Places to Go, Things to See – South & West of Colchester

The area to the south and west of Colchester does not attract the prominence given to the town itself, Dedham Vale's 'Constable Country' to the north, or the coastal resorts of Frinton and Clacton to the east. Yet here we are fortunate to be blessed with both some very attractive quiet English countryside and an unspoilt coastline. There are good reasons for the number of nature reserves to be found in the area.

Away on holiday most of us enjoy getting out and exploring new places. At home, with pressures of work and domestic responsibilities, we tend to overlook the riches on our own doorstep. So whether you are a visitor to the area or a resident, this page offers suggestions of local places to go and things to see. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Included are two or three places which are neither south nor west of Colchester but which are within easy reach and worth visiting. There are things to appeal to a variety of tastes except those addicted to bright lights and loud music. If at least some of the information here adds to your knowledge, enjoyment and appreciation of the area, the page will have achieved its purpose.

Please note our Disclaimer of Liability and do confirm current opening times before making a special journey.

It would be appreciated if you could contact me with details of any inaccuracies or out of date information on the page. It would also be good to have suggestions of other places south and west of Colchester which may be worthy of inclusion.


The Places

Details are all on this one web page. Use the appropriate link to go direct to a particular section. Click on the blue up arrow button at the end of a section to return to the listing here.

Historic Buildings: Layer Marney TowerColchester CastlePaycocke's
Animals and Wildlife: Colchester ZooAbberton ReservoirFingringhoe Wick
Gardens: Markshall EstateBeth Chatto Gardens
Walks: Salcott SaltingsTollesbury WickCudmore Grove Country ParkHighwoods Country ParkWalking in Essex
Boats and the Sea: West MerseaTollesburyHeybridge BasinMaldon
Miscellaneous: Other Colchester MuseumsWilkin's Tiptree JamEast Anglian Railway MuseumColne Valley Railway

Historic Buildings

Layer Marney Tower

Layer Marney TowerOne of the best known attractions in our area, Layer Marney Tower is the largest Tudor gatehouse in the country with exceptionally fine brickwork. Its four corner towers are surmounted with terracotta decoration featuring shells and dolphins, a great architectural innovation in the early 16th century. Although the gatehouse has only three storeys, the two outer hexagonal corner towers each have eight storeys and rise 80 ft from the ground. The inner towers have seven storeys. Visitors can climb to the top of the gatehouse from where one can look out to the coast and enjoy excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

The Marney family probably came over to England with William the Conqueror. Building of the Tower was started by Henry, 1st Lord Marney, in the time of King Henry VIII. 1st Lord Marney was a respected member of the Privy Council under both Henry VII and Henry VIII, and decided to build a new home for himself which would reflect his new found wealth and importance. His great Tudor mansion was never completed. He died in 1523 before the building could be finished and his son, John, 2nd Lord Marney, died just two years later. Their tombs can be seen in the nearby Church of St Mary and were probably fashioned by Italian craftsmen working on Layer Marney Tower at the time. To the south of the house is a long building, also from the sixteenth century, which once housed up to thirty horses and their grooms. This was converted in the early part of the 20th century into what is now the Long Gallery, a popular venue for special functions such as wedding receptions.

Today the property is privately owned by the Charrington family who live and farm there. The farm has a variety of rare breeds including Red Poll cattle, Soay sheep, Norfolk Horn sheep, and goats.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the Tower's website at www.layermarneytower.co.uk

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Colchester Castle and Museum

Colchester CastleBy about 1085 the Normans had built a castle on and around the site of the former Roman temple in Colchester. The only part of the castle still standing is the Keep, the largest surviving keep in Europe, which now houses the town's excellent museum. A wide range of exhibits includes many Roman artifacts. Among the architectural features to be seen are the Roman vaults, castle roof, and Norman chapel.

The castle is set within the attractive 23 acre Castle Park, literally yards from the east end of High Street, close to the town centre.

Directions: The museum is situated in Castle Park at the eastern end of the High Street. The nearest car parks are St Botolph's, Britannia and Osborne Street. The museum is a five minute walk from the bus station and Colchester Town railway station (not North Station).

For opening times, admission charges and contact details see the Museum's website at www.colchestermuseums.org.uk

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Paycocke's, Coggeshall

This National Trust property is a handsome half-timbered merchant's house, dating from c.1500. One of its main features is the unusually rich panelling and wood carving inside. Also on display are examples of the lace for which Coggeshall was once famous.

Directions: Paycocke's is signposted off the A120. It is about 300m from the centre of Coggeshall, on the road to Braintree, on the south side of West Street next to the Fleece Inn.

