Colchester on the Cheap

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Spending money is lame and for people that have it. Here’s how to get the most out of Colchester without having to splash the cash.

Castle Park

On a nice day, Castle Park is a fab afternoon out. A good few hours can be spent, wandering around amongst the flowers, laying on the grass, hitting up the swan pedalos and admiring the roman castle walls and grounds, the castle itself costs money but for a nice lazy sunny stroll, the park itself is free and beautiful. Coming up in September, there’s also going to be outdoor movie screenings of Pulp Fiction, The Goonies and Grease.

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Walk Around the uni

While Castle Park is lovely, you really don’t have to look too far to find a lovely outdoors area to take a walk. Wivenhoe park is a beautiful area, we have the lake, the trees and the ducks to wander around, and on a nice day, the picnic tables and BBQ areas are perfect for a sunny afternoon.

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First Site

Feeling refined? Always daaarling! First Site is a really great artistic space in Colchester, housing galleries and performance and workshop space. Best of all, entry is free and there is some really great art on show there, definitely worth a trip if you feel like being cultured for an afternoon. Coming up there’s the Lubaina Himid and Ed Gold exhibitions, and a number of film screenings, which, although they aren’t free are a bit cheaper than cinema prices.

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The Minories Gallery

Another art gallery managed and run by Colchester School of Art, The Minories Gallery exhibits arts and culture artefacts, and the work and galleries of students of the school. It’s free and located right near Firstsite.

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Colchester Natural History Museum

Don’t go thinking London-scale animatronic dinosaurs, but the natural history museum provides a nice little collection of stuff to keep you entertained without having to spend any cash. It’s really easy to miss, being nestled inside a church just opposite the castle. It’s cute and free, and there’s a range of things to interact with and get nerdy over.

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HollyTrees Museum

Just near the castle, the Hollytrees museum gives a view of Colchester life from over the past 300 years, set in a beautiful Georgian house. Again, admission is free and it provides a bit of entertainment, you can even get dressed up as a servant if you fancy!

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Of course, there’s loads of other stuff in Colchester that you can get up to if you spend a bit of cash, but if you’re anything like me, there’s nothing like the triumph of a free day’s entertainment.

The Beauty of a Campus Uni

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Come to Essex, you need never leave *evil cackle*.

Recently I had a friend come visit me here at Essex from another university, being from a city uni, I thought I would take him on a mini tour of our campus (totally not for showing off purposes)  he was surprised and slightly envious of  all of the things we have here, and up until then I hadn’t really stopped to think about just how lucky we are to have a campus filled with so much stuff.

Now, I’m not blind, brutalist architecture is most definitely not for everybody, and the harshness of some of the 1960’s buildings is undeniable, the grey concrete, the crazy crazy room numbering, but after learning a lot from these blog posts by Jordan Welsh about some of the architectural history, I started to see the beauty and functionality in our weird concrete labyrinth.

https://iamessex.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/secrets-of-the-university-of-essex/

https://iamessex.wordpress.com/2017/06/30/secrets-of-the-university-of-essex-part-2

Aesthetically though, the pretty parts totally outweigh the concrete. As we were wandering, we went around the lakes and up to the top of the hill by the Ivor Crewe, places I may not go on a regular university day, but on a sunny day especially, our campus really does look beautiful.

On top of the aesthetic of our uni, we are so lucky to have so many amenities all in one place. As miserable as it would be to actually come to the uni and then never ever leave campus, it would almost be possible. Campus living is like having its own little mini university village. Food and groceries from the stores, a cinema, a theatre, an art gallery, a bus that serves pie , a post office and all the stationary you’d need from Everything Essex. It really is all there on your doorstep. (Although I definitely wouldn’t recommend never leaving campus, you may go a little crazy.)

Being all in one place really has its benefits when it comes to socialising too. As I learned from the blog posts I mentioned earlier, the campus is designed so that everything gravitates around the core of the squares, meaning bumping into people is always a possibility. Which is really great for impromptu drinks and catch ups, not-so great when you’re on the way home sweaty and red-faced from the gym.

