Loving Landscape at Wivenhoe House

Dust off your paintbrushes, charge up the iPad, sharpen your charcoal, whatever your chosen art form, on Sunday 12 June you can join in the Constable Challenge at Wivenhoe House, Colchester for free.

The grounds of this Grade II listed hotel are being turned over to artists young and old for everyone to create their own landscape masterpiece.  It’s a chance for artistic stardom as all artworks will be considered for an autumn exhibition at the hotel, opening on Sunday 18 September.

This is all part of a year of celebration at Wivenhoe House, marking 200 years since Britain’s much loved landscape artist, John Constable, painted Wivenhoe Park for the estate’s owner, Major General Francis Rebow.

It’s a story of love as Constable took on the commission to earn 100 guineas to prove he was a worthy catch to the father of his fiancée, Maria Bicknell. Constable completed the painting, which now hangs in pride of place at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, in the middle of September 1816 and married Maria on 2 October.

It was an auspicious early work for Constable who went on to create such well known masterpieces as The Haywain and Flatford Mill, two historic paintings which draw people to Dedham Vale every year to see the original settings.

The University of Essex will also be running one of its fantastic free arts outreach events for children at the hotel on the same day from 2pm until 4pm. Places are limited so must be booked in advance.

It's Easter time

Top Easter Activities For Families In Essex

Keep the kids sweet without a bottomless supply of chocolate with these fantastic fun-filled ideas for everyone.

Easter (Friday 25th to Monday 28th March 2016) is made for children, and with bunnies, egg hunts and loads of events taking place throughout Essex, there’s plenty to see and do.

Lambs at Lee Valley Park Farms.
Lambs at Lee Valley Park Farms.

Go wild in the country at Lee Valley Regional Park’s Easter Country Fair (Sunday 27th to Monday 28th March). This two-day event features medieval jousting and swordplay displays, birds of prey flying demonstrations, stalls selling arts and crafts, plus a Goat Show. This is your chance to bottle feed cuddly lambs and kids.

Camping at Lee Valley Regional ParkMake a weekend of it and camp at Lee Valley Caravan Park, Dobbs Weir. From there you can explore the rest of Lee Valley and for the intrepid, try your hand at white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking at the nearby watersports centre that featured in the 2012 London Olympics. For more information click on www.visitleevalley.org.uk

Lovers of Essex’s great outdoors will also love Hanningfield Reservoir. The surrounding woodland plays host to an abundance of fascinating flora and fauna, with none cuter than its population of native British owls.

Imperial Birds of Prey AcademyNigel King of the Imperial Bird of Prey Academy will be sharing his expertise and wealth of knowledge during his captivating Owl Evening (30th March). Nigel has a reputation for sparking people’s enthusiasm and interest in wildlife and this interactive event will give visitors a chance to get up close and personal with these magnificent birds. Booking is essential, so visit www.essexwt.org.uk/reserves/hanningfield-reservoir, or call 01268 711 001.

Over at the world famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead Market, little ones can take part in a traditional Easter egg hunt (Friday 25th March to Sunday 10th April). There’s a reward for bold explorers who complete the challenge. Children go from just £1.50 each on the day but are free if you book online. Adult tickets are priced at £6.95 per person. More information about this and other events throughout the year can be found at www.bethchatto.co.uk/events, or by calling 01206 822 007.

Beth Chatto Garden
Beth Chatto Garden

Southend’s historic Belfairs Woods is a hive of activity most days, but on Good Friday there’s extra fun and adventures to be had. Starting out from the award-winning woodland centre Forest Friday is an event for little ones aged eight or under. Packed with stories, crafts and activities with an Easter theme, this is a great opportunity to let the kids go wild in the country. Spaces are bound to be snapped up quickly, so do book in advance by calling 01702 477 467.