For opening times, admission charges and contact details see the following page on the National Trust's website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-paycockes

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Animals and Wildlife

Colchester Zoo

One of the best zoos in Europe. Set in 60 acres of countryside and gardens, Colchester Zoo has more than 200 species of animals including some of the best cat and primate collections in the UK.

Extensive development has been undertaken in recent years. Special enclosures include the African Zone, the Tiger Taiga Enclosure, Playa Patagonia and the Komodo Dragon enclosure. The zoo has developed an excellent reputation for its conservation and breeding work and participates in the European Endangered Species Breeding programme.

Directions: two to three miles south west of Colchester, on the B1022 Colchester to Maldon road. It is well signposted from most directions around Colchester - just follow the brown elephant 'Zoo' signs.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the Zoo's website at www.colchester-zoo.co.uk

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EWT logoAbberton Reservoir Nature Reserve & Visitor Centre

Abberton Reservoir, with a surface area of 472 hectares when full, is an important site for breeding birds and a stopover for thousands of birds on migration. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a RAMSAR site (Wetland of International Importance). It is one of the most important wildfowl havens in Europe. In September 2011 there were bird counts of almost 7,000 coot, 1,500 pochard, 2,700 teal, 1,500 shoveler and 2,900 tufted ducks.

As part of the recent enlargement of the reservoir, Essex & Suffolk Water has funded the creation of a new nature reserve and the building of a superb new visitor centre. The nature reserve and visitor centre are managed by Essex Wildlife Trust in partnership with Essex & Suffolk Water. The visitor centre has a heated viewing area looking out over the reservoir and a shop stocking a good selection of bird books, binoculars, and other items. Light refreshments are also available. There are good toilet and car parking facilities. The centre runs a varied programme of events for both adults and children throughout the year ('phone for details).

Location: Church Road, Layer de la Haye, Colchester CO2 0EU.
Telephone: 01206 - 738172
Open: Daily from 9-00am to 5-00pm except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Admission: by donation. Modest charges are made for participating in special events.
Directions: From Colchester head south on the B1026 towards Tolleshunt D'Arcy. About one and a half miles south of Layer de la Haye, after the church, you will come to the entrance to the Visitor Centre on your left. Look out for the 'Abberton Visitor Centre' signs.

For more information see the following page on the EWT's website: www.essexwt.org.uk/visitor_centres__nature_reserves/abberton_reservoir

Abberton ReservoirFor views over the central and western sections of the reservoir continue on for a little over a mile after crossing the reservoir until coming to a sharp left hand bend. At this point turn right towards Layer Breton and Birch. Shortly you will arrive at another causeway across the reservoir. Here there is usually space to park on the causeway but do look out for traffic when getting out of, or back into, your car. Frequently large numbers of ducks and geese of various breeds gather at the roadside eager for bread and corn brought by visitors. On the east side, after prolonged periods of dry weather, one can see the remains of the old road used before the reservoir was built in the 1930s.
(This location can also be reached from the B1022 Colchester to Maldon Road: just south of Heckfordbridge turn off to Birch and Layer Breton then follow the road which leads to the causeway from the north.)

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EWT logoFingringhoe Wick Visitor Centre & Nature Reserve

Essex Wildlife Trust's nature reserve at Fingringhoe Wick comprises 120 acres of thickets, grassland, heathland and scrub surrounding a large lake overlooked by bird hides. Once a farm, and then a gravel pit until 1959, the reserve supports a wealth of wildlife in a wide range of habitats such as saltmarsh and heathland. Winter is the best time to see wading birds and Brent geese on the estuary. The Visitor Centre, which is designed to be accessible to the elderly and wheelchair users, has panoramic windows, wildlife displays, and an observation tower. In the Centre you will find leaflets describing the reserve's nature trails and a shop which stocks nature books, binoculars, etc.

Location: South Green Road, Fingringhoe, Colchester.
Directions: From Fingringhoe follow the brown and white tourist signs. The reserve is well signposted but drive with caution as the country lanes leading to it are very narrow with restricted visibility.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the following page on the EWT's website: www.essexwt.org.uk/visitor_centres__nature_reserves/fingringhoe_wick

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Gardens

Marks Hall Gardens & Arboretum

We had lived in the area for more than twenty years before first visiting Markshall and wish we had discovered it long before! If you enjoy gardens and woodland it is not to be missed.

