Neptune Colchester opened at the beginning of 2015 and sits just on the edge of this historic town. It’s this corner of Essex’s architecture, its art and its countryside that we love the best, and you’ll find just some of our recommendations below. Alongside these, we’ve also pulled together a few of our favourite places to eat and shop, as no daytrip (or longer visit) would be complete without either.
Any admirer of the artist John Constable will likely have heard of Flatford. This small hamlet provided the inspiration for many of his most famous paintings, including The Hay Wain. It’s about half an hour’s drive from Colchester, in the Dedham Vale, but the quintessential beauty of Flatford and the surrounding walks makes the journey completely worthwhile.
The Beth Chatto Gardens
Created by plantswoman Beth Chatto and her husband Andrew in 1960, these gardens grew out of what was really just wasteland. In the process, they overcame the various problems of this challenging site – in places boggy and in others incredibly dry – to create a series of gardens containing plants perfectly suited to their conditions, that are now well-regarded all over the world. There’s also a plant nursery that’s handily organised according to where each plant best likes to grow.
The Munnings Art Museum
This gallery, open from the beginning of April until the end of October each year, sits within the former house of the artist Sir Alfred Munnings. His paintings, which centre around equestrian and rural scenes, are hung alongside many of his personal possessions. You can also visit Munnings’ studio in the garden, which has been kept much as the artist would’ve left it.
As Colchester’s cultural centre, Firstsite plays host to a continually evolving programme of events and exhibitions – from screenings of National Theatre performances, to ‘Exhibition on Screen’ films that shed light on major art exhibitions, to drawing classes and art-themed reading groups. Even if you’re not planning on staying long, the striking, golden building is reason enough to stop by.