Essex has the longest coastline of any English county, Britain’s oldest recorded town and the longest pleasure pier in the world – we asked Elli Constantatou of Visit Essex to tell us what’s on for holidaymakers in Essex in 2014.
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What’s on in Essex for 2014?
2014 sees some very special openings in Essex; I am very excited and can hardly wait to experience them myself.
Audley End House and Gardens, an incredible Jacobean era mansion near Saffron Walden, will reveal even more of its fascinating past when it opens up the nursery suite to the public for the first time on 1 April. Rather like a detective story, the project team has drawn on evidence from surviving fabrics, wallpaper and joinery, and scrutinized household accounts, letters and diaries, to bring to life a nursery from the 1830s and 40s.
The new and improved Lee Valley White Water Centre, the venue of the London 2012 canoe slalom events, opens for the 2014 white-water rafting season in March. With an exciting selection of adrenalin pumping water-based activities on offer such as Hydrospeeding and Hot Dog sessions, there is no better place for white water thrills. I’ve been down the rapids of this Olympic course twice and look forward to this year’s offerings.
What are you most excited about in 2014 in Essex?
The re-opening of Colchester Castle Museum, in Britain’s oldest recorded town, on 2 May. Following a £4.2m refurbishment the interior of Europe’s largest Norman Keep will be exposed and there will be new displays of Colchester’s nationally designated collection of Iron Age and Roman artifacts from the town’s Norman, Medieval and Civil War experiences. Not to be missed is a new audio-visual display presenting Boudica’s assault on Roman Colchester.
I’m also excited to see the Tour de France passing through Essex on Monday 7 July. As one of only three destinations in the south hosting Le Tour, Essex is proud to be part of the third stage of the three-week international race. The best cyclists in the world will be entering our county north of Saffron Walden, whizzing past some of our quaintest villages including Finchingfield (the most photographed village in England) and then riding south and passing Braintree, Chelmsford and Epping Forest, en route to London.
What is the wackiest event taking place in 2014?
The Maldon Mud Race: this annual event takes place at the Hythe Quay in Maldon and sees participants race to become the first to finish a 400m dash over the bed of the River Blackwater. Starting on one bank, they must endure the cold water as well as gallons of thick mud to reach the other side. Many participants wearing fancy dress are watched by thousands of spectators for a fun day out.
Can you recommend somewhere to see or something to visit that is less well known or not on the usual tourist trail?
For me the most special part of Essex is its Discovery Coast. This vast coastline of over 350 miles, the longest of any English county, features the longest pleasure pier in the world (Southend-on-Sea’s pier is 1.34 miles long) and Britain’s most easterly inhabited island (Mersea Island). The sheer variety of destinations, from historical Harwich to cheeky Clacton, sea-salty Mersea to vibrant Southend, and its huge range of activities – sailing, bird watching, fossil-hunting, oyster-feasting… means one visit is not enough.
I am particularly fond of the saltmarshes and estuaries, which are best explored on foot. My favourite walk is the 16-mile route around Mersea Island. En route you’ll crunch along the shell-strewn sands of beaches, parks with low cliffs, grasslands and glorious views across the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries leading you finally to West Mersea where a stop-off for fresh oysters or a seafood platter is practically obligatory.
If someone is visiting for a short break, what are the 3 things they must see?
I love the picturesque medieval town of Saffron Walden, situated in the heart of some of the finest rolling countryside of Essex. This is the place to indulge yourself in a very unhurried and relaxed way. Many of the historic buildings were built by Quakers, and survive today in this town largely untouched by industrialisation. There are lots of attractions for all ages, both in the town and the surrounding area, including the impressive English Heritage Jacobean mansion Audley End House, Bridge End Garden, the museum, the remains of a small castle and the county’s largest parish church.
Explore Constable Country; walk in the footsteps of this great landscape artist and take in the scenery he immortalised in his paintings over 200 years ago. This walk allows you to see the landscape much as Constable did, but also to take in the River Stour as it flows languidly through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. John Constable himself said that: “I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. Those scenes made me a painter.”
Southend-on-Sea is another firm favourite for holidaymakers. Attractions include Adventure Island Fun Park and Sea Life Adventure, the famous Pier – so long it has its own unique railway – the historic Prittlewell Priory and Southchurch Hall. With the transformed City Beach area and its interactive fun fountains and state-of-the-art lighting, the cobbled streets of nearby fishing village Leigh-on-Sea with art galleries and fresh seafood stalls, a host of watersports, excellent shopping and an exciting nightlife mix, your days and nights in Southend can be complete!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Essex in 2014?
Watch out for our new guide to the Essex Discovery Coast which will be out in May. We have teamed up with renowned travel guidebook publisher Rough Guides to produce ‘Make the Most of the Discovery Coast’ – a mini guide to the county’s 350 mile diverse coastline, designed to help visitors to find out details of the delights of some of Essex’s well known ‘fun-filled’ resorts like Clacton, Southend and Walton as well as some of its lesser known gems, such as Burnham-on-Crouch, describing it as ‘genteel’ and ‘bristling with elegant Georgian houses’ and the ‘tiny sailing mecca’ of Brightlingsea with its ‘colour-washed beach huts and Blue Flag beach.’ Watch this space…
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