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Historic Castles & Gardens

Historic Castles & Gardens

From historic castles to country houses and gardens, this itinerary introduces you to some of the rich and fascinating heritage around the county of Essex. Wander around the gardens of a decadent Jacobean country house, have tea in a 17th century cottage and visit a Tudor palace with the tallest gatehouse in the country.


Day 1: Colchester


Start your day on the outskirts of Colchester in the village of Ardleigh at Green Island Gardens.  A haven of tranquility, you can explore 20 acres of skillfully designed gardens, created by owner in residence Fiona Edmond and including a terrace garden, Japanese garden, water, seaside and gravel gardens as well as extensive woodland, hosting a wealth of unusual plants. A horticultural paradise with year-round interest.

Your next stop this morning is the wonderful Hedingham Castle and Gardens in the village of Castle Hedingham. The 900-year-old Norman keep stands in 160 acres of stunning landscaped gardens and woodland, where the Lindsey family - descendants of the original owners - the De Veres, live today. It is romantic, ancient and full of history. Privately owned, its character is unique.

On the way to your afternoon activity, stop at the market town of Halstead. The High Street is set on a hill, and right at the top you’ll find The Little Book Café – a delightful, quirky place for a lunch stop – you may even find a book on Essex to browse whilst you’re there! If you like antiques, you may also like to visit the Mill Antiques Centre too, one of the largest in the county – you’ll find this at the bottom of the hill.

After lunch, a 20-minute drive brings you to Layer Marney Tower and Gardens – home to the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the UK.  This is a magnificent building standing 80 feet high, with stunning views over the Essex countryside and set in delightful grounds where you can also view the local parish church. The Tower stands on the shores of the River Blackwater, and the building was initiated by Lord Henry Marney in the 1520s, a close friend of Henry VIII at the time. Originally designed to be a grand palace, what you can see today are the aspirations of a 16th century Lord.

Dinner and accommodation this evening will be at Prested Hall. This Grade II listed manor house was stylishly extended in the 1930s and contains some fantastic art  nouveau features.


Day 2: Audley End & Braintree 


From Prested Hall, take an hour’s drive up to Saffron Walden to visit Audley End House and Gardens. Here you will discover an authentic Victorian kitchen garden and more in the grounds of a magnificent 17th century country house. The immaculate gardens are brimming with seasonal fruit and vegetables, much like it would have been in the Victorian times.

From here, less than a five minute drive, stop at the Eight Bells for a hearty, home-cooked lunch in a cosy, oak-beamed pub setting. The menu is a selection of local and seasonal produce, fine wines, and if you visit on a Sunday, be sure to have a traditional Sunday roast.

After lunch, make your way to Great Notley Country Park. The park is home to Essex’s longest play trail, cycling and horse-riding routes and a fishing lake. Whether you would like to take a relaxing afternoon stroll or indulge in something more active, there is plenty to do here.  Stay to watch the sunset for a perfect end to a busy two days in Essex.  

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Product Information

  1. Layer Marney Tower

    Colchester

    Magnificent Tudor building with the tallest Gatehouse in Britain and 16th century Italianate terracotta. Climb the tower, visit the gardens, outbuildings dolls house, church and farm animals. Cafe and shop.

  2. Prested Hall Accommodation

    Colchester

    Comfortable, listed country house hotel in 75 acres, just off the A12, 1 mile from Kelvedon Station, with 16 bedrooms and a health club next door.

  3. Audley End House and Gardens

    Saffron Walden

    Visit Essex's hidden treasure house to explore delightful gardens and acres of parkland and experience the upstairs and downstairs life of one of England’s grandest houses. Discover its staterooms, nursery and fascinating artefacts and meet our resident horses in the Victorian stableyard.

  4. Great Notley Country Park

    Great Notley Country Park covers some 100 acres of open space, which is managed for the benefit of wildlife and the community. It's home to the longest Kid's Play Trail in Essex.

  5. Green Island Gardens

    Colchester

    20 acres of professionally designed gardens within woodland destroyed by the 1987 hurricane. Now a plantsman's paradise full of unusual plants for all year round colour.
    Tearoom, Nursery and regular events. We also offer our gardens for wedding parties and private functions.

Itinerary Distances

FromToDistance * (metric)
Layer Marney Tower (51.82318,0.79724)Prested Hall Accommodation (51.84349,0.73222)4.51
Prested Hall Accommodation (51.84349,0.73222)Audley End House and Gardens (52.02081,0.22062)36.26
Audley End House and Gardens (52.02081,0.22062)Great Notley Country Park (51.86352,0.51745)24.18
Great Notley Country Park (51.86352,0.51745)Green Island Gardens (51.90605,0.98768)29.39
Total Distance *94.32 miles
Estimated Journey Time3.04 hours

* Approximate distance by road

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