30 things to do in Essex over the May bank holidays

PUBLISHED: 15:56 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 April 2018

Train rides and fairy festivals are on offer at Audley End

Train rides and fairy festivals are on offer at Audley End

Nigel Wallace-Iles

What’s not to like about the month of May? The long months of summer stretch out before us in expectation, plus there are two Bank Holidays to get out and enjoy the warmer weather. Essex Life helps you make the most of this special time with some great ideas for top family days out in the county

1) Spring Craft Fair | May 4 – 7 | 10am to 5pm

RHS Hyde Hall, Creephedge Lane, Rettendon, Chelmsford CM3 8ET

A fabulous four-day craft fair held over the Bank Holiday Weekend, showcasing around 60 artists, craftspeople and designer makers selling fine art, photography, jewellery, ceramics, textiles and many more contemporary crafts.

You can also enjoy demonstrations, music and food throughout the day, which is a great day out to enjoy with loved ones. RHS Hyde Hall, a UK charity, was established to share the best in gardening in Essex and beyond. Experience the garden in full spring bloom – it’s simply beautiful.

Admission: Prices vary - 01245 400256

A post shared by The RHS (@the_rhs) on

2) VE Weekend | May 5 – 7 | 10am to 5pm

Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey EN9 1JX

Step back into a time of celebration and remembrance for VE Weekend, with battle re¬enactments, living history, celebration, family activities and theatre. VE Weekend brings to life the last months of World War II. More than 300 re-enactors from all over the world assemble in a show area of tents, jeeps, barracks and field kitchens for one of the last battles of the European conflict in March 1945.

Visitors can tour the field finding out from soldiers what life was like on the front line and on Sunday and Monday part of the battle is re-enacted. In another part of the site it is May 1945, war in Europe is over and civilians are helping visitors to join in the celebrations with a 1940s Street Party to entertain visitors throughout the weekend.

Admission: Prices vary - 01992 707375

3) Loughton Festival | May 5 | 9.30am to 11.30am

Come and join in lots of fun with craft workshops and a craft sale this May Bank Holiday. The aim for all of these events is to support the Chigwell Riding Trust for special needs, which allows people to learn new skills and have a fun time with friends and family.

The event will demonstrate craft skills to people of all ages and abilities, and sell craft items that are great gifts for that special someone. The event organisers hope that children will wish to join in as well as adults, so it is advised to come prepared for activities for all ages.

Admission: Prices vary - info@loughtonfestival.org

4) The Stortford Music Festival | May 5 – 6 | Times vary

Sworders Field, 3 Heron Court, Bishop’s Stortford CM23 2AY

The Stortford Music Festival, aka The Bish Bash, is an event not to be missed. The line up includes headliners Wilko Johnson, The Bluetones and The Rolling Clones.

The festival will also feature live sets from a variety of fantastic acts over the May Bank Holiday weekend including ska from the incredible Death of Guitar Pop, nu-wave pop from F.O.X., Scottish folk from Withered Hand, punk rock from The Muffin Heads and nu-jazz from Vertaal. Also featured over the weekend is a set from the self¬proclaimed UK number 1 Anglo-Cuban band The Swanvesta Social Club plus a debut, and possibly only performance, by The Morrissey Men.

Admission: Prices vary

5) Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk | May 5 – 6 | 10am to 5pm

Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End Rd, Audley End, Saffron Walden CB11 4JB

Dive into the magical land of Audley End Miniature Railway’s Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk and whirl through the pathways to find all of the many tiny fairies and elves living in their handmade wooden treehouses.

Make your own fairy or elf and then tick off your I Spy booklet as you wander through the walk. You can also take one of the miniature trains into the woods to welcome back its fairy and elf family. Don’t forget to wear your best fairy of elf outfit too!

Admission: Prices vary

6) Thames Sailing Barge Trust Open Days | May 6 – 7 | 11am to 5pm

Hythe Quay, Maldon CM9 5HN

This year is the 70th Anniversary of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust and they will be opening their fabulous two barges Centaur and Pudge to the public. Refreshments will be available including teas, coffees and homemade cakes.

Come and find out about the history of these barges in an event not to be missed. Also, each child from five to 11 years old will receive a free activity pack, so it’s a great day out for all the family.

