Pick up a picnic: the best places in East Anglia for an alfresco feast
Words by Helen Dorritt
It’s National Picnic Week from 21 to 30 June, so it's the perfect time to jump on a train, head out into the great outdoors, and take a good old-fashioned picnic to enjoy while soaking up the views. With miles of coastline and acres of countryside, East Anglia boasts some of the best places in the country for eating outside. We reveal our 10 favourite picnic spots across the network.
Plantation Garden, Norwich
Tucked away in the centre of busy Norwich, just outside the old city walls, the Plantation Garden is a hidden gem that’s known locally as ‘the secret garden’. Created by Victorian Henry Trevor from an old chalk quarry, this green space is a delight to wander, with medieval-style walls, follies, ruins and a Gothic fountain among the flowering plants and trees. Open every day from 9am-6pm, It costs £2 to enter, with children under 16 free.
Nearest station: Norwich
With its beach huts, bandstand, mock-Tudor houses and seafront gardens, Frinton-on-Sea is one of Essex's prettiest seaside resorts. Once favoured by artistocracy and even royalty, it has a long secluded sweep of sand that's ideal for a stroll before popping a picnic rug down to enjoy lunch by the lapping waves. If sandwiches on the beach don't appeal you could always head over to Frinton's Green Flag Award winning Crescent Gardens to graze among the greenery. Just a short walk further along the coast is Walton-on-the-Naze – a more traditional seaside resort with pubs, amusements, the second longest pier in England and walks and wildlife on the Naze headland.
Nearest station: Frinton-on-Sea
Jesus Green, Cambridge
Located in the heart of the city and bordered by Jesus College and the River Cam, Jesus Green is a serene green space that has long been popular for picnics. If you want your food hot then there’s a barbecue area, and a refreshment kiosk is open throughout the year too. On hot days you can cool off with a dip in the outdoor pool or enjoy the play areas and tennis courts, and on summer Sundays there are free band concerts to accompany your dining.
Nearest station: Cambridge
Cattawade Marshes, Manningtree
Just a 15 minute walk from Manningtree is Cattawade Marshes, an RSPB reserve that’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest. These grazing marshes are the perfect place for birdwatchers to spot lapwings, oystercatchers, teals and redshanks while enjoying some deli delicacies, and while the reserve itself is not open to the public, there’s a viewing area on the south side where you’ll find picnic tables ready and waiting. Cattawade Marshes lies on the edge of the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – known as ‘Constable country’ as it was the inspiration for many of this famous artist’s paintings. Once you’ve finished your food, check out one of the many signposted walks in the area – we’d recommend doing a circular walk towards the pretty village of Flatford and then looping back to Manningtree.
Nearest station: Manningtree
Felixstowe Seafront Gardens
Stretching for over a kilometre along the beach, Felixstowe’s Seafront Gardens are a Grade II-listed horticultural gem, created by the Victorians to enhance Felixstowe as a seaside destination, and are the reason that the town is known as ‘the Garden Resort of East Anglia’. Choose from eight gardens to set out your blanket in, including the Wishing Well and Dripping Pond, Pram Walk and Arch Cascade. The gardens underwent significant restoration in 2015, and much of the original planting still survives – you’ll find comprehensive interpretation boards in each of the gardens that give more information on their history.
Nearest station: Felixstowe
Colchester Castle Park, Colchester
History abounds at Colchester Castle Park, which, as the name suggests, surrounds the town's original fortress (and the largest Norman Keep in Europe), now reinvented as a museum that showcases Colchester's history, from Celtic Kings and the Roman invasion, through to the Norman conquest and medieval life. The park itself is divided into two halves – the upper park and lower park – by a Roman wall, with the upper park home to the castle, a bandstand, a play park, a crazy golf course and the Hollytrees Museum, revealing how life has changed since this grand 18th century house was built. In contrast, the lower park provides the opportunity to escape the crowds and take a stroll down towards the River Colne before selecting your perfect picnic spot.
Nearest station: Colchester
Beeston Bump, Sheringham, Norfolk
Walk east along the cliffs at Sheringham and you’ll soon come to the Beeston Bump, which is a great spot to set up your picnic. Enjoy beautiful sea views while you eat, then learn about the area’s World War II history – a wireless intercept station was located on the hill, where Wrens intercepted information from German boats and sent it to nearby Bletchley Park for decoding.
Nearest station: Sheringham
Hinchingbrooke Country Park, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
Owner of a Green Flag Award – which denotes the best parks and green spaces in the country – Hinchingbrooke Country Park has over 170 acres of grasslands, woods and lakes for you to explore. You’ll find picnic benches dotted throughout the park, or you can just set your basket down in one of the many picturesque spots, and there are also three fixed barbecue stands for al fresco cooking. Kids will love the play area, which includes a zip wire, and there’s also a mountain bike course and an apiary with a viewing gallery where you can get up close with some local bees!
Nearest station: Cambridge North
Three Shells Beach, Southend
One of East Anglia’s Blue Flag beaches, Three Shells is a beautiful stretch of golden sand that’s just perfect for a picnic. The recent addition of a lagoon means that you can paddle and swim without having to worry about the tides, making it a popular spot for families.
Nearest station: Southend
Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broad, Suffolk
With spectacular views across the broads, Nicolas Everitt Park is a delightful spot for a picnic. Then once you’ve eaten and drunk your fill, take advantage of the brilliant range of facilities on offer, including a play area, trampolines, boating lake and crazy golf, plus the free entry Lowestoft Museum. Or, if you want to stretch your legs, it’s only a short walk to Carlton Marshes Nature Reserve, where an amazing array of wildlife can be spotted.