Bordering the north bank of the River Thames, Essex has long been a gateway to London, and while it contains much heavy industry and urban development, it also encompasses some lovely countryside, coastal attractions and important wildlife habitats. Northeast Essex has the true feel of East Anglia, particularly around the outstanding villages of the Stour Valley - which has come to be known as Constable Country, a title it shares with neighbouring Suffolk. The inland villages and small towns here are notably historic and picturesque, offering very good touring and walking opportunities. A plethora of half-timbered medieval buildings, farms and churches mark this region out as of particular historical interest. Monuments to engineering feats past and present include Hedingham Castle, Chappel Viaduct and the Post Mill at Bocking Church Street. There are also many lovely gardens to visit, and the region’s principal town, Colchester, is a mine of interesting sights and experiences.
The north Essex coast has a distinguished history and a strong maritime heritage, as exemplified in towns like Harwich, Manningtree and Mistley. Further examples are the fine Martello Towers - circular brick edifices built to provide a coastal defence against Napoleon’s armies - along the Tendring coast at Walton, Clacton, Jaywick and Point Clear. The Tendring Coast contains an interesting mix of extensive tidal inlets, sandy beaches and low cliffs, and the Tendring District Council publishes a series of Tendring Trails beginning at Mistley, Manningtree, Debenham, Ardleigh and other places along the North Essex Coast.
The Stour Estuary, Hamford Water and Colne Estuary are all renowned for seabirds and other wildlife. Many areas are protected nature reserves. In the part of the county known as ‘the sunshine holiday coast’, resorts, both boisterous and more tranquil, dot the landscape: Clacton-on-Sea, Frinton- on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze offer many opportunities for relaxation and recreation.
The small northwest Essex towns of Saffron Walden, Thaxted, Great Dunmow and Stansted Mountfichet are among the most beautiful and interesting in the nation. This area is also home to a wealth of picturesque villages boasting weatherboarded houses and pargetting. This area also retains three beautiful and historic windmills, at Stansted Mountfichet, Aythorpe Roding and Thaxted. Visitors to southwest Essex and Epping Forest will find a treasure-trove of woodland, nature reserves, superb gardens and rural delights. Epping Forest dominates much of the far western corner, but all this part of Essex is rich in countryside, forests and parks. Southwest Essex also has major attractions in Audley End House and Waltham Abbey.
The borough of Thurrock includes huge swathes of greenbelt country, and along its 18 miles of Thames frontage there are many important marshland wildlife habitats. History, too, abounds in this part of the county. Henry VIII built riverside block houses at East and West Tilbury, which later became Coalhouse Fort and Tilbury Fort. It was at West Tilbury that Queen Elizabeth I gave her most famous speech delivered to her troops, gathered to meet the threat of the Spanish Armada. At the extreme south-east of the county, Southend is a popular and friendly seaside resort with a wealth of sights and amenities. There are also smaller seaside communities that repay a visit.
The area surrounding the Rivers Blackwater and Crouch contains a wealth of ancient woodland and other natural beauties, particularly along the estuaries and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal.
There are hundreds of acres of ancient woodland, much of it coppiced, which is the traditional woodland-management technique thatencourages a vast array of natural flora and fauna. This stretch of Essex affords some marvellous walking, cycling, birdwatching and other treats for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
The Essex-Jiangsu Culture Festival is a celebration of the 20-year link between Essex County Council and the Jiangsu Province in China. Events will take place between the summer of 2008 and March 2009, including cultural programmes, performances and exhibitions. See www.realessex.co.uk for details.