Colchester Hollytrees Museum
Colchester Hollytrees Museum

Picturing the Victorians (Wednesday 30th March) at the Holly Trees Museum, located in Castle Park, Colchester, has to be one of the most unusual events happening during the holiday. In a rare and truly hands-on experience, visitors can handle some of the earliest cameras and learn how they worked. There’s also a display of photographs by Colchester’s pioneering 19th century photographers. You can also dress up and have your portrait taken by the museum’s resident Victorian Photographer. Sessions run at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. Book via 01206 282 941.www.cimuseums.org.uk

Located in the heart of beautiful Constable Country, Dedham Vale Vineyard’s Easter Egg Hunt (Friday 25th March) will keep the children happily entertained, whilst the grown-ups sniff out something delicious themselves. Of course, no visit is complete without taking a bottle or two of Dedham Vale’s award winning wines home with you. For more details click on www.dedhamvalevineyard.com

It almost goes without saying that springtime and Easter are synonymous with new life, so where better to celebrate the festivities than down on the farm? Join in ‘egg-stra’ activities at Barleylands, including lamb bottle feeding, biscuit decorating, an Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the Easter Bunny, and meet babies galore from cute chicks, piglets, and bunnies to snakes and lizards in the huge Reptile House! You Chelmsford City Racecoursemight be lucky enough to see lambs being born too! More at www.barleylands.co.uk.


For those whom find the prospect of a mere chocolate egg not quite enough to stiffen the sinews and quicken the blood, there’s always the thrill of a race. Coral Romford Greyhound Stadium is holding a meeting on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, while Chelmsford City Racecourse is hosting an evening race meeting on Thursday 31st March.

Browse all our Easter events

Get active at RSPB Rainham Marshes

Active nature logo 2Swap the sofa for the great outdoors this January as part of a new RSPB partnership with Sport England. Here at Rainham Marshes nature reserve, you can beat the festive blues and combat the mince pies by running, climbing and cycling with wildlife. This new project is aimed at increasing support for wildlife by giving people new opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and get Active in Nature.

We will be hiring out bikes of all sizes (including a baby buggy!) which will allow you to explore along the river wall part of the reserve, taking in views of the Thames and upriver towards London. Rainham is ideally positioned for a cycle adventure, with easy access to Sustrans Route 13 and further afield, exploring Beam Valley and The Gaynes Parkway.

We will also be offering guided cycle rides so you can discover more about the marshes and appreciate the stunning views and wildlife.

If you have your own bike and can’t seem to fix that pesky puncture, or your gears are grinding, then bring it along to one of our Dr Bike maintenance sessions where we can fix your bike (or point you in the direction of a local shop) as well as give you key tips to keep you and your bike safe!

A father and daughter cycling through the nature reserve.
Cycle at RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Feeling extra adventurous? Come and explore our nature inspired climbing activities within the reserve. Here you can try out slacklining to test your balance (a bit like tightrope walking on a taught line) and at the end of the month we will have climbing boulders to test your strength and spirit on the variety of routes – all accompanied by the reserves soothing soundtrack of birds and other wildlife. Challenge yourself by seeing how high you can get and have a go at some of the games and activities on offer. The boulder grades range from beginner to more advanced (V0 – V5) to develop your climbing skills.

RSPB Rainham Marshes bouldering
Bouldering at RSPB Rainham Marshes

Mix up your leisurely stroll around the reserve trails with our Nature Navigators orienteering trail. Can you navigate your way between the various clues around the reserve with a map and compass to unlock the mystery posed by our trail master?

New Year, New You? Take your running off the treadmill and into the great outdoors! If you’re completely new to running or have been going for a while – there’s a session to suit you at Rainham Marshes. The Rainham Harriers running club offers you an opportunity to move your weekly road run into a wildlife rich environment, taking in the sights and sounds along the reserve’s river wall.

Throughout January we will have a whole range of free taster sessions to get you active outdoors!

For more about the Active in Nature project go to the RSPB website.

The Essex Country Show

12 – 13 September 2015

Celebrating the best of rural Essex, past and present, the Essex Country Show at Barleylands brings together the very best arena events, demonstrations, attractions and exhibitions. Now in its 29th Year, this year also sees a jousting, motorcycle displays from Britain’s Got Talent runners up Bolddog Lings, steam engines, rural crafts and so much more.

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, The Knights of The Damned Jousting Stunt Team will be grabbing their lances, donning their armour and getting on horseback to wow show goers with an awesome display of stunts and horsemanship. Heroic mounted knights will attempt to unhorse each other in the joust and visitors will be awed as they watch as the knights hone their skills by striking the man-shaped target and attempt to spear peasants’ heads off the ground at speed.

Britain’s Got Talent runners up Bolddog Lings will be one of the highlights as they bring their breathtaking motorbike displays to the show’s main arena.

OXY by Dan Whitby, Photo byTracy Whittington
OXY by Dan Whitby, photo byTracy Whittington

Honda’s official UK stunt team and the UK’s number one freestyle motocross team are set to take Essex by storm with two displays each day  packed with gravity defying stunts enabled by their highly advanced and sophisticated landing ramp.

