Did you mean?Try your search again
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!
Written Dec 5, 2008
Address: er,,, southend.
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.
Updated Apr 20, 2008
Mersea is a small island (about 12 miles all the way around) just off the Essex coast accessed via a causeway known as the Strood. During high tides the Strood is underwater so if you're planning on visiting Mersea island it pays to check out the tides here.
The island is divided into 2 main settlements - East and West Mersea.
West Mersea is most famous for the excellent seafood served at The Shed. Here you can get the freshest seafood served without fuss in basic surroundings - the menu depends on what's been caught and you can bring your own wine. This is the place to try the local Mersea Oysters. (Actually, this is the place where I, not being an oyster lover, got my Kiwi partner to try not only the Mersea Oysters - they went down well, pun intended - but also some jellied eels, for which he is yet to thank me...).
East Mersea is nice for the wide open grassy spaces of Cudmore Grove. The beach is not flash - I grew up referring to Mersea on The Mud - but this area is popular for family picnics, nature walks and is seemingly always windy enough for kite flying.
Updated Apr 17, 2008
St Andrews church at Greensted-Juxta-Ongar is believed to be the oldest timber buillding in Europe. I can't tell you how much time I've spent in this church and it's grounds - I've been visiting for years and was in fact married here. There are mixed opinions on the age of the timbers, but they have been dated anywhere between the 9th and 11th centuries. That's old. There is evidence to suggest that a church may have stood on this site since the 5th century. The setting is pretty - a few minutes drive along a country lane from Ongar leads to the church which is surrounded by farmland. It is always unlocked during daylight hours.
The main body of the church is, of course, the oldest part, and comprises split oak trunks. The door was originally on the opposite side of the church to the present one, and it is there that you can see what is referred to as the 'leper squint', although it is likely a legend that lepers could see and hear the service by squinting through the hole and more likely used for holy water. The chancel is Tudor, the tower is 17th century and the dormer windows in the roof were replaced by the Victorians.
The church is believed to have housed the body of St Edmund on it's journey to Bury St Edmunds after his martydom. He was tied to a tree and shot with arrows and the church contains a Bible with a wooden cover said to have come from that same tree. A previous vicar showed me the Bible, but I haven't found any records to confirm the story. There is also a carved wooden roof beam which shows the head of St Edmund being guarded by a wolf.
The churchyard is now longer in use, except for a small area for cremations, but there are some grave markers of note. One is a heavy stone slab surrounded by iron railings by the wall of the church. A crusading knight is said to have found his way to the church after having been wounded and died there. The other is the old wooden cross near the gate. I've been told that this is the grave of Edward Edwards, a local innkeeper who got drunk and fatally wounded himself with a scythe.
Updated Apr 11, 2008
Finchingfield lies approximately 8 miles from the busy town of Braintree, surrounded by farmland between the villages of Weathersfield and Great Bardfield. It is generally regarded as being the prettiest of the county's villages with a large duckpond, the River Pant flowing beneath an old brick bridge and a village green edged with cottages that are centuries old. This means that tourist numbers can swamp the village at weekends through the summer, so if you are able to time your visit to take place on a weekday, or near the end of the day, you will avoid the crowds.
Check out the lovely Norman church, dedicated to St John the Baptist and accessed via a gap in a row of old almshouses.
Set back from the village is also a post windmill dating back to the 1750's which is occassionally open to the public.
There are a couple of tea rooms, a pub and one or two craft/gift shops to browse.
For more information and pictures, please see my Finchingfield page
Updated Apr 11, 2008
My parents live just a few minutes from the incredibly old Cressing Temple Barns, and for years I drove past them more or less daily without ever visiting. I first went along on a trip home a few years back and was genuinely awed by what I had known was there but never really seen - so when I took my Kiwi partner home for his first trip to England this was the first place we visited together.
Basically they are great big barns - and I forgive you for thinking "hey, a barn is just an old barn"! Well, the key here is the age, the size, and the fact they are still here looking much as they did around 800 years ago.
In 1137 King Stepphen's wife, Matilda, granted the land at Cressing Temple to the Order of the Knights Templar (hence the name), a Christian military order founded during the Crusades. In 1312 the Order was suppressed and the land and buildings passed to the Knights of the Hospital of St John (the Knights Hospitaller). The great barns seen today are from this period.
The two barns, originally built to house grain, are immense. The timbers of the Barley Barn date to between 1205 and 1235, whilst the Wheat Barns timbers date to between 1259 and 1280. The trees used would have already stood for some time when they were felled, and I like to wonder what local life would have been like when they were seedlings.
Nowadays they are the scene of weddings, functions, historical displays, jousting tournaments and recently falconry displays. There are later buildings to visit too, including stables and a bakehouse as well as a recreated Tudor walled garden (see my travelogues). Check out the website (which has a tonne of information) for up to date opening times and prices, but do go!
Updated Apr 10, 2008
Thaxted is a new favourite of mine - I only really got to explore it properly on my last visit to England.
I recommend parking near the church and starting your tour of Thaxted from there. You can't miss the church - it has been described as having cathedral-like proportions and it's 180 foot high spire dominates the local scene. Building began in the 14th century and there are traces of an earlier church on the site.
