Car-free adventures aroundChelmsfordEssex
Birthplace of radio and engineering boomtown of the industrial revolution, Chelmsford has an urban reputation. But a great network of trains and buses make it easy to get out into the surrounding countryside, full of unexpected beauty. Chelmsford is a surprisingly good base for a holiday. There are stately homes and pretty rivers, flowering hilltops and ancient woodland; even the seaside is not far off. And, back in Chelmsford itself, there are interesting relics of the city's pioneering heritage. The RHS gardens at Hyde Hall are the first stop on this varied itinerary.
1. Bus to Hyde Hall gardens
From bright willow stems by frosty winter ponds to the scent of summer roses drifting over the sloping lawns, RHS Hyde Hall is a year-round destination. With views across the Essex countryside and a great variety of garden styles, it’s popular with visitors from near and far. Now, thanks to Arrow Taxis, you can get there by bus or summer shuttle bus, with Good Journey’s directions.
- In Chelmsford bus station (just under the railway bridge from the train station), head for Stand 1, on the left near the Ale House.
- Since the gardens don’t open until 10am, the first sensible bus will currently be the 11am (or 11.20am on Saturdays; they run every couple of hours Mon-Sat, but not on Sunday).
- Look out for the No.3 (mini)bus and make sure you tell the driver you’re going to Hyde Hall (they might take a different route otherwise) and what time you’re planning to come back. (If you want to decide later, ring 01621 874410 or 01621 855111 in plenty of time to get a message to the driver).
- Stroll through the cottage garden, up through the new wildflower meadow towards the lovely walkway past the Robinson Garden (Dr and Mrs Robinson first created a garden at Hyde Hall in 1955); then out past the beehives into a huge grassy field with wide views.
- Head back through the blossom-hung woodland walks to the iris-fringed upper pond, at the centre of the landscaped hilltop. Don’t miss the unusual dry garden, blazing with orange poppies, yellow-green spurges and red-hot pokers.
- There’s a new restaurant this year near the hilltop garden, the Gardener’s Rest, open daily for lunch and elevenses. And back at the foot of the hill, there’s the stylishly re-modelled Clover café, open all day and serving hearty snacks like Welsh rarebit or filled sweet potatoes.
2. From markets to Marconi
The Romans called Chelmsford Caesaromagus or “Caesar’s Field” and remnants from Romano-British temples and tiled bathhouse floors have been dug up in the area. In 1199, the new King John (of later magna carta fame) granted the Bishop of London a royal charter, allowing him to hold a market in Chelmsford every Friday.
- Look out for local produce in season and bargains all year round.
- Seven centuries later, in 1899, the Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi opened the world’s first wireless factory in Chelmsford. There’s a statue of Marconi near the bus station and the city’s free museum, with the Essex Regiment Museum upstairs, has more information. It’s set in Oakland Park at the end of Moulsham Street.
- Several buses (including frequent bus 14 and bus 300) stop near the museum at the stop called Moulsham Street. The street itself, nearby, is full of varied shops and cafés – it’s the kind of road that serves everything from a full English breakfast to a late night pint.
- In the museum, recently renovated and reopened, you can still see a Marconiphone V2 radio receiver from 1922, as well as a pot by Grayson Perry and a jumpsuit that belonged to Suzie Quatro, who lived here in the 1980s!
- The edge of the Hylands Estate (see 3 below) is only a short walk from the museum if you fancy a rural stroll through the park.