Shh… Essex’s secret picnic spots
Summer's here, so pack your Scotch eggs and lashings of ginger beer, and head to one of these beauty spots for lunch al fresco without the crowds.
A beautiful wicker basket packed with fizz and crustless sandwiches or a glorified packed lunch with mountains of Tupperware and stodgy sausage rolls (guilty!). Fear not, our Muddy guide to lovely picnic spots will at least ensure the location is perfect.
Thorpe Bay, Southend
OK, so Thorpe Bay itself is no secret, sitting four miles east of Southend-on-Sea and well-known for its Blue Flag-awarded stretch of coast. But wander past the picture-postcard beach huts and The Beach Club’s busy water-sports hub far enough and you’ll find a patch of quiet, pebbled perfection that feels more like you’ve stumbled upon a stretch of rural France than Thorpe Esplanade – in the right light, of course…
Hanningfield Reservoir, Billericay
Part of the Essex Wildlife Trust, this working reservoir and nature reserve is set across 870 acres of mature woodlands and wild meadows, making it the ideal spot to get lost in for the day with your hamper and a good book (or three). Walk the labyrinth of foot trails through the ancient oaks and stop off at one of the myriad bird huts (I love Lyster Bird) to watch the swallows dip and swifts dive above gin-clear pools. Magical.
Wallasea Island, Rochford
What started as an ambitious Wild Coast project for RSPB 20 years ago is now a rich tapestry of marshlands, lagoons and seascapes to explore. Yes, it’s just six miles away from Rochford’s town centre, but Wallasea Island is as wild as it gets. Here, picnic areas double up as viewing platforms on account of the rare chattering terns who perform perfect-10 dives in summer, and elegant monochrome avocets who prance the wetlands with balletic poise. Already hooked? Pack a flask of something warming in your basket and come back in winter to welcome the returning flocks of majestic waders and wildfowl.
St Botolph’s Priory, Colchester
Eschew the town’s popular Castle Park in favour of this beautiful Norman ruin quietly tucked away on Priory Street instead. It’s hard to believe this once-elaborate flint and Roman brick monastery still stands on the fringes of Colchester’s bustling town centre, but once you enter its ancient circular folds, you’ll feel a million miles away. What’s more, it’s often completely empty, so you and yours are likely to have this hidden English Heritage gem all to yourselves.
Blake’s Wood, Danbury
A carpet of dancing bluebells bring these woods to life come spring, while the summer months promise perfect pools of dappled light in which to spread your rug and set up camp for the day. Little ones will love exploring the peaceful walking trail to Lingwood Common and hawk-eyed picnickers may even spot the elusive peregrine falcon as you chow down on a Ploughman’s.
The Green, Writtle
Duck ponds don’t come more quintessentially English than this one. The charming village of Writtle may be just 2.6 miles away from the bustle of Chelmsford town centre, but with its perfect fringe of pastoral lawns and coterie of charming period cottages, The Green is a hidden gem for languid al fresco luncheons. What’s more, you can pick up everything you need from the smattering of boutique stores, cafes and bistros that line the triangular Green en route. Try Robyn’s Nest for a selection of seriously good sarnies and Olio on The Green for a delicious bottle of crisp Italian pinot. Just add sun.
Oaks of Mundon, Maldon
Fans of nature writer Robert Macfarlane might be familiar with Mundon’s ‘petrified oak forest’, which featured in his documentary on Essex more than a decade ago. But, for everyone else, this small civil parish set three miles south of Maldon is uniquely placed for experiencing the haunting beauty of Dengie Peninsula. A copse of seemingly frozen oaks and ash is a poetic, if slightly eerie, spot for a picnic so make the most of it by arriving early in the morning when neighbouring Furze wood is still alive with birdsong and the ‘petrified’ cluster of boughs appear to swirl in the marshland mist beyond.