We are super lucky with how much we have on campus, and sometimes it takes a poor unfortunate soul from a city uni to remind us just how much we have here.

My Essex Highlights

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My time at Essex has been amazing and I’ve had some great experiences, here’s a few of the little moments that have made Essex special.

Meerkats

At the end of second year, the SU held a petting zoo, bringing a menagerie of animals onto campus to ease the exam stress. There were bunnies, dogs, fancy mice, and the coolest of all, meerkats! We were aloud to get in and hang out with the meerkats for a while, and it was amazing and a great stress reliever!

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They’re literally on me! Amazing!

Hodor

If you don’t watch Game of Thrones, then this will mean nothing to you, but also you should watch it, come on where have you been? Anyway, even if  you haven’t seen it, you will probably have heard of Hodor, AKA Kristian Nairn. Turns out Hodor is also an amazing dance DJ and before Game of Thrones season 6 came out, Kristian Nairn came and DJ’d at Essex and gave away a load of GoT goodies during the night, I got a ‘You Know Nothing Jon Snow’ mug, I was very excited. But best of all was afterwards we got to meet Hodor after his set, he was super nice! My photo is far too shaky because…reasons,  but here’s my housemate with the man himself!

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Sorry Vilde, I hope you don’t mind me stealing your picture!

Milk It Halloween

Milk It is for me by far the most fun night out at Essex, mainly because my music taste is mainly guilty pleasures and cheese, so it’s perfect. This year, Milk It held a Halloween special and needless to say, karaoke, plus costumes, plus beverages, is always a winning combination!

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I am aware that a pumpkin, Maverick from Top Gun, a Hogwarts student and a banana are an unlikely combination.

Think Talks

I love the Think Series, they open up super interesting topics for debate and really open your mind to things you’ve never considered before. At the beginning of second year I attended one on the porn industry and it was absolutely fascinating, they even give you free sweets and drink as you go in! Definitely a highlight of the things I’ve done at uni!

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These are just a handful of amazing things that I have experienced during my time at Essex and I’m sure there will be many more, Comment below what your Essex highlights have been!

The Wonders of the Uni Flat

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This is it! The key is in your hand, your mum is loaded down with bags and stacker boxes, and if you’re anything like I was, you feel like your heart is about to come out of your chest. It’s move in day. So, I’m here to settle some of those worries, with 8 reasons why living in campus accommodation can be an amazing way to spend your first year.

1. RA’s Are Wonderful!

Living in Uni accommodation, you will have a fellow student living in your building who is your RA (residence assistant). This means if you’re feeling unhappy and need someone to talk to, have any concerns, or if your housemate is refusing to wash up a bowl that is starting to grow its own species, they are there to help. In my first year I lived in Quays and our RA was amazing. She organised countless things to help us to get social; from a treasure hunt, to a trip to the cinema, to a gingerbread house decorating competition – which we totally won,  and were awarded Domino’s! Here’s our winning masterpiece:

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2.Not feeling the shame from your parents when you come in drunk and want to feast at 3am

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Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there before and we’re all likely to be there again. But when you come crawling home at 3 in the morning with pizza topping stuck to your cheek and you’re just craving some cheesy chips, it’s nice to be able to do it without eye rolls and tuts from your parents. Peace at last!

3.We’re all in the same boat *groan*

It is so annoyingly cliche, and when people try to reassure you about your uni fears by telling you that ‘all students are in the same boat’, you want to scream. Mainly because before you start uni, that boat for many, feels more like the ‘The Orca’ in Jaws, with a big old anxiety shark going at it hard. But there is something in the cliche! The best way to embrace the fear of isolation at uni is to realise that literally everyone is the new kid! So don’t feel like you’re a weirdo by being pally with your new flatmates, they’ll be just as relieved as you are to be talking and getting to know people. So it ends up Less:

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And More:

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4.Find Your People

Of course I can’t guarantee you’re going to always be skipping in circles holding hands with your fellow uni flatmates, but if like me you are lucky enough to end up with great people in your flat, uni accommodation can feel like an endless sleepover. A lot of time was spent in our pyjamas, watching Undateables and laughing at cringey guys on each other’s Tinders. (There was also a hair dying incident but let’s not talk about that.)