Admission: Free but donations are welcome

7) Horses Through History | May 6 – 7 |10.30am to 5pm

Audley End House and Gardens, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JF

Want to do something different this Bank Holiday Weekend? Take a horse ride through history and enjoy a series of spectacular horse displays and activities, laid on to impress King Charles II for his royal visit to Audley End. Travel through time in this multi¬period event and trot over to the Victorian stable yard to meet the resident stable boy.

Take in the incredible sights and sounds of the working stables and hear about a day in the life of a Victorian groom. But it’s not all horsing around. Meet the hounds from the Victorian side saddle display in pat the puppy and join Hautbois as they regale you with a musical account of a country gentleman at the beginning of the 19th century.

Admission: Prices vary - 0370 333 1181


Here are some other ideas for fun in the summer sun!


8) Bank Holiday Fun Days | May 6 – 7 | 10am to 4.30pm

East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel nr Colchester C06 2DS

Join East Anglian Railway Museum for great family Bank Holiday fun! As well as steam train rides in beautiful 19th century coaches, you can take a peek behind the scenes into the Restoration Shed or you can have a go at driving a diesel locomotive under supervision. Plus enjoy an inflatable assault course with bouncy castle and slides or meet the alpacas and other furry friends at the petting zoo for a small additional charge.

There’s loads of room to run around and you’re welcome to bring a picnic to eat on the field, or treat yourselves to lunch or a cream tea. The miniature pub, The Viaduct, is probably the smallest pub in Essex and will be open serving a range of bottled beers, ciders, wine and soft drinks.

Admission: Prices vary

A post shared by Alex Savin (@alexsavinme) on

9) Medieval Siege! 2018 | May 6 – 7 | 10am to 5pm

Hedingham Castle, Castle Hedingham, Halstead CO9 3D

The Medieval Siege Society returns to Hedingham with the most engrossing and authentic living history camp around, including live demonstrations of archery, siege engines, gunnery and serious fighting. Within the bustle of the camp you’ll see a unique view of life in the high medieval period with the chance to try your hand at archery and watch fascinating displays by Coda Falconry and their thrilling birds of prey.

Also, expect maypole dancing, donkey rides, jesters, grave¬diggers, food outlets and a bar. The Keep will be open to explore and packed with living historians, with guided tours available, so visit early to enjoy a full day, packed with fun!

Admission: Prices vary - 01787 460261

A post shared by Tony Briggs (@tony_briggs) on

10) Operating Day with Steam | May 6 – 7

Colne Valley Railway, Castle Hedingham Halstead CO9 3DZ

All aboard! Sample the atmosphere and take a ride on an award¬-winning period country railway. With fun for the whole family to enjoy, this pretty line, almost a mile long, has relocated station buildings, signal boxes and bridges all lovingly restored and rebuilt. Experience a large and varied collection of vintage steam and diesel engines, carriages and wagons that represent much of its railway heritage.

The Colne Valley Railway run diesel operating days on Saturdays throughout their season, but on Sundays they also get their steam engines out. Look out for special visitors too!

Admission: Prices vary

A post shared by a l i c a (@dreamexplorelove) on

11) The Edward Foundation Bulldog Bonanza | May 6 | 11am to 4pm

Battlesbridge Antiques Centre, 5 Maltings Road, Battlesbridge SS11 7RF

Come and support this good cause with this charity event for The Edward Foundation, which aims to help bulldogs at risk of abuse and being used as a commodity. It is a great day for all the family to enjoy as there are activities for all.

Expect a KC Companion Dog Show, breed rescues, antique shops, a bouncy castle, BBQ, bar, tombola, a variety of stalls and much more. All dogs are welcome to get involved in the fun too and parking is free.

Admission: Prices vary and children under 15 are free

12) Weald Country and Craft Show & The Festival of Dogs | May 6 – 7 | from 10am

Weald Country Park, Weald Road, Brentwood CM14 5QS

Don’t miss out on a fun packed day out with family and friends. The Weald Country and Craft Show & The Festival of Dogs sees many new and exciting attractions this year, from amazing horse and motorbike stunts to the wonderful world of birds demonstration.

Also look out for small producers, lots of fabulous food and drink markets, the classic British bake off and amazing celebrity chefs.