Alongside spectacular shows,  fascinating demonstrations and family attractions, over 200 vintage cars, motorbikes, military and commercial vehicles will gather at the show. One of the standout classic cars on display will be a gleaming Citroen Rosalie 10HP Deluxe owned by local classic car aficionado Charles Morlham from South Woodham Ferrers.

Citroen Rosalie 10HP Deluxe
Citroen Rosalie 10HP Deluxe

The car is extremely rare, in fact there is only one other on the road, has also appeared on screen in the TV series ‘Under Suspicious Circumstances’ starring Edward Woodward.

The beautiful Snow Sisters, appearing for the first time at the show, will be getting the crowds singing along to some very familiar tunes. The sisters are hoping to be able to meet their fans for photographs too.

The Snow Sisters
The Snow Sisters

Visit the website to book your ticket.

Six weeks of summer fun

Stuck for ideas of what to do this summer with the children? Read our blog for inspiration on great days out.Family fun this summer

With the six-week summer holiday stretching out in front of you, the first place you need to check out is our website, which is jam-packed with great things to explore, experience and enjoy.

To help families make the most of the break – and give parents some much-needed retail therapy – Freeport Braintree has launched its brand new Summer of Fun, a jam-packed programme of free, fun events every Tuesday to keep the whole family smiling and happy. Check out events with names such as We’re Going to the Zoo, Prince and Princesses Day and Superheroes and Villains. Make sure you pick up a Summer Fun voucher booklet during your visit, offering extra discounts across their 85 stores and other local attractions, including Marsh Farm, Rollerword, Quasar, Adventure Island and Sea-Life Adventure – so you’ll have even more pocket money for yourself!

At Marsh Farm you can test your skills in the Farm Yard Olympics, try welly wanging and take part in their Inflatable Grand National. Plus you can meet all your farmyard favourites, including sheep, pigs, cows and ponies plus birds of prey.

Over in Billericay, at Barleylands there is the chance to meet some amazing, scary and very deadly creatures, go on a treasure hunt and laugh at crazy entertainers.

Get hands on with farmyard favourites at Marsh Farm
Get hands on with your favourite animal at Marsh Farm
Meet some more exotic animals at Old MacDonald's farm
Meet some more exotic animals at Old MacDonald’s farm
Get up close to farmyard favourites at Lee Valley Park Farms
Get up close to farmyard favourites at Lee Valley Park Farms






At Old MacDonald’s Farm, near Brentwood, TV Actress Nicky Kemp, from the animated series The Tidings, will bring you Richard Digance’s Animal Alphabet fun and educational show; an ideal educational activity for children from 3 to 7 (and their parents too).

If you’re a budding Chris Packam or Ellie Harrison, test your bird and animal spotting skills by exploring Essex’s amazing wildlife and nature reserves – try Copt Hall Marshes at Little Wigborough on the Blackwater Estuary, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Or are you looking for a challenge, a thrill and an amazing view? Take to the Sky Ropes. Feel the thrill of high places and have an unforgettable adventure with family and friends at Sky Ropes, Great Notley Country Park’s brand new high ropes experience. Or have a fun packed exhilarating day with the kids on 31 obstacles plus 32 jumps in a 20 acre beautiful forest at the Wild Forest Gym near Brentwood.  Its fun…fun…fun all the way.

There’s lot to do at Lee Valley Regional Park  this summer too. Have double the fun on two wheels at the VeloPark, make a splash and lots of waves at the White Water Centre or soak up the sunshine down at the farms. Get stuck in to all the special summer activities running throughout the holiday and release the animal within as you venture around the farms, discovering all its furry, feathery and scaly residents too!

Relive the age of steam at the East Anglian Railway Museum, the Colne Valley Railway and the Epping Ongar Railway; you might even come across Thomas and his Friends.

Get hands on at Colchester Castle Museum, explore the Roman vaults, have a go at building a Norman archway, or try your hand at excavating a Roman doctor’s grave. Explore the reconstructed Norman castle at Stansted Mountfitchet; then relive your childhood days at the toy museum.

For some more history and a bit of gunpowder, head to the Royal Gunpowder Mills. Brilliant for families, this museum not only explains the history of the factory that began producing explosives during the 17th century, but also offers fun and interactive opportunities for kids, including a Military Truck Tour and Professor Nitrate’s Mad Lab.