Markshall GardensThere are two hundred acres of gardens and arboretum with a tree collection representing all the continents of the world. An easy walk from the Visitor Centre is the stunningly redesigned Walled Garden. The five individual gardens within seventeenth century walls combine the best of contemporary and traditional. The double long border is the longest in East Anglia and includes both long established shrubs and interesting new plantings.

There is something to appeal throughout the year from snowdrop time to late autumn colour, and often there is a self guided walk sheet available to highlight the most interesting vistas and plants.

The Visitor Centre, housed in a restored Essex barn, offers information, a gift shop and a café with home-made fare for morning coffee, lunch, and afternoon tea.

Markshall Estate is owned and run by a registered charity, the Thomas Phillips Price Trust.

Directions: Just north of the Coggeshall by-pass on the A120 Colchester to Stansted road. Turn off the A120 onto the B1024. Markshall is well signposted with brown and white signs.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the Trust's website at www.markshall.org.uk

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The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market

Beth Chatto GardensYou don't need to be a keen gardener to enjoy the beautiful gardens created by Beth Chatto and her late husband over the last 40 years. The woodland garden, in the shade of tall trees, is especially attractive with its large ponds as well as many shrubs and plants. You will come away relaxed and inspired with new ideas for your own garden. There is a nursery where many of the plants seen in Beth Chatto's gardens can be bought. Also a tea room offering light refreshments.

Directions: From Colchester take the A133 Clacton road. The Gardens are about 4 miles east of Colchester, ¼ mile east of Elmstead Market. The entrance is on this road and well signed.

For opening times, admission charges and contact details see the Gardens' website at www.bethchatto.co.uk

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Walks

Salcott Saltings and Old Hall Marshes

Salcott SaltingsDistinctive features of the coastline south of Colchester are muddy tidal creeks and salt marshes. These remote and peaceful inlets are natural wildlife sanctuaries, attracting large numbers of waders and migratory birds, particularly in winter. Surrounding some of the creeks, as at Salcott, are raised sea walls which offer good walking. The tops of the walls are level and well-drained, making the going easy. Their raised elevation offers the walker fine views over the saltings and estuary. A potential downside is the lack of shelter from chilly sea breezes so go equipped with suitable warm windproof clothing.

When you get up onto the sea wall at Salcott, you can go left but we recommend going to the right. Straight ahead, in the distance, is Bradwell Power Station on the other side of the Blackwater estuary. Soon you will come to a gate across the top of the wall where there is a sign welcoming you to Old Hall Marshes Nature Reserve which is managed by the RSPB. On your left is the Salcott Channel. At the next wooden gate, looking ahead, is West Mersea on the other side of the creek.

Directions: From Colchester take the B1026 south. Four miles after Layer de la Haye is the village of Salcott-cum-Virley. Turn left at the sign to 'Salcott only', into The Street which is a no through road. Follow the road through Salcott village until coming to the church on your left. After that the road becomes very narrow with no space for parking, so we suggest you park in front of the church. Walking on down the road, directly ahead is a gateway into a field and a Bridleway sign pointing across it. Follow the sign across the field which brings you to a small concrete bridge followed by some steps up onto the sea wall.

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EWT logoTollesbury Wick Marshes

Another good place to walk along a sea wall overlooking salt marshes and to observe the local wildlife. For those who like boats there is the added interest of Tollesbury marina. At or near high tide during the summer months a regular procession of boats can be seen making its way up and down Woodrolfe Creek to and from the moorings. The sea wall on the south side of the creek runs round the 600 acre Tollesbury Wick Marshes Nature Reserve of Essex Wildlife Trust.

The directions below (should!) bring you to a double gated entrance to the reserve near Tollesbury marina. At the entrance a free guide is available from a box fixed to the gate. As you start to walk along the wall, Bradwell Power Station can be seen over to the right and West Mersea straight ahead on the other side of the creek. For a more sheltered walk, turn right just after entering the reserve to go down along the side of the wall rather than on top of it. It is possible to do a 5½ mile circular tour along the wall then back through the village to the car park. The free guide explains the route and what to see on the way.

The comments in the previous section about warm windproof clothing apply here perhaps even more than at Salcott.

