The ultimate guide to having an amazing 2017 in Essex
PUBLISHED: 10:43 03 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:43 03 January 2017
Feeling excited about the start of a new year? Well, you should be. Adam Jones of Visit Essex inspires us with some of the top events and attractions to look out for in 2017
Unless you are Roy Wood, Slade or the owner of a Christmas tree farm, most sane people reach a point during the festivities when they wish the whole shebang was over and they can get on with looking forward to summer.
In fact, my window cleaner summed it up brilliantly when, as we both bemoaned a dreary Monday morning, he said: ‘The days start getting lighter in a few weeks.’ As I waved goodbye, I made a mental note that summer ‘starts’ on December 23, the morning after the shortest day.
While you may consider this to be positive thinking of the highest order, what cannot be denied is that there is a brand new year on the horizon and once again, in Essex, it is filled with a varied and exciting mix of events and attractions to start pencilling into the diary.
Keen cyclists will be eager to see if their winter training has paid off and Southend Wheelers’ Burnham and Baddow Challenge in February is a great chance to put some serious road miles into the legs. Originally a pre-season thrash for the hard men and women of the local cycling clubs, today the event is a far gentler, fun event for all abilities. Of course, serious riders will be going ‘full gas’ from the start, but less competitive souls are welcome to enjoy the fresh air and scenery at their own pace, while raising money for local charities.
Gardens & Gourmet is a new national tourism campaign for 2017 which celebrates Britain’s best gardens, restaurants and local producers. Naturally, Essex gardeners are spoilt for choice in terms of inspirational destinations. The county is home to one of four Royal Horticultural Society gardens, RHS Garden Hyde Hall near Chelmsford, and the renowned Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmsetad Market, as well as less well known but no less impressive gardens, such as The Gibberd Garden in Harlow and Marks Hall Gardens and Arboretum in Coggeshall.
Many of the county’s best restaurants feature chefs who have worked in Michelin-starred establishments and they have brought a wealth of experience, skill and passion to our dinner plates. Meanwhile Essex produce is world-renowned – such as native oysters from Mersea and Maldon, Wilkin & Sons Tiptree preserves and also Jamie Oliver’s favourite, Maldon Sea Salt. Visit Essex is producing digital itineraries, video content and a bookable visitor pass for the participating venues with much to look forward to in 2017, so keep an eye on www.visitessex.com
Another UK-wide initiative enjoying local involvement is Friendly Invasions. As part of the national campaign, Boxted and Ridgwell Airfields will commemorate the role American personnel played from these shores during World War II. Not only that, all the county’s old air bases, memorials and key sites will be highlighted on the Visit Essex website, with one and two-day itineraries for suggested tours.
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on Friday, January 20 will indeed be momentous. Whatever your personal politics and thoughts about ‘The Donald’, the event will serve as a timely reminder of the role Essex played in the founding of modern America.
History would traditionally have us believe that the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Plymouth to the New World in 1620. The fact that the ship they sailed in, The Mayflower, was built in East Anglia and captained by a man from Harwich, with a crew and passenger list composed of people from Essex, has been all too often over-looked in the intervening four centuries.
Well, not anymore. Mayflower 400 is a celebration of the deep-rooted association between Essex and The Mayflower’s history-defining voyage and a broad range of events, activities and ambitious projects are being planned in the build-up to the 400th anniversary in 2020. The star of the show is a faithful recreation of The Mayflower itself, which is being built in Harwich. You can visit the yard and see for yourself how the work is progressing, while learning all about how 17th century shipwrights created ocean-going vessels with none of today’s technology or tools.
If you love walking, wild places and wildlife then the brand new Passport to the Coast will be an essential part of your year. Effectively a coastal pass for the east coast of England, extending from Hull in Humberside to Thurrock, the Passport is a new travel tool that will allow you to create your own activities simply by watching interactive videos that draw attention to stretches of coastline little explored by most visitors.
As the name suggests, Passport to the Coast is mainly designed for overseas visitors, but that doesn’t mean local residents can’t get involved and revel in the beauty of our own coastline, which at more than 350 miles long offers plenty of room to roam for everyone. The themed itineraries will capture touring and active experiences, arts, culture and heritage.
Find out more at www.visitessex.com
Another national event that will enjoy local engagement is Mills Weekend on May 13 and 14. By 1835, wind and water milling in Essex was at its peak, with some 285 mills in the county. 100 years later, only a handful remained and by 1950 the last working mill had ceased production.
