15 Essex days out to enjoy in January
Spoiler: January doesn’t need to be bleak – especially when there’s so many great days out on your doorstep! Whether you’re a foodie seeking tasty local fare or a family looking for a fun afternoon activity to hit, we’ve put together 15 of the best things to do in Essex to kick-start your year in style…
For the creatives: ‘Michael Landy: The Essex Way’
Coveting a new-year culture fix? Head to Firstsite in Colchester to experience its new Michael Landy exhibit and explore the county’s cultural history and contemporary media tropes. Afterwards, take a long potter through the gallery’s enormous proportions – with a £25m price tag and modern-art credentials (Tracey Erin and Sarah Lucas are previous exhibitors) Firstsite is still one of the those wonderful in-the-know hangouts that you’d never stumble across without an insider’s nod. Set back from the bustle of Colchester high street in the genteel glow of Lewis Gardens, the gallery’s scale is almost unfathomable (it’s Essex’s answer to the Tate Modern), so be sure to check out the cafe and shop as you head out, which is also a coffee-table-tomes heaven for dark January nights in.
For the family day out: Marsh Farm
From Pigmy goats and pot-bellied pigs, to parrots and alpacas, Marsh Farm in South Woodham Ferrers offers the dream day out for families with a penchant for making furry friends. Come spring, lambing season is, of course, always a highlight, but organised activities for little ones run all year-round and the adorable Shetland ponies are a personal fave.
For the beachcombers: Frinton-on-Sea
With its butterscotch sands, sweeping esplanade and wash of pastel beach huts, this pretty coastal resort is perfect for a windswept winter walk and offers up lashings of quintessential charm. Hugging the north Essex coastline, it first became a popular haunt for vay-caying Londoners in the 1920s, when its high street was affectionately dubbed the ‘Bond Street of East Anglia’. These days you can expect to find a small hub of independent boutiques, bistros and bars a short stroll from the shoreline, plus a thriving arts and culture scene.
For the heritage-house addicts: Audley End Gardens
Hit Saffron Walden to take a ramble round this English Heritage site’s glorious grounds (we recommend a peek at the perfectly manicured gardens). Or, take a ride on the miniature railway to get a sweeping overview of the sprawling grounds, which look particularly spectacular on frozen, wintery mornings. Fancy a tour of the 17th-century country house, too? Be sure to book, as slots to see the still-in-use-stables and opulent Jacobean rooms get filled fast.
For the horticulturists: Beth Chatto Gardens
Small (in terms of public gardens), but oh-so perfectly formed, the world-famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, north Essex, have been attracting green-fingered visitors from across the country since 1960 – when the award-winning gardener Beth Chatto first begun to turn this once wild, overgrown seven acres of wasteland into a series of five inspiring outdoor spaces. Take your time wandering from the Water Garden and Woodland to Screen Garden and Reservoir – there’s beauty to behold at every turn.
For the little ones: 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.
For the foodies: West Mersea
Love super-fresh coastal fare? Us too! Luckily, Essex is brimming with premium-grade salty treats and you won’t find better oysters than those served up at Company Shed or Oyster Bar on Mersea Island. We like to kick-start the new year with a signature platter of fresh, salty oysters served up with a hit of lemon and lashings of dry white wine – then walk them off on the beach. Wedged between the weathered house boats of Mersea’s mudflats and the marshland causeway, ‘Monkey’ is a cracker of a sandy bay offering up myriad creeks to meander through as you unearth sun-bleached oyster shells from the caramel sands. Little ones will love the ample crabbing spots too, so bring a net if the weather’s playing ball.
For the animal lovers: 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 new-year 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 holiday 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…
For the water babies: 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 on a crisp winter’s day, we’re there.
For the ramblers: Palace Walk, Danbury
Surging past the village’s grand Tudor Gothic Palace, this ancient network of canal locks meanders leisurely through Danbury Country Park and Old Hare Wood before picking up pace at Cuton Lock, Stonhams Lock, Little Baddow Lock, Blake’s Wood nature reserve and on past Danbury Church. A solid five-mile wander, be sure to seek out the crumbling war shelter at Cuton Lock and say hello to friendly Kingfishers, who streak the sky blue as they dip and dance for minnows at dusk.
For the history buffs: Hylands House
For a stately affair, head to Chelmsford’s Hylands Estate – an elegant grade II*-listed public estate complete with an elegant Neo-Classical villa and 574 acres of historic park and woodlands. Take a whimsical walk round the House and gardens for the full Pride and Prejudice experience.
For the rowing enthusiasts: Dedham Vale Boathouse
With its charming army of wooden rowing boats, Dedham Vale Boathouse is almost as synonymous with this stretch of the Essex countryside as John Constable himself. Moored nostalgically along the River Stour in the picturesque village of Dedham, the pub’s 26 clinkers date back to the 1900s and offer meandering views of the undulating farmlands for picture-perfect days out in the countryside. Plus, after a restorative row along the lush green fringe of rolling hills, you can all head inside for a cosy pub lunch.
For the spa seekers: Down Hall Hotel and Spa
So, you survived Christmas but now you’re in desperate need of a restorative getaway? We hear you! Luckily, it doesn’t come more ‘quintessential spa break’ than this. Think grand country house hotel set in 110 acres of Hatfield Heath’s finest gardens, luxurious ESPA spa treatments, fine-dining restaurant serving home-grown ingredients, plus a truly excellent afternoon tea. Boasting four modern Eden Spa treatment rooms and an expansive menu of massages, facials, manis/pedis and the all-important Wet Spa for a soothing slip into the hydrotherapy pool and sauna, you can rest assured you’ll leave feeling relaxed, revived and throughout rejuvenated.
For the action heroes: Stubbers Adventure Centre
With more than 35 action-packed activities across land, air, water and motor, this is the place to come if you want to step out of your comfort zone! Located on Ockendon Road in Upminster, Stubbers’ enormous activity park is perfect for dare devils who want to feel the wind in their hair and the waves/mud on their backs. From abseiling and assault courses to off-roading and quad biking, you can get the whole family kitted out, demo’d up and revved for the ride of their lives. We love the jet ski sessions, which come with slalom kicks for the full 30-90 minutes, and exhilarating banana rides are sure to float your boat too.
For the amateur archeologists: Colchester Castle
The crowning jewel in Colchester’s artisan quarter, Colchester Castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe and construction started in 1076 – when the town was still Britain’s first Roman capital. Set in beautiful parklands, a short hop from the historic high street, Natural History Museum, Firstsite art gallery, and English Heritage St Botolph’s 12th Century Priory, the county’s standout culture fix is a must-see. Explore the fascinating displays and exhibitions inside before taking a moment to soak up the stone turrets and gleaming gothic windows. This is an archeological treasure not to be rushed through.