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29 Most Beautiful Outdoor Places To Visit in Essex, England

Do you love the outdoors and finding exciting new places to explore? The most beautiful outdoor places to visit in Essex highlight a few of the best places the county is famous for and the ones we love the most!

Did you know that Essex is our home county and a great place to visit? It’s full of excellent outdoor activities and hidden gems, from castles and country parks to stunning vineyards. 

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29 most beautiful outdoor places to visit in Essex.
Jack and I love exploring the Essex countryside, this time of year you’ll find us in a field somewhere!

In this post, I’ll share some of the best outdoor places to visit in Essex that I loved to visit growing up and now as an adult. Some places are well known while others are hidden treasures loved by locals.

👉 First time in Essex? Find out why we think Essex is worth visiting here! And, if you’re planning to visit lots of places in Essex, make sure you don’t get lost and know exactly where you’re going on your trip.


The Best Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex

Essex is fantastic and full of so many wonderful places to visit! The county boasts traditional seaside towns with aged wooden piers, amusement parks and arcades. There are numerous medieval market towns such as the one in Saffron Walden too! 

More well-known sites include Mersea Island, the county town of Chelmsford, my favourite riverside town of Maldon and the historic town of Colchester. Interestingly, Colchester was built on Roman ruins, is home to a Norman-era Castle and is believed to be the oldest recorded town in England!

With over 350 miles of coastline to explore, endless ancient woodland and tranquil nature reserves, Essex outdoors truly is a wonderful place to visit.


Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex: Woodlands, Gardens & Nature Reserves

Essex has some of the best nature reserves and woodland in the country all of which can be enjoyed any time of the year. These outdoor spaces are some of our favourites in Essex.

1. Tollesbury Marina And The Nature Reserve

Tollesbury is the village I grew up in and a great outdoor place to visit in Essex if you enjoy marina villages and sea air. There are a few interesting things to do in Tollesbury, and visiting the marina is one of them. It has a lovely bistro which serves great Sunday Lunch and a variety of delicious seafood dishes. 

Tollesbury Nature Reserve

To add to its allure, you’ll find the fascinating Tollesbury Wick Nature Reserve here too. These are an array of channels and creeks created by the area’s large tidal range with many meandering walking paths to explore. 

The area is a nature reserve of just over 242 hectares of coastal freshwater marshes managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. Popular for nature walks and is a well-known birdwatching location.

2. Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation 

The Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation is a 13.8 miles (22.1 km) waterway with 13 locks which runs through a largely unspoilt part of rural Essex. It connects the county town of Chelmsford with the tidal estuary of the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin. 

outdoor places to visit in Essex include the chelmer canal

Rushes Lock

Our favourite lock is a spot only known to locals and a great place to enjoy during the summer months. The lock is nestled along the river Chelmer between Ulting and Little Baddow with soft grassy banks to relax on. 

There is also a weir which can be found behind the trees, making it a fun place to swim. You can take a float and go down the weir or float around and swim in the river itself.

Pro tip >> If you drive there is road parking on Bumfords Lane which is a 10-minute walk to the Lock. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can reach the Lock from Chelmsford city centre in 3 hours. Start at Chaucer Road Meadows and follow the footpath along the banks of River Chelmer – this is a really nice walk. 

outdoor places to visit in Essex - rushes lock and weir

Paper Mill Lock & Tearooms

Tucked away in the middle of the Essex countryside and surrounded by fields and nature, Paper Mill Lock is a wonderful outdoor place to visit. What makes this lock extra special are the tearooms which serve wonderful afternoon tea, scones and all things cheese.

You can drive there as they have parking but it’s also possible to reach from Rushes Lock. Continue down the path and through Little Baddow Village for another hour; you could also kayak along the river!

outdoor places to visit in Essex include the chelmer canal

3. Hylands House & Parklands

Nestled around the back of Chelmsford, Hylands Park is home to the graceful grade II listed Neo-Classical Hylands House with meticulously restored Georgian and Victorian period rooms. 

The grounds are wonderfully maintained including ancient woodlands, grasslands, ponds and lakes.  There are many walking paths to get lost along and different habitats to explore.

