When I first moved to the county over 14 years ago, many commented on the fact that I would become an “Essex Girl.” Maybe from a lack of education or from watching too much TOWIE on their part, who knows, but I was quick to point out that there is much more to the county than fake tan and stilettos. In fact, it is very rare for me to come across such stereotype. Maybe due to fact that I’m more likely to be found hiking the 350 mile long coast line rather than downing cocktails at the Sugar Hut.
As such I wanted to share some of my favourite spots in Essex, so you too can enjoy just some of what the county has to offer.
If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me!
Head to this village, just a short drive from Colchester and you will find Tiptree. Most famously known for Wilkin & Son’s jam and preserve production, fruit farming in the village began in 1864 and still remains today. Here, you can visit the shop, small museum and have a traditional afternoon tea.
If you are in the area be sure to stop by the Messing Maypole Mill – a grade II listed Tower mill, dating back to 1755.
Located at the end of the 13 mile Chelmer and Blackwater navigation you will find Heybridge Basin, with sea lock. The basin itself was dug out of the marsh to enable sea going vessels to enter the canal and unload cargo – which would then be transported inland by barges into Chelmsford.
The area provides many peaceful walks for hikers, including sea wall paths and canal towpaths of varying lengths. There are even a couple of popular pubs and a Tiptree tea room to enjoy as pit stops.
With a population of under 7,000, Mersea is the UK’s most Easterly inhabited island. The picturesque atmosphere provides amazing views across the Blackwater Estuary and due to the coastal location proves to be a popular spot for holiday makers.
The island also offers a perfect location for walkers, with a 13 mile loop round the coastal path, if a challenge is what you are after. If an adventure is not for you simply take in the beaches with the iconic coloured huts or enjoy a bite to eat in the fishing village area.
Step into a Constable painting and visit the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is Dedham Vale. Located on the Essex-Suffolk border it compromises the area around the River Stour and is known for being “Constable Country” due to the paintings by John Constable.
The National Trust area, is another that is popular with hikers throughout the year. You can wander the many marked paths, stroll along the river and stop by the pretty village of Flatford, where you will discover Flatford Mill, Bridge Cottage, The Granary and Valley Farm.
The small seaside town, in the Tendering area of Essex, is one of my favourite spots to get away. With its sandy beaches and colourful beach huts, it is bright on even the dullest of days. Unlike most sea side towns, Frinton remains unspoilt due to its lack of seaside amusements.
The beach is a treat the whole year round, though if it is a gentle walk along the surf you are after, be sure to time your visit for low tide. High tide reaches the sea wall, making it impossible to walk the length, meaning the promenade is your only option (which in peak periods can be packed with beach hut visitors).
If you continue your beach walk from Frinton, you will reach its neighbour, Walton-on-the-Naze with huts a plenty, pier with amusements and plenty of local amenities.
The Naze is a peninsula north of the town, with a small nature reserve great for bird watchers and hikers. On one of my many visits this year I completed a 10 mile loop from Frinton, incorporating the Walton sea front and nature reserve too. Seemingly, it is not a well walked path and can become quite boggy in the winter – so I encountered very few people on route – but was rewarded with some marvellous views.
Naze Tower is another point of reference, as it was a sea mark to assist ships on this fairly unmarked coastline. As the Naze erodes over time, the tower and surrounding wildlife continue to be at risk with sources expecting the area to crumble into the sea within the next 50 years.
The 6,000 acre forest stretching from Epping to Forest Gate in London, is one of my favourite stomping grounds. Once a royal hunting ground, this wonder of a forest offers areas woodland, heath, rivers and ponds.
Due to its range of track and grass paths, it is popular with hikers, cyclists, runners and horse riders. For many years the forest has been my safe haven, with its miles and miles of pathways and hills enabling me to extend distance whilst training for various events.
Throughout the year, Epping Forest remains a hot spot, for humans and a multitude of wildlife (keep an eye out for cattle and deers in particular).
The resort town on the Thames estuary is a hot spot for families, especially in the summer months. Though, perhaps not as picturesque as the likes of Frinton and Walton, it is one that offers a little more traditional seaside charm. With a Sealife Centre and Adventure Island amusement park, fish and chip shops and pubs, it is a particularly popular spot for a family day out.
More famously, it is home to the world’s longest pleasure pier. At 2,158km, it is just over a mile long. Should you not be up for the walk out and back, you can board the railway and enjoy the ride.
However you reach the end, I would thoroughly recommend stopping in to the Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop, “Tea Beside The Sea.” Offering a selection of refreshments, including Afternoon Tea, it is the perfect spot with a view.
Owned by the National Trust, Hatfield Forest is another favourite of mine. The Site of Special Scientific Interest, just three miles east of Bishops Stortford, offers a variety of forest trails for walking, running or riding, and a lake for fishing. Hatfield is the only remaining intact Royal Hunting Forest, dating back to the time of Norman Kings.
If it is a long hike, cycle or run you are after, you can extend your route to include the Flitch Way, following the former railway from Bishops Stortford to Braintree, 15 miles in total (one way).
The final spot on my list is the small town of Coggeshall. I discovered the charming location simply by passing through.
Eight miles east of Braintree you will find the attractive town centre. Made up of nearly 200 listed timber-framed buildings dating back to the 14th century.
When passing through I just spent an hour or so exploring the streets, where I discovered leaning houses, historic buildings, specialist shops and a real olde world village vibe.