15 great ideas for days out in Essex this September

PUBLISHED: 11:12 28 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:19 28 August 2020

Colchester Castle (photo: Photopia Photography)

Colchester Castle (photo: Photopia Photography)

© 2017 Photopia Photography. All Rights Reserved

Where did summer go?! It’s nearly autumn and it’s time to switch gears, shake off lockdown and explore the best of Essex...

1. Audley End House & Gardens

An English Heritage treasure, Audley End House and Gardens is a magnificent Victorian country house that was built to entertain royalty. Enjoy a day out in Saffron Walden exploring the beautiful, spacious grounds, estate and many family-friendly activities. For now, the house and playground are closed, but you can still explore areas where history really happened. There is no entry without booking confirmation.

Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JF; english-heritage.org.uk

2. Audley End Miniature Railway Fairy & Elf Walk

Around the corner is Audley End Miniature Railway, which is ready to bring back a spark into your life. Jump on an enchanting train ride through the estate woodland before a magical wander through the fairy and elf walk and see the homes of the fairies who have been frozen by Queen Titania. Witness a spectacular interactive show where you will meet the new dragon who breathes smoke and the dazzling unicorn.

Audley End Miniature Railway (photo: Emma Jenkins / Photopia Photography)Audley End Miniature Railway (photo: Emma Jenkins / Photopia Photography)

Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JB; audley-end-railway.co.uk

3. Wild Wood at Marks Hall Estate (until 30 September)

Building dens from foraged sticks, skipping over pine stepping stones, climbing through lime, and see-sawing on an oak - these are just some of the delights that await visitors, young and old, at the Marks Hall Estate in Coggeshall. It’s thanks to the efforts of the arboretum team who have been busy creating Wild Wood, a new space for families to discover, explore and play in, using all natural materials taken directly from the estate. Sure, it’s a little further afield, but it’s worth it.

Coggeshall, Colchester CO6 1TG; markshall.org.uk

4. Colchester Zoo

After the Covid-19 closure, Colchester Zoo really needs you. Enjoy a safe outdoor experience where you can see incredible animals and reconnect with nature. Discover more than 260 animal species in 60 acres of parkland and lakes, but be aware various areas have been closed for safety. It’s advised to check the website or download Colchester Zoo’s free app for regular updates.

Maldon Road, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL; colchester-zoo.com

5. Aqua Bounce, Fairlop Waters

Forget watching repeats of Total Wipeout, because now you can experience the thrills and spills of negotiating giant, water-bound inflatables for yourself with the re-opening of Aqua Bounce. It’s strictly pre-booking only though at the Fairlop Waters-based floating obstacle course, and social distancing measures mean reduced capacity. But once in, you can enjoy even greater access to those inflatables, climbing walls, rope swings and slides. Prices start at £15 and includes free wetsuit hire because not falling into the water isn’t an option!

Wild Wood at Marks Hall Estate (photo: tbutlerphotography)Wild Wood at Marks Hall Estate (photo: tbutlerphotography)

Fairlop Waters, Forest Road, Barkingside, Ilford IG6 3HN; aquabounceuk.co.uk

6. Layer Marney Tower

Did you know Layer Marney Tower is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the UK — a magnificent building standing 80 feet tall within stunning grounds? It stands on the shores of the River Blackwater and construction was initiated by Lord Henry Marney in the 1520s, a friend of Henry VIII. Discover new things to see and changes to the tower, including The Dolls House Collection and tearoom.

Layer Marney, Colchester CO5 9US; layermarneytower.co.uk

Colchester Zoo (photo: Photopia Photography)Colchester Zoo (photo: Photopia Photography)

7. RHS Hyde Hall’s Dry Garden

The pandemic means that many of us will be spending our holidays in the UK, but the good news is that as lockdown begins to lift, Essex national treasures are starting to open up for business, including award-winning RHS Hyde Hall. Hidden in the heart of rural Essex, relish peace and tranquillity in this Essex garden. From its iconic Dry Garden, with its eclectic mix of traditional and modern styles, to inspiring new features, there is much to enjoy.

