There To Do Near Coalhouse Fort?

  • Thameside Nature Discovery Park has beautiful views and a great playground and is approximately a 15 minute drive away- check out my blogpost here.
  • Grays Beach Riverside Park has a splash park, sand pit and playground- read about it in my post here
  • Tilbury Fort is approximately a 20 minute drive away or you can walk it in just over an hour.

Recommendation and photographs by Katy.

No comments

Thanks for your comment (unless it's spam in which case, why?)