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5. The Kitchen Time Sinkhole

Sometimes you just need a good chin wag. In our flat there was some kind of time anomaly, you’d go in there to make yourself a quick dinner at 5pm, get talking nonsense with your flatmates and all of a sudden it’s midnight and you’re all sat around in a circle talking about whether you think ghosts are real…

Uni kitchens are such a social hub, and in them, the world has been put to rights in many ways shapes and forms, for instance, ranking the best outfits on Menswear Dog’s Facebook page, or deciding whether ostriches would make good mounts to ride into battle.

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6. OMG Uni is so close

Admittedly, for anyone living in the Quays at Essex, uni is still a fairly far walk away, BUT then you’ve got Subway and Domino’s right next door, so it softens the blow of that bridge. For the other accommodations, campus is on your doorstep! Living in the South Courts or Towers, you can roll out of bed and into a lecture in minutes! However you might not understand how great this is until you move off of campus and have the horrible realisation that having to walk places is a thing. 

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Legit me on the way to 9AMs now I live off campus

7. Independence/Security Balance

What is really nice about university accommodation is that for a lot of people this is their first taste of adulting and independence. That can be really daunting, but living in a uni flat, having an RA, an accommodation office, and for most of the accommodations, cleaners that do the hallway and kitchen, you don’t feel like you’re in at the deep end; there is support there, and it also feels super safe being surrounded by so many other people.

8. Inside Jokes That No One Else Finds Funny

Probably mainly caused out of coursework stress and delirium, the stupidest things become hilarious, including sneaking terrible crayon drawings of Shia Labeouf under someone’s door, or leaving lonely hearts adverts on the tortillas that need eating up, or changing your flatmates name to Dave and refusing to call her by anything else.

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You’re bound to feel nervous until you get here, but I hope this has at least helped turn some of the nerves into excitement! You’ll love it when you get here!

University for Introverts

enhanced-26078-1439315868-1Congrats! You’re a clever sausage and bagged yourself a place at University! Three years of partying lay ahead of you! Supposedly…

But what about the people that aren’t quite as confident in throwing  themselves into the party lifestyle? Being an introvert at university can be really nerve wracking. For me, before I came to Essex I was extremely shy, and the fact that I had no choice but to make friends worried me to the point of considering not going to university. But hey! Here I am, in my second year, with a small but wonderful group of friends and a whole lot more confidence, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Don’t panic or feel rushed!

When you arrive at uni, you may feel like it’s a rush to grab the nearest person and make them your new BFF. As great as that can be, for the introvert it may not be that easy. But there really is no need to panic, or feel like you have to force yourself into friendships. Good friendships happen organically, they can’t necessarily be forced. While you may make friends in the first couple of weeks and that’s great, the probability is they may not end up your best mate for your entire time at uni. I met one of my best friends at uni in a seminar in first term, but it wasn’t until after Christmas that we did anything beyond see each other in class; the point is, these things take time. So don’t feel like a failure if you haven’t made a soul connection by the second week of freshers!

Societies

The likelihood is that you’ll be told copious times when you arrive, how important joining a society is. While it definitely isn’t essential and you shouldn’t feel like you’re failing as a student if you don’t, if you’re nervous about meeting new people and establishing yourself socially, societies can be an invaluable way of meeting people.

You don’t necessarily need to look too far!

Don’t underestimate the importance of your housemates! At the beginning of university especially, going on little expeditions with the people you live with can be a great way of learning more about each other while learning more about the new place that you’re living in. The best thing is, open your bedroom door, and they’re right there! You don’t even have to leave the house and that’s always a bonus.

Embrace your own company

In the least lonely and sad possible way, uni can be a great time to learn more about yourself and truly enjoy your own company. While I am in no way suggesting that you should lock yourself in your room for three years straight, don’t underestimate the value of having time to yourself. You are at uni to improve yourself. There is no shame in doing stuff on your own and throughout your life learning to be happy with your own company can be really valuable; there is one person who you will spend your entire life with and that’s yourself.  You don’t have to rely on other people’s company for entertainment! While of course, you need buddies to keep you afloat, and meeting new people is one of the best parts of uni, you don’t need to beat yourself up if you don’t fancy surrounding yourself with people 24/7. Besides, sometimes you can’t beat a good blanket and Netflix binge watch sesh!