Open: Always open.
Admission: Free
Directions: Take the B1026 to Tolleshunt D'Arcy, turning left at the Red Lion onto the B1023 to Tollesbury. Drive past the main square in Tollesbury, along East Street, following signs to the industrial area which take you left down Woodrolfe Road. Shortly after, on the left hand side, is a (free) car park. It is recommended you use this because of parking restrictions nearer the creek and the risk of flooding at high tide. From the car park follow the road for 350 metres. On the right hand side of the road, just before the old sail lofts and in front of Woodrolfe Park, turn right up some concrete steps and go along a public footpath, past the marine pool on your left. Continue along the wire fenced path in front of Tollesbury Cruising Club following the arrow signs to Essex Wildlife Nature Reserve. This will bring you to the double gated entrance to the reserve.
Website: www.essexwt.org.uk/visitor_centres__nature_reserves/tollesbury_wick_nature_reserve

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Cudmore Grove Country Park, East Mersea

Tucked away at the eastern end of Mersea Island, Cudmore Grove is a pleasant spot for a leisurely walk by the sea. Here you can see waders feeding on the mud flats and look across to Point Clear and Brightlingsea on the other side of the Colne estuary. Between the car park and the sea wall is a large area of flat open grassland, ideal for a picnic, flying a kite, or exercising the dog.

Open: daily 8-00am to dusk.
Admission: Free except for parking charge.
Directions: Take the B1025 to Mersea Island which is about six miles due south of Colchester. After crossing the Strood (causeway) onto the island take the left fork to East Mersea and continue for about another three miles. At East Mersea turn right down Broman's Lane to Cudmore Grove which is well signposted.
Telephone: 01206-383868

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Highwoods Country Park, Colchester

Little more than a mile north of Colchester town centre, this popular country park encompasses over 300 acres of grassland, woodland, wetland and farmland. There is a Visitor Centre and a range of walks and trails, suited to different levels of ability / disability.

Open: Always. Car parks open from 7-00am, closing at 10-00pm in summer, 7-00pm in winter.
Admission: Free
Directions: From Colchester North Station roundabout follow the signs to Colchester General Hospital which take you up Turner Road. The entrance to the park is on your right as you drive up Turner Road.
Telephone: 01206-853588

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Walking in Essex

A website from which you can download, free of charge, hundreds of Essex walks to print out. It also has information of walking maps, on Essex Walking Clubs and Essex walking books.

Website:  www.walkinginessex.co.uk

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Boats and the Sea

Our part of Essex is very popular with sailors not least because its estuaries and creeks are relatively sheltered and boats can sit safely on the mud at low water. If you, like many of us, are fascinated by boats and water, below are some places to visit.

West Mersea

Six miles due south of Colchester is Mersea Island, a little over four miles long and two miles at its widest. A causeway called 'The Strood' links the island to the mainland. When there are very high tides The Strood can be flooded for up to an hour or more. Don't take chances trying to cross it under these conditions. If you don't want to get cut off on the island you may like to check when spring tides are expected.

Two of Mersea's greatest claims to fame are sailing and oyster farming. Most of the island's population live in the large village of West Mersea. The sea front here is where you will find most boating activity, with moored boats, the hard, jetty, West Mersea Yacht Club, Dabchicks Sailing Club, boatyards, and chandlers.

West Mersea does get busy in summer and parking along the sea front is very restricted. If you don't live too far away consider making your first visit on a weekday evening when traffic is quieter and you can get your bearings. Regatta week, in mid-August, is a major annual event when the place is especially hectic.

Directions: Take the B1025 south out of Colchester for about 6 miles until you come onto Mersea Island. Take the right fork and follow the road about another mile to West Mersea. Continue through the village, following the signs to the sea front. Coast Road is a no through road so you will have to turn round at or before reaching the sailing club at the end.
Websites:  www.west-mersea.co.uk and www.mersea-island.com

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Tollesbury MarinaTollesbury - Woodrolfe Creek

Although somewhat off the beaten track, Tollesbury has a large marina and numerous mud berths. The best time to see boating activity is during the summer months from an hour before high tide until an hour after. The Tollesbury Wick Marshes walk described above takes you past the marina itself. For a grandstand view of boats passing up and down Woodrolfe Creek walk along the top of the sea wall in the nature reserve just beyond the marina.

Directions: As for Tollesbury Wick above.

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Heybridge BasinHeybridge Basin, near Maldon

The basin marks one end of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation, a canal running from here to Chelmsford. Originally seagoing vessels regularly entered the basin through the sea lock from the Blackwater estuary to unload their cargoes into lighters for transport along the canal. Even up to the early 1970s coasters tied up here to unload timber into motor barges for shipment to Chelmsford. The sea lock remains operational and a wide variety of craft are moored in the basin and along the canal banks.

Liquid refreshment and more substantial fare is available in the Old Ship Inn and the Jolly Sailor. To stretch the legs one can walk across the lock gates and along the sea wall towards Maldon. Alternatively you can walk along the canal towpath towards Heybridge.