Admission: Prices vary

13) AJ Antiques & Collectables Fair | May 7 | 9.30am to 3.30pm

Ingatestone Community Centre, 7 High Street, Ingatestone CM4 9ED

Come along to the Community Centre in the heart of Ingatestone to discover tables selling antiques and collectables to browse at your leisure. The caterer will have freshly made sandwiches, tea and homemade cakes that are perfect for a pit¬stop to refuel for more shopping and browsing.

Look out for fabulous and authentic items such as stamps, barometers, ephemera, militaria, china, glass, figurines, pottery, coins, jewellery and lots more. Also, there will be free parking for visitors.

Admission: £1

14) National Garden Scheme: Fairwinds | May 7 | 2pm to 5pm

Chapel Lane, Chigwell Row IG7 6JJ

Discover a gravelled front garden and three differently styled back garden spaces featuring planting changes every year. With places for you to sit, relax and enjoy, it is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon with loved ones.

It is advised to start the tour with the themed flower borders, move on to a woodland garden, shade planting and a home to the hens. Beyond the rustic fence lies the wildlife pond and vegetable plot, and then head for the homemade teas at The Lime.

Admission: Prices vary


Check out this other content:


15) Doing Chelsea the Beth Chatto Way! | May 25 | 10.30am to 3.30pm

Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, Colchester CO7 7DB

New for 2018, enjoy a one-day course with resident tutor Chrissy South during Chelsea Flower Show week. Through slides and sharing stories from Beth herself, learn how Beth Chatto won an amazing ten consecutive Chelsea Gold Medals for her stand of Unusual Plants.

Garden and nursery director, David Ward, will speak on his personal experiences of helping Beth to stage her Chelsea gardens and share some of his insider moments of Chelsea. There will be a representation display of one of her Gold Medal gardens in the nursery, a chance to see behind the scenes of her world famous nursery plus free entry to the garden.

Admission: £60 or £55 for Gold Friends of the Garden and a set seasonal lunch is included in the price.

16) The Magic of Motown | May 25 – 26 | 7.45pm

Civic Theatre, Fairfield Road, Chelmsford CM1 1JG

Music fans are invited to the biggest party of the year as the unstoppable Magic of Motown show steams into town. Seen by over a million people, it’s no surprise that the show is one of the biggest success stories in British theatre history, even performing for Her Majesty the Queen as special guests at the Royal Variety Performance.

Prepare yourself for 40 back-to-back classic Motown hits, glittering costume changes, dazzling dance moves and outstanding musicianship in this explosive concert experience. Celebrate the sound of a generation as the timeless music of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and much more!

Admission: Tickets from £25.50 to £27 - 01245 606505

17) Europe After the Rain | May 25 – June 9 | 3pm to 10pm

Mercury Theatre, Balkerne Gate, Colchester CO1 1PT

Imagine the USA has pulled out of NATO and refugees from the Ukraine are flocking into Western Europe. Meanwhile, on a ‘fake beach’ somewhere in Middle England, Will, Max, Yana and Marta are gathered to find out whether the unfolding general election is really going to put a populist party into power and change their lives forever.

Europe After The Rain is a highly theatrical and hugely funny exploration of what waking up in a post¬EU Britain might feel like. Winner of the Mercury Playwriting Prize 2017, Oliver Bennett’s first full¬length play is a comedy about immigration, globalisation, love and loss.

Admission: £16 - 01206 573948

18) Do you Believe in Fairies? | May 26 – 28 | 10am to 7pm

Nevendon Manor, Borwick Lane, Wickford SS12 0QA

After popular demand, this magical performance is back to re¬launch this May. This is an original adaption inspired by a young girl who truly wanted to believe. You will embark on a journey with Nanny Violet’s grandaughter Lily, who has lost the ability to believe in fairies, and be guided around the magical grounds where if you truly believe you will meet Ivy and her friends, maybe even the cheeky pixie Bramble.

Will you be able to help Lily regain her belief so she can see her friends again? Remember, ‘those that don’t believe in magic will never find it’.