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The moral of the story is: go out partying, stay in by yourself – whatever you want to do at uni, as long as you’re happy, we’re happy!

‘Gap Year’s and ‘Gap Yah’s The Pros and Cons

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It’s tempting, I know. You’ve just come back from an amazing time finding yourself in Thailand, and of course you want to tell everyone about it because ‘riding an elephant was, like, totally life changing man’.

Don’t get me wrong, as a gap year student myself,  taking a year between the end of A-Levels and starting your degree can be  invaluable. If you want to earn some cash, go on an amazing trip, or simply take some time away from education for a while, gap year-ing can really help you change your perspective and give you a well deserved break (and besides you will have been in education for a good 12/13 years non-stop!).

The Benefits of  a Gap Year

For myself, my gap year gave me a bit more time to think, I had gotten to the end of my a-levels, and as many do, freaked out because I had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do with my life! I had already been on some open days but was still completely clueless. Taking my gap year helped me realise that I wanted to go to uni for myself and not because everyone else at sixth form was going too.

Although it is just  a year, taking that time away to gain some more experiences just living your life does make a difference and can really help you feel like you have grown up a little bit more before that scary transition to university. Even if you don’t take a spiritual trip, scootering through Vietnam, as cliche as it may seem, a gap year really can help you find yourself a little.

Making some cash before you ship off to uni can also prove to be really useful, although nowhere near as fun as my friends who went backpacking. I spent my gap year waitressing, it was kind of boring and a tad soul destroying but in terms of money, I came to university not having to rely entirely on my student loan, which was really useful when it came to boozing during freshers and making the most of the freedom of first year.

BUT

A ‘Gap year’ and a ‘Gap yah’ are two very different things.

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Perhaps I’m just envious, ( I most definitely am) of my peers who were lucky enough to experience an amazing trip, but the issue with the Gap Yah student is not the gap year, or the lengthy trip you choose to take, it’s the amount you annoy everyone else about it.  Spoiler alert: not everyone wants to hear you brag about your tales of how ‘Ollie from your hostel had the best banter’.

You know the type. You’ve just  moved into uni accommodation, you’re in the kitchen, brewing a nervous cuppa, and your new flatmate comes in, spotting the koala bear on your mug and before you know it,  they’re spouting off all about how amaaaazing Australia was before you can even tell them your name.

The issue is the pretension and the bragging when it comes to recounting your gap year odyssey. While without doubt, your gap year was probably epic, it’s the way you deliver it to other students. It’s definitely worth being aware that not everyone is able to afford a massively extravagant gap year and so hearing you bang on about it can become really grating, plus, being a fresher at uni, your new friends have probably heard 8 other stories of how wild the beach parties are in Cambodia in the past week!

And if you think it’s just me being a bitter old woman, here’s Frank Turner’s I Really Don’t Care What You Did On Your Gap Year, which isn’t really anything to do with this article in terms of lyrics, but it’s a good song with a relevant title!

Let’s get social: what to do and where to go!

SU Bar

The SU Bar is the Holy Grail of student life here. I feel like, in some way, it is the heart of the uni. There are times where after a lecture or an exam you just need to relax, and the SU Bar is perfect for that. It’s always nice to get a pint after a hard day of work. The comfy couches are definitely a plus! If you need something a bit more lively, you can always go to Milk It and sing karaoke with people – it is literally the most fun ever!

Sub Zero/Base

If you are a dancer or a clubber, you will love Sub Z and Base. The music is always on point and you can dance the night away. There is also an area to sit down and to have a chat, or you can even go outside and get some fresh air after dancing all night. People are very friendly here and it is easy to strike up a conversation and make new friends.

