Discover a different Essex
- Credit: Archant
A great strength of our county is it’s great variety and diversity, and that includes the great number of ways there are to spend a day out in Essex. Here Visit Essex provide us with an insider’s guide
Wild Days Out
To discover a different side to Essex, escape to the countryside for some wild days out.
Essex is famous for its celebrity culture, but what makes rural Essex special? Its villages perhaps – from Finchingfield, one of England’s most photographed, to Tiptree, hot contender for the largest in England, or Manningtree, the smallest town? Maybe its culinary delights such as Maldon Sea Salt or Colchester oysters — not to mention Tiptree Jam? Or is it the architecture, with 14,000 listed buildings including the world’s oldest wooden church at Greensted and Britain’s tallest Tudor gatehouse at Layer Marney? Essex also claims the longest coastline as well as beautiful countryside so close to the London Underground. It also has 31 Green Flags for country parks and green spaces plus rich wildlife with 87 Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves, two nature parks and nine RSPB sites including the largest conservation project in Europe at Wallasea Island. Visit Essex has created a Wild Days Out booklet which highlights just what makes Essex special. And here we explore just some of those ideas in Essex Life.
Bike, Boots or Stilettos?
As the memorable setting for the Olympic mountain biking events at the London 2012 Games, Hadliegh Castle remains a centre for those looking to try their hand at mountain biking. For more family cycling action, head for one of the county’s country parks. Alternatively drink in the watery views on the riverside path from Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester, to the quay at Wivenhoe, a pretty fishing town. Or, for a bike ride with a difference, take part in the Cake Escape challenge, stopping off at cafes along the way (www.thecakeescape.org.uk)
Alternatively, pull on your walking boots and stride out on a bracing stroll through the beautiful countryside. With more than 3,500 miles of footpaths and bridleways, there are routes to suit all energy levels. Slicing across the county from the London Underground Central Line at Epping to the historic port of Harwich, the 81-mile Essex Way is the most famous long distance path in Essex. >> A Treasure Hunt With a Twist
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Discover why so many families are crazy about geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt game where the participants use a GPS device or mobile device to hide and seek containers. There are more than 5,500 caches hidden across Essex, just waiting to be discovered. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity with more than 6 million participants and over 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide. To find out more about geocaching in Essex, visit www.mega2015.org.uk.
Mess About on the Water
Essex is a great place to get outdoors and make a splash. Why not experience the Olympic thrills of the Lee Valley White Water Centre with its 300 metres of adrenalin-pumping white water action? Or slow the pace right down on a dreamy narrow boat trip on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation or by hiring a rowing boat from the Boathouse in Dedham.
Wild About Wildlife
The natives of Essex can be wild, which is not surprising with nine RSPB sites and 87 Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves. Essex is blessed with rich and varied wildlife, from butterflies to seals. Inland are swathes of open grassland and heathland, rich in butterflies and reptiles. Cornmill Meadows at Lee Valley Regional Park is one of the best places in England to spot dragonflies, while large tracts of farmland and woodland across the county are also havens for wildlife, including shy muntjac deer. Many nature reserves are located along the county’s 350-mile Discovery Coast, speckled with lonely saltmarsh and shimmering mudflats and home to thousands of seabirds. One of the most exciting is the RSPB’s Wallasea Island, the location for the largest conservation project of its type in Europe. Nearby, Foulness Island is home to common seals, part of a growing population along the Essex coast. Book a boat trip to see them in their natural environment at www.wildlifetrips.org.uk.
Boasting an astounding 31 Green Flags between them, Essex’s green spaces are wonderful places for the whole family to spend time together in the open air — from the simple pleasures of flying a kite to summer picnics and animal trails. Many country parks, like Cudmore Grove Country Park, are located along the marshlands and mudflats of the Essex shoreline. Inland, open meadows and heathland, rich in wildlife, are perfect for cycle rides and ball games. Large tracts of ancient woodland also remain. Head for Belhus Woods Country Park and ramble along silent woodland paths or smooth out the blanket at Weald Country Park, voted England’s best picnic site in 2011.
More Parks to Pick
Cudmore Grove Country Park, East Mersea
Explore the shore and watch for wildlife in this coastal park. Behind the beach, an area of grassland provides an open landscape for picnics and games.
Danbury Country Park
A blend of ornamental gardens and lakes plus woodland and meadows, criss-crossed with trails within the grounds of Danbury Palace.