Admission: £12.50

19) Open Gardens | May 26 | 11am to 5pm

Little Baddow Open Gardens, Little Baddow, Chelmsford CM3 4AX

This annual village event has more than 15 gardens of varying sizes, open for you to explore. There’s also entertainment with the KEGS Corps of Drums, Clog Morris Dancing, canal trips from Paper Mill Lock, classic cars and an art exhibition. A good range of gardens will be open, ranging from large, sweeping landscapes with fantastic views to small cottage gardens packed with plants.

Refreshments, including teas, homemade cakes, Pimm’s and Prosecco, will be served in some of the gardens and ploughman’s lunches will be available in the Memorial Hall. Proceeds from the event will go towards repair and maintenance of the 11th century village church and the community rooms at St Andrews.

Admission: Prices vary - 01245 226315

A post shared by A New Leaf (@a.new.leaf) on

20) Get Set Grow at RHS Garden Hyde Hall | May 26 – June 3 | 10am to 4pm

RHS Hyde Hall, Creephedge Lane, Rettendon, Chelmsford CM3 8ET

Looking for something to entertain the children this May Half Term but with an educational twist? Look no further than RHS Hyde Hall in Chelmsford and join in for a range of plant¬themed fun to inspire children to get growing and learn too.

Some of the fun learning activities include sow and grow, cress heads, arts and crafts and the vegetable Olympics! This is a fantastic day out to keep children interested all day, and perhaps they will get green fingered in your garden too!

Admission: Prices vary - 01245 400256

A post shared by Lesley Rowland (@jellytot50) on

21) Mermaid and Pirate Festival | May 26 – 28 | Times vary

Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End Road Saffron Walden CB11 4JB

What better way to entertain the children, and adults, this May Bank Holiday than with this brand new event for 2018? The Mermaid and Pirate Festival will leave you wanting to become a real-life mermaid or pirate, no matter your age. The picnic area will be packed full of fun activities for the children to immerse themselves in, including storytelling, face painting, a games area, craft making and more.

And the fun doesn’t end there – you can also take an enchanting train ride through the Audley End Estate Woodland and dive into the magical land of the Fairy and Elf Walk.

Admission: Prices vary - 01799 510726


Even more great content for you!


22) Mersea Food & Drink Festival | May 26 – 27 | 11am to 5pm

Essex Outdoors Rewsalls Lane, East Mersea, Colchester CO5 8SX

This fabulous food and drink festival is back and gives wine lovers and real ale fans a treat. They can enjoy loads of samples and find out how to match foods with different wines and beers for maximum flavour from both plate and glass.

The festival is a celebration of the food and drink for which the area is rightly proud and has become famous for producing. Visitors will be encouraged to take their time wandering from stand to stand, chatting to the producers and sampling their wares, showcasing everything from smoked foods and fresh fish and meat to ice¬cream, cakes and preserves.

Admission: Prices vary

23) Jousting! The Knights of Royal England | May 27 – 28 | 10am to 5pm

Hedingham Castle, Castle Hedingham, Halstead CO9 3DJ

The ever exciting and popular Knights of Royal England return to Hedingham Castle to recreate the classic Tourney in Front of the Castle, an awesome spectacle of chivalry, hand to hand combat, mounted challenges and dark deeds. Craft and food stalls surround the arena, with a host of additional entertainment, including flying displays from the amazing Coda Falconry and the Norfolk Longbow Men who will demonstrate the art of archery.

The official Jester will cause his usual mayhem and the Gravediggers will be prowling. Also, don’t miss musicians, donkey rides, a Maypole and a coconut shy, which will provide constant entertainment throughout the day for all the family to have lots of fun.

Admission: Prices vary - 01787 460261

24) Transport Extravaganza | May 27 – 28

East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel nr Colchester CO6 2DS

With more than 150 classic vehicles, soak up the atmosphere and feast your eyes on some great classic cars, vintage motorbikes and modern head turners this Bank Holiday. You can ride on steam trains and vintage buses all day long for free while enthusiasts will have their model railway layouts open for viewing and The Restoration Shed will be open for a ‘behind the scenes’ view.

You’re welcome to bring a picnic to eat on the field and the kids can enjoy the fenced off play area. The Chappel Station Cafe will be open serving breakfast, light lunches, delicious homemade cakes and cream teas in the beautiful vintage dining car.

