We’ve been excited ever since we first heard about Grayson Perry’s ‘House for Essex’. Grayson is our all-time favourite Essex-born cross-dressing contemporary artist specialising in ceramics. His appearances on ‘Have I Got News For You’ might have left many bemused, but some of his recent documentaries on TV have given an insight into him and his work, especially those in which he made vases and tapestries related to people he had met.
There was a fair bit of opposition to the building of the ‘House for Essex’, and some remains. But there’s a logic to where it’s is, and part of the reason for us wanting to cycle to what is also known as ‘Julie’s House’ rather than driving there, or getting the train to Wrabness railway station, is about that.
The building is designed to ‘evoke a tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels in the landscape’, and it’s only a few weeks since we made our first visit to The Chapel of St Peter on the Wall in Bradwell on Sea. That chapel is on a remote peninsula in another part of Essex, overlooking an estuary, and there were echoes today in our walking down to ‘Julie’s House’ of that walk in the footsteps of pilgrims to St Peter on the Wall. I’m guessing the locals in Wrabness are hoping interest will die down (there were several other people there at the same time as us today) and don’t want pilgrims walking past their front door for almost 1500 years.
And an additional reason for cycling was the recent C4 documentary, in which Grayson/Julie made a pilgrimage to the house, cycling through important locations in her life. The poem behind Julie’s life, quite touching in parts, describes how her partner, after her early death, remembers that on a trip to India in which she had said she had never know such bliss, he had promised that if she died ‘he would then grieve as deep as Shah Jahan and build a Taj Mahal upon the Stour’ in her memory. And the house is a fitting memory to her.
It sits beautifully in the countryside – if you follow the cycle ride route below, or at least drive from the west past the church, you get to see it from a distance. With the hay recently cut, on our visit it blended beautifully into the landscape. Otherwise you approach it down the side of the railway station, over the railway bridge, and it’s there, a green and gold temple cum gingerbread house adorned with tiles, nestling in the countryside with an almost ageless quality to it – is it a year old or a hundred years old?
Next steps is to enter the lottery to get a chance to rent the property for a week (and to start saving – it’s not at the bottom of the Cottages4You tarrif!)
Here are some pix, and the cycle route follows.
Here’s the simple cycle route instructions : from Manningtree railway station, drop down the hill to the roundabout, straight on to Station Road, and keep straight on, through Manningtree, Mistley and when you get to Wrabness turn left onto Wheatsheaf Close, follow that round until you cross the railway bridge and come to a T-junction, turn left and when you get to the railway station don’t bear right, go straight on into Black Boy Lane. And if you want to drive with your bikes on the back of your car, park in the free car park outside the Co-op on the High Street, get on the bikes, turn left on to Manningtree High Street and follow the instructions above.
But here are some longer instructions, and a slightly longer route back, with a pic of the route.
If you’re not familiar with Manningtree and Mistley, take your time cycling through. There’s a lot of interesting buildings to admire!
The first part of Station Road has some light industry, and the Co-op with the free car park (and toilets inside the supermarket). Once you get into Manningtree High Street look out for the rather impressive former Corn Exchange which is now the library and Shakespeare’s Ox on the Market Cross.
You’ll turn left and cycle with The Walls and The Stour estuary to your left. You’ll doubtless see lots of swans, and if it’s a sunny Sunday lots of people parked up and taking in the view, with ice cream, coffee and other food available. You will pass Mistley Towers on your left, then the Swan in its pond, the Mistley Thorn pub and EDME Maltings.
As you leave Mistley you’ll see a sign for Mistley Village Hall. If you were to park up there and lock your bikes, a five minute walk takes you to meet Old Knobbley, an 800 year old tree! Read about him here.
As you head East there are a few ups and downs, and watch out for the junction where you bear left at the church (signposted Wrabness and Harwich).
We’d recommend taking the first left once in Wrabness – Wheatsheaf Close, to get you off the main road. If you take the first turning left once you pass under the railway bridge you can cycle down the waterfront and get some great views. Head back from the waterfront and return to Wheatsheaf Close and further along is a lovely church (it doesn’t have a steeple, and so there is a separate Bell Cage for the church bell). When you come to the T-junction turn left. You’ll soon approach the railway station on your left, and instead of following the road round, go straight on into Black Boy Lane (dismount and walk from here!). There is a local shop and cafe by the station. Walk down the lane to see the house.
You could retrace your steps back to Manningtree. Or do as we did – once back on the main road look out for Spinnels Lane on the left. Head down there until you come to a T-junction and turn right. Follow that road until you come to another T-junction, with The Country Maid pub on your left. Turn left (the pub serves decent beer) and then take the second right – Straight Road, signposted to Mistley Heath. Follow that road until you come to the main road where you turn left and will hopefully start to recognise the road and head into Mistley and then Manningtree. It’s a 17mile round trip, with just a couple of steep climbs, but some lovely views, and an iconic Essex building to visit!