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What’s On May

Going out is BACK and so is our indispensable What’s On guide! Check out the cracking events that are happening in Essex – from family festivals and vineyard tours to live music and much more.

What’s not to love about May in Essex?  Two bank holidays, half term and a whole lot of fun. Go, go, go!

FAMILY FUN Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park, Waltham Abbey, open every day

After 18 long months of closure, this much-loved family attraction reopened their doors this week. Whoop! Under a shiny-new management, the park has apparently been transformed into an even more spectacular day out with more events and new play areas (I’ve yet to check it out, but as soon as I do, you’ll hear all about it). Good to know that all the usual residents are still there, so you can ooh at falconry displays, chuckle at the meerkats, eek at the crawlies, and feed the baa lambs. Ahh, good to have you back!

GARDENS: Bluebells & Azaleas Weekend & NGS Open Day, Green Island Gardens, Ardleigh, 1–2 May

With woodlands carpeted in bluebells and the vibrant azaleas, now’s the perfect time to visit the privately owned Green Island Gardens – all 20 lush acres of them. You’ll also get to enjoy all the most gorgeous sights and smells of spring, with alliums, rhododendrons, tree peonies (to name just a few) showing off their fanciest colours. The usual open air bazaar with stalls showcasing local art, crafts and produce isn’t going ahead due to the pandemic. So instead, fill up on all the spring-time beauty you can handle, and treat yourself to a cuppa and a cake at the tea rooms while you’re at it.

LITTLIES: Fairy Elf Walk at Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End
1–3 May

This is just too cute for words, but I’ll give it a go. This magical land of fairies and elves begins with an enchanting train ride deep into the Audley End woods, where littlies have to keep lookout for the many animals, teddy bears and objects around the track, ticking them off on their I Spy Sheet. Hop off the train and take a stroll through the pathways, finding all of the itsy-bitsy fairy folk (and one ugly ol’ troll) living in their handmade tree houses on the way. The stuff childhood memories are made of.

COMEDY: Colchester Fringe Shop Window Takeover, Colchester, 1–4 May

Heading to the shops on Saturday 1 May? Then you’re in for more than a bit of window shopping, as the Colchester Fringe Festival team will be taking over Colchester’s town centre with ‘The Mayday Shop Window Takeover’. This brand-new four-day event will see a whole host of local performance talent take over empty shop windows – from drag queens and raving birds to dance, music and general silliness. Meanwhile at the outdoor Lion Walk courtyard bar, an acid house aviary will be unleashed as cabaret star Miss High Leg Kick presents Bird Rave – imagine Springwatch meets Café Del Mar and you’re in the right ballpark for this feathery fun.

SHOWS: West End Musical Drive-In, The Drive In, Edmonton, 8 May

Who needs to trek into the capital’s zone 1 when you can get West End stars direct to your car? Park up at The Drive In (just a hop across the River Lea into Edmonton), and get ready to belt out some classics and make some moves, as each week see stars from the biggest West End shows perform musical theatre hits live on stage. No bribes would enable me to find out who’s going to be on this May, but if previous guests are anything to go by (think stars from Les Misérables, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Six, Phantom Of The Opera, Wicked etc), you won’t be disappointed.

MARKETS: Vegan Markets, Brentwood & Basildon, 16 and 22 May 

If, like me, you’ve been thinking of cutting down on your meat consumption (it was all those visits to the petting farms that did it), then you won’t need to go far for inspiration, as Vegan Markets will be hosting two huge outdoor events in Brentwood (16 May) and Basildon (22 May) town centres. Stalls will include a variety of unique and innovative vegan products, including healthy eats, fast food, artisan savouries, sweet bakes, craft cheeses, handmade cosmetics, ethical clothing, and locally made arts and crafts. Supporting local, looking after your health, and helping the environment, all in one afternoon!

GARDENS: The National Flower Show, Hylands House, Chelmsford, 21–23 May

Hylands House & Estate will burst into a gardening extravaganza this May as the National Flower Show returns for its seventh year. The bloom-packed three-day event will celebrate the very best of gardening, home and lifestyle (including filthily gorgeous cakes). Whether you have a dinky-sized patch or a sprawling country garden (jammy), the show is packed with everything to make your green spaces ready for al fresco fun.

CULTURE Estuary 2021 Arts Festival, 22 May to 13 June

Jonathan Juniper

Craving some long-missed culture but want to keep it local? Then check out Estuary 2021, which promises 23 days of art, music, literature and film, all celebrating creativity, recovery and renewal. Taking place on the river itself, don your sunnies (or brollies – it’s still spring after all) and head out on a trek along the stunning coastline of South Essex and over to North Kent, taking in the artworks and performances within the estuary landscape, historic sites and coastal towns on the way. A second edition of Thames Estuary Trail: A Walk Round the End of the World by Tom King will be published to coincide with the festival (launching on 30 May from Southend Pier, with readings and a walk led by Tom himself).

