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tried & tested

When there are so many places to choose from it's hard to know where to visit! In good or bad weather, with very young children or older teens, activity venues or quiet walks, every venue will offer something different with a variety of facilites available. We will add our thoughts on places that we have Tried & Tested so that you are well-informed before you make your decision to leave the house!

Travelling back to Norman times at Mountfitchet Castle

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We took a trip across the county, over the border into into Essex and back in time with a visit to Mountfitchet Castle recently. This is the only wooden Norman Motte and Bailey castle reconstructed on its original site in the whole world!  It took us about an hour to get there (in normal traffic conditions) but it was definitely worth it.  Unlike many attractions at the moment this is one that you don’t have to book in advance, you can just tune up, which is good because you definitely want to pick a dry day to go as it is mainly outdoors.

I went with my youngest who is 12 and who loves all things historical - especially if it involves weapons and battles! He also happened to have studied the Normans and different types of castles in History in the past year so it was right up his street. 

First things first - parking.  It was easy enough to find the castle using the sat-nav and looking out for the brown tourist signs. It is in Stansted Mountfitchet town and parking is in Lower Street Car Park.  The car park is sectioned off into different areas including a specific section on the left for visitors to the castle.  If this section is full, as it was when we arrived, continue past this to the long-stay area where the cost to park is the same.  It’s just £2 for 4 hours which we found was plenty of time, though you can pay for longer.

Entrance to the castle was £13.50 for an adult and £11 for children aged 3-13.  For a couple of pounds you can buy a very generous bag of food to feed the animals that are resident and wander freely about the castle grounds. At the entrance you can also pick up your map and Young Time Traveller passport to collect stamps around the site and claim a little prize at the end. 

Once inside you are free to wander around and explore the site. It is really well done with information explaining all the different aspects of life in a Norman village, from the blacksmith and the laundry, to the grand hall (which is smaller than you might expect) and various aspects of crime and punishment!  Fancy trying out the stocks or sitting in the jail wagon?

You can climb the towers, try on various helmets, practise your sword fighting, and try out some of the other weaponry (safely of course) in the interactive armoury area. Take care with little ones because the community fire and the bread oven are real and smouldering away!

The animals wandering around give them place an added feeling of being transported back to another trine and feeding them animals was an unexpected highlight.  There were deer, goats, geese, chickens and peacocks all completely tame and happy to be fed.

As part of your visit you can also enjoy the Toy Museum in House on the Hill Museum that shares the site.  It houses a collection of over 80,000 toys including an impressive collection of original Star Wars toys amongst other things. This quirky museum is absolutely stuffed full of old toys, games and old fashioned and arcade games, interspersed with music memorabilia and displays of WW1 and WW2 artefacts and uniforms. We loved all the clandestine spy equipment in one of the displays!

If you are collecting all of the stamps for your passport you will need to go into the museum and be aware that there are two separate upstairs sections.  We almost missed one right at the back and that’s where we found the last stamp we were looking for!

We also paid the extra £1 to experience the haunted manor which is inside the toy museum.  If you are of a sensitive disposition or easily scared this might not be for you! We took the lantern and kept it switched on throughout - we weren’t brave enough to go without!

Outside of the museum you can also travel back even further in time as you encounter some giant model dinosaurs! 

When you are feeling peckish there are plenty of picnic tables back at the visitor centre.  There is also some indoor seating.  We took our own picnic, but the cafe in the visitor centre sells hot drinks, soft drinks, sandwiches, toasters, savoury snacks and cakes.  There is also a small gift shop.  There are toilets near the entrance and some in the toy museum as well as additional hand-washing facilities near the entrance for use after feeding the animals.  There was also hand sanitiser provided at the castle entrance and in the interactive armoury area.

All in we spent about 3.5 hours exploring the site and looking around the toy museum.  It was a really nice day out and we would definitely recommend it. Spring to autumn it is open 7 days a week, but note that is closes over the winter. Please check the website for exact dates and times of opening before travelling.


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