20 things you must do in Essex this summer
- Credit: Archant
From discovering the delights of dancing to Northern Soul, to having fun on a swan-shaped pedalo, Adam Jones picks 20 Essex experiences which should be on your summer bucket (and spade) list
1. Go for afternoon tea and scones at the Tiptree Tea Room and Visitor Centre
Tiptree jam not only graces the toast of Her Majesty the Queen, but the firm’s Little Scarlet conserve is also James Bond’s first choice for breakfast. What’s more, Tiptree jams and conserves are arguably the nation’s favourites and you can put this claim to the test at their very own tea room and visitor centre right here in Essex. Take a drive out to the Tiptree factory and enjoy a traditional cream tea, complete with freshly-baked scones and all the jams, preserves and sauces your heart could possibly desire.
2. Have a hound around Hockley Woods (dog optional)
Chuck your pooch in the back of the car and head over to the beautiful and huge, Hockley Woods, near Rayleigh. Your dog will love you even more for it and you’ll enjoy exploring more than 130 hectares of ancient wild wood. After your ramble, reward yourself with a pint and a slap-up lunch at The Bull, on the edge of the woods.
3. Spend a sophisticated day on the beach at Frinton on Sea
The butt of many jokes for supposedly being snooty, Frinton on Sea has indeed been described as the ‘Monaco to Clacton’s Nice’. The beautiful beaches are quieter than their counterparts down the coast, or even in Southend, giving you plenty of space to wiggle your toes in the golden sand. The nearby Connaught Avenue was once dubbed the ‘Bond Street of East Anglia’ and it retains much of its charm with a plethora of independent and boutique stores. The Lock and Barrel was the town’s very first pub and it is a lovely spot to have a drink and enjoy some good food.
4. Row, row your boat, merrily down the Stour
The beautiful village of Dedham sits in the heart of Constable Country, but rather than walk the path between the village and Flatford Mill (immortalised in John Constable’s masterpiece, The Haywain), hire a rowing boat and explore the idyllic countryside from the river. It’s perfect for creating happy memories of a family day out, having a laugh with friends or a romantic day with the one you love. Dedham is also well served by some excellent inns, tea rooms, the famous Le Talbooth restaurant and excellent places to stay. The Munnings Museum at Castle House is also a must!
5. Have a fry-up at The Arches
A great Southend on Sea tradition is treating yourself to breakfast in one of the little cafes that overlook Westcliff beach. On high days and holidays, they can be very busy – even on New Year’s Day – but that adds to the fun, as you sit cheek by jowl under a brightly-coloured awning, making friends with the folks sitting on neighbouring tables. Coastal Bite is regarded as one of the very best, while on the far end of the Arches parade, the homemade salt beef and latkes served by Water’s Edge are the finest you’ll find outside of North London.
6. Explore the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
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The brown signs directing you to it, rather suggest that the secret is out, but you’ll still feel like a Cold War spy as you thread your way down narrow country lanes and lush farmland to the entrance. Believed to be where the British Government planned to run the country from in the event of a nuclear strike, the bunker offers a fascinating insight into a very nervous time in our history.
7. Talk to the animals at Marsh Farm Adventure Park
From bouncing bunnies to cute Kune Kune pigs, Marsh Farm promises acres of magical fun for everyone. With the summer holidays in mind, families can also expect loads of extra entertainment, with theatre shows, animal displays and interactive sessions galore.
8. Experience V Festival (without the horror of camping)
Some of the hottest and biggest stars of music will be descending on Hylands Park in Chelmsford this August. This year’s line-up features Jay Z, Stormzy, Pink and Jess Glynne. Buy a ticket for the day that rocks your world the most and feel smug that, because you live in Essex, you can take the train home to carpets, a snuggly sofa and a soft, warm bed. Way better than trying to find your tent in the dark, or joining the massive queues for the Portaloos.
9. Watch a dog race at the Coral Romford Greyhound Stadium (AKA Romford Dogs)
It’s hard to believe that Blur’s Parklife was released 23 years ago. Racing greyhounds featured on the CD cover, so why not slip this classic album into the car stereo and motor down to Romford for a night at the dogs? There are three glass-fronted restaurants, plus five licenced bars and three fast food outlets. Coral Romford Greyhound Stadium is also rated as one of the UK’s best, so you’re assured of having a great time, win or lose.
10. Take a snap of Finchingfield, possibly the most beautiful village in England
The word ‘idyllic’ barely does justice to Finchingfield. The local architecture is a mix of medieval and Georgian, while nearby Spain’s Hall is a magnificent Elizabethan pile. The cottages, duck pond, village green, white windmill and church all create a scene that will make detractors of our wonderful county think again. So go on, snap away and share this beautiful part of Essex with the world.
11. Kick back in Castle Park, Colchester
Heading to the park on a long, hot summer afternoon is always a good idea. Colchester’s Castle Park was fashioned by the Victorians, but contains more than 2,000 years of history. Of course, the castle forms the centrepiece, but the lush gardens and trees create a green oasis with cool shade, where you can enjoy the simpler pleasures of life such as reading a book, sharing a picnic or watching the world go by. The boating lake even has swan-shaped pedalos, which is enough reason to visit in itself.
