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Cultural Guide to Essex

Image © andy green via Flickr

At just a stone’s throw away from the bright lights of London, arts and culture in Essex can often get overlooked by locals and visitors alike, but thanks to the lovely coast and close proximity to the capital, there is lots to explore for art lovers, nature lovers and families.

Art
Despite being featured in many of the landscape paintings of famous Romantic painter John Constable – Dedham Vale (1802) and The Hay Wain (1821) – Essex isn’t always thought to have much of an art scene. However, if you look hard enough there’s plenty of art to see all over the county. The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham, based in the artist Alfred Munnings former house, showcases a comprehensive collection of the life of the famous East Anglian artist. However, if modern art is more up your street, Colchester’s firstsite gallery exhibiting contemporary visual arts offers an impressive programme thanks to its links with the Tate.

Heritage
As one of the oldest counties in England, it’s no surprise that heritage in Essex is impressive. In fact, Colchester is the oldest town in Britain, with its roots dating all the way back to the Romans in the 1st Century. It’s medieval Castle, Colchester Castle, is also an impressive test of time, and has stayed in great condition since William the Conqueror ordered it to be built in the 11th Century. In relation to more recent historical events, Essex is also home to the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker – open to the public. At 125 feet deep, its entrance is disguised by an ordinary looking bungalow, which now houses a museum focusing on the bunker’s cold war history.


Image credit: Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Music and Festivals
Thanks to V Festival, the likes of Pulp, Coldplay and even Beyoncé have visited Essex over the past twenty years. But forgetting about the big events, Essex has its fair share of independent festivals that are just as exciting. Leigh Folk Festival is a highlight of the summer and takes place in the picturesque fishing town of Leigh-on-Sea. Last year’s festival boasted 20 venues, 300 artists and 20,000 attendees and is growing in popularity every year.

Family Fun
For those families with small children, Essex has no shortage of options. Southend-on-Sea’s Adventure Island is the UK’s largest free admission theme park, which means parents don’t have to pay an entry fee to watch their children enjoy the rides, as is often the case at most other theme parks. The park is mostly outside so it’s best saved for a dry day. There are additional indoor restaurant options should the rain interfere with your day out! Those with younger children may want to avoid the adrenaline rush of the fun fair, so Colchester Zoo might be just the thing! With over 270 species living in 60 acres of parkland, it’s a day out full of activities, having been popular with families from across East Anglia since it opened in 1963.


Image credit: Hadleigh Castle

Outdoors
Stretching from Estuary to Forest and City to Coast, Essex has a varied countryside to explore. A good place to start would be the site of Hadleigh Castle, maintained by English Heritage, the view of the Thames Estuary and marshland from the mount is fantastic. It was also the site of the 2012 London Olympics Mountain Bike competition and there is still a track there today available for public use. Essex has an impressive stretch of 350 miles of coastline along the North Sea. The most impressive of its beaches is at Frinton-on-Sea; a small coastal town nestled between the bigger Clacton-on-Sea and lively Walton-on-the-Naze. Frinton’s blue flag beach is especially noted for its cleanliness and lack of the usual seaside tackiness – there are no fairground rides or 2p machines in sight, just sand, sea and the occasionally sun!
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