Stansted Mountfitchet, or Stansted as it is more commonly known, is one of the largest parishes in Essex, the town however is better known for the nearby airport. Stansted Airport is a hub for a number of major European low-cost carriers and is the fourth busiest airport in the United Kingdom. Must see sights include: the House on the Hill Toy Museum, Mountfitchet Castle & Norman Village and there is a local windmill which is open to the public one day a month.
See My Travel Page for more information.
Southend-on-Sea (mostly referred to as just Southend - or 'Sowfend') is a colourful, some would say brash, Essex town. I think Southend's reputation is a little unfairly applied. On a good day there's a positive vibe and vitality about the place that makes it a great place to wander around. The seafront attractions seem to expand every year I return to Southend. The mile long pier is well worth a walk and there is also a train operating on it to take you out to the end (or back to the shore, if your feet are feeling a bit tired).
A nice walk is along the waterfront to Leigh-on-Sea, just over about 10km to the west. As you head west, it's hard to believe that the leafy and genteel suburbs of Westcliff and Chalkwell are maligned the way they are.
Southend is served by two train stations, each on different lines that run into London. I have never partaken in the fun and games at the many amusement park like attractions on the front, but I imagined if you had kids and wanted to keep them entertained for a while, this would be a nice spot on a sunny summer's day.
In 2013, on my last day in England before the long flight back to New Zealand, I visited Hyde Hall, an RHS garden in Essex. Our visit there coincided with a big flower show and the place was buzzing with activity. The Hyde Hall gardens are lovely to walk through on a sunny summer's day. I was impressed with the healthy banana palms outside, but the New Zealand and Australia garden was looking quite barren after a harsh winter.
Entrance cost £7.20 in August 2013.
If you have access to a car (and I was kindly lent one by my cousins), a drive through Essex's picturesque countryside is a must. The further north one goes, the more idyllic the scenery becomes. Have a look at my Essex Villages Travelogue for more pictures from a couple of trips I did.
As a city destination for a history vulture, a day trip or weekener to Colchester is worth investigating. It has the longest recorded history of any town in England. Even the historian Tacitus makes mention of it (he would have been great as a VT member). Roman remains therefore abound, although the most important 'must see' is the Norman Castle. Like all things in Colchester it resembles an onion or perhaps a set of Russian dolls in that there are any number a layers to uncover. The castle is built on Roman foundations and has many later additions.
The town is also noted for is prosperity during the wool boom of the middle ages and its architectural prowess in the Victorian era. Much of this survived an earthquake (I promise I'm not making that up).
It's the south of the county that fulfill the sterotype of Essex. Brash ex-londoners, the men in their tatoos, Ford Escorts and knocked off Rolex watches chasing mini-skirted, white stilletoed bimbos with mouths like sewers and the morals of polecats.
Essex is however has something of a bi-polar disorder. The North of the county (basically north of Chelmsford) is filled with tille towns and villages that fulfill a very different sterotype. This is the land of quaint half-timbered or thatched cottages. The land of real beer (well Ridley's anyway), historic churches, interesting little shops, good restaurants, cafes and pubs. A land of four-wheel-drives and horse trials, or private schools and old money.
Great Dunmow, Thaxted, Felsted, Saffron Waldron and others all fall in to this category - go explore !
A junction or two up the M11 towards Cambridge stands a rather impressive stately home that was originally bought by Charles II from the Suffolk family.
It was certainly useful for the horse racing at nearby Newmarket, but the Mortgage payments built up so much (seems rather odd that a King had to have a mortgage like the rest of us plebs) that William III only 30 or so years later simply handed the keys back to the local gentry. His mate, Christopher Wren had also pointed out that the D.I.Y on the place to bring it kicking and screaming into the late 17th century would cost him an arm and a leg - even if he went to Wickes for the materials.
The range of rooms is this Jacobean pile is quite impressive, although I found the 'under stairs' sections where the servants lived and worked somehow more interesting.
Great gardens too - by Capability Brown no less.
The ruined castle at Hadleigh looks out over the Thames estuary. Built in the 1230's it is an important example of it's type. It is also only a shortwalk from the small town centre, or a reasonable one from the train station that is down in the valley.
The ruined remains are grade one listed, but you can wander about for free. John Constable took advantage of this and painted a picture of the old ruin. The area is used extensively by people taking walks, avec dog or without. Whilst not exactly Snowdonia, there are a number of steep hills and good views across to Kent. These factors have attracted the attention of the Olympics organisers for 2012. When the Weald country park was deemed 'unchallenging' the area centred on Hadleigh farm setepped forward as the new official venue. It is uncertain yet wether facilities will remain after the big event.
I think it is an excellent choice - it will look great on TV. In the meantime it remains one of my favourite corners of the county.
Down amongst the wilds of Essex's 'deep south' lies Thurrock, the location for the 'Lakeside shopping centre'. I think it could reasonably called the first 'mega-mall' in the U.K with over 300 shops and various retail parks (including an IKEA store).
It therefore attracts shoppers from all over and causes terrible traffic congestion in the lead up to Christmas. It still looks smart these days and despite the fact it sounds as if it should be hosting a darts tournament it is upmarket enough to attract people who would only shop in House of Fraser. It seems to be unaffected by other large developments in more recent years - such as the upmarket 'Bluewater' centre on the other side of the river in Kent (note that Kent always is a bit snobby about its dodgy neighbour Essex) or the vast new centre in West London.
And for the joke :
Q: What is an Essex girl's favourite wine ?
A : "I wanna go lakeside.."
Although in Essex it's not far outside London.This relic of the cold war is fascinating and very good value at 6.50 for entry. You need to get to Epping (it's on the central line if you are coming from central london) and bus/taxi about 7 miles.