Happy Days/Frango’s/Fusion/Canteen

I literally cannot tell you how many times I have made new friends just while waiting for my food! I think I get most talkative when I am hungry and I think this is proven by the fact that I met 2 of my closest friends while waiting for food in Happy Days 😀 It was a match made in heaven (heaven = Happy Days)!

Squares

The squares are literally always buzzing with life – day and night. During the day you might join an African bongo band and play away, or at night you might join a group of people and enjoy the night with them – university makes it strangely easy to interact with people. There were numerous times when I had no plan for the night, I went to the store to get something and I ended up sitting in Square 3 with a group of people that are still, to this day, my friends!

How to Make Friends Before You Even Get to Uni

A lot of people worry about making friends at uni. Most of the time you’re moving away to a place where you know nobody and you’ll be living with people you’ve never even met before. This can seem quite scary, but there are ways to meet and chat to people before you even get to uni.

People from your sixth form

When I put Essex as my firm choice on UCAS no one else at my sixth form I knew had put it as a choice. I asked around to see if anyone I knew, knew someone that had. Eventually I found out that someone in my history class had also applied to Essex! Previously I had never even spoken to this person, but we had a chat about all things uni and Essex and now when I run into them on campus, I always make sure I say hi! It might seem like a bit of a cop out to make friends going to your uni at your sixth form, but it’s nice to know someone in a similar situation to you and of course, there are the other ways to make friends too.

The Student Room

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If you have never heard of The Student Room, it can be an extremely helpful website for all things, well, student! The University of Essex has its own forum page here. Loads of people will be posting the unis that they’re going to and asking people what courses they’re doing. The Essex forum page has threads with people asking who else will be on their course or if they’re living in the same accommodation. It’s a great place to find lots of other people going to Essex, doing your course, or living near you. It’s also very helpful for info about the social life at Essex, and things like what to bring to uni. Whilst you don’t need an account to read the forums, you do if you want to contribute to the chat.

Facebook

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The University of Essex is all over Facebook! There is the general freshers’ page which is run by the Students’ Union, there’s individual pages for each accommodation and there’s departmental pages too. The freshers page has thousands of members as most new students, as well as existing students will join it. It’s a great place to ask general questions about life at Essex, especially as you know you’ll be answered by students who have been in your position. It’s also great for meeting students who might be commuters, mature students or postgraduates.

Open days and Visit days

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When you come to our Essex open days, it’s not only useful to learn about the basics of uni life, it’s also a great opportunity to get to know some other potential students. Strike up a conversation on a tour – you might just end up going to uni with that person! Applicant days, once you have an offer from Essex, are also an excellent way to meet people who are on your course. Your future lecturers will also be giving taster sessions which will give you a chance to get a real feel for the academic side of university.

With all these ways to make friends before uni, keep in my mind that you’ll still meet plenty more people once you actually move in and start lectures, so go forth and make friends!

A letter to EU and International students: leaving home and arriving in Colchester

Dear EU and International students,

I am sure you are very excited to join our international family of students and staff, but there may also be some nerves kicking in at the thought of leaving your home and the country you have grown up in. It wasn’t long ago that I was getting ready to leave my home to start University here. I remember I was so scared – all the way from applying for the course to taking the bus to the University in October was terrifying. But when I actually arrived and saw all the freshers and all the people that greeted us and helped us, I felt so relieved. It may sound strange to you, but seeing all those people, all the nationalities and cultures, and all the chaos that goes along with the first day, I just felt this sense of belonging because I knew that everyone felt that the same way as I did; the university was here to help us in any way they could, so that we all felt as at home here as possible. In just the first week, we had like three international student socials! It was held in The Hex and you could meet fellow students from all over the world.

During Welcome Week, there are loads of events put on, everything from disco nights and introductory lectures to people putting stalls up in the squares to get to know the freshers.

