Essex is a county of contrasts, and it has a lot to offer for families, especially those who love the great outdoors.
With over 350 miles of coastline, it shares a verdant border with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, giving rise to some of the best natural landscapes in the South-East. From Southend-on-Sea to Braintree in the north, Essex boasts some of the UK’s most compelling history, art and architecture.
With so much to do, here’s our pick of some of the best attractions to visit in 2017.
Get off to a flying start
Originally opened in 1916, in response to the first raids by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers, Stow Maries is the largest known surviving Great War Aerodrome in the UK.
The site was designated a conservation area in 2009, and since then has offered families the chance to explore the grand hangers that adorn the natural farmland. Home to a whole host of life-size WW1 replica planes, a Squadron Museum and a war-time café, it makes the perfect day out for budding historians and young children alike. Jam-packed with interactive activities and fascinating tales of the No.37 squadron, Stow Maries Aerodrome gives an educational and sobering insight into the past.
Let off some steam!
Colne Valley, an award-winning country railway, is located close to the picturesque village of Castle Hedingham. Here, children can hop aboard the large collection of vintage steam engines and explore the beautifully crafted carriages.
Little ones can take an exciting trip on the miniature railway, while the Garden Railway offers a 100-metre track that weaves through tunnels, over bridges and even through a castle! Venture to the Signal Box and wave trains on their way, or take a stroll on the Woodland Walk – remembering to keep your eyes peeled for the local critters that live nearby.
Once children have let off some steam, try heading over to the Sidings Buffet Car. Here, you’ll find hot and cold lunches, cream teas, homemade cakes and refreshments – the perfect retreat for when stomachs grow hungry. This is also where the Colne Valley shop is situated; a space that offers a whole host of souvenirs that make for excellent mementoes.
A picture-postcard view
Essex is known for boasting some of the UK’s most impressive architecture, and Naze Tower is no exception. Situated on a stretch of coastline at Walton-on-the-Naze, this 86ft structure houses an art gallery, museum and tea room. Built in 1720, the octagonal structure is famous for its 360°platform; allowing the public to take in a truly magical view of the surroundings.
Naze Tower houses three exhibitions each year and showcases art inspired by the local area and coastline. It sits atop a rugged cliff face that nestles into the North Sea, and is surrounded by picture-postcard views. The adjacent land is also home to diverse wildlife and ancient fossils – some of which are 55 million years old!
Nearby John Weston Nature Reserve and Stone Point offer enchanting walks for visitors, playing home to wetlands brimming with birds and marble-like tidal creeks. Whether you’re a nature lover, art enthusiast or just want to take in some spectacular panoramic views, Naze Tower should be on top of every family’s itinerary.
A day on the water
What better way to take in Essex’s breath-taking scenery than from the water?
Step on board one of Topsail Charters Victorian barges and set sail from Maldon Quay, taking in idyllic views and enjoying sumptuous on-board food. Once traditional cargo vessels, these beautiful barges now host a range of public and private tours across the region. Choose from an Afternoon Tea Sail, Two Island Sail, Lunch Cruise or even a Day Sail – there really are an abundance of tours tailored to each and every family! There’s also the chance to join a local historian for a fascinating day exploring the history of barges and the rivers of Orwell and Stour.
For fans of wildlife, Topsail Charters also offer spectacular birdwatching tours. Cruise the saltmarsh banks of the River Colne or enjoy a birdwatching walk from Maldon, taking in the region’s diverse wildlife.
“Helping the past sail into the future”, Topsail cruises are a great way to learn more about the history and landscape of Essex in a setting that little ones are bound to enjoy.
Camping in Essex
Camping in Essex can be a great way of exploring the county and it’s many attractions – there’s so many things to see and explore in Essex! Essex is home to the oldest town in Britain (Colchester), historic villages such as St Osyth and of course, many seaside resorts such as Clacton-on-Sea.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional seaside holiday, a hiking trip through Epping forest or a bit of history and culture then Essex has it all. And what better way to experience it all than getting close to nature, toasting marshmallows around a campfire and sleeping under the stars than on a camping holiday? For campsites in Essex, check out The Orchards Holiday Village.
Breath-taking views at Brightlingsea
If you enjoy taking to the water, try paying a visit to Brightlingsea Harbour. The historic Cinque Port of Brightlingsea is popular among tourists, as the quaint cafés and shops, narrow streets and extensive waterfront offer something for the whole family.
With a blue flag beach, open air swimming pool, riverside views and a whole host of serene walks on offer, it’s one of the most idyllic areas in Essex. When it comes to food, it’s best to just follow your nose. The port is famous for sourcing local fish, so try grabbing a bag of fish and chips and enjoy watching yachts bob up and down on the marina.
If there’s one activity not to be missed, it’s taking the daily foot ferry. Offering families impressive views of the River Colne and Creek, the ferry drops you off at the edge of Cudmore Grove Country Park at East Mersea – perfect for a day of exploring when the sun is high in the sky. If this sounds like fun, it’s worth remembering that the ferry only runs from April to October.
Take a trip back in time
If you’re looking to learn more about the local history of North Essex, Braintree District Museum offers a fantastic insight into some of the region’s industrial and cultural achievements.
Based in the former Manor Street School, the museum offers budding historians the chance to explore the stories of Braintree, from the prehistoric period up to the 21st century. Home to an informative and interactive gallery, families will find information about local archaeology and craftsmanship, including the chance to see unusual artefacts up close. If you’re hoping to visit Essex in 2017, look out for an exhibition showcasing prints and drawings by the internationally famous Bardfield Artists.
For children, there is a range of craft, drama and storytelling workshops on offer; each perfect for keeping small hands busy on days when you’d rather be indoors. An evocating and engaging day out, Braintree District Museum is sure to keep the whole family entertained.