Hylands Park is lovely throughout the entirety of the year due to the changing seasons which bring about dramatic changes to the estates’ scenic beauty. This makes it one of the best outdoor places to visit in Essex all year round!

👉 Related Post: 25 Best Things To Do In Chelmsford

Tollesbury Wicks, Tollesbury Marina, Sailing

4. Roman River Valley Nature Reserve

Another beautiful spot in Essex is this majestic woodland, the Roman River Valley is discreetly tucked away behind the small village of Layer-de-la-Haye. Strolling into the woods and down a steep hill brings you into a well-established woodland with mighty oaks, swaying willows and twisted hornbeams! 

It’s part of ancient woodland and one of the best-preserved river valleys in Essex! We follow the old Roman Road – which is more of a cobbled path than a road – along the stream into the heart of the woodland.

It rained last time we visited so it got a bit slippery, make sure you’re well prepared with a good pair of walking shoes. There are many footpaths to follow along the river bank and through the woods and lots of wildlife! 

We haven’t seen any yet but there are otters around too, these are Jack’s favourite animals so we hope to see them soon! 

outdoor places to visit in Essex Roman River Valley, Colchester

5. Stow Maries Halt Nature Reserve

Have you ever wanted to see glow worms? Stow Maries is the place to visit if so. Head there during a summer’s night and the meadow will come alive with a spectacular light display. 

The nature reserve is set on part of the old railway line which used to run from Maldon to South Woodham Ferrers. The remains have been reclaimed by nature but you can walk along the old embankment.

This is a good place to visit if you want a peaceful nature walk along the fields from Cold Norton to South Woodham Ferrers. It’s also a nice place to take your dog but make sure it’s kept on the lead inside the paddock during late summer as there will be sheep grazing!

⭐ Pro Tip: If you’re after a long(ish) circular route which will take you around Purleigh and Stow Maries there is one on All Trails here. It’s about 11km and should take around 2.5 hours passing a couple of pubs.

Stowe Maries nature reserve

6. Chalkney Woods

Chalkney Woods is home to the rare bluebells during the summer months which literally carpet the ground. They make it such a beautiful and enchanting woodland to walk through. 

Chalkney Woods is a great outdoor place to visit in Essex for the whole family - dogs included!
Chalkney Woods is a great outdoor place to visit in Essex for the whole family – dogs included!

The reserve is a healthy 120 acres of ancient woodland rich in both history and wildlife. Within the wood, there are remnants of a medieval wood bank and a Roman trackway. A rich diversity of wildlife means it is an SSSI.

It’s super easy to get to with lots of winding woodland trails to explore. I would definitely say that summer is the best time, for the bluebells but also to see the dragonflies which whizz around the meadows.

best outdoor places to visit in Essex include Chalkney Woods

7. Danbury Country Park

Danbury Country Park is a place we used to go to as kids. It’s full of adventure for everyone with lots of different areas to explore. It has ancient woodland with oaks and sweet chestnuts, three wonderful lakes, meadows and an old ice house.

It’s home to quite a famous Victorian rhododendron collection in the late spring which attracts a lot of visitors but a visit any time of the year and it’s a magical place to be. 

The trails through the woods during autumn are our favourite due to the wonderfully coloured leaves but as well in spring, as there are lots of cute, fluffy ducklings around!

Igoa-adventure, outdoor places to visit in Essex Roman River Valley, Colchester

8. Abberton Reservoir Nature Park

One of the most spectacular outdoor places to visit in Essex is Abberton Reservoir. It’s a sanctuary for water birds all year round including a shelter for over-wintering and migrating birds passing along the east-coast migration route.

The park offers various routes around the reservoir, accessible paths, a number of bird hides and a cafe which sits just out over the water. 

The panoramic views across the reserve are magnificent and the bird-watching is phenomenal. This is the place to go if you want to see wildfowl in their thousands! 

Abberton Reservoir is one of the Best places outdoor places to visit in Essex.

9. RHS Garden Hyde Hall

One of the most magnificent garden transformations in Essex is found at RHS Garden Hyde Hall! It was founded in 1955 on a windswept hill made beautiful by the Robinsons with a lot of love, patience and well-planned horticulture.

