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What’s on: October

From festivals galore and fabulous theatre to Halloween thrills and quirky exhibitions, it’s all happening in Essex this month. You ready? Off we go!

EXHIBITION: Background Bob – Guess Who’s Back, Firstsite, Colchester, now until 9 Jan

One for the cool kids (and their hip parents, of course). The young Essex artist is back with a spanking-new exhibition, showcasing over 200 artworks by street and graffiti artists, tattooists, sculptors and fine artists. The exhibition is part of a project that began during the first lockdown, when Colchester-based artist Noah (AKA @background_bob) invited people on Insta to add their own designs to his bold artworks, which snowballed into an amazing collection of unique images. The sale of the artworks then went on to raise over £100,000 for Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals Charity. Guess who’s back! features new contributions from artists across the globe, and looks to be another incredible exhibition.

FESTIVAL: Oktoberfest, Southend and Colchester, 16 and 23 Oct (respectively)

Strap on your lederhosen, baby – Oktoberfest is coming to Essex! Grab some traditional German grub washed down with a stein or three of beer, while foot stomping, table bashing and singing heartily along with everything from Oompah bands and folk music to ‘Oompop’ and bangin’ DJs. It’s what October was made for.

THEATRE: The Witchfinder’s Sister, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, 7–30 Oct

Seeing in Halloween is the world premiere of this chilling and creepy tale of Essex witch hunts. It’s 1645, and after the tragic death of her husband, Alice Hopkins heads to Manningtree, home to her brother, and childhood secrets… But there’s a new darkness in town, as rumours of witchcraft abound and a reign of hysterical terror spreads… I’ll say no more, other than this haunting historical thriller by Beth Underdown was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and if it’s good enough for our Judy…

EXHIBITION: Space Fact And Fiction, Braintree Museum, Braintree, now until 11 Dec

Calling all space cadets – now’s your chance to get up close to a Dr Who Tardis (on my bucket list), Storm Trooper and Martian War Machine from War of the Worlds; see some real meteorites that, like, actually fell to Earth; and find out how to become an astronaut. You’ll also get to explore space-related connections to Essex, from fabrics produced by Warner & Sons (see above) to commemorate the first moon landing in 1969 to Gustav Holst writing his orchestral suite The Planets in Thaxted. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? Well, there’s loads more cosmic facts where that came from!

THRILLS: The Trail of Terror, Colchester Zoo, 15–30 Oct

Tweens reckon they’re too grown up for a zoo trip? This spook-tacular event will have them doing a 360! Colchester Zoo (Muddy Award winner 2021, no less) will close up shop and tuck up the residents (so no animal viewings), before opening at 6.30pm for a night of frights galore! From rustling bushes, to masked monsters and screaming scarers, they could get you anytime and anywhere. Not recommended for under-12s but it’s up to your discretion (though understandably under-fives are a strict no-no). 

GARDENS: Easton Lodge Last Open Day, Dunmow, 17 Oct

I’m a sucker for historic gardens, and Easton Lodge is one of my favourites. Dating back to the 18th century, you’ll find swathes of wild flowers everywhere, plus plenty of space for the nippers to run around while you admire the pumpkins. Finish your day by popping by Daisy’s kiosk for locally sourced treats, a hot coffee and a slab of homemade cake. But best get your skates on, as this is the last Sunday open day of the season.

PETS: Big Dog Walk, Hylands Estate, Chelmsford, 17 Oct

If you’re getting tired of the same ol’ dog walk, you can bet your pooch is too. So pimp things up with a 2k, 5k, or 10k walk around the stunning grounds of Hylands Park. You can also let Fido show off his abilities in the Dogstacle course, or charm the pants off the judges at the Fun Dog Show. If you’re the proud owner of a wee pup that needs to learn the ropes or wants to make other puppy pals, book on to the Puppy Socialisation walk. There’s even a Beat the Rush walk for shyer pets. Bless.

FARM FUN: Halloween-Fest, Barleylands Farm Park, Billericay, 21–23 Oct

Book your pint-sized thrill seekers up for Barleyland’s Halloween Fest for loads of fun and frightening (but not too frightening) activities, including a spellbinding story time, broomstick making, spooky tractor rides and their haunted farmer’s labyrinth. There’s also a chance for your little ones (or you) to face their fears when they meet the snakes, tarantulas and other creepy critters in the Reptile House. As always, there’ll be a free pumpkin for every child to take home with them.

