THESE are some of the most popular tourist attractions in north Essex having recorded a rise in visitor numbers over two years.

The Gazette contacted more than 50 venues asking for their visitor numbers since 2017. Some have ignored us, some do not record them and others did not want to take part.

But of the 26 venues whose numbers were comparable, ten had experienced a drop in visitors while seven had welcomed more.

Nine locations either supplied estimated figures which were the same for both years, or were unable to supply the past two years’ data so have not been included.

But with just one weekend left of the Easter holiday, find time to visit the attractions which have had more visitors over the past two years, not less.

Halstead Gazette:

Green spaces

Flatford Wildlife Garden, East Bergholt

  • Average annual visitors to centre – 81,500 (up 33%)
  • Entry – free

The opening of the Sisters' Garden last September is what the RSPB attributes to securing more guests. It is the RSPB’s only dedicated wildlife garden nature reserve, named after sisters Sylvia and Margaret Richardson, and a safe haven for lots of wildlife.

Future events?

Today is the last day to experience the free Spring Sensory Sensation. Each activity youngsters come across will get them touching, smelling, listening and looking even closer at the natural world. No need to book, just turn up at the centre. Time: 10.30am –3pm.

Halstead Gazette:

The Sisters' Garden. Picture: RSPB

Abberton Reservoir, Layer-de-la-Haye

  • Average annual visitors to centre – 113,314 (up 6%)
  • Entry – donation

Now being able to buy hot food on site is one improvement which could have attracted more people to Abberton Reservoir.

A spokesman for the Essex Wildlife Trust added: “On the reserve, 80,000 trees have been planted since 2014 and the wildflowers have been thriving, so the development of the habitats has seen an increase in people visiting.”

Future events?

What better way to finish off the school holiday than with an Easter egg hunt? A hunt is planned each day until Monday, so there is plenty of time to roam around the nature reserve with your little ones. Who knows, you might see the Easter bunny. Suggested donation: £7 per child. Time: 10am – 3pm. Booking is essential. Call 01206 738172.

Halstead Gazette:

Pond dipping at Abberton

Fingringhoe Wick, Fingringhoe 

  • Average annual visitors to centre – 37,980 (up 53%)
  • Entry – donation

Last year saw the highest number of singing Nightingale birds on the reserve, and a number of TV appearances which upped its popularity. The catering offer has changed at the reserve too which is disability-friendly, with an off-road mobility scooter for people less mobile.

Future events?

So much is happening here over the next few days from those Fingringhoe Nature Tots meeting again today from 10am, plus den building in the afternoon. Inquisitive minds will discover ‘who makes what nest’ on Sunday during the Egg and Nest Discovery session before pond dipping on Monday.

For more information, click here.

Halstead Gazette:

Lyra Ryan-Reader, 4, hiding from mum during a play session

Theatre

The Naze Centre, Walton

  • Average annual visitors to centre – 89,938 (up 31%)
  • Entry – donation

The Naze is a newbie for Essex Wildlife Trust so compared to 2016, when it first opened, it is now very well established.

A trust spokesman added: “The reserve also got a new wooden sculpture trail last year, a large Megalodon and informative interpretation in the centre, and more seating outside, including benches made from reclaimed milk cartons.”

Future events?

Go along for a special meet-and-greet with Blackwater pygmy goat kids plus, of course, chicks. The animal encounter is being held in the education room this Sunday. Time: 10am – 4pm. Suggested donation: £2.50.

Monday deviates from the Easter theme for a two-hour geography and history walk. Prepare for guides to drop some gems of knowledges, starting at 11am.

Click here for more information.

Halstead Gazette:

The geology of the Naze. Picture: Gary Howie

Headgate Theatre, Colchester

  • Average annual visitors – 9,000 (up 12%)
  • Entry – charge 

David King, a trustee and one of the Headgate Theatre’s founders, was under no illusions about what made the arts venue a go-to.

“The space is vibrant,” he said.

“We’ve recently increased our footprint by 30 per cent by introducing two new spaces for hire, bringing our total to five.”

Future events?

Tonight enjoy a selection of the best new short plays directly from the INK Festival. INK on the Road offers a rare evening of contrasting and exciting works by the very best writers in East Anglia…and you can watch these original short plays this evening and tomorrow. Time: 7.45pm. Tickets: £12, £10 (concession).

Click here for the running order.

Halstead Gazette:

Nina Doyle and Dave King infront of the Headgate Theatre

Museums

Boxted Airfield Museum, Colchester

  • Average annual visitors – 519 (up 22%)
  • Entry – £3 adults, children free

Tucked away in Langham Lane, the museum is crammed with social history. It just reopened at the end of March and sees visitors exclusively on the last Sunday of each month until October.

Chairman Richard Turner is particularly excited about an upcoming exhibition between April 28 and 29, focused on the only surviving UK example of a specific wartime plane named Mr Shorty.

He said: “B26 Marauder aircraft were based all over Essex in World War Two so it’s local history, but also of national importance.

“Another aspect is sadly the men who fought are passing on. A lot of them never talked about their experiences so children and grandchildren are visiting us to gain information.”

Future events?

With help from students at Essex University, Mr Shorty's cockpit has been recreated. Inside the museum, guests will find artefacts, some loaned and some part of the museum’s collection.

Click here for more details or to enquire about private or group bookings.

Halstead Gazette:

The museum is there behind Brian Bellamy

Nottage Maritime Institute, Wivenhoe

  • Average annual visitors – 978 (up 20%)
  • Entry – free

Unlike other year-round venues, the Nottage Maritime Institute building, which houses a museum, is open only on weekends between May and September.

Recent changes the charity has made to the venue were not glamorous but essential.

“Since 2017, we’ve installed new toilets and kitchen, and improved our visitor experience so we hope 2019 will reflect this,” Libby Armstrong said on behalf of the charity.

Click here to learn more about happens here or call 01206 824142 to arrange a weekday visit. Opening hours: 1pm – 4pm.

Halstead Gazette:

Fancy running an event from the Nottage Maritime Institute like vintage clothes lover Liz Cardy did?

BONUS VENUE

Beacon Hill Fort, Harwich

  • Visitors – 5,000+
  • Entry – free, donations welcome

Not many people are bold enough to buy an abandoned Tudor fort, but when Barry Sharp and Paul Valentine decided to take on the challenge in January 2018, they did so with big plans. Stretched across 5 acres, Beacon Hill Fort is something of a marvel and had been left to ruin for two world wars.

Halstead Gazette:

Beacon Hill Fort photographed from the skies

The pair said: “The site has been cleared so all the buildings both above ground and below are clear for our visitors to explore and woodland. Seaview trails have been created for those not so interested in the buildings.”

Click here to donate to the project to see this landmark become more than a “static museum”.

Find more information or to call about visiting here.

  • Where do you love to visit? Share your comments below.