on your doorstep

From mad mud races to the oldest wooden building in the country, Essex provides plenty to keep everybody in the family happy, says Robert Seymour.

y children will certainly never forget their first visit to Essex. We took them to Audley End where a miniature steam train merrily puffs oneand-a-half miles through the woods passing small cuddly toys positioned throughout the treescape. It was a lovely summer’s day, we had a picnic with my in-laws (who live up the road in Colchester – home to an excellent zoo) and they slept like logs on the way home. Since then, we’ve been back several times and now they’re a


little older, we’ve also visited the main house and grounds, a magnificent country house mansion with lovely gardens. At the risk of sounding like a tourism leaflet, it really does have everything.

A Prejudiced View
As a Yorkshireman, I had a rather prejudiced view of Essex for many years and slipped into believing the lazy clichés about the county and what it had to offer. But since moving down south, I’ve had my blinkers well and truly removed. For a start, it is nice and close to our home which

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makes days out a genuine possibility as well as weekends and longer trips. More importantly, there’s a really wide range of attractions and culture to enjoy as a family – our children are quite spaced apart in terms of ages but we never find it hard to pick a destination where they’ll all find something to enjoy. And we’re not alone – tourism chiefs estimate that tourism contributes around £1.5 billion to the Essex economy each year and recent figures suggest that there are over 44 million day visitors to the county annually. Essex has a long and fascinating history. It was the home of two tribes, the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni, before the Roman invasion, and indeed Colchester (Camulodunum) was the capital of Roman Britain. But as a county it was founded by King Aescwine in 527 AD: this covered a large area including Hertfordshire and Middlesex as well as London. Two hundred years later it was absorbed into the Kingdom of Wessex but at the historic Battle of Maldon in 991AD (subject of one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon poems), the Vikings won a fierce fight and took control of the area. In more recent times, the coming of the railways made a big impact on the region socially and economically, making it a convenient home for commuters as well as a lovely spot for holidaymakers who flocked to the famous seaside resorts of Southend, Clacton and Frinton-on-Sea. Today these towns are undergoing something of a renaissance but there are many more quieter alternatives too such as Burnham-on-Crouch and Brightlingsea where you can enjoy yachting during the

Top Tips
Gardeners, or indeed those who just like visiting gardens, will find plenty to whet their appetite in Essex thanks to its pleasant (and dry) climate.The county has a history of famous gardeners ranging from Capability Brown (whose landscape work can be enjoyed at Audley End) to the Beth Chatto Gardens which have transformed an overgrown wasteland into a lovely eco-friendly garden with its own nursery. Also well worth a visit is the RHS garden in the 360acre estate at Hyde Hall. It’s an interesting hill-top site and the harsh conditions have required considerable thought and work in order for the wideranging gardens to flourish.

ers taking part in the Memory Maps project developed by The University of Essex and the Victoria and Albert Museum: each writer talks about part of the county which is important to them. Bragg focuses on Shoeburyness beach, saying: 'Southend is the mecca of Essex, with its Golden Mile and longest pier in the world. However, for my family, paradise was to be found beyond the arcades and winkle stalls, past the coloured lights that flashed out a welcome on even the wettest, windiest days. Go along the East Beach, past where Edwardian beach huts still stand in rows, through Thorpe Bay to the hamlet of Shoeburyness. Here, out of the mouth of the Thames Estuary, facing the North Sea itself, you will find the finest beach in the county.'

Site Of Special Interest
But of course there’s plenty to see inland as well. Hatfield Forest woodland is another delightfully family-friendly site which my children have always enjoyed. One of the last remaining examples of the wildwood which once covered the country, it covers more than 420 hectares and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as a National Nature Reserve, providing a living link to our ancient history. Sadly, the forest is at risk from plans to expand nearby Stansted Airport. Essex is also Constable Country and you can discover the beautiful Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty where you’ll find the inspiration for

summer season. One of those who remembers the area’s coast with fondness is musician Billy Bragg who is among a number of famous writ-

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Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service

The Essex Sunshine Coast
Clacton • Frinton • Walton • Brightlingsea • Manningtree Harwich • Jaywick • St Osyth • Dovercourt • Mistley

A Fascinating Journey Through Time

The Essex Sunshine Coast is part of the Tendring holiday peninsular and is a gateway to some truly glorious villages, unspoilt landscapes, charming seaside towns and award winning beaches, attractions and events. For further information or to request a brochure contact: Clacton Tourist Information Centre on 01255 686633 Harwich Tourist Information Centre on 01255 506139 Walton Tourist Information Centre on 01255 675542 (Seasonal opening Easter and Spring Bank Holiday to Mid September)
A visit to the historic town of Colchester will provide you with a full day out to remember in Britain’s Oldest Recorded Town. Colchester Castle takes you through 2000 years of some of the most important events in British history. In this beautiful castle you can enjoy many hands on displays, a year round programme of events and fantastic exhibitions. Only a few minutes walk from Colchester Castle are Hollytrees Museum, the Natural History Museum and Tymperleys Clock Museum. In these fun and friendly museums discover more about nature, see the biggest collection of Colchester made clocks and find out what life was like more than 300 years ago. Why not take the short trip to Ipswich and visit our beautiful museums there too? Find out more about our museums, our event programme and stunning exhibitions today!

www.colchestermuseums.org.uk 01206 282939
Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service Our vision is to create a museum service that is a source of pride, inspiration and fun.


