Drive barely an hour out of London, past Tiptree, home of Wilkins jam, turn off before Roman Colchester and you'll find a surprisingly wild and haunting part of East Anglia. As the road gets narrower and narrower, you’ll catch sight of Layer Marney Tower, its brickwork and terracotta glowing in the sunshine. It is the the tallest Tudor gatehouse in England and during your stay you’ll get to enjoy the fantastic views of the coast, from its summit.
From on high you may find it harder to spot your encampment though, nestling in the birch, ash and alder that you’ll share with pheasants, woodpeckers, muntjac and owls. A short bike ride away is Abberton reservoir, one of the region’s top bird-watching spots, populated by scarce waders and tree-nesting cormorants. Carry on a bit further and you’ll hit the tiny wriggling creeks of the Blackwater estuary, part of Essex’s wildly indented shoreline. The area is famous for the Colchester native oyster: try them out at the nearby renowned Company Shed on Mersea Island. Some of the encampments look onto red deer in adjacent fields - the Marneys were given a licence to make a park for hunting back in 1267.
In modern times, countries and cities have vied with each other to build the tallest building. Alas ‘twas ever thus, even in Tudor times. The Marneys followed the example of their monarch, Henry VIII who believed that a home should reflect the magnificence of its owner. As Lord Privy Seal and Captain of the Bodyguard, Henry Marney got caught up in the craze and duly set about rivalling Cardinal Wolsey’s work at Hampton Court. The result was the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the country. The building work continued after his demise in 1523, but was brought to a premature end in 1525 with the death of his only son John. These days you'll be given the warmest of welcomes by Nicholas and Sheila Charrington who now run the estate, together with their four children.
Layer Marney Tower is also a stunning wedding venue. The weddings are held in the Long Gallery, approximately 200 metres from our nearest encampment. The early to bed should be advised that it is sometimes possible to hear music in the evening before the midnight 'curfew' when music ceases and the guests disperse and trundle off home.
>> Make a reservation for Layer Marney Tower
The Great Earthquake
The Great Earthquake of 1884 On Tuesday the 22nd of April 1884 at 9.10am, Layer Marney was close to the epicentre of the largest ever earthquake recorded in Great Britain. Steeples collapsed, chimneys fell and some buildings were split in half. According to an eye-witness account, “Layer Marney Tower suffered a good deal, many of the roofs being injured and scarcely noticeable fissures in the wall becoming alarmingly apparent. These do not seem to affect the real stability of the pile but are very unsightly and will tend to hasten the decay and ruin which seem inevitable. It is a pity that such should be the case but the outlay needed to restore the towers to anything like a sound and habitable condition would be so large that the chance of the work ever being done appears remote indeed.”