Chelmsford for the Day

Read my Canterbury travel log here.

I have a goal of visiting every city in England. Travelling from my home in London, I aim on spending a day in each city that I have not yet visited. Next on the list is Chelmsford.

Chelmsford is in Essex – directly East of London so it was relatively close to me. It is also a relatively young city, only becoming a city in 2012. But, of course, there have been people living here since Anglo-Saxon times. In fact, Chelmsford takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon chieftain Ceolmaer who gave his name to the ford over the river Can.

My journey began at London Liverpool Street. Because of the bank holiday for King Charles’ coronation, direct trains were not running to Chelmsford. Instead I had to get the 10.13 train (which left on time, unlike my Canterbury train) to the small Basildon town of Billericay, and then a bus from there. Basildon is a borough in Essex.

I admit that I was nervous taking the rail replacement bus. I thought it would be chaotic and difficult to find, but the opposite was true. There were plenty of people to ask and it was all very clear. The bus ride took a half hour and we drove through the essex countryside. We saw pubs, country clubs and even a Jehovah’s Witness complex. The nerves gave way to excitement, as I looked forward to exploring a new city.

We arrived in Chelmsford at half eleven. I thought it was very quiet. Quieter than Canterbury and far quieter than London. In what, I’m sure will become the norm with every city I visit, I started with Chelmsford Cathedral.

The grounds were very lovely, and unlike, its Kent counterpart, it was free to look around. It was also far smaller than its counterpart but no less impressive. It is five hundred years old after all. It was nice to see their links to the local community. For Charlie’s coronation they had school children create their own versions of the orb, sceptre, crown and everything else Charlie needed to become king.

It also had a small gift shop with a number of books on theology. I have a vested interest in theology, having read most of the major religious texts, as well as academic books from both a religious and secular perspective. As such, I bought a book that summarises the bible and another that briefly introduces Jesus. Then it was onto the rest of Chelmsford.

Beyond seeing the cathedral, I never have any big plan when it comes to these trips. I like them to be spontaneous. Rather than cramming in too much, I prefer to follow my nose and see where it takes me.  Or, in this case, I followed signs to Chelmsford Museum. I didn’t realise the museum wasn’t in the city centre, but, fifteen minutes away, in the suburbs.

On the way, I saw an Evangelical church. I don’t know who Hannah is or why we’re welcoming her, but welcome Hannah.

I reached Chelmsford Museum at half twelve. It focussed on the history of Chelmsford from its Anglo-Saxon origins to the Tudors all the way through to the modern-day. There were lots of interesting facts such as why Chelmsford is called Chelmsford or that it only became a city in 2012 because of the Queen’s diamond jubilee or how its music venues have hosted acts like Jimi Hendrix or the Who. It also had an exhibit on famous artist Grayson Perry. It was very interactive with lots of things to do for kids – great for family days out. Finally, it had a lovely exhibition, where they encouraged the local community to design their own flag and tell their own story of what Chelmsford means to them. Best of all, it was free.

This was a tapestry that Grayson Perry completed in lockdown. It was a map of the UK from his mind’s eye. It began in his home in Islington, London and then spread outwards to the rest of the country.

Now it was lunchtime. I went to the museum cafe where I had Eggs Benedict. I’ve realised that hollandaise sauce I had made the other day was too acidic and thick. But the food was very nice and a damn sight cheaper than some of the cafes in the city centre.

When it comes to lunch, rather than going to a chain or a supermarket, I prefer to find somewhere specific to the city. And you can’t get any more special than the Chelmsford museum cafe. It was two by this time so I returned to the city centre. I went to this solitary market stall, alas the rest of the market was closed, and bought two fresh scotch eggs. There were only two left so I was sold both for £3 instead of £5. Result. And they were much nicer than the supermarket ones.

I also discovered the cutest arts and crafts shop. I’m not an arty person, but this shop was lovely. It was all manned by volunteers and had a wide array of products all created by local artists. You had wine stoppers, jewellery, candles, clothes and some gorgeous paintings. There was a workshop and boardgame area too. Next time I come here, I definitely have to buy something.

I also went into the CEX store. As well as visiting every English city, I am also watching and reviewing every film on the top 1000 films of all time. In CEX, a second hand video store, I bought the Big Sleep, which features on my list.

From here, I headed to the River Chelmer. I saw a sign saying I could follow the river to Chelmer Village so I thought. It wasn’t long until I was taken away from the river, not to what I thought would be a cute English village, but a retail park. Honestly, if I had tried harder, I could have found the village, but I didn’t fancy walking along a 40mph road so instead I returned to the river and chilled there. It was so quiet.

At half 3, I followed the river back into town where I spent my last hour exploring Central Park (not the one in New York) and Bell Meadow. I saw fountains, anti- capitalist graffiti and lots of pretty flowers.

I also had to make a judgement call between an ice cream or a beer in Wetherspoons. Ultimately, I picked an ice cream as I didn’t think I had time for a beer. Turns out I would have had time as the bus back to Billericay was later than I thought. Typical. At five-thirty I was heading home. I enjoyed my trip to Chelmsford. It was cheaper and quieter than Canterbury. It’s fun doing these trips. I might not have seen much of the world, but, at least, I am seeing more of my country. Chester, you’re next!


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