James Ruddy Finds A Remarkable Country Barn Haven at Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns, Amid The Ancient Fields, Towns And Villages That Inspired Landscape Painter John Constable.
Nothing feels more like travel perfection than a trip packed with fascinating experiences topped off with nights spent recovering and relaxing in the tranquillity of a spacious barn, surrounded by countryside.
That was my experience of a few days at Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns, at Great Canfield, which are nestled in quiet fields overlooking the nature-bursting Roding Valley and provide a well-equipped base (even with a romantic log burner and underfloor heating) from which you can tour the gems of North Essex at any time of year.
Just a few miles away lay such treasures as the historic Crouch Valley vineyards, the medieval streets of Saffron Walden, the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ experience of ancient Audley End House, as well as some quintessential ancient Essex villages and the country’s most remarkable semi-detached house.
It was clear, too, that the barn would also be a treat to enjoy evenings cooking up enjoyable meals in spacious seclusion.
As I unloaded self-catering supplies from the car, the cawing of a few crows in nearby trees were the only sounds to be heard, which is remarkable for a retreat sited on a working farm just three minutes from the M11 into London and Cambridge and 10 minutes from Stansted Airport.
Inside, it was apparent to my partner and photographer Sue Mountjoy and myself that there had been plenty of clever planning employed in the creation of the open-plan barns at Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns, (there are three, each sleeping up to four people) on the site of old pigsties.
Nothing had been overlooked, from the fully equipped kitchen and spacious seating area with a 42-inch smart TV to the handmade beds and Egyptian cotton linen mattresses with plump pillows and duvets as well as a large walk-in shower (one property also has a sizeable bath as well for soak lovers).
Outside, we overlooked a Tetris garden and there was a spacious area within the wild flower mead with tables and chairs, as well as a barbecue and fire-pit. If we had wished, we could have also ordered meals and treats from the nearby farmhouse’s own kitchen.
With such a great barn kitchen, we opted to cook our own beef curry and even a locally bought free-range chicken with trimmings, as well as eating out at a couple of the countless award-winning gastro pubs in the area.
To wash our meals down, it was vital to source some fine English wine, which took us to the beautiful Crouch Valley to stop off at New Hall Vineyards, which has been growing vines and making English wine for 50 years in an area which even served the historic toasts for the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.
Forget the cheesy cocktails and Liquid Diamond Prosecco of TV’s Towie Essex stereotypes, New Hall provided us with the county’s classy reality, including a fascinating vineyard tour and a tasting (which can be booked) of some fine white, red, rose and sparkling varieties that have regularly knocked the socks off critics and won countless major medals.
Nearby we called in at Clayhill Vineyard and took in the stunning views and history of the fascinating winery from the café balcony.
Touring locally over the next few days lifted the lid on the beauty of North Essex. At the River Blackwater port of Maldon, famed for its sea salt as well as its Promenade Park riverside walk and beach huts, we wandered down to Hythe Quay to admire its ancient vessels, including elegant Thames barges, that do day trips regularly.
At Saffron Walden, we lunched at the family-run Angela Reed Café inside the upmarket interior furnishing Aladdin’s Cave of 13 showrooms on five floors, before ambling around a town that is dripping with pastel-painted medieval houses, big and small, as well as museums, galleries, gardens and notably the majestic St Mary’s Church, where, in 1647, Oliver Cromwell urged his disgruntled New Model Army to follow him on a ‘holy war’ to Ireland (it was two years later that he finally invaded and wrought havoc, killing and transporting countless thousands).
Nearby, we toured the finest remaining Jacobean house in the country, Audley End, including its ‘Downton-style’ experience of life upstairs and downstairs.
Next came Finchingfield, said to be ‘the UK’s most photographed village’ where residents were protesting council plans to demolish and replace their 200-year-old ‘weak’ bridge.
It was at Great Dunmow that we experienced our most jaw-dropping Essex experience when we stepped into Talliston House and Gardens, which is one of the most extraordinary homes in Britain – a former 3-bed council semi which has been converted by its owner, over 25 years, into a haven of history and fantasy in which each of the 13 rooms has been carefully recreated into a specific place and period.
After a tour led by the creator John Trevillian, followed by afternoon tea, we were left still trying to absorb an experience that had taken us through an exact replica of everything, from a 1950s New Orleans kitchen and a Victorian dining room to a Moorish bedroom, a bygone Japanese tearoom and even a Scottish Edwardian Hall.
What an extraordinary whirligig experience Talliston – and North Essex, come to that – proved to be, with so many unexpected and delightful visions.
Much of what we saw was summarised so well in the 19th century by Constable himself when he observed: “The world is wide, No two days are alike, nor even two hours, neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of all the world.”
On our final evening at Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns, as we sipped a glass of New Hall Wine’s smooth and intense Bacchus at the table outside the fieldbarn, it was interesting to contemplate how much of modern North Essex remains very firmly, Constable country.
Tell Me More About Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns and Constable Country
The stylish Bullocks Farm Fieldbarns start from £125 per night (weekly, 7 nights) £137.50 per night (midweek, 4 nights) or £150 per night (weekend, 3 nights). Go to The Fieldbarns or call +44(0)7956 428508.
If you want to visit the vineyards along the Crouch Valley, for tastings and inside information on great English wines amid some idyllic scenery, try. New Hall Wine Estate: www.newhallwines.com and Clayhill Vineyard.
Saffron Walden Tourism Information Centre is a great place to stop off and pick up a trail map and get advice on the best places to go in Saffron Walden. They also have a food and walking tour on Thursdays.
While you are in the Saffron Walden, have a look around the huge interior decoration and gift shop and try the imaginative Angela Reed Café
For the nearby great house, Audley End, go to: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens.
For an awe-inspiring trip round one of the country’s most unusual semis, go to Talliston House and Gardens
For another way to visit Essex, check out https://www.tripreporter.co.uk/hiking-around-the-essex-coast/
For plenty of tips and expert information, go to Visit Essex Tourism.