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But the most famous of all events during Welcome Week is the Fresher’s Fair. It is THE event of the week. You go to the squares, or should I say squeeze yourself to the fresher’s fair, because there are so many people it’s unbelievable. Across the 5 squares, you will see nothing else than stalls everywhere and just loads…like LOADS of people. Each stall represents a different organisation, society or sports club. That includes stalls from, for example, the Red Cross, the Rugby Team all the way to the Romanian Society. Meaning if by any chance you are struggling to find friends, just join a society, team or organisation and there you go! 20 to 50 instant friends! Also, if you are not into any sport or activity society, you can join societies of your own nationality! And if by any chance (a very small chance I might add) there is not a society for yours, you can always create one.

If you have doubts even after all I have told you, don’t worry. I have the ultimate ace up my sleeve…we are the 15th most international university in the WORLD. Not even in England, in the whole wide WORLD!

Lastly and most importantly, please remember that if you feel anxious or even scared, there are thousands of people feeling just like you and they are heading to Essex just like you. We are here for you and ready to help you in any way, shape or form. We are all one family.

Yours truly,

Dragos

My 6 Top Places to Visit in Essex

Hello! I am originally from Chelmsford in Essex and decided to study in Colchester. This blog is going to tell you some of my favourite things to do around Essex, so you can take a break from revision, get out of Colchester and explore! I am going to include maps so you can see roughly how long it takes to get to the places from uni and also hyperlinks so you can easily access the webpages for more information on things to do, prices and times. I am going to start with my home town, Chelmsford.

  • Chelmsford

Chelmsford’s town centre is a bit bigger than Colchester, with two small shopping centres and a brand new shopping complex with John Lewis, many new restaurants and also an Everyman cinema (which has sofas, a bar and you can order food while you watch a movie). I enjoy Chelmsford for shopping and also eating out because there are lots of options.

There is also Hylands Park, which is home to V Festival that takes place every August. It is a weekend festival and I would really recommend going if you have the chance! Apart from the festival they hold regular events and also have a cafe, where you can grab lunch or an ice cream. It’s a nice place to have a picnic and chill on a hot day! Oaklands Park is another nice area to relax in and there is also a Museum, which is free to enter. They hold events occasionally, such as a Photographic Exhibition, Coins and Tokens, Social History and 1950s Fashion: A Decade of Glamour.

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  • Southend-On-Sea

Southend-On-Sea is around 1 hours drive away, or 2 hours by public transport. There is a seven mile coastline and places to get ice cream and a traditional fish and chips, a proper British experience! There is also a theme park called Adventure Island. It is not as big as other theme parks in England, however it is still a fun day out! Southend also has sea life centre close to the beach and it is home to the longest pier in the world, so it’s worth a visit!

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  • Frinton-On-Sea

This is probably my favourite beach in Essex. It has the best sand and a nice atmosphere with beach huts along the back. It is a great place to play games on the beach and has been awarded for its cleanliness, which is always a plus! There is also a grass area behind the beach that overlooks the sea, a great place for a picnic or a ball game.

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  • Dedham

Dedham is situated in the countryside and has an old traditional high street with an Arts and Craft Centre and wooden beam houses. There is an impressive 15th century Church in the middle of the village. Boats can be hired to explore the Stour River and many walks can be taken to venture into the countryside. There are restaurants to visit, which can be luxury, a traditional pub or a nice tea room. Wine tasting is also available at Dedham Vale Vineyard.

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  • Brentwood

This is the most well-known place for The Only Way is Essex TV show (TOWIE). However, you won’t walk around the streets seeing the cast! There is a main high street for shopping, but there are also activities to do just outside of the town centre. They have dry ski slopes where you can have lessons, or if you already know how to ski or snowboard then you can go to have fun. If you don’t want to face skiing or snowboarding, then they also have tubing, this is where you go down the slopes in a rubber ring, a lot of fun!  On the same complex there is also Go-Karting and a great Chinese buffet restaurant called Izumi.

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  • Saffron Walden

If you’re looking for something a bit more cultural then the English Heritage site Audley End House and Gardens might be something you enjoy. It costs £12.10 for a concession ticket or £13.40 for an adult. It is a mansion house with gardens, a stable and place to get food and drink is also available. They also hold events, so keep an eye on their website for any events coming up!

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I hope this gives you some ideas of what to do around Essex. If you don’t have a car then check out Trainline and National Express for ways to get around 🙂