The area now comprises a number of gardens, all of which are perfect for families and friends to explore. Our favourite time to visit is early autumn, as always, as it becomes a place of vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, plus the crowds a less.

There is a cafe on site which uses fresh ingredients from the Garden’s Global Growth Vegetable Garden, which we thought was a nice touch and makes a lovely place to stop for lunch after strolling aimlessly around the garden.

Important Note: the gardens are not open during the winter months. 

Things-To-Do-In-Chelmsford-RHS-Gardens

10. Markshall Estate Gardens

Do you love herb gardens? Markshall Estate Gardens claims to have the longest herbaceous border in the country! It’s also a great place to see a huge variety of rare trees in its world-class arboretum and stroll along peaceful lakes.

It’s a little bit of a hidden gem in the heart of rural Essex that it makes for a relaxing escape where you can surround yourself with nature and walk around aimlessly.

With over 2,000 acres you might not get to see it all in one visit but highlights include the 18th Century Walled Garden, the wildlife; peacocks, fish (in ponds, of course) and ducks, and an 800-year-old oak tree!

11. Audley End House and Gardens

A fun yet educational outdoor place to visit in Essex, Audley End is one of the most magnificent manor houses in England. The grand mansion and gardens, which still have working stables where you can meet the horses, are fantastic.

There are walking paths around the grounds however it’s the house which is the crowning glory. The Jacobean-style building offers its visitors an insight into the life of Victorian England. 

The house is home to a unique natural history collection comprising rare birds and mammals and offers interactive opportunities – aimed towards children – in the nursery and historic kitchens. 

Audley End House and Gardens in the best outdoor places to visit in Essex

13. Saffron Walden

Of course, if you’re visiting Audley End house you will have to stop by the beautifully preserved medieval town of Saffron Walden. With a rich history and beautiful streets, namely Castle Street and Bridge Street, it’s the perfect place for snapping photos of old English architecture.

They also have a traditional market in the town centre which is always full of interesting goodies from fresh veg to leathers, electronics, accessories and toys!

The best outdoor places to visit in Essex

12. Dedham Vale AONB

On the banks of the river Stour, Dedham Vale is hailed as one of the most beautiful outdoor places to visit in Essex.

Exploring the walking trails around Dedham
Exploring the walking trails around Dedham

The attractive high street of Dedham is lined with Georgian-fronted houses, old inns and a large art and crafts centre, small shops, tea rooms and a lovely church.

The area is famously known as the heart of the Constable Country, with its lowland landscapes and waterways making it a breathtaking place with nature and wildlife at your fingertips.

Pro Tip: There are countless walking trails to be explored around Dedham Vale. A good way to explore these is to download the All Trails App which features loads of walking trails all around the world!

Beautiful Dedham is a superb outdoor place to visit in Essex!
Beautiful Dedham is a superb outdoor place to visit in Essex!

Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex: Castles, Ruins & Old Buildings

Essex is home to a surprising number of castles and old buildings. Many of these were built on top of and lost over the years. Some, luckily have been rediscovered! Here is a list of our favourite sites.

14. Hedingham Castle

Want to visit one of the best preserved Norman keeps in England? If so, then you’ll want to head over to Castle Hedingham as that’s where Hedingham Castle can be found! 

Built during the early 12th-Century the Castle plays host to many medieval events and festivals. It’s a great day out for everyone if only to walk around the ground and admire the Castle. 

There is an old woodland forming part of the grounds which you can walk through and in summer it has a carpet of bluebells. The May Day Fair is always a lot of fun with craft stalls and entertainment lining the castle’s grounds.

15. Colchester Castle And Park

An important historical town. Colchester boasts the country’s first established Roman city in England with over 2,000 years of history! It’s a gorgeous outdoor place to visit in Essex, especially during the summer when the castle and park come alive. 

Picnics, walks and games can be enjoyed all year round. Many of the county’s large events are hosted within the park grounds which have some immaculate gardens to be admired. 

The castle is open to visitors and has a museum which showcases the area’s distinctive history. The Colchester town has a busy high street making it a great place for a weekend visit. 

If you’re a lover of parks and castles then England has outstanding heritage sites. Why not check out other areas in the country such as Lincoln, The Cotswolds and Somerset?

