The Home Counties Hype: Five Creative Enclaves Near London

The Home Counties Hype: Five Creative Enclaves Near London

The Home Counties – that grassy cushion that surrounds London – are teeming with culture-rich towns and design-forward coastal villages that make for ideal weekend staycations. Here, we spotlight a few of our favourites.

the Home Counties were all crumpets and croquet? Think
again. The grassy cushion that surrounds London is studded with
culture-rich towns and design-forward coastal villages
that make for ideal weekend staycations or day trips from the
capital. Here, we spotlight a few of our favourites and the best
places to stay when you’re there.

Five towns perfect for a creative weekend in the home



Despite what TV magnates might have you believe, Essex is
actually rather beautiful – and no, not in that tango-orange kind
of way. Colchester Castle is fine, but we suggest making tracks for
Firstsite, a gleaming
architectural feat of a gallery with a busy schedule of art
exhibitions, film viewings and events. Head to Art Exchange in the
University of Essex for more contemporary art, to the canvas-strewn
home of Alfred Munnings for something a little more trad or
hitch a ride to the beautifully curated Beth Chatto Gardens just
out of town. For dinner, we suggest wrapping up warm and eating
outside, under the wavy canopies of Le Talbooth. It sits pretty on
the banks of the River Stour and serves up an award-winning menu of
classic ingredients whipped into bougie dishes – broad bean fricassée and
Granny Smith soufflé, anyone?

Where to stay? Kingfisher’s Nest



Kick things off with a tour of Hastings Contemporary. It’s the
big grey building which looms over the waterfront; you can’t miss
it. Nibble small plates while watching the seawater lap against the
shoreline at its inhouse restaurant before scoping out the smaller
galleries and knick-knack shops Hastings has to offer. Grab some
locally made ceramics from Made In Hastings, ogle the luxurious candles and minimalist homewares at
Reste and step back in time at A.G. Hendy & Co., where rustic
homewares (flowery feather dusters, lovingly hewed wooden brooms
and vintage tin buckets) all sidle alongside each other – we’re
calling it “curated clutter”. The art deco-style De La Warr
Pavilion is a scooch along the coast but well worth the walk,
especially on a good-weather day. Inside, you’ll find a riot of
contemporary exhibits. Currently, you can expect a multimedia
exhibition from Zadie Xa, which immerses viewers in a sub-aquatic
parallel universe, and a retrospective exhibition on Rock Against

Where to stay? The 1066



It all started when the Turner
opened way back in 2011. Since then, Margate’s old
town has grown dense with poky little antiques shops, streetwear
emporiums and biodynamic brunch spots. Once you’ve checked out the
Turner Contemporary and watched Another Time (Antony Gormley’s
solitary statue placed out on Margate beach) get swallowed up by
the tide, make tracks for the Carl Freedman Gallery, where you’ll
find 10,000sq ft of industrial space sparsely but thoughtfully
filled with untouchable fragments of contemporary art. Then, check
‘s website to see which projects are currently on show
around the town, using it as your guiding compass to navigate the
seafood cafés and restaurants. You’ll want some souvenirs, of
course. We suggest picking up some locally grown skincare from
Haeckels or picking out a dusty-old treasure at Paraphernalia, one
of Margate’s most chaotic but charming secondhand shops.

Where to stay: The Reading Rooms



In recent decades, this stretch of coastline has been overlooked
as too Essex-y for its own good. Redolent with the sickly-sweet
smell of hot doughnuts, patrolled by rambunctious, fun-loving teens
and scored by a soundtrack of yelps and screams from the Adventure
Island theme park, Southend is like many a faded seaside town. But
Southend is more radical than most people realise. For proof, head
to the impressive Focal Point Gallery, a dynamic organisation on the
cusp of the UK’s contemporary art scene; check out the current
goings-on at Metal, a community hub that’s always packed with
artists’ in residence; or pootle about the sleepy streets of nearby
Leigh where every other building is an independent gallery. Still
not convinced? Check out Radical Essex for more information on
Southend’s pioneering past and electrifying present.

Where to stay: Old Leigh Cottage



Margate’s received a lot of press recently for its newfound
hipster credentials, but Folkestone has a little more edge. Those who like
old-world glamour should take a stroll down The Leas promenade, a
boulevard studded with 19th-century mansions and mostly designed by
Decimus Burton, the brains behind London Zoo and Kew Gardens. Head
down to the harbour to refuel on fresh seafood before diving into
Folkestone’s Creative Quarter, a higgledy-piggledy burrow of
streets teeming with independent businesses and tiny galleries.
Alternatively, hop in a car and crunch your way cross the shingle
beach to Dungeness – specifically Prospect Cottage, where seminal
queer artist Derek Jarman saw out his dying days. It’s an arresting
landscape, a wilderness ravaged by harsh climatic conditions and
surveyed by a nuclear power plant – not pretty, but not to be
missed either.

Where to stay: Cabu by the sea

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