MUSICAL POP UP Rocketman Singalong Drive in Movie, Barleylands Craft Village, 21 May

Don your craziest sunnies and fluffy boa, and drive on over to Moonbeamers’ musical fantasy, Rocketman – shown on a whopping 36ft-screen! All of Elton’s greatest hits will be magically transmitted to your FM car radio, or crank your windows open and listen to the crowd singing along. Top it off with tipples (for the non-drivers, natch) and popcorn, and let’s see if you’re still standing at the end of the night.

FESTIVAL The Weald Park Country Show & The Festivals of Dogs, Weald Country Park, 22– 23 May

Grab your nippers, the grand folk and pooches, and head over to the Weald Park Country Show and Festivals of Dogs, as this is the event that really does have something for everybody. Check out the cookery demos, great main ring attractions, shopping and a rural crafts area. Littlies will be especially made up, as they’ll be spoilt rotten with the Punch & Judy show, magic tricks, petting farms and a whole lot more. Retro British fun that never goes out of fashion.

WINE TOUR: Vineyard Tour and Tasting, Saffron Grange, Little Walden, Thurs and Sats from 22 May

Saffron Grange Vineyard

Looking for a more grown-up day out? Book yourself in for Saffron Grange’s vineyard tour. Set in gorgeous countryside with panoramic views, you’ll learn all about what it takes to create a delish sparkling wine, before doing a bit of tasting yourself at the end of the tour. Never wise to quaff on an empty tum, so why not order one of their cheese or award-winning charcuterier boards to go with the vino?

WEDDINGS Braxted Park Wedding Show, Braxted Park Estate, 23 May

Thinking of getting hitched (if you survived the last 12 months together, you’re off to a cracking start)? Then grab your hens or hubby-to-be, and head on over to the County Weddings Events fair at Braxted Park Estate for some beautiful inspiration. On the day, you’ll be able to nosey around the magnificent country house surrounded by a 500-acre wooded estate, and meet a whole caboodle of wedding suppliers – from florists and wedding cakes creators to live acts and DJs. Oh, weddings, how I’ve missed you.

TWEENS: Jane Austen Investigates… with Julia Golding, Jacqson Diego Story Emporium, Westcliff-on-Sea, 27 May

Tweens can usually be a bit tricky to entertain – too young to sit in their room lamenting on dark things, too old to pogo at the soft play. Enter a special book adventure exploring Julia Golding’s latest series Jane Austen Investigates, with a virtual visit from the author herself. Kids (age 10 to 14) will get to enjoy a night full of mystery, ghostly tales and investigative stuff to work out ‘What would Jane Austen do?’. Clean, wholesome fun to squeeze in before they hit the goth stage.

COMEDY Jack Dee off the Telly, Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea, 28 and 29 May

After months of lockdown, we’re all in need of a right good chuckle, right? Hell yes! So get yourself down to Jack Dee’s new stand-up event. Star of loads of top telly sitcoms, such as Bad Move, Lead Balloon and Josh, Jack also hosts the legendary Radio 4 show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, so expect belly laughs a plenty.

MUSICAL THEATRE: West End Brunch at Coco, Southend-on-Sea, 29 May

What’s better than getting up close and personal with the stars of the West End? Singing alongside them, with a glass of bubbles in hand, that’s what! At Coco’s West End Musical Brunch, the audience (you) are also the cast (yay!). Get prepping those tonsils as you’ll be treated to hits from the likes of Wicked, Hairspray, Mamma Mia and The Greatest Showman, while enjoying a glass of Prosecco, and sharing a brunch platter with up to five of your besties. Let the show begin.

MUSEUM Fun-4-Kids, Museum of Power, Langford, 30 May

I’ve always had a soft spot for this museum, so extra chuffed it’s back open again. Set in seven acres of grounds with the River Blackwater running through, the main exhibits are housed in the 1920s Steam Pumping Station, the former generator hall and boiler house. At the end of the month, The museum is holding a Fun for Kids day, so expect loads of activities and entertainment for the littlies, plus science Shows with Mad Professor Dean. There’ll also be crafts, face painting, go karts, bouncy castles and rides, museum hunts, magician, storytelling, and a whirl on the miniature steam train (under-15s get one ride for free), followed by a stroll around the Astaria model village. Fab fun!

KIDS Lee Valley The Big Dinosaur Day Out, Waltham Abbey, 29 May – 6 June

And why not round off May back at Lee Valley – but this time to check out the Big Dinosaur Day Out? The kids will get up close with the dinos, learn Jurassic facts, witness the little-bitty dino eggs hatching, and dig for prehistoric fossils. Plus, there’s all the usual fun the park’s known for – from petting lambs and goats to letting off half-term steam in the adventure play areas.

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