A Guide to the East of England

Affectionately known as the ‘hump on the side of England’, the east is a quirky little region that’s home to one of the world’s most revered universities, the lowest point below sea level in England and the final resting place of a mammoth. Not all regions can lay claim to that combination!

Comprising six counties, the East of England marries rural expanses with large swathes of London’s commuter belt, making it quite a varied region! Below, we’ve picked out one highlight from each county to give you a taste of what’s on offer.

Woburn Safari Park, Bedfordshire

Thought you had to put away the pennies in order to see some of wildlife’s main superstars stalk your car? Think again! One of Bedfordshire’s (if not one of England’s!) biggest attractions Woburn Safari Park encourages visitors to drive through a variety of ‘ecosystems’, taking in bison, bears, tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos and giraffes! As you can tell, it’s quite the menagerie and, as these cheeky monkeys prove, you definitely get up close and personal.

You’ll take in five different sections on your journey, covering everything from the mighty savannah to the great Northern Plains of India in the course of one road trip, making this staycation safari a wonderful way to see some of the planet’s most magnificent creatures – all from the comfort of your own car! As well as the driving safari experience, there’s also a walking tour, where some of the cuter critters on the estate can be seen – we’re talking otters, penguins, red pandas and even some farmyard friends, although we think our favourites would have to be the inquisitive meerkats.

Being home to such a plethora of animals, it’s unsurprising that the park is also involved in a lot of conservation projects, which part of your ticket fee goes towards; these schemes include everything from sustainable breeding to securing land for native species in their own homelands. If you really want to get in touch with your wild side on your day out, take part in the treetop adventure Go Ape and embrace your inner ancestor!

 

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King’s College Chapel, Cambridgeshire

Synonymous with the city of Cambridge and the ancient, revered university it was built for, King’s College Chapel is one of the many must-sees when exploring the largely medieval campus. It was King Henry VI who laid the foundation stone for the chapel in 1446, but construction of this place of worship was carried out over the reigns of many kings, and even throughout the War of the Roses.

The building is considered one of the finest examples of late Gothic English architecture and features the world’s largest fan vault ceiling, a true testament to the skill of the masons who worked on the chapel’s construction over 100 years. Nowadays, King’s College Chapel is open to the many thousands of tourists who descend upon Cambridge every month, but it remains the home of the celebrated King’s College Choir, whose renditions of Christmas carols during the festive period are still immensely popular.

Inside the chapel, visitors can enjoy the intricate stained glass windows, including Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi, as well as the celebrated chapel organ and a Renaissance rood screen, erected by King Henry VIII after his marriage to Anne Boleyn. A short stroll from the chapel and you’ll come to The Backs, an idyllic green space where a number of the colleges, including King’s College Chapel, face down towards the River Cam – an excellent spot for a picnic and a photo op if we ever saw one!

 

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Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Essex is an unusual county, in that the majority of it acts as a commuter hub for workers travelling into Greater London. Indeed, some of the London Underground reaches into the county, however Essex shouldn’t merely be overlooked as an extension of the capital, as Leigh-on-Sea proves!

Once a bustling fishing village, this now-popular settlement on the banks of the Thames Estuary is the happiest place to live in the UK, scoring highly in the ‘12 happiness factors’ that the survey documented. As well as long-established events such as the Leigh Regatta and Leigh Folk Festival taking place every year, this seaside spot is now home to a plethora of charming independent shops and cafes, as well as the cockle sheds that once provided so much of the income to the area.

Old Leigh is perhaps the most popular area to visit, with its busy harbour and many traditional pubs, as well as characterful buildings now housing sophisticated galleries. It’s here that you’ll also find the Leigh Heritage Museum: once a fisherman’s cottage, this charming memorial pays homage to the seafaring days of the area, and what life was like for those who lived there. Away from the shoreline, Belfairs Wood, Park and Nature Reserve provides a large expanse of tree-strewn green within which to stretch your legs – there’s also a pitch and putt if you’re feeling especially skilful!

 

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Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, Hertfordshire

Love it or loathe it (apparently there are muggles who really do dislike it!), the ubiquitous impact of Harry Potter cannot be denied – the boy who lived and his magical adventures is one of the most universally celebrated stories ever written. Since it opened, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter has been the highest-rated attraction worldwide, so if you haven’t wandered down Diagon Alley, marvelled at the mastery behind the creature effects or experienced the great hall in the snow, now’s the time!

In between the intricate sets, instantly-recognisable props and iconic costumes, discover the skill behind the special and visual effects, and how each scene was developed from paper sketch to 3D spectacular, all while sipping on Butterbeer. Different behind-the-scenes features appear throughout the year, with the popular ‘Behind the Seams’ experience only being offered on specific dates – it’s imperative to book ahead to avoid the same disappointment as never receiving your Hogwarts letter. Yeah, we’re still waiting…

After you’ve seen all your favourite bits from the movies, make your way to the shop to pledge your allegiance to your house: from scarves to capes, wands to hats, wear your colours proud! Personally, we’ll be stocking up on Chocolate Frogs and Fizzing Whizzbees – we hope our broomstick can still take flight when our pockets are full!

Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk

Much like the Shard in London or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, you can see the towering spire of Norwich Cathedral long before you’re even in the city. One of the oldest and grandest cathedrals in the UK (construction began in 1096), this beautiful place of worship holds second place in the coveted categories of tallest spires and capacious cloisters. The Norwich Cathedral Close is one of the largest in Europe, with more people living alongside the cathedral here than anywhere else.

Throughout the years, Norwich Cathedral has survived lightning strikes, rebellions, bombings and, during the 17th century, it was even left in ruins, yet the original flint, mortar and limestone construction still largely remains. Inside, the sweeping nave ceiling gives way to both medieval and modern stained glass windows, while the presbytery and pulpitum are two of the most sought-after features of the cathedral.

In the grounds, you’ll find statues dedicated to some of Norfolk’s finest, including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson, as well as the World War One nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed in 1915. Via the aforementioned cathedral close, make your way down to the equally ancient Pulls Ferry and the accompanying Cow Tower for further insight into the medieval past of Norwich city. Whatever you do, don’t quote Alan Partridge…

 

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Kentwell Hall, Suffolk

As you’ve probably guessed by now, we dealcheckers love a stately home almost as much as we love a castle, so Kentwell Hall simply had to feature as our highlight for Suffolk. Although there’s evidence of a property standing on the site at the time the Domesday Book was created, the house we see today originates mainly from the 16th century, which is probably why you’ll recognise its intricate facades from numerous Tudor TV series or films!

One of the few homes in England to boast its own moat, the grounds are also home to ancient trees, manicured gardens (including some eclectic topiary displays!) and a working farm, where two miniature Shetland ponies can be spotted munching away on titbits from the farmhands. One of the main draws of the house today is the Tudor re-enactment days, where a cast of around 300 costumed actors portray scenes from medieval life, from sheep-shearing with authentic tools to cooking in the kitchens – you’ll even be given replica coins upon entry to buy apples, bread and cheese from the produce sellers! If you want to get in on the action, why not don your very best Tudor attire for your visit? Don’t worry, it’s not compulsory!

Kentwell Hall itself has been a thriving family home for centuries, so you’ll see a variety of features, from Tudor to Victorian, on your tour of the building. The current owners are working to reinstate many of the original features: look out for the incredible rose motif patio in the front courtyard and portraits of previous owners hanging from the walls. Afterwards, take in a picnic in the grounds and soak up the outstanding views of the house and moat over a sandwich or two.

 

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We hope our overview of the East of England has proved that there’s plenty to see in this ‘tucked away’ part of the UK.

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