The wonderful Colchester Castle is a family-friendly place to explore in Essex
The wonderful Colchester Castle is a family-friendly place to explore in Essex

16. St Botolph’s Priory

The 12th-Century ruins of an Augustinian monastery are hidden just behind Colchester’s town centre. It’s a great little spot to spend an hour. It is small so you probably won’t need longer, but you’ll enjoy walking around the ruined columns and structure. 

St Botolph’s Priory was demolished by Henry The Eighth during his ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th century. There are information boards dotted around the site which provide useful insight into the priory’s history.

However, this is simply one of the nicest spots to take some photos of ruined Romanesque architecture. There are benches around the small park and a car park. 

With St Botolph’s Priory so close to the town centre of Colchester and the Castle, stopping by both on a day trip in Colchester is worthwhile.

St Botolphs Priory

17. St Giles Leper Hospital Remains

Are you still looking for more ruins in Essex? The St Giles’s remains are one of Maldon’s best-kept secrets. Located in the heart of the bustling town the small site (very small) is where those suffering from Leprosy were taken.

Again, it was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries. It was then built over and used as a barn for almost 400 years! Amazingly, the ruins were uncovered and restored in 1927. 

Since then, the hospital has been a lovely outdoor place to visit in Essex while making a visit to Maldon. Maldon is a thriving town with fantastic shopping and cafes and is home to the world-famous Maldon Salt. 

👉 Related Post: Are you heading to Maldon? You’ll want to know where the best places to eat in Maldon are or maybe you’ll fancy a coffee. Check out my favourite coffee shops in Maldon here!

18. Finchingfield Post Mill

On the outskirts of Essex’s county line is the colourful village of Finchingfield. Probably one of the prettiest villages in Essex and a great place to visit for a day trip if you love traditional English villages and pub lunches!

The old post mill is just shy of 300 years old and although not operational, it maintains its original four sails which can be seen at the top of the Causeway.

It’s a grade 2 listed building which is open every third Sunday of the month, April to September, although you can walk around outside any time of the year.  

Finchingfield Post Mill

19. Cressing Temple Barns

Between Witham and Braintree, you’ll find the Grade 1 listed Cressing Temple Barns. The site is home to some of the last remaining timber-framed barns and one of the few surviving Templar Buildings in England.

The grounds are wonderfully landscaped with the walled garden reconstructed to provide a relaxing and peaceful outdoor place to visit in Essex. It’s also got the famous Tiptree Jam Tea Rooms on site which makes it a great place to stop for lunch or a cream tea. 

Cressing Temple Barns a re a great outdoor place to visit in Essex

20. Hadleigh Castle

Another castle which now lies in ruins is Hadleigh Castle. Impressively, it was once a Royal Residence of Edward II in the mid-14th century before being sold for building materials some 200 years later. 

It is the perfect outdoor place to visit for a picnic with panoramic views over the Essex countryside! The site is part of English Heritage and is open all day during daylight hours. 

It’s accessible along a small grass path but it’s also possible to walk along the seawall and through fields from Leigh-on-Sea, which is a lovely seaside town.

Hadleigh Castle

21. Layer Marney Tower

A 500-year-old Tudor Gatehouse, Layer Marney Tower is a beautiful building which sits right in the middle of the Essex countryside. You can walk around the grounds and enjoy exploring the gardens and buildings. 

It’s not open all year round tho so make sure you check their website for information. It’s used a lot for venue hire but it does have a cute tea room which was nice and the staff were friendly. 

Visiting the tower is best if you can arrange a guided tour. You’ll likely meet the current owners on the tour, plus get some awesome scenic views from the top of the tower!

Layer Marney Tower

Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex: Islands, Piers & Coastal Walks

Essex is a coastal county so it’s only fitting that some of the best outdoor places to visit are along the coast! Walking dogs along the seawall and beach are great but there are also a few small islands to discover.

22. Coastal walks

An unmissable outdoor place to visit in Essex is its Saltmarsh Coast Trail. The whole of Britain has a stunning coastline but when we think of Essex, its marshes, rivers and reservoirs. Did you know it’s 72 miles of tranquil trails which make up the Saltmarsh Coast of Essex?