12. Do the famous London to Southend Bike Ride
It’s 50 miles from Hackney to Southend...easy! A lot of folks think that and soon find that there are a few ‘lumpy bits’ on the way. While this annual charity fundraiser is great for cyclists of (nearly) all ages and abilities, it’s still challenging enough for even the most enthusiastic of MAMILS (that’s middle-aged man in Lycra). Starting from Victoria Park in the East End, the metropolis soon gives way to quiet country roads, picturesque villages and lovely scenery. There are plenty of stops on the way and the ride finishes in a festival-like atmosphere at Priory Park, Southend. Here you can enjoy refreshments, live music, a beer tent and sports massage before making your way home.
13. Learn the gentle art of fly fishing
Some think that red trousers, a check shirt and a flat cap make you a ‘chap’. For others, it’s what you do rather than wear that cuts the mustard. Having the skills to be competent at fly fishing definitely marks you out as a decent sort. Hanningfield Reservoir hosts regular beginner’s courses for anyone wishing to pursue the sporting life. Each introductory session covers casting, tackle, knots, techniques, trout behaviour and safety. After lunch, you will have the opportunity to try your hand at practicing all you have learnt.
14. Have a sleepover — Tudor style!
Not since the time of Henry VIII have people slept in Layer Marney Tower’s Long Gallery. In Tudor times Lord Marney’s stables housed both horses and their grooms, but not since then have people bedded down in this atmospheric setting. The 21st century Layer Marney Sleep Over promises to be much more fun. Guests will be treated to a bangers and burgers supper, followed by a tour of the historic tower, where Henry himself once stayed. There will also be a camp fire, complete with marshmallow toasting, a midnight feast and bacon butties in the morning. Keep an eye out for upcoming events.
15. Marvel at those magnificent men, women and their flying machines
Readers of a certain age may recall the BBC drama series, Wings, about life in the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War. The producers took great care with historical accuracy, covering the early days of the parachute, the fitting of weaponry to British biplanes and the horrors of trench warfare. With the 100th anniversary of key events from World War I still being commemorated, Stow Maries Aerodrome is hosting a living-history event that will recreate life at this important airbase which once protected London from Zeppelin raids. Featuring soldiers, nurses and airmen, there will be authentic demonstrations, displays and thrilling aerial displays (weather permitting).
16. Hire a luxury boutique beach hut by the sea
When it comes to lounging by the sea, you can forget flimsy old windbreaks and a rickety deckchair. A beach hut is the height of glamour but, while owning one would be fabulous, renting one is the next best thing – especially if it is The Glasshouse at Walton on the Naze. This is no ordinary beach hut; this is pure indulgence-on-sea. Boasting handmade panelling, antique detailing and a dining area which overlooks your own private decking, this is the last word in beachside luxury.
17. Get into gardening at RHS Garden Hyde Hall
If you’ve been resisting the urge to develop your horticultural skills, then you need to experience the inspirational gem that is RHS Garden Hyde Hall – surely one of the finest gardens in the East of England. Set among rolling hills, with spectacular panoramic views, the 145-hectare (360-acre) estate is composed of different areas and types of garden, including ponds, beds and borders, woodland and bogs.
18. Join the high flyers at Angels Wine Tower Bar
Not for a minute would I advocate that you consider getting on a plane and jetting out of Essex, when there are so many amazing things to do right here on your doorstep. However, should that ship have sailed (or plane been booked) the Radisson Blu hotel at Stansted offers a thrilling and delicious complement to any dining experience with more than 4,000 bottles of wine housed in a towering glass case. Settle back in your seat and watch the ‘bar angels’ – really, professional aerial acrobats – ascend up the tower to fetch your chosen wine while performing dazzling tricks in mid-air.
19. Play a round on the pier
If you’re a golfer, the sight of your ball flying magnificently straight – into a water hazard – may well be a familiar one. But imagine playing golf 1.34 miles out to sea. Now that’s a challenge and it is as crazy as it sounds. Literally. Perfectly timed for summer, a 12-hole course is returning to the world’s longest pleasure pier in Southend on Sea! Take on a host of fun obstacles, including Olga the Octopus, above the waves. Depending on your ability, par is between 60 and 36. However, a visiting pro golfer hit a hole-in-one at each obstacle. Now there’s a challenge!
20. Give it some soul!
Northern Soul is the sound that refuses to fade. Why? Because it is joyful, cathartic and downright funky. The scene blossomed in the early 1970s in the north west of England, where DJs would play rare soul 45s. The music – inspired heavily by the Motown sound, with fast tempos and a simple 4-4 beat – is a dancer’s dream. While regular dancers strive to master audacious spins, backdrops and high kicks, there are no formal rules other than no ‘dad dancing’. Danny Peach runs KTF Soul Club and regularly hosts Northern Soul nights at the Old Regent Ballroom in Stanford le Hope. The formula is a simple one – turn up, dance to the classic tunes and have a brilliant time. The next event takes place on September 30. So, grab your baggy jeans, leather-soled shoes and talcum powder because, as the saying goes — if you were there, you’ll know. If you weren’t, you’ll wish you had been.
For more information about great things to do in Essex, go to the Visit Essex website.