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The hottest haunts to hit post-lockdown

As some of the county’s coolest stores, cultural must-sees and family-friendly parks tentatively start to reopen their doors and gates to the public again, we’ve got the lowdown on where to head for your social(ly distanced) fix

Audley End House and Gardens

Audley End Gardens

From 4 July, Audley End’s majestic grounds in Saffron Walden will officially reopen, which means you’re free to take a ramble round the English Heritage site’s glorious gardens again. The house itself will remain closed to the public until further notice, but who wants to stay inside when its perfectly manicured rose beds are mid-bloom anyway? Just be sure to book before travelling as visitor numbers will be limited.

Family days out on the farm
Image: Rowan S / Unsplash

Barleylands Farm Park and Craft Village

Billericay’s own little slice of homespun heaven is back for (socially distanced) days out, and the farm’s gaggle of geese and goats and sheep can’t wait to see you. As you’d expect it won’t all be ‘business as usual’ with some of the potters’ and painters’ studios still affected by government restrictions, but plenty of wildlife walks await, and the lionhead bunnies are positively leaping at the prospect of an adoring public again.

Go kayaking on days out

Curve Water Sports

Hugging Mill Dam Lake in St Osyth, this all-action aqua park is now open for wakeboarding, paddleboarding and kayaking sessions, with its giant inflatable obstacle course also set to bounce back again soon. Book lessons, hire a board, or just come down to watch the adrenaline junkies make it look easy from the safety of Curve’s alfresco cafe – as long as the sun’s shining, we’re there.

Colchester Zoo

Colchester Zoo

Spanning 60 acres of parkland and home to more than 220 different species, Colchester is home to one of the biggest zoos in the country and serves up some unique animal encounters for days out. Little ones will love walking the underwater tunnels that criss-cross beneath tumbling sea lions, and helping the keepers to hand feed elephants and giraffes. Meanwhile, those who missed out on a safari this year are in for a treat: the zoo’s family of lions, cheetahs, zebra and white rhinos can transport you to Colchester’s version of the African plains for a fraction of the price. Just don’t take the laughing hyenas to heart…

Braintree Village

Braintree Village

Boasting Tommy Hilfiger, Barbour, Boss Hugo Boss, Denby, Le Creuset, Jaeger, Polo Ralph Lauren and Reiss stores, among many others, the county’s signature designer-outlet hub was always going to receive a warm welcome back. But Braintree Village really has gone the extra mile to take all the stress out of shopping, with June’s grand reopening revealing a slew of robust health and safety measures, including organised floor markers and strategic hand sanitiser stations to put the ‘therapy’ back into retail. Make sure you enjoy every inch of those widened aisles, ladies.

Dedham Vale Boathouse

Dedham Vale Boathouse

OK, so it may be a while yet before the main restaurant reopens, but we’re still floating the idea for Dedham Vale Boathouse to launch its charming army of wooden rowing boats again. Almost as synonymous with this stretch of the Essex countryside as John Constable himself, the pub’s 26 clinkers date back to the 1900s and offer sweeping views of the village’s meandering River Stour for charming days out. Trust us, with its sun-drenched jetty and lush green fringe of rolling hills, picturesque pub gardens don’t get better than this one.

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