You’ll find that most of the coast has a seawall with a mixture of paved paths to muddy trails. You’ll be able to walk from one village to the next relatively easily. We’ve done parts of the trail but hope to do more!

Coastal Walks for the best outdoor places to visit in Essex

Section: Maylandsea to St Lawrence

Our favourite so far, and quite conveniently the closest to home is the 8-mile route from Maylandsea to St.Lawrence. It follows the seawall along a small part of the Essex coast which meanders along marshland, riverbanks and pretty fields! 

Igoa-adventure, Coastal Walks in East Anglia - Maylandsea Seawal

Section: Goldhanger Circular

This is a 10km circular route which follows the path along the sea wall from the charming village of Goldhanger. It’s a fun 3-hour hike where you’ll pass the Osea Beach Huts and Osea Island Causeway.

Afterwards, it’s a relaxing walk through fishing lakes and farmers’ fields. Summer is the best time to go to grab the golden wheat shots… before returning back to Goldhanger.

Goldhanger Circular

23. Maldon Promenade

Maldon Prom has been around since the Victorian times and is a great outdoor place to visit in Essex. The town is a very popular town with a bustling historic centre and lots of charm. The Hythe Quay is what you’re aiming for and with lovely views over the estuary and along the Prom, you’ll have a great walk.

The River Chelmer meeting the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon

24. Mersea Island

One of my favourite outdoor places to visit in Essex is Mersea Island. It’s a place we used to visit as a child with wonderful memories that I love going back to the island even now.

Mersea island is a fun outdoor spot to visit in Essex

It has a long beach on the west side with adorable multi-coloured beach huts. It does get busy, especially in the summer but if you walk right down to the north end it’s usually quieter.

There’s also Cudmore Grove which is in East Mersea. It’s a great place for walking the dog as it’s an open meadow which leads to the water.

Cudmore grove, Mersea East

Mersea has activities for everyone such as watersports, boat trips, golf and fishing. There is a large outdoor activity centre and a good variety of pubs and restaurants too.

The island is also home to the Mersea Island Vineyard. The vineyard was established in 1985 on ten acres of land and grows five varieties of grapes. While you’re in Mersea you’ll be able to order local wine to go with your local seafood platter!

25. Northey Island

Northey Island is a hidden treasure tucked away behind Maldon town. The island is quite remote with access via a short causeway. At high tide, the causeway gets covered by water!

It’s a great place for bird watching and scenic views over the estuary as it’s full of wildlife. As it’s closed during winter you’ll need to pre-book your visit. But it’s worthwhile to witness some of Essex’s wild nature, salt marshes and oyster beds. 

The island is also the oldest known battleground in the country, from when the Vikings attacked, in the battle of Maldon in 991. You’ll find the statue of Byrhtnoth – Earldormon of Essex – at Maldon Prom with views over to Northey Island.

26. Frinton Beach

If you’re looking for a relatively quiet beach in Essex then Frinton-on-Sea Beach is likely a good bet. It doesn’t have much in the way of entertainment, which is what probably makes it less crowded. But it does have soft sand and free parking!

The beach is clean, dog friendly and lined with some cute colourful huts. In town, you’ll find some cafes and restaurants but the best way to enjoy this beach is to take a picnic!

Frinton beach is one of the best outdoor places to vist in Essex.

27. Brightlingsea Beach

Brightlingsea Beach is always a little busier than the above, however, it’s still a wonderful place to enjoy those hot summer days, especially with the family. There is an outdoor tidal pool with a small sandy area but also the main beach. 

We saw a lot of people crabbing over the rails when we were there, something I remember doing as a child, so it was fun to see them bring out big crabs! 

There are two large car parks with nice clean public toilets plus a coffee van usually parked up by the tower which does a decent coffee, bring your own coffee mug to reduce waste!

Brightlingsea Beach

28. Southend Pier & Amusement Park

One of the most exciting places to visit in Essex if you’re looking for outdoor entertainment. Southend Pier is one of the longest in the country, around 2.3 miles, where you can catch a train to the end and back or walk if you want. It’s really nice, especially on a good day but not so great on windy days!