The Travel & Leisure Magazine 41

much of the best work of the 18th century artist John Constable. Indeed, Essex is still very much a rural county and countryside traditions are still popular and widely celebrated, brought together every year under the umbrella of the Essex Festival of the Countryside: events include open gardens, wildlife walks, beer festivals, jousting tournaments and open air concerts. Some traditions, such as the annual Boxing Day marathon established in 1908 in Clacton, have sadly died out but many others remain including: ● The Mad Maldon Mud Race for (www.maldonmudrace.com) which competitors in fancy dress race across 400m of mud along the River Blackwater’s bed. Thousands of pounds are raised as a result each year for charity. ● Billericay’s Mayflower Morrismen (http://mayflowermorris.com) who appear regularly throughout the year, especially at Christmas and Plough Monday, often with a traditional St George and the Dragon mummers’ play as well ● First footing, a Scottish tradition imported when hundreds of families in the late 19th and early 20th century moved to the county ● The Dunmow Flitch (www.dunmow

flitchtrials.co.uk): happily married couples compete to win a side of bacon and be carried around the town of Great Dunmow in an ancient chair if they can prove they have not had an argument for a year and a day!

Essex also has some spectacularly ancient buildings. Among its 1,000 Grade I and II listed examples are Fyfield Hall where roof timbers date back to the 12th century, and the country’s oldest wooden church – and in fact wooden building of any sort - at Greensted built in the mid-11th century. But it’s not all 1,000 years old: the RSPB’s new Purfleet Environment and Education Centre at Rainham Marshes nature reserve is one of

Yo u r E ss ex Fac ts
Essex guide n about Essex is the Real place to go for informatio luding the The best first has details of tours – inc w.realessex.co.uk which stay.Among Refresh at ww ere to eat, and where to tes – historic highlights, wh ters.co.uk) many cycle rou vering (www.thecricke are The Cricketers at Cla w up. One of popular spots Sally and where Jamie gre Oliver’s parents Trevor and Bell, built largely run by Jamie former coaching inn The tels in the county is the ) which also the oldest ho Hill (www.bell-inn.co.uk tury, in Horndon-On-Thes traditions, in the 15th cen beers. For more on Essex’ real ales with many guest via Kent, and stocks good ex by Billericay author Syl the book Folklore of Ess d book is the look out for ic buildings, the must-rea look at the county’s histor many events for a detailed Nikolaus Pevsner. Of the ex by James Bettley and West End updated Ess ys host to many touring ring the year, Southend pla t free airshow organised du o home to Europe’s larges its Cliffs Pavilion and is als musicals at ekend. over May Bank Holiday we

the most striking buildings built in the country in recent decades and has won many awards for its design. You’ll find these kinds of lovely buildings in many of the smaller towns and villages throughout the county. One of my personal favourites is Saffron Walden, famous for its saffron industry (which, despite the hint in its name, is not widely known about). Look out for the lovely medieval ‘Sun Inn’ antiques shop and its two mazes, one an ancient turf Variety which is the largest in Europe and a yew hedge type at Bridge End Gardens. Nearby is Thaxted, home to the annual Thaxted Festival in June and July which attracts international artists and audiences. Real Essex (see More Information box for more details) has a number of itineraries around the county including the fascinating historical trail, Sutton House to Sutton Hoo (just into Suffolk), which follows a two-day route around National Trust properties in Essex (www.nationaltrust.org.uk). The key stop-offs are: ● Sutton House: the oldest house in London’s East End, first stop on the trail ● Hatfield Forest: the medieval royal hunting forest mentioned above ● Paycocke’s & Grange Barn: in Coggeshall featuring examples of the small town’s famous lace and Coggeshall Grange Barn, one of the oldest surviving timber-framed barns in ● Cressing Temple: founded by the Knights Templar. ● Bourne Mill: a 16th century fishing lodge in Colchester with working stonebuilt watermill ● Sutton Hoo: one of Britain’s most important archaeological sites, the burial ground of the Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia with displays of their royal treasure found on site Wherever you go, the beauty of Essex is that while it’s big enough to take in so many varied attractions, it all feels manageably compact – you just hop from one interesting spot to another. As our children know. TL

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