Hens, elephants and big brands

How about milking the cows and feeding the hens at Bodell’s Dairy Farm? Meeting Thomas and the Fat Controller at the East Anglian Railway Museum? Hand-feeding elephants at Colchester Zoo? Grown-ups can swing away at Essex Golf and Country Club, see Radio Caroline in action, or shop for big brands at Braintree Village.

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Country kids

Rainbow climbing frames, swings, ladders and slides, plus three acres of landscaping for crazy capers offer plenty diversions on site. But you don’t need to go far to find farms, zoos, trains and more. Kick off at Bodell’s Dairy Farm, where you can milk the cows, feed the hens, ride a donkey cart and outstare a llama.

Meet more animals at Colchester Zoo, home to some of the best cat and primate collections in Europe. Stare a white tiger in the eye or hand-feed the elephants. Stay in town for Colchester Leisure World for a swim and the gym. Or feed the ducks and walk the paths at Danbury Park.

Immerse yourself in steam nostalgia at the East Anglian Railway Museum, with fully restored locomotives and rolling stock, plus the chance to meet Thomas and the Fat Controller. Choose from two crazy 12-hole golf courses at Mr Mulligan’s, or meet the farting fish and the insulting fireplace on the nine-hole courses at Caddies.

Follow in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, Norman invaders, the Witchfinder General and Queen Boudica at Colchester Castle Museum. Or try the Natural History Museum Colchester to find out what an eryngo root is, among other things. Bowl the night away at Tenpin Colchester or catch a flick at The Odeon.

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For the grown ups

Ever wanted to soar through the clouds like a bird? Learn to fly at Anglian Flight Centre at Earls Colne Airfield. If you prefer terra firma and a club in your hand rather than a joystick, Essex Golf and Country Club comes with a driving range and 18-hole course. Or bag some clay at Fennes Shooting Ground.

Nature lovers should get down to Beth Chatto Gardens, once an overgrown wasteland and now a stunning showpiece informal garden that beautifully reflects its rural surroundings. Or visit Gainsborough House, the museum and art gallery celebrating the life and work of landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough.

Colchester Castle is an example of a nearly-complete Norman castle. Don’t forget the Roman city walls while you’re there. Head to Mersea Island to explore the museum and tour the vineyards. Or take your dog down to Cudmore Grove Country Park.

See the original pirate-radio station, Radio Caroline, in action on board the Ross Revenge, moored on the River Blackwater. Shop for big brands at Braintree Village, a social, sophisticated and inviting space. Stick around for the street market, with its cosmopolitan mix of street food, artisan bread and handmade gifts.

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