Hyde Hall, Creephedge Lane, Chelmsford CM3 8ET; rhs.org.uk

8. Beth Chatto Gardens

You can’t help but fall in love with these world-renowned gardens and the extensive plant nursery created by award-winning plantswoman Beth Chatto OBE. Beth Chatto Gardens, near Colchester, covers six acres, so enjoy a change of pace and view lots of exceptionally stunning gardens. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 4pm, it’s advised to use the pre-booking system. The tearoom is currently closed, however refreshments will be available and seating areas are open for picnics.

Aqua Bounce (photo courtesy of the venue)Aqua Bounce (photo courtesy of the venue)

Elmstead Market, Clacton Road, Colchester CO7 7DB; bethchatto.co.uk

9. Southend’s Sea Life Adventure Aquarium

Southend’s Sea Life Adventure Aquarium has more than 40 unique displays featuring sea life from all over the world, including some new arrivals during lockdown. The centre is operating at a reduced capacity and booking is essential. After you have said goodbye to the penguins, head over to Adventure Island on Southend seafront, which has lots of exhilarating rides for you to try.

Eastern Esplanade, Southend on Sea SS1 2ER; sealifeadventure.co.uk

10. East Anglian Railway Museum

Like many charities, the Covid-19 pandemic hit East Anglian Railway Museum hard. For now, the 17-acre museum site is open except for the Thompson Building and the Picnic Bus. It welcomes you on Friday to Sunday and provides plenty of space for social distancing. Check the website for special offers when pre-booking.

Station Road, Wakes Colne Colchester CO6 2DS; earm.co.uk

11. Colchester Castle

Vulcan Open Day (photo: Jason Gore Photography)Vulcan Open Day (photo: Jason Gore Photography)

When was the last time you visited Colchester Castle or has it been a permanent fixture on your bucket list? Well, make sure you visit this iconic castle this year as it has now opened its doors to the public. The largest Norman Keep in Europe is working hard to protect visitors and staff, so when you visit things might look a little different.

Colchester CO1 1TJ; colchester.cimuseums.org.uk

12. Barleylands Farm Park and Craft Village

If you’re looking for a fun-filled day out with the kids, Barleylands Farm is the perfect farmyard attraction. Come and enjoy feeding the animals, outdoor adventure play, the Bouncy Pillow, tractor and trailer rides, the Discovery Centre and birds of prey displays. As an extra reassurance, Barleylands has been awarded Visit England’s We Are Good to Go badge to reassure you of a safe and healthy day out at Barleylands. 

Barleylands Road, Billericay CM11 2UD; barleylands.co.uk

Copped Hall (photo: Paula Gent/Getty Images/iStockphoto)Copped Hall (photo: Paula Gent/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

13. Visit the Vulcan Day at Southend Airport (20 September)

For a family day out with a difference, jump in the car and head to Southend Airport on September 20 where it’s Visit the Vulcan Day. You don’t have to be an aerophile to appreciate the many attributes of the delta-wing bomber, XL426, which served in the Royal Airforce from 1962 to 1986. After many years in storage, she is now lovingly tended by the Vulcan Restoration Trust, which, pandemic aside, regularly wheels her out to show what an incredible feat of design and engineering she still is.

Eastwoodbury Cres, Southend-on-Sea SS2 6YF; vrovulcan.com

14. Events at Copped Hall, Epping

It’s a gob-smacking fact, but by the 1950s, historic mansions were being demolished at a rate of one every two and a half days, so it’s nothing short of a miracle (borne from tireless campaigning and hard graft) that Copped Hall, near Epping, escaped the developers clutches. Having recently re-opened its doors after lockdown, the Grade II-listed Georgian house is once again hosting events. There’s the monthly Garden Afternoon on September 6, the very last of the year, Antique Furniture Restoration with Michael Goater from 19-20 September, and the Monthly Guided Tour on 20 September.

Crown Hill, Epping CM16 5HS; coppedhalltrust.org.uk

15. Epping Bowls Club

It’s good news for lovers of lawn bowling, with Epping Bowls Club recently re-opening its doors. Returning members were treated to the sight of a spruced up clubhouse, while the out-buildings have undergone something of a makeover too. The work was undertaken during the height of lockdown thanks to a £200 donation from the Epping Rotary Club. Founded in 1911, and based in Lower Bury Lane, the club has always prided itself on its friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and is hoping to attract new people to the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete novice or an experienced hand, Epping Bowls Club would love to hear from you.

Epping Sports Club, Lower Bury Lane, Epping CM16 5HA; eppingbowlsclub.co.uk

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