Directions: Between Heybridge and Goldhanger turn off the B1026 into Basin Road, at a large sign to Heybridge Basin. Along Basin Road turn right into Daisy Meadow car park (free). After parking, walk up the steps at the far end of the car park onto the canal bank. Turn left towards the basin which is only a very short distance.

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Maldon

The busy little market town of Maldon is well-known for sea salt and Thames barges. The salt, much favoured by cooks, is manufactured in very traditional fashion by boiling brine in large pans. A number of Thames barges are usually moored at Hythe Quay where one can generally see maintenance being carried out on these fine old craft. The restored barges regularly take part in races and are sometimes chartered out for trips along the Thames estuary.

Directions: From the north, drive up Market Hill to Maldon town centre and turn left into the High Street. At the end of the High Street turn left into North Street which takes you down to The Hythe. The streets are very narrow with various parking restrictions but there are a couple of car parks in the vicinity of the recreational ground close by.

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Miscellaneous

Other Colchester Museums

In addition to Colchester Castle (see above), there are three other museums in the centre of Colchester.

Hollytrees Museum - about the lives of Colchester people and the past inhabitants of Hollytrees, the building which houses the collection, a story spanning more than 300 years.

Location: At the top of East Hill (north side), which is at the east end of the High Street.

Natural History Museum - giving a hands-on perspective of the local environment.

Location: At the east end of the High Street (south side), near the junction with Queen Street.

Tymperleys Clock Museum - a fine collection of Colchester made clocks, housed in a magnificent Tudor home.

Location: At the Sir Isaacs Walk/Eld Lane end of Trinity Street.

FURTHER INFORMATION about each of the above museums, such as opening times and contact details, can be found on the Colchester Museums website at www.colchestermuseums.org.uk

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Tiptree logoWilkin's 'Tiptree' Jam Factory Museum and Tea Room

To discover the local 'jam factory' featured in our selection of places to visit may initially come as a bit of a surprise. However the high class products of this factory have earned the Royal Warrant since Queen Victoria's reign and made the name of Tiptree known on tables around the world.

Fruit growing has long been an important activity in the area south of Colchester. In 1885 Mr A C Wilkin founded his business in Tiptree, growing fruit and making preserves. The firm grew and prospered to become the world famous concern it is today.

Next to the factory in Tiptree is a factory shop, museum and tea room. The shop stocks the full range of Wilkin's marmalades and jams as well as a number of other items. If you are stumped for gift ideas, jars of Tiptree preserves make very acceptable presents with a distinctly local flavour (pardon the pun!) at an affordable price.

Adjoining the shop is a small museum - admission free. On show are various old pieces of equipment once used in the jam factory together with information about the development of preserve making. Also displayed is an interesting collection of old documents, press cuttings and photographs recording Tiptree village life in years gone by.

Next to the shop and museum is a tea room which offers sandwiches, hot and cold snacks, and home-baked cakes.

Location: Factory Hill, Tiptree.
Admission: Free
Directions: From Colchester take the B1022 (Maldon) road. Turn left in Tiptree onto the B1023 towards Tolleshunt D'Arcy and Tollesbury. Drive through the main part of the village. As you leave the village the factory is on the right hand side, after Station Road.

For opening times and contact details see the following page of the Wilkin & Sons website: www.trooms.com/index_tiptree.html

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East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel

The museum is housed in restored Victorian station buildings at Chappel, about six miles north west of Colchester. Items in its collection include three preserved signal boxes, a restoration shed, locomotives, passenger and freight rolling stock. Steam trains run on the demonstration line on operating days and the museum runs a programme of special events. Close by is the impressive Chappel railway viaduct, the longest in East Anglia, which was opened in 1849.

Location: Chappel Station, Chappel, Colchester, CO6 2DS.
Directions: At Chappel on the A1124 Colchester-Wakes Colne road. From the A12 come off at Eight Ash Green and follow the A1124 towards Wakes Colne. Turn right at Chappel after going under the railway viaduct.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the Museum's website at www.earm.co.uk

Colne Valley Railway, Castle Hedingham

Ten miles north west of Chappel is the Colne Valley Railway at Castle Hedingham. It claims to have the largest collection of operational heritage engines, carriages and wagons in the country.

Location: Hedingham Station, Yeldham Road, Castle Hedingham.
Directions: On the A1017 Braintree to Haverhill road, about one mile north of the turn off to Castle Hedingham.

For opening times, admission charges, special events and contact details see the Railway's website at www.colnevalleyrailway.co.uk

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Page updated: 27 JUL 2013