10 easy ways to get fit for free in Essex

PUBLISHED: 13:42 29 May 2020

In the Essex countryside near Danbury (c) -Cheesyfeet-, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the Essex countryside near Danbury (c) -Cheesyfeet-, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Getting in shape after the excesses of Christmas doesn’t have to mean an endless diet or an expensive gym membership. Mica Bale picks out 10 ways to help you get more active and well on the road to fitness – all while having fun and without spending a penny

1) Explore our Essex parks

Although the sad truth remains each year that losing weight does take quite a lot of self discipline and determination, it doesn't mean it cannot be fun. Why not revisit your childhood and have a good run around in your local park?

Essex boasts a wonderful selection of pretty and well kept parks to chose from, perfect for a mid-morning jog, an energetic sprint or a more gentle stroll. Why not try the Castle Park which dates back to the Victorian era in Colchester or perhaps try Hylands Park, the largest of our county's parks, in Chelmsford.

Both are perfect open spaces for those trying to reverse the effects of a big appetite, but there are locations across the county, and with such beautiful Essex surroundings, busting that bulge could actually be quite enjoyable.

Hylands Park

2) Discover Wildlife

Although Essex may not offer lions, tigers or bears outside the great zoos in the county, naturalists can still enjoy some fantastic sites of interest to spot birds, insects and fish in the wild.

Why not take a trip to the Thorndon Countryside Centre which offers some wonderful walks through ancient woodland and deer parks or the Langdon Visitor Centre which boasts many hundreds of acres of woods, meadows and lakes which are run by the Essex Wildlife Trust?

Of course, Essex also has some of the most fascinating varieties of trees and plants, and learning all about them is a great way to stretch the grey matter as well as your legs.

Autumn at Thorndon Country Park

3) Go Coastal

Essex is home to some of the greatest beaches in the UK and taking a gentle stroll or even a high energy run along the water's edge is both invigorating for the soul and the body.

While the beach might be synonymous with ice creams and barbecues, it is also an ideal playground for working out. Also Essex offers many dog-friendly beaches, particularly out of season, for some canine walking and calorie busting.

Walton-on-the-Naze will welcome your pooch all year round and there are some great facilities there too, while Clacton-on-Sea allows dogs in the winter months.

Walton-on-the-Naze seafront

4) Time on your hands?

From equine sanctuaries to dog kennels or charity shops to education centres, there are plenty of opportunities to help out a local charitable Essex organisation that is helping to benefit the lives of others and needs willing volunteers.

Being on your feet beats time on the sofa and volunteering is a great way to meet new friends, both of the animal and human kind.

There are all sorts of options, but why not see if you could lend a hand at the large Redwings facility in Roydon or at the Hopefield Animal Sanctuary near Brentwood?


Some other places to visit while getting fit:


5) Wild Wood

Essex is home to a great variety of woodlands that warrant a visit, but space in this feature only allows us to focus on just one.

With nearly 6,000 acres to traverse and explore, Epping Forest offers the perfect playground for those who want to build their stamina, taste some real fresh air and get as close to nature as is possible.

It contains areas of woodland, grassland, heath, rivers, bogs and ponds, plus the chance to retrace the regal footprints of the kings, queens and nobles who have walked through the forest before you.

Epping Forest

6) At home with history

OK, it may be cold outside, but your mind and body will ultimately thank you for getting yourself out of the house and well away from the television remote and the snack cupboard.

Wherever you are in the county, art and culture are easy to find - if you are prepared to look. We are so blessed that so many of our art galleries and museums are open for free, so don't miss out.

For inspiration, try Firstsite in Colchester for some contemporary art or perhaps Hollytrees Museum to see how people lived in centuries past. To maximise the benefit, why not try walking or cycling to your destination?

7) Maldon, and more

One of the greatest ways to exercise is to not even notice you are doing it. Month after month you will read about the great history, culture and character of the county's towns and villages in Essex Life, so why not visit them? Here's just one.

Maldon offers a great opportunity to combine an interesting and educational day out that doesn't have to cost you anything either.

With more than 70 miles of walks around Maldon, the picturesque views and history provides ample distraction so you don't even notice that a brisk walk means calorie busting too. You pick how far you go and at what pace, and you are sure to go home healthier — if you can avoid a tearoom.


8) Peerless Piers

If you know one fact about the county of Essex it is likely to be that Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, and, if you can ignore the tantalising smell of fish and chips in the air, a march out over the sea is a brilliant way to up your daily step count.

Clacton Pier stretches an impressive 360m, although when the pier opened in the 1870s, it was a mere 160 yards long and four yards wide. Thankfully today, the pier offers plenty of room for those looking for some casual activity or dedicated exercise. And it doesn't end there.

Essex is home to many of the UK's most impressive piers, so why not set yourself a challenge of walking to the end of each one? Or for the more energetic, our piers are often one of the best lit areas for a run too.

Southend is The Pier....longest pier in the world. 1.34 miles.

9) Take on the challenge

Although not everyone looking to shed those extra pounds wants to run a Marathon, dreaming big never harmed anyone. Sometimes having the ultimate aim of a race target acts as a great stimulus and there are a great number of fun runs or more competitive races to put in the diary.

The Hadleigh 10K takes place every January and this charity event teams up with British Lung Foundation. It is also a great way to take a sneak peak at Hadleigh's mountain bike circuit which was used in the 2012 Olympics. The Roding Valley Half Marathon takes place in March each year, which is noted by first time or inexperienced racers for its friendly atmosphere.

Meanwhile, for those who just want to give racing a go or indeed to have something to aim for while making new friends, why not try the free entry Maldon Park Run? The race is held weekly and is a timed race around the park which begins at 9am every Saturday. Even those who cannot actually race can get involved by volunteering to help organise the event.

Olympic Rider Tiltshift

10) Join a local club

Sometimes getting fit is just about a small change in lifestyle and doing that with likeminded people can make all the difference to your staying power, so why not join a club?

There is sure to be a local club that helps you enjoy your sporting passion at an intensity that suits you. To get you started, try horse riding, football, rugby, running or cricket. All are available to join for little or nothing, and it's a very sociable way to conquer those carbohydrate cravings.

Many clubs will welcome members for free or for a small subscription, so be brave and take a look. Try Rayne Riding Centre, the Basildon RFC or even the Essex County Bowls Club.


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