Swimming and Camping, Essex
For some glorious swimming and canoeing in clean water visit the River Chelmer near Ulting, downstream from Hoe Mill Bridge (51.7485, 0.6081). Watch out for boats, and see if you can spot the pretty church on the riverbank. Afterwards, camp beneath apple trees at Bouncers Farm, or stay in a traditional bow top waggon there. If you visit in July you might even catch some ‘opera in the orchard,’ a popular seasonal tradition.
Signed Nounsley/Ulting off B1019 at S end of Hatfield Peverel. From Ulting (after CM9 6QU) head S to the causeway and lock. Follow the footpath downstream. Limited parking, cycle route 1. Also explore downstream from Boreham Bridge, upstream (51.7485, 0.5596). 5 mins, 51.7485, 0.6081.
Bouncers Farm, Wickam Hall Lane, CM8 3JJ, 0117 204 7830, www.canopyandstars.co.uk
Play in The Hundred Aker Wood, East Sussex
Visit Winnie-the-Pooh country and play at poohsticks on the ‘real Poohsticks Bridge’ – fun for both children and children-at-heart. If you’re feeling energetic, simply head out into the 6,500 acres of the Ashdown Forest and lose yourself in the miles of bridlepaths winding through woodland and heathland. If you want to find out more about all the different ‘Pooh’ places (and there are a lot), visit Pooh Corner in Hartfield, and make sure to stop off at Piglet’s Tearoom for a ‘little smackerel of something’ in the sunny garden. For something a little different, try your hand at foraging with Ashdown Forage, or head to the medieval weatherboarded Hatch Inn for some tasty locally sourced food.
Follow the B2026 S from Pooh Corner (Hartfield, TN7 4AE) for just over a mile, and take the R turn signed Marsh Green and Newbridge. The car park is first on the R. From here, follow the path for ‘Pooh Bridge’. 15 mins, 51.0854, 0.0978.
Ashdown Forage, 07956 751914.
The Hatch inn, Colemans Hatch, TN7 4EJ, 01342 822363.
Ghost-hunting and swimming in Hertfordshire
All that remains of medieval Thundridge village is the 15th century ruined church and its abandoned graveyard, which once stood near a moated manor house (51.8378, -0.0157). It is known locally as Cold Christmas Church and is said to be haunted. Visit on a misty dawn morning to search for ghosts, then, as the day warms up, head over to Bengeo for some glorious wild swimming in the pretty willow-lined River Beane (51.8059, -0.0683). The water here is clean and fresh, with shallow areas that are perfect for children and weaker swimmers.
Thundridge Church Ruin – take road opposite The Sow & Pigs, Thundridge (SG12 0ST 01920 463281), dir Cold Christmas (signed Cold Christmas Ln). Continue E over A10, park immediately on L and follow signed footpath on L for approx. 150m. Take right and go 300m to find ruins among trees on L at bend. 8 mins, 51.8378, -0.0157
For a river meadow and footbridge with good swimming spots up or downstream on the River Beane, including a weir and waterfall – find St Leonard’s Church (SG14 3JW, all the way down New Rd from Bengeo main street past Holy Trinity church). Pass through gate onto Hartham Common 100m to bridge. Close to Hertford East station (head N via Mill Rd, across the canal, 500m) or Hertford North station. 5 mins, 51.8059, -0.0683
Wild Marshes, Thames Estuary
The “dark flat wilderness” of the marshes around Higham inspired the eerie first meeting between young Pip and the convict Magwitch in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. For an exciting and strangely industrial feel, head to Cliffe Clay Pits nearby to swim (51.4530, 0.4641). Right on the estuary shore, the best is the lake nearest the sea wall, with steep sides for the more adventurous swimmer. Here is also the starting point of the Saxon Shore Way, which you can follow all the way around the edge of Kent, following the ancient coastline.
From Higham station in Lower Higham follow Church St a mile up to St Mary’s church (ME3 7LS). Take footpath through field gate, towards pylons, and across railway tracks. Head along L shore of first lake (with crane) for second lake, by sea wall. Sides can be steep. A somewhat industrial feel! 20 mins, 51.4530, 0.4641
Wizard Trees, Berkshire
The strange hollow trees of Burnham Beeches featured in the Harry Potter films, and are perfect for wizarding fun and games. Look for the 800-year-old Druid’s Oak, the oldest tree in the wood. Burnham Beeches has a family-friendly outdoor cafe, or the White Horse at Hedgerley has a lovely garden with a woodland feel – gas lamps, low beams, and delicious cask beers.
Burnham Beeches is clearly signed off the A355 in Farnham Common. Druids Oak
is located just SE of Lord Mayor’s Drive. Access from car park on Hawthorn Lane by
red postbox (SL2 3TF) on S side of woods and follow the Drive NE for 300m past the hillfort on L to Druids on R. Or follow the Drive W from the main car park and café (near SL2 3PS), about a mile. 6 mins, 51.5523, -0.6346
The Beeches Café, 01753 648758
The White Horse, Village Lane, Hedgerley, Slough, SL2 3UY, 01753 643225.
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