For the love of Essex
PUBLISHED: 16:16 20 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2017
With its history, pretty architecture, and beautiful forests, West Essex has much more to offer than the glitz and glamour it is so often associated with. Take some time to get out and about this Valentine’s Day and share the love to be found on your doorstep
February can of course be a bit hit and miss in terms of the weather but with true romance in mind, prepare for whatever the elements have to offer and do something different this Valentine’s Day. There is nothing wrong with the usual long lie-in, somewhere for a late lunch, and a rom-com with a bucket of popcorn to round the day off, but also consider exploring the amazing countryside and little hidden gems that are just a stone’s throw away.
Epping Forest is an obvious choice as it is so far reaching and easy to access from any part of the area. Just nine miles from the bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities takes you to a place of sunlit glades (that can be even more spectacular in winter), rough heaths worth of any Wuthering Heights fan, and great Hornbeam trees, although we wouldn’t recommend carving your hearts and initials into their bark.
Take in some history and climb the narrow stairs (complete with little resting places, those Tudors were not the healthiest of folk!) at the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge which is a truly peaceful and atmospheric building. Originally built for Henry VIII the lodge served as a grandstand for guests due to its spectacular view…but don’t get any ideas about working your way through six wives, that wouldn’t be very romantic at all.
Knights in shining armour
Being the largest open space in Greater London it’s difficult not to harp on about Epping Forest, but there are other ways to explore its 6,000 acres of magical nature spots, and none more romantic than on horseback.
A whole network of bridleways, mountain bike trails, and intriguing paths thread their way through the woods and meadows so it’s a great excuse to do something different and whisk your loved one off on an equestrian adventure. We are very lucky to have several riding schools dotted around the forest, there is High Beech Riding School, Woodredon Equestrian Centre, and Barnfields Riding Stables to name a few, and all are nestled within the forest area and very easy to access.
You’ll also be following in the footsteps of the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin as Epping Forest was his stomping ground too. So if it’s a grand Poldark-style gesture you’re after, this is the way to go.
Of course all of this activity is sure to make you hungry and there will be plenty of options for a fabulous dining experience. Take a look at our gastro pages for some ideas to help you choose your ideal venue and some that are a little different to the norm.
As Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, there are also some lovely places where you can indulge in a wonderful calorie-laden afternoon tea. Check out the local cafes and patisseries for sumptuous cakes, scones and macarons, all washed down with a glass or two of fizz of course.
It’s a tricky thing negotiating the post-Christmas detox as Valentine’s Day comes along just when you’re mid-flow with the green smoothies. Chocolate hearts, champagne, and sticky puddings made for two all put paid to your progress, so you may want to consider a romantic run.
Yes you heard right! Last year the Runners Guide to London posted our very own Valentines Park in Ilford as one of its five most romantic running routes. With around 50 hectares of formal parkland, a boating lake, lots of hungry ducks, a pretty palace, and two lovely cafes to grab a spot of brunch after your efforts, what is not to love about this wonderful little spot?
Once you’ve toned up those legs, take to the lake and work on those biceps and triceps too as you take your loved on a peaceful paddle among the wildlife. It may be a bit on the chilly side but it will do wonders for your inner glow.
Love is the greatest gift
But every girl likes to be spoilt on Valentine’s Day too. We have to remind you therefore that it falls on a Sunday this year so you may need to consider a little pre-planning. Order your flowers in advance or let the love of your life choose her own beautiful bouquet as the florists of West Essex are sure to be a hive of activity on the day itself.
Take a stroll along one of our high streets and if you haven’t planned anything in advance, there is bound to be a lovely little independent shop that has the perfect gift waiting for you. We have everything from jewellery and fine art, to fashion and flowers ready to be gift wrapped and earn you those all-important brownie points.
Even if you’re not thinking of shopping, our high streets (especially on a quiet day) are just a great place for a leisurely walk, a couple of coffee stops, and a chance to talk without the constant interruption of the television, iPad or phone. Speaking of which; this Valentine’s Day if you do one thing switch that phone off and just enjoy the day with each other.
If you’re willing to go a bit further afield there are some great little spots worth a visit that will add some warm and cuddly moments to your day:
• Share an ice-cream dream at the seaside with the renowned Rossi’s on Southend seafront. This is a great tradition for any couple to enjoy; take a stroll along the pier then indulge in a hot chocolate to keep away the chill. Perfect!
• The food of love is always available at the West Mersea Oyster Bar. Enjoy the world famous Colchester native oysters or the local Mersea Island Rocks. If a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach then this well-known aphrodisiac is surely the way to go on Valentine’s Day.
• Bring on the bear hugs at Colchester Zoo and check out the happy couples in the animal world. Bears, monkeys, giraffes and even Komodo Dragons have their snuggly side so make an excuse to copy their lovey-dovey behaviour.