Great Summer Days Out
PUBLISHED: 09:53 19 July 2013 | UPDATED: 09:53 19 July 2013
There's no better way to recharge the batteries than to escape for a day in the countryside. And with more than 70% of Essex classified as rural, there's plenty of wide open spaces to choose from. One of the largest is Lee Valley Regional Park which stretches for 26 miles along the peaceful landscape of the River Lee. Strike out on a lengthy ramble or bike ride along one of the waymarked tracks or slow the pace right down on a hired boat and scan the banks for birds and otters. Children will love the park's two farms, while the Dragonfly Sanctuary is one of the best places in the south east to see dragonflies. And if you're after some adventure? Try an exhilarating descent down the Olympic rapids at the White Water Centre - it's an experience you're never likely to forget.
Alternatively, make tracks for Hatfield Forest, once one of the great hunting forests of English kings. With its herds of deer and cattle still roaming free, ancient oaks and miles of grassy pathways, it’s a magical place to stroll or cycle while soaking up the history. The forest stands at one end of the long-distance Flitch Way, a 15-mile stretch of largely traffic-free disused railway across the heart of rural Essex, perfect for longer jaunts on two feet or two wheels.
If four balls is more your style, golf courses around the county allow you to relax over a friendly game while soaking up some good fresh air. For a round with a view, head for Stoke by Nayland Golf Club, with its two championship courses set in glorious Constable Country.
Garden-lovers can also explore a range of gardens, large and small. Beth Chatto’s creation in Elmstead Market is a triumph of planting in every condition, from the jewel-rich colours of the drought-resistant Gravel Garden to the Water Garden with its towering gunnera. Hyde Hall, one of four RHS gardens in the country, is another gem. Constantly expanding and improving, the gardens are full of inspirational planting schemes while there’s an excellent programme of events throughout the year. Elsewhere, smaller gardens and plots open under the National Gardens Scheme beckon exploration.
While out and about, look out for a plethora of countryside events, from food markets to village flower festivals, which offer a great insight into traditional country life. You may also unearth a surprise or two. For example, did you know that Essex is one of the top wine-producing regions in the country? Pop along to the English Wine Festival (September 7-8) at New Hall Vineyards, one of the oldest wine producers in the country; or take a tour around Dedham Vale Vineyards in Boxted before a tasting of their award-winning wines – you’ll soon appreciate why.
For more ideas of great summer days out in Essex, pick up the August issue of Essex Life magazine...