From the church you can then wander through the village, past the Medieval Guildhall and the heavily timbered private house named "Dick Turpins Cottage" (believed to have been the home of his mother) as well as the house where composer Gustav Holst once lived.
Keep going and follow the footpath to John Webb's Windmill, an 18th century post mill surrounded by cornfields and housing an excellent - and free - agricultural and local history museum.
For more information and photos please see my Thaxted page
Updated Apr 9, 2008
OK, admittedly Braintree probably doesn't top many lists for the UK's Top Tourist Destinations, but it's a nice old market town, with lots of history. It's probably best as a base from which to explore the many pretty villages which can be found roundabouts, but don't miss out on the town itself.
Braintree, along with neighbouring Bocking, used to be home to many thriving family industries, such as Courtauld's weavers, Crittall windows, Warner's silk mill and Lake & Elliott's foundry, but these have now all closed down. My father worked for Lake & Elliot's, my uncle worked for Courtauld's and my grandfather worked for Crittall's. The resultant derelict factory sites have largely now been redeveloped as residential areas and the town has had a new lease of life with the arrival of Freeport retail village - well worth a visit if you want to pick up some designer bargains on your travels.
Wednesdays and Saturdays are good days on which to visit the old town centre as busy markets are held on these days. The shops are certainly better than they used to be - George Yard is the best area to head for shopping-wise.
The old town hall no longer houses the local council but hosts art exhibitions, functions and houses the town's tourist information office - it definitely deserves a visit to discover more about the long history of the town. Just over the road the old John Ray primary school has been converted to a local history museum with a small gallery displaying the works of local artists and craftspeople. It's also the place to go if you are researching local or family history and the shop there stocks some excellent books on the subject, mostly written by locals.
There are many churches in the town, but the main one is St Michaels. I lived in Braintree for 30 years, but have never been inside, mainly because it has been targeted by vandals for many years and is not only usually locked, but has had metal grills fitted over it's stained glass windows. A good moment perhaps to advise that the town centre can be very rowdy at night, and whilst I've enjoyed many an evening out there, you do need to take care.
The fountain outside is a real local landmark. Cast in bronze a young boy stands on top of a shell , surrounded by sea lions and holding another shell to his ear. It was gifted to the people of Braintree in 1937 by W J Courtauld (of Courtauld's weavers) and represents the town's motto - "Hold To The Truth"
Written Apr 9, 2008
Rayne is a village on the outskirts of Braintree that most visitors won't even pass through. There isn't much to see here, but it is on the way to some of the prettier surrounding villages, and there is some history here too. The village sits on part of the old A120, a Roman road, and there are several ancient buildings here. There is a pub - the Swan, and a fantastic Indian restaurant and takeaway. Otherwise, admittedly not much to attract the casual visitor.
The red brick church is a lovely one, hidden down a narrow lane and with farmland beyond, but is often sadly locked. Details of the keyholder are displayed on the church noticeboard. There are some unusual grave markers to be seen, made from cast iron - Rayne was once the home of a thriving iron foundry, but those days are now gone.
I have anscestors buried in this churchyard, including my paternal grandfather. Grandad was born in Rayne village, and when he married Granny they came first to live here in a tiny cottage with a dirt floor. The cottage he grew up in still stands today. I'm fairly confident the floor is no longer a dirt one :-)
Updated Apr 9, 2008
Coggeshall is such a pretty and interesting market town, I can't recommend it to visitors enough. It feels very much a village - it's an ancient technicality that makes it a town, having been granted a charter to hold a market.
There are many good reasons to visit, not least of which is simply the opportunity to explore Coggeshall on foot and admire the many listed (and thus protected) old houses that line the narrow footpaths.
The most impressive of these is the 16th century heavily timbered Paycockes House. Now cared for by a resident National trust tenant, opening times are limited so check beforehand (see my Coggeshall page for details). You can also buy a joint ticket which gives entry to the 13th Century Grange Barn, the opening times generally coincide.
The centre of the village is Market Place - the weekly market is held here on a Wednesday, and around the Place are a couple of nice shops, the excellent Beaumans restaurant, a pub and a tearooms.
The best pub though, in terms of heavy old beams, fireplaces and the like is probably the 15th century Woolpack Inn.
Right next door to the Woolpack is the church, one of only two in the country dedicated to St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains, the other being in the Tower of London). The church dates back to the 14th century and has a lot of nice memorials inside, well worth a visit, although I can't guarantee you'll bump into the lovely church warden we did last August and get a personal tour of the monuments in the vestry...(we always seemed to bump into lovely church wardens eager to share the history of the churches in their care!).
For more information and pictures please visit my Coggeshall page
Updated Apr 9, 2008
Roslin Beach Hotel Southend-on-Sea
1 Review and 343 Opinions A warm and friendly welcome in this family run hotel,situated on the Sea Front at Thorpe Bay.It...
Premier Inn Colchester Central Colchester
1 Review and 78 Opinions It was only due to local knowledge that we found this place, as most maps including Google, seem to...
Down Hall Country House Hotel Stansted
2 Reviews and 598 Opinions This hotel seemed to have it all, all the facilities, two restaurants and conference facilities....