ADVENTURE TRAIL: The Wizards of Once Halloween Quest, Audley End House, Saffron Walden, 23–31 Oct

Illustrations C Cressida Cowell

Always a hit with littlies and grown-ups alike, this month you’ll find a brand-new adventure trail inspired by Cressida Cowell’s Wizards of Once series. Your mini monster hunters will get on-the-job training as they explore the grounds of Audley End to take part in all manner of activities with this monster hunting team. Get busy with face paints and deck your nippers out in fancy dress, and they might scoop a prize. Either way, it’s sure to be a wizard day out!

DRIVE IN MOVIE: A Quiet Place Part II, Barleylands, Billericay, 23 Oct

No better way to get in the mood for Halloween then with a scary movie, especially while all tucked up in the safety of your car. Barleylands is kicking off the spooky season with the super-tense attack on civilians from aliens that home in on any sound. Whatever you do, shut the heck up! Seen this flick already? Then how about the incredibly creepy horror The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It? Both are deliciously scary – just make sure you don’t run out of petrol as you poodle down those dark, spooky lanes on the way home…

TWEENS: Escape Room – A Magical Mishap, Hedingham Castle, 24 Oct to 31 Oct

How cool is this – an immersive, magical Escape Room situated inside a real-life castle? Headmistress Redwind is in a fix – the dippy Head manage to get stuck in one of the old paintings hanging in the Potions Room at the top of the castle, which is full of weird and wonderful magical objects. But don’t let them distract you from the mission: to follow the clues and find out how to release her from the spell, with potions, cryptic notes and puzzles along the way. Meant for 10 years and up, I reckon all the family will get a kick out of this (and littlies are welcome if they’re with their folks).

WORKSHOP: Autumn Photography Workshop, Markshall Estate, Coggeshall, 24 Oct

Ahh, autumn’s my very favourite time of the year, with all the leaves turning yellow, orange, red and every shade in between. Like to learn how to capture nature’s annual art exhibition in all its autumn glory? Then grab your camera and head on over to Markshall Estate where top-notch photographer, Bryan Shaw, will guide you through the key principles of photography in a classroom session before exploring the beautiful Markshall Estate, where you can put your learning into practice. Suitable for all abilities, so just book yourself in, wrap up warm and get snapping!

THEATRE: Jekyll & Hyde, Hedingham Castle, Halstead, 29 Oct

The Pantaloons Theatre Company are back at the castle to present their horrifically innovative take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s murky tale of murder, mystery and transmogrification! When lawyer John Utterson fears that his friend Dr Jekyll is being blackmailed by the well-dodgy Mr Hyde, he begins an investigation that will lead him to the shocking truth of this strange case – but will it be too late…? Set in the spookily atmospheric Tapestry Room of the Keep, the show’s for over-12s only, and parents of a nervy disposition may want to grab a stiff brandy from the full bar available on the night!

ART: Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021, Firstsite, Colchester,
now until 28 Nov

Want to be the first to see up and coming artists – and for free? The futuristic Firstsite, and Muddy Award 2021 finalist, is the first gallery to exhibit Bloomberg New Contemporaries (that’s right, even before the capital gets a look in), showcasing installations, sculptures, films, moving image and video games by 75 new and exciting artists.

EXHIBITIONS: Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered, Epping FD Museum, Epping, now until 24 Dec

Too early to think about Christmas? As if! I’m already blowing the dust off my Cluedo set in readiness for the boardgame fiesta to come. If you’re a fellow fan of all things boardgamey, get yourself over to this free interactive exhibition, on loan from the V&A’s Museum of Childhood. Alongside family favourites such as Trivial Pursuit, the exhibition will look at beautifully designed games from the 18th and 19th centuries. With hands-on activities and the chance to become part of one big interactive game, come and get your game face on.

MUSIC: We Love Little Mix, Mercury Theatre, Chelmsford, 28 Oct

Being a mum of one 10-year-old girl, I’ve been to my fair share of Little Mix shows, and I love ’em! We Love Little Mix features four talented girls paying tribute to one of X Factor’s finest exports, cool costumes (BIG part of the show) and a pretty impressive light and video show. Most importantly, you can expect high-energy renditions of all your favourite Little Mix songs, from Salute to Shout Out to my Ex. Sadly for me, said daughter has taken early adoption of emo stage, so look out for me down the front, singing along solo.