Could the de-commissioning of this place have anything to do with the underground line to Ongar being closed?
FROM THEIR WEBSITE:
The Kelvedon Hatch Secret
Nuclear Bunker is a veritable maze of rooms and corridors based on three huge floors, and protected from a possible nuclear attack by 10ft thick reinforced concrete walls, not to mention blast doors made from tank metal.
It is from here that devolved central government and military commanders would have run the region in the event of nuclear attack.
Built in great secrecy at the start of the cold war and under strict military
security, the locals and contractors alike were blissfully unaware of the terrible reality of what this building really represented.
However due to the fact that the government recently decommissioned this site, the new owners invite you, to see for yourself what was planned for nuclear attack.
Come and witness the three lives of the bunker starting with its role as an RAF ROTOR Station, then a brief period as a civil defence centre through to its most recent life as a Regional Government HQ. Designed for up to 600 military and civilian personnel, possibly even the Prime Minister, their
collective task being to organise the survival of the population in the awful aftermath of a nuclear war.
Tilbury is pretty much a god-forsaken dump, but it does have a couple of attractions that might interest the more adventurous traveller.
Foremost is the Tilbury fort. It has traditionally been the fort that defended London's Eastern approaches. Despite being built in the 16th century by Cahrles II and being in constant use through to the end of World War II, it has seen remarkably little action. It seems it's most deadly night occured when two people died following an argument over an Essex-Kent cricket match. That must have been one very poor LBW decision.
The network of moats surrounding the fort are still intact, and despite some additions in the 18th and 19th centuries it remains the finest example you can find in the UK of 16th century fortifications. Very well constructed exhibitions too.
Elsewhere in the area you might like to check out the Church used for the funeral of Gareth in the film 'Four wedddings and a funeral' - st Clement's in West Thurrock. The massive lakeside retail shopping area is also closeby.
Tilbury is perhaps best known, however, for it's port and cruise terminal - it used to be the departure point for countless steamers heading off all over the empire. It's much reduced now and has lost it's rail link as well. Pity.
If you were looking for the sterotypical ideal of an English village then there is no real need to lok beyond the village of Finchingfield located deep in the lanes of northern Essex, If you have this image of elderly spinsters cycling home from choir practice in the lengthening shadows of a summer evening past old duffers peering into their pints of bitter outside the village pub and the cricket team losing the battle against boredom and bad light on the green.
So, here's a checklist for the perfect English village.
1) Has it got a triangular, well kept village green - check
2) Has is got a duckpond with ducks and not shopping trollys - check
3) Has it got a couple of pubs, preferably thatched that serve proper bitter - check
4) Has is got a cricket team who never win - check
5) Has it got quaint houses that get featured on porcelain collections - check
6) Is it far from an out-of-town B & Q or Comet superstore - check
7) Has it got a village shop and post office where time is unknown - check
8) Is it stuck in 1953 ?
9) Are you still reading this ?... then go there !
I always find it surprising that the landscapes which are seen as 'typically english' in the painting of John Constable come (in part) from a county that is not renowned for it's scenic beauty. Not for John the wilds of the Lake District, the desolate mores of Yorkshire of the twee delights of the Cotswolds.
His most famous painting is probably 'The Haywain', painted outside Flatford Mill. He painted the place a number of times. It is nowadays a field studies centre, and therefore lacks public entrance. From memory it is possible to walk around the area with ease. Now, to be accurate, the mill and the village of east Bergholt are part of Sussex, but it is so close to the border with Essex we can easily claim him as an Essex boy rather than a tractor lad ! Many of his slightly less famous pictures do feature places that are clearly in Essex. Take a good long walk through the valley - you can see why he was so inspired.
The one thing that the world knows about Southend-on-Sea is it's pier.
It sticks out into the Thames estuary for well over a mile. If you don't want to walk it then the pier railway will happily take you one way, or indeed both.
The boast about it being the world's longest pleasure pier is in fact a little misleading as one of the main reasons for it's construction to one and a quarter miles was to allow people to join steamers at it's end, free from problems associated with tides.
In any event it provides a good brisk walk, with the added advantage that Southend looks smaller!
As the name suggests, there is a castle at Castle Hedingham and it is one well worth visiting. This imposing Norman keep was built by Aubrey de Vere in 1140 and - incredibly - remains in the same family to this very day. It has a rich history and in 1561 Queen Elizabeth stayed here, as her father King Henry VIII had before her. It makes for a brilliant day out. The keep is in good condition and much of the interior can be explored - we loved the huge banqueting hall and minstrels gallery where we saw genuine Norman helmets bearing dents and scars from swords in battle over 800 years ago. The castle holds historic events such as jousting displays throughout the summer season - check the excellent website below for details and up to date admission prices.
The village itself is also pleasant to explore. The church of St Nicholas is tucked away off the main road and houses the tombs of generations of de Veres. In particular, near the altar is a beautiful, if somewhat mutilated, tomb to John de Vere who died in 1539. The carving shows him and his wife along with 4 of their daughters.
There are a couple of good English country pubs here. A favourite of mine used to be The Bell where they used to serve garlicky prawns by the pint glass, but it's years since I've been inside. More recently we enjoyed a drink at The Wheatsheaf which had a superb wine selection.
The most beautiful building in the village is, in my opinion, the Moot House. Originally the village meeting house it has been my parent's favourite restaurant for over 20 years now, and is a popular local spot for a traditional Sunday lunch.
A warm and friendly welcome in this family run hotel,situated on the Sea Front at Thorpe Bay.It...more
It was only due to local knowledge that we found this place, as most maps including Google, seem to...more
This hotel seemed to have it all, all the facilities, two restaurants and conference facilities....more