Royal connections and Olympic celebrations
Steeped in history, full of character and jewelled with green spaces, the South West corner of Essex has all the right ingredients for a short break – whether you’re looking to embrace the great outdoors, soak up some royal heritage or enjoy a taste of the Olympics.
The District’s location has long made it an ideal visitor destination, with proximity to London Underground making it a great daytrip location. Both Epping Forest and the River Lea also provide direct green links from London meaning visitors can choose to venture into the area on foot or by bike. With so much on offer it’s hardly surprising that many visitors choose to stay longer and make a weekend of it, as well as finding it a great base from which to explore the capital.
The character market town of Waltham Abbey is immersed in History. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, this ancient town, with its once powerful abbey, is the resting place of King Harold, slain at the Battle of Hastings. The town celebrates its royal connections every October on the award-winning King Harold day. You can also learn about Waltham’s secret history in gunpowder production with a family day out at the Royal Gunpowder Mills.
Just a few minutes away from Waltham Abbey, the world class Lee Valley, White Water Centre, setting for the London 2012 Canoe Slalom events, offers adrenaline-pumping white water rafting and paddling opportunities for people of all ages. The centre opened in 2011 and visitor numbers have already far exceeded expectations. Alternatively, for a gentler taste of the outdoors, head for Epping Forest, whose ancients trees, heaths and sunlit glades, criss-crossed with footpaths and bridleways, were once the hunting ground of English kings (Epping is in fact the start of the 81-mile Essex Way).
For more information
Take time too to explore the area’s built heritage. In a country farmed for its churches, Greensted Church is a real gem. Reputedly the oldest wooden church in the world, this exquisite structure dates from the 11th century and is the purported to be the resting place of St Edmund on his way to burial. Alternatively visit Copped Hall, where Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed. This fine Georgian mansion, set in sweeping parkland, opens for monthly tours and special events and allows a fascinating glimpse into country life. Combine a visit with a stroll and lunch in the leafy market towns of Epping or Ongar, followed by some retail therapy. You can now experience a nostalgic ride on the re-launched Epping Ongar Heritage Railway, which links the two towns. Or, if you like to hunt for a bargain, head for North Weald; a former Battle of Britain Airfield with historic links to WWI which is still active today and host to England’s largest market on Saturdays and Bank Holidays.
Did you know
One of Britain’s best-known female Olympic champions, TV presenter Sally Gunnell, was born in Chigwell near Epping in 1966. Women were banned from entering the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 on the grounds that their inclusion would be ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect’. Even in 1900, only 11 women were allowed to compete, and only in two sports, golf and tennis.