The amusement park, Adventure Island, is full of arcades and rides which are brilliant. We went loads as kids and even after returning years later, we still managed to have a lot of fun.

I do want to say that it’s expensive, you’ll need to buy a token to use on the rides, but if planned well it makes for an awesome day out! There are plenty of restaurants lining the waterfront and you’ll be able to pick up some traditional fish and chips.

29. The Naze (Walton-on-the-Naze)

This is an incredible coastal landscape with beautiful cliffs and unique biological importance. The area is home to fossilised shark teeth and shells which can be found on the beach, hunting for them is always a fun activity!

The walk along the cliff is breathtaking and scenic but be careful not to walk too close to the edge! You’ll find a few old pill boxes to explore along the coastal trails and make sure to take your binoculars.

The Naze is a superb site for bird-watching all year round. It’s an important site for migrating birds especially. Walton-on-the-Naze beach is a great place for a picnic but there are two cafes on site.


Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex – Travel Guide

Where To Stay In Essex?

If you’re thinking to spend longer than one day out in Essex, there are so many beautiful places you can choose from. Here are three of my personal suggestions to make your trip perfect!

Chelmsford

I went to university in Chelmsford and think it’s a good place to stay if you’re searching for a central location in Essex. It’s the county town of Essex and so there are lots of activities happening within the city, plus some great coffee shops! You’ll be able to find good public transport links in and out of Chelmsford to the surrounding area.

👉 For more info and to search for hotels in Chelmsford, click here.

Colchester

The oldest recorded town in England and a pretty place to stay if you’re heading to Essex. The pull to stay here is, of course, the castle and park but the surrounding villages and countryside also have a lot to offer. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and things to do in Colchester, plus the town has good transport links!

👉 For more info and to search for hotels in Colchester, click here.

Maldon

My favourite and most recommended place to stay in Essex is Maldon. The charming coastal town is bustling with unique shops, independent restaurants, coffee shops and beautiful scenery. It’s a really nice place and somewhere I’m sure you would enjoy staying!

👉 For more info and to search for hotels in Maldon, click here.

How To Get To Essex?

The easiest way to get to Essex is to catch a train, coach, self-drive or use the bus. The transport network in Essex is very good with train services running often between the larger cities and towns from and to London.

However, unless you are visiting an outdoor place in Essex in one of these towns it makes more sense to drive as a lot of these places are in the countryside. Although most can be reached by bus, it would require some changes and a lot of time!

If you want to check out the bus timetable in Essex, you can do so here.


Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex FAQs

What is the nicest village in Essex?

Essex is full of quaint little villages however some of the nicest are Finchingfield, Kelvedon and Tollesbury. Maldon, although a town, is also one of the nicest! You will find rows of colourful old buildings along the high streets alongside some history and green spaces.
Traditional English villages will also be home to a few pubs, which are great places to stop for lunch while exploring the village!

Where is the best beach in Essex?

Depending on what you are looking for in regard to a beach some of the top beaches in Essex are Frinton Beach, Brightlingsea Beach and Southend Beach.
Frinton Beach is good for a slightly more remote and quiet day out. Brightlingsea is a little busier with more facilities. Southend Beach is a busy seaside town with an amusement park and arcades.
There’s also Mersea Island which has a fun beach and lots of entertainment. So, take your pick!

What is the oldest town in Essex?

The oldest recorded town in Essex is Colchester. It was the Roman capital and since then has become a thriving city in the heart of the Essex countryside. It features a Norman-era Castle alongside a few great archaeological sites. A day trip to Colchester is worthwhile as it can be fun and educational!


Outdoor Places To Visit In Essex: Conclusion

As you can see there are loads of fantastic outdoor places to visit in Essex with fun spots for everyone. Whether you’re travelling alone or as a couple, or looking for exciting places as a family or the perfect picnic destination with friends.

There’s a huge variety of places to visit but since Essex is huge it’s sure not all of them; there’s always somewhere new to discover! If you know of somewhere which should be on the list, I’d love for you to let me know so we can add it!

👉 Read Next: The Big Bear Cider Mill is located in Essex and is a fantastic place to visit! Be sure to check out their Tour & Tastings days for the ultimate Cider experience…

igoa-adventure travel blog
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, shoot me a message.