WALKS: Spooky Woodland Walk, Audley End House and Gardens, Saffron Walden, 29–31 Oct

As the days shorten and the evenings grow darker, now’s the perfect time to wrap up warm and join ghost-hunting storytellers on a family-friendly walk through the shadows of these mysterious woods and grounds. With tales full of spooky and strange goings-on, this Halloween walk is sure to get you into the spirit (see what I did there?) of the season!

FAIR: Pumpkin Nights, Marsh Farm, Chelmsford, until 31 Oct

One of the best places in the county to pick your own pumpkin, there’s a whole lot more than PYO going on at Marsh Farm this half term. Take a stroll around Pumpkin Village as thousands of the autumnal fruits (that’s right, pumpkins are definitely fruit – I looked it up) light the way, before checking out the fun fair, including a haunted house and dodgems. Bit chilly? Warm up your brood with a spooky-themed drink and devilish treat from the Pumpkin Snack Shack.

Oops, looks like you’re too late for these ones, but keep checking in, as we’ll be adding to cool new things every week!

FESTIVAL: Foodies Festival, Hylands Park, Chelmsford, 1–3 Oct

Fancy a huge celebration of top chefs, delish food, tasty tipples and live music? Course you do! So hot foot it over to Hylands Park for the biggest gourmet food and drink touring festival in the UK. Featuring Great British Bake Off and MasterChef champs (including Essex’s home-grown Alex Webb), and a whole host of gastronomic delights from street food vendors and artisan producers. Littlies can get in on the act too at The Kids Cookery Theatre, or get creative in the Kids Zone and Crafts Tent, while you try your hand at the cocktail masterclass (don’t mind if I do). Craft cocktail in hand, hit the dance floor with Essex’s very own Sophie Ellis-Bextor belting out our fave anthems, plus Lady Gaga tribute act Maybe Gaga, and about 50 other bands and artists to take you through a mega feast of a weekender.

FAIR: Braintree Textile Fair, Warner & Sons Mill, Braintree, 3 Oct

At its height, Warner & Sons were producing fabric for royal weddings and decorating palaces, so if you haven’t visited the museum yet, it really is a hidden gem that’s well worth checking out, and there’s no better time than during the Braintree Textile Faire. A celebration of all things textiles, there’ll be talks, a workshop, tours of the museum itself and, of course, the chance to shop. There’s a max of 100 tickets available at £75 each (including refreshments, lunch and a goody bag), so book in quick.

FESTIVAL: East Anglian Storytelling Festival, Stock Street Farm Barn, Coggeshall, 1–3 Oct

Now here’s some traditional family-friendly entertainment. This group of storytellers (from four East Anglian counties) know how to tell a good tale. Nipper-friendly (and free) events will be going on Sat daytime and Sun morning, so grab your littlies for Animal Crackers tales, joke telling, poetry craft workshops, alternative Morris dancers (that I have to see), plus stories of war, blood, poison, skulls, revenge, mosaics and, er, town planning. Fri and Sat nights are of a more adult nature (ages 12+), where you’ll be treated to stand-up, theatre, music, poetry, rap, mime and super-scary stories.

EVENT: Wedding Open Day, Hedingham Castle, Halstead, 10 October

David Dean Photographic

Coveting a fairy-tale castle to say, ‘I do’? Then book in for Hedingham Castle’s Open Day for a nose round the historical venue’s romance-filled ballroom, turrets and towers, all dressed to impress. You’ll be able to ask about exclusive hire, top-notch suppliers and those got-to-have-it centrepiece plans. Hello, vow factor! Entry is free, but make sure you book your timed-entry tickets in advance, so that the team can dedicate all their fuss and attention on gorgeous, soon-to-be-wed you!

MUSICAL: Seven Drunken Nights – The Story of The Dubliners, Chelmsford City Theatres, Chelmsford, 9 Oct  

Having a mum born and bred in Ireland, many a time my sister and I were, er, lulled to sleep by our many aunties and uncles (Mum was one of seven kids – modest for those times) singing the Gaelic ballads, and having a right good craic. So I for one will be in the front row of Seven Drunken Nights. Direct from the West End, the show brings to life the music of Ireland’s fave sons, The Dubliners. Telling the story of a career spanning 50 years, the cast will have you singing and clapping along to such classics as Molly and, of course, The Seven Drunken Nights. Chì mi ann thu (see you there!)

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