To escape and unwind or to try something active, Epping Forest has something for everyone. There are numerous events taking place and many activities to try, from horse riding to football. Wildlife enthusiasts will be keen to know that two-thirds of the forest has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Great Notley Country Park and the Flitch Way
Enjoy a range of activities in this 100-acre park, with its lakes and innovative outdoor play area. The park links to the Flitch Way, 15 miles of disused railway which is perfect for little legs. Bike hire is also available.
Hadleigh Country Park
Host venue to the 2012 London Olympic Games’ mountain biking, go for a cycle or look out for butterflies and kestrels on a self-guided trail and take in the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, with its sweeping views of the Thames Estuary.
Lee Valley Park Farms
Let the kids go wild. With so many different animals to meet from cuddly sheep, rare breed pigs and cows to llamas, reindeer and the loveable meerkat family, there’s never a dull moment.
Lee Valley Regional Park
Ramble, cycle or hire a boat along 26 miles of the River Lee. With farm attractions, a dragonfly sanctuary and the Olympic White Water Centre, there are endless possibilities for outdoor adventure.
Thorndon Country Park, Brentwood
Take the kids on a Gruffalo Trail as you head out on foot, bicycle or horseback and explore woods filled with wildflowers and birdsong or relax with a picnic in open parkland. Cycle hire available.
Wat Tyler Country Park, Pitsea
Set in the heart of the south Essex marshes, this wildlife-rich park features an RSPB reserve as well as woodland and grassland walks and extensive play areas.
Weald Country Park, Brentwood
Fallow deer can still be seen at Weald Country Park, once a royal deer park used for hunting. Today visitors can enjoy open parkland, lakes and beautiful forest tracks plus a variety of ranger-led activities.
There’s the chance to get up close to farmyard friends at a range of animal attractions in the county, where children can cuddle and pet to their hearts’ content and enjoy farming demonstrations and tractor rides. Here are some to look out for…
Barleylands Farm Park, Billericay
Plenty of opportunities to feed and cuddle, plus a miniature railway, trailer rides, indoor and outdoor play zones, daily animal activities and an adjoining craft centre.
Marsh Farm Animal Adventure Park, South Woodham Ferrers
Meet the animals along the farm trail and enjoy a range of demonstrations, play zones and brilliantly bumpy trailer rides. The adjoining country park has walks along the River Crouch.
Old Macdonald’s Farm, Brentwood
All the farmyard favourites plus play areas and farm-tastic rides and amusements make this a packed family day out.
Redwings Ada Cole Rescue Centre, Nazeing
Meet more than 50 rescued horses, ponies and donkeys and enjoy walking tours and horse care demonstrations. Free admission too.
Tropical Wings Zoo, South Woodham Ferrers
One of the finest tropical houses in Britain, Tropical Wings Zoo is aflutter with tropical birds and free-flying butterflies, plus meerkats and other mammals, a farmyard corner and plenty of places to play. >>
Turn Back Time in Historic Essex
There’s so much to learn about in Essex, so why not take a stroll around the county’s historic houses and gardens and discover an array of stunning surprises? With more than 14,000 listed buildings to its name, Essex is well supplied with interesting architecture. Pay a genteel nod to magnificent country mansions like Audley End House & Gardens, Ingatestone Hall and Layer Marney Tower and conjure up images of petticoats and parasols on a stroll around the grounds. Or step back in time in half-timbered gems like Paycocke’s merchant’s house in Coggeshall or Thaxted Guildhall. There are many more ancient treasures too: Hedingham’s mighty Norman keep (the best preserved in England) and Cressing’s spectacular medieval barns (built for the famous Knights Templar) plus the world’s oldest wooden church, St Andrew’s at Greensted, and Bradwell’s tiny Saxon chapel, St Peter’s on the Wall, standing sturdy against the North Sea breezes.
Discover Stow Maries Aerodrome, a World War I aerodrome with its original buildings still intact, which are being restored to their original state. Essex also has a legacy of windmills and watermills scattered across the countryside. Escape from the grind and head to the iconic white-sailed post mills at Finchingfield, Mountnessing or Aythorpe Roding, the largest in the county. Or go snappy happy at Sible Hedingham’s Alderford Mill, one of the best-preserved watermills in Essex. Finally, stride out from Alresford along the lonely creek to Thorrington Tide Mill, the perfect spot to get away from it all.