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With its pretty countryside, stately homes and castles, and not to mention the oldest town in Britain, a visit to Essex is a must for anyone wanting to explore more of the beautiful English countryside and its rich history. Plus, with trains that'll get you straight into the capital in under an hour, it's easy to pop to good old London once you've taken it all in. Here are a few ideas to get you started on the perfect itinerary for a tour of Constable country.
There's history all over this ancient county, but for a concentrated hit of the olden days, look no further than the former Roman capital of Britain - Colchester. Packed with great places to eat and shop, it's also the perfect place to base yourself while you explore further afield. There's plenty more information on what to see in the UK's oldest recorded town, here.
After you've had a wander around the historic town, get thee to its equally impressive castle. Built on the remains of a Roman ruin (destroyed by Boudica, no less), Colchester Castle is Britain's largest Norman keep and offers a look at 2000 years of British history.
This one's a bit special - the site of the only known chariot racing track in Britain! With free admission, have a quick look round the museum and site, and then treat yourself to a cup of tea in the cafe on site.
There's a reason Constable set up his easel in this area of the world, and once you've seen this picturesque village for yourself, you'll understand what it was. Wander through the historic high street, explore the beautiful hamlet of Flatford, take a long walk in Dedham Vale (stopping off at the pretty country pubs - for research pursposes, of course) or take to the water and go on a boat ride down the Stour River. The rolling countryside hereabouts is one of this wonderful county's most famous attributes, and is not to be missed.
And if, after all that exploration, you're feeling a bit peckish, be sure to drop into the fabulous Dedham Boathouse restaurant, which is thoroughly recommended by locals and visitors alike and offers a rotating menu of delicious fusion food.
Castle House, also in Dedham, was home to artist and President of the Royal Academy from 1944 to 1949, Sir Alfred Munnings. The Tudor and Georgian building (which is a treat in itself) is set in the beautiful countryside of Dedham Vale and contains the largest collection of the artist's work. Perfect if you prefer to mix your art with a bit of history.
This recontruction of a 900-year-old Norman motte and bailey castle is a perfect way to pass a sunny afternoon. With tame Fallow deer and other wildlife wandering around the grounds, and a reconstructed village surrounding the castle structure, this site is a unique opportunity to take a glimpse into medieval life.
A sprawling pile in a little town called Saffron Walden, this stately home is a popular visit for locals, and should definitely be on your list too. Not only does it have incredible gardens, servants quarters and stables to explore, it also features something that holds a special place in many local kids' memories - the teddy bear train ride. Grab the grandchildren and ride the miniature train through the woods, spotting the bears hiding in the trees as you go. There's now also an enchanted fairy and elf walk if we're not very much mistaken...
If days out for the grandchildren are what you're looking for, or if you tend to take them on holiday yourself, Marsh Farm is a great option. With a variety of farmyard animals for them to meet and lots of activities to join in with (tractor rides, milking sessions and pony grooming, among others), there's plenty to keep the young'uns entertained and active in the great outdoors, while learning about the animals around them.
Kelvedon Bunker is one of Essex's not-so-secret hidden gems. The biggest and deepest Cold War bunker to open to the public, this attraction offers a fascinating glimpse into the behind the scenes work that went into ensuring the Prime Minister's safety in the event of a nuclear disaster. Just don't get stuck down there...
A tour of Essex wouldn't be complete without grabbing a bucket and spade and heading out to the seaside for the day. From fun and games on Clacton Pier and panoramic views from 18th century Naze Tower in Walton on the Naze, to crabbing on Mersea Island, you won't be short on options for spending a day at the seaside in Essex. If it's a bustling atmosphere you're after, you'll find it at Clacton and Southend-on-Sea, while quieter beaches, brightly coloured beach huts and clean, clear water can be found on Mersea Island.
For plenty more information and ideas on what to see in the Essex area, visit the Gransnet Essex site, ask for recommendations on the forums, or contact our Local Editor, Caroline (pictured below in Dedham), for more information. This county is far too good not to explore from top to bottom!
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