Tourism Awards 2021-2022: Meet the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year Award finalists

English Spirit Distillery at Great Yeldham in Essex

English Spirit Distillery produces small batch rum, vodka, gin, single malt and sambuca from the new site at Great Yeldham in Essex - Credit: English Spirit Distillery

The finalists have been announced for the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year Award, sponsored by Norfolk and Suffolk Tourist Attractions, at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022.

This award recognises the hidden gems in the East of England and celebrates the important part these businesses play in our visitor economy.

English Spirit Distillery

The team at English Spirit Distillery in Great Yeldham, Essex, believe that well-made spirits can be some of life’s greatest pleasures, which is why they aim to produce the best spirits money can buy. They use alcohol as a medium for capturing and expressing brilliant flavours from fine ingredients: “epicurean adventures with a story in every sip”. 

Founded by Dr John Walters, English Spirit Distillery produces small batch rum, vodka, gin, single malt and sambuca. Guests are welcomed to the 200-year-old Black Barn – the home of English rum, with its 20 copper pot alembic stills – where they can savour the distillation process from raw ingredients to bottling up. 

The judges said the tour and tasting experience was excellent. English Spirit has only been in existence for 10 years and it is already a UK industry leader, producing high-quality artisan spirits.


Hippersons Boatyard in Beccles canoing

Hippersons Boatyard is a family-owned microbusiness in Beccles providing unique tourism experiences and accommodation - Credit: Hippersons Boatyard

Hippersons Boatyard

Hippersons Boatyard is a family-owned microbusiness in Beccles, Suffolk, providing unique tourism experiences and accommodation. Under new ownership since 2014, Hippersons Boatyard has six accommodation units and 21 craft for visitors to choose from, including paddlecraft, pedal boats, dayboats, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). 

Guided tours and lessons are also offered onsite, and the business works in partnership with local businesses and the community to ensure guests have a wonderful experience every time.

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The judges said the team were first-class hosts and provided an outstanding level of customer service. The external appearance oozed charm, and the accommodation was in keeping with the environment. 

Rayleigh Town Museum Regal Room

Rayleigh Town Museum exhibits a wide range of artefacts with a direct provenance to Rayleigh - Credit: Rayleigh Town Museum

Rayleigh Town Museum

Opened in 2016, Rayleigh Town Museum details the rich and varied history of Rayleigh. Located in the centre of the Essex town, the museum exhibits photos, postcards, maps, estate documents, paintings and a wide range of artefacts with direct provenance to Rayleigh.

The museum is a registered charity, operated entirely by 50 volunteers who host talks, slide shows, heritage walks, coach trips and visits to schools. Rayleigh Town Museum is financially supported by the community and local businesses which sponsor events, exhibitions and newsletters. 

The judges said Rayleigh Town Museum is a fantastic tribute to all the people who have devoted their time, enthusiasm and knowledge to create and nurture it. As a community hub, it had a vibrant and positive atmosphere, and the volunteers are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and extremely proud of their museum. 

Tiger at Shepreth Wildlife Park in Royston

Shepreth Wildlife Park offers keeper talks, demonstrations, outdoor play zones, warm tropical exhibits and unique VIP experiences - Credit: Bob Steed

Shepreth Wildlife Park

Established in 1984 as a refuge for injured and orphaned animals, Shepreth Wildlife Park in Royston, Hertfordshire, has since become one of East Anglia’s major attractions, with more than 100 species to see and meet. 

Set in natural grounds, the park hosts keeper talks and demonstrations, and visitors can explore outdoor play zones, warm tropical exhibits and unique VIP experiences such as hand-feeding the capybara and coming face-to-face with a red panda! 

The park participates in endangered breeding programmes and has raised more than £450,000 for conservation projects worldwide, working alongside Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity (SWCC).  

The judges said all team members were focused on providing a positive experience. They were friendly and approachable with great knowledge of the park. The animals were clearly well cared for and the park was well maintained.

Watatunga wildlife reserve in west Norfolk with visitors and antelope

Watatunga is a stunning new wildlife reserve in west Norfolk - Credit: Phil Stone

Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Opened in 2020, Watatunga is a stunning new wildlife reserve in King's Lynn, Norfolk, that has already welcomed more than 7,500 visitors. Situated among 170 acres of woodland, grassland and lakes, Watatunga is a family-run business that provides a unique environment for deer, antelope and rare birds. 

Visitors can enjoy guided buggy tours with expert guides who bring conservation stories to life. Watatunga offers a fantastic staycation safari experience with self-catering accommodation and daily tours that is popular with conservationists, bird-watchers, animal lovers and photographers. 

The judges said Watatunga Wildlife Park is a wonderful experience and an excellent example of how conservation could and should be done in the modern age. The tour was conducted at a relaxed pace, with ample time given for photographic opportunities and excellent commentary throughout.

The winners of the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022 will be announced at a black-tie event held at Imperial War Museum Duxford on Thursday, February 24.