From big outdoor thrills to Blue Flag beaches crying out for some serious bucket and spade action check out our website  and plan to have fun this summer – whatever the weather.

Visit Essex Touring Film Festival

You will be able to enjoy classics such as Casablanca and Blade Runner, recent blockbusters including Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, plus family favourite the Minions and Asif Kapadia’s heart-breaking documentary Amy.

To match the iconic status of the selected movies, the venues in which they will be shown are equally cinematic. The celebrated WW1 drama – Aces High – about pilots duelling in the skies over the Western Front will be screened in a hangar at Stow Maries Aerodrome – the world’s last-remaining Great War air field. Film director (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and King Kong) Peter Jackson’s own bi-plane will provide a very appropriate backdrop.

Hedingham Castle’s famous Norman keep will become a huge, historic film screen for projections, appropriately showing excerpts from Henry V, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Elizabeth and more. The beautiful grounds and gardens will also provide an enchanting setting for Paddington and Casablanca.

The other participating venues are Cressing Temple Barns, near Braintree and Promenade Park in Maldon. These two destinations will welcome the newly refurbished Cinemobile, an innovative mobile cinema on its first outing in England. On the outside it is a somewhat unassuming 40-ton truck, but at the push of a button, it transforms into a plush 100-seat cinema, to bring movie magic to even the furthest flung corners of the country.

Please call the box office on 01621 856503, email tic@maldon.gov.uk or buy your ticket at the venues on the day.

Tickets cost £6.00 for adults and £4.00 for children.

Download program

The Car’s the Star – Could your classic win the Layer Marney Cup?

Entries have poured in from across the country but there’s still time to enter a revival of one of Britain’s earliest motor sport events.

The Layer Marney Cup, a fuel efficiency trial, first took place on 6th June 1914 and is being re-run (16 August 2015) with a whole host of machinery from across the decades since, but organiser Sheila Charrington says there’s still time to enter and she’s particularly on the look-out for cars from four different eras.

I’ve been surprised and delighted by the response from car enthusiasts throughout Essex,” says Sheila, whose family owns the 16th Century Tudor gatehouse, near Colchester. “There’s still time to enter before the event runs on Sunday 16th August, from 10:30 AM. I’m especially keen to attract entries from owners whose vehicles were built in the following decades; 1915 -1925, 1936-1945, 1966-1975 and 1986-1995.”

Two of the latest cars to be entered reflect British engineering at its finest from two very different eras. “Philip Clegg’s 1926 Rolls Royce is an absolute cracker,” explains Sheila. “It is quite beautiful but we also have a lovely 1956 Morris Minor in absolutely pristine condition. It belongs to Michael Gutsell and was originally bought by his aunt. He still has the original bill of sale and details of the garage that sold it. So as a piece of genuinely local motoring history, Michael has a real gem.”

 Michael Gutsell  and his Morris Minor r

The original trial, designed to test the vehicles’ fuel efficiency, was won by F C Byford who achieved an average of 42.26 miles per gallon in his Unic. To create a level playing field amongst the varying sizes of the entrant’s vehicles, the organisers weighed the cars and set the Ton Miles Per Gallon rule, by which the impressive trophy was ultimately awarded.

Byford managed 50.07 ton miles per gallon, pipping AMF Keddie’s De Dion by just 1.3 TMPG.

 Starting in Southend, the latter day Layer Marney Cup will leave Southchurch Park, pass through Shoeburyness before heading up to Stow Maries Airfield, where lunch will be served in the original Officers’ Mess. In time-honoured fashion, the cars will be weighed at Stow Maries and will then continue on to Promenade Park, Maldon before completing the event at Layer Marney Tower.

Car manufacturing giant Ford is also taking part, sending four cars from its past and present model ranges; a 1976 Ford Fiesta 1.0L – featuring the peppy little 957cc Kent engine that was used in Formula Ford single-seater racing for many years, a 1978 2.8L V6 Cologne edition Granada and two 2015 models, a 2.0L TiVCT hybrid electric Mondeo plus the Fiesta’s latest version, a 1.0L GTDi. Local dealerships Toomey and Roy Tolley are also joining in the fun, sending vehicles along to the event.

For more information, including an entry form and copy of the rules please contact sheila@layermarneytower.co.uk, or visit www.layermarneytower.co.uk

For ideas and inspiration for other great drives in Essex, motor over to www.visitessex.com