Admission: Prices vary - 01206 242524

A post shared by Epics Vision (@epicsvision) on

25) Open Gardens | May 27 – 28 | 2pm to 5pm

The Hall, Tendring, Clacton on Sea CO16 0BP

Come and support The Clacton Lifeboat Fundraising Team this May Bank Holiday and help raise vital funds for the Clacton on Sea Lifeboat. There will be lots to do in addition to the wonderful gardens, including magnificent displays of rhododendrons and azaleas, music, dancing displays, wildlife stands, country craft stalls, refreshments and many children’s activities to keep them entertained.

Also, did you know Clacton on Sea lifeboat was one of the 19 lifeboats that took part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk? Celebrating over 125 years of saving lives at sea, the crews have been presented with more than 30 awards for gallantry.

Admission: £5 per person and children under 12 free of charge. Well behaved dogs welcome on leads and free parking.

A post shared by Wayne Bell (@lynxrnli79) on

26) Coffee and Cars at the Museum of Power | May 27 | 9am to 1pm

Museum of Power, Langford Road, nr Maldon CM9 6QA

Come along and join this monthly enthusiasts meet. Bring along your classic or modern vehicles together with anything else of interest. The Steam Pump Tea Room will be serving breakfasts, hot and cold food, homemake cakes and delicious refreshments.

Please note, unless otherwise stated the miniature steam train will not be running for train rides and Marshall the Lilleshall pumping engine will not be running.

Admission: Prices vary

A post shared by Flair Rail (@flairrail) on

27) All About Dogs Show | May 27 - 28 | 9.30am to 5pm

Hylands Park, Writtle Gate Entrance CM28FS

The All About Dogs Show is about your dog having a great day out. Get them involved with a whole array of have a go activities. Be entertained by a weekend packed with world class arena displays and demonstrations, making it a great day out for all dogs and their families.

Competition categories range from best rescue and cutest pup to waggiest tail and bad dog hair day, but every dog is a winner at All About Dogs. Prepare for your dog to be spoilt rotten with a vast array of canine products and services on offer, from gadgets to treats. This is a dog shopping paradise.

Admission: £14 - 01702 549623

A post shared by @allaboutdogsshow on

28) National Garden Scheme: Washlands | May 28 | 2pm to 5pm

Prayors Hill, Sible Hedingham CO9 3LE

Come and visit this charming one-acre country garden surrounding a former farmhouse, with good views over rolling countryside. A former horse pond features a beach with landing stage, rose garden, wide herbaceous, shrub and woodland borders, hidden walks and opportunities to sit and relax as well. Plus, alpines, grasses and alliums are also there to be enjoyed.

Take advantage of the delicious refreshments and homemade teas on offer too. Let’s hope it’s a warm Bank Holiday Weekend to really get the most out of the beautiful gardens.

Admission: Prices vary

A post shared by Sarah Blackburn (@sarahfea62) on

29) Family Fun Day in aid of Macmillan | May 28 | 1pm to 5pm

Chelmsford City Racecourse, Chelmsford CM3 1QP

Chelmsford City Racecourse hosts its popular Family Fun Day in support of Macmillan Cancer Care. This will take place on Bank Holiday Monday alongside its exciting racing fixture. This year they will be hosting a Sports Day, with loads of different challenges for you and the kids to take on.

Enjoy visits from the reigning County Championship cricket champions, Essex CCC, so you can try your hand at cricket while local football team Chelmsford City FC will be having a penalty shootout and the British Racing School will bring their horse equicizer to simulate the experience of being a jockey.

Admission: Adults £15 and children go free - 01245 360300

30) Meet the Toymakers | May 28 – 31 | 11am to 5pm

Audley End House and Gardens, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JF

The beautiful Audley End House and Gardens is hosting something special for everyone to enjoy and learn. Take part in some good old¬fashioned fun this Bank Holiday Weekend and play with Victorian toys and meet the toymakers that made them.

This exciting opportunity doesn’t come around often and is fun for the whole family, not just the children. So take a step back in time to meet the toymakers children’s activity for this fun-packed extravaganza.

Admission: Prices vary.

A post shared by Daniel McKay (@danieljtmckay) on


Follow Essex Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Latest from the Essex Life