12 years beforehand that however, Essex County Council had issued orders prohibiting the demolition of seven mills and, in turn, acquired them. Six of these mills have been restored by the council and most are in working order. As part of Mills Weekend, you can visit Alderford Water Mill at Sible Hedingham, Beeleigh Steam Mill in Maldon, Finchingfield Post Mill, Mountnessing Post Mill, Stock Tower Mill and Thorrington Tide Mill, near Alresford.
These and other mills within the county are regularly open to the public and at other times by arrangement, offering visitors a glimpse into the county’s industrial, rural and social past, with wonderful insights into a simpler and more robust age.
Also celebrating a lovely aspect of British history is the Epping and Ongar Railway. Between May 25 and 29, our county’s longest heritage railway will be holding a five-day party to mark its fifth birthday. With a range of different activities, including the chance to relive the golden age of steam in a lovingly-restored engine and carriage, this has to be the ultimate train set for kids of all ages.
Nature lovers will surely flock (sorry!) to Essex Wildlife Trust’s newly-opened intertidal area at Fingringhoe Wick.
82 acres of new, intertidal habitat is of international, national and local importance. It has been developed by Essex Wildlife Trust in partnership with the Environment Agency. The large Margaret Hide offers visitors a light and airy environment to view the wetland and wildlife, from nesting terns during the spring and summer months, to vast numbers of waders that spend the autumn and winter on the River Colne. The new area is an extension of the existing 125-acre nature reserve, featuring a diverse range of habitats for a broad variety of flora and fauna. After all that fresh air, the welcoming visitor centre and tearoom is a wonderful spot to review your photos over something tasty.
Also a must for those who enjoy the great Essex outdoors is the wonderfully named Nightingales Serenade, which forms part of the guided evening walks series at Fingringhoe Wick. Every evening from 7.30pm, between Sunday, April 23 and Saturday, May 13, you can book onto a guided walk to hear nightingales sing at dusk. Fingringhoe Wick is regarded as one of the best places in the whole of the country to listen to these birds sing in such large numbers. During the peak period, more than 40 male birds can be heard in close proximity.
Horticulturalists will be keenly anticipating the official opening of the brand new Edible Global Veg Growth Garden at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. Created to be a showcase for fruit and vegetables from around the world, with an innovative circular design and a glasshouse centrepiece, the EGVGG is part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s investment in the future of horticulture and it hopes that the Hyde Hall garden will inspire people to grow their own produce and push the boundaries of edible horticulture.
In time for the summer holidays, Hyde Hall is also hosting a series of family-friendly events. The Famous Five Go on a Garden Adventure celebrates the 75th anniversary of the first publication of one of Enid Blyton’s most famous and best-loved creations, The Famous Five. RHS Garden Hyde Hall will be taking visitors on a Famous Five-themed garden adventure.
Throughout the summer (from July 22 to August 11) there will be lashings of activities to get involved with, including craft workshops, garden trails, book displays and interactive storytelling. The finale to all this will be a great garden picnic on Friday, August 11 to celebrate Enid Blyton’s birthday. Expect cake and lots of ginger beer.
In the far west of the county, Lee Valley Park is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. A multitude of different events and activities are planned, including 50 walking and cycling routes throughout the 26-mile park, plus exhibitions highlighting its transformation from a wasteland to verdant expanses rich in wildlife co-existing with world-class sports and leisure facilities, three of which form part of the London 2012 legacy — Lee Valley White Water Centre, Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Not only that, Lee Valley Park Farms in Waltham Abbey have their 40th anniversary and will be hosting a series of events to keep the kids happy.
It’s not only Rio de Janeiro that loves a carnival. Saffron Walden’s from July 7 is very special in 2017. It only takes place once every three years, but is one of the UK’s biggest and best. It also lasts for a whopping eight days, including a procession through the town on Saturday, July 8. The following day sees a family fun day held on Saffron Walden’s common, while a number of concerts, gigs and other great activities each day and night from July 7 to 15 help create Essex’s answer to the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
Find out more
To discover more information about cultural commemorations, historic happenings and fun-filled festivals in Essex throughout 2017, click on www.visitessex.com, like the Facebook page or follow @VisitEssex on Twitter.