. The western part of the county is part of the clay based bowl around London , where it touches the Eastern suburbs of the capital. Here Essex is urban and is dotted with sleeper towns and railway lines stretching along the Thames and up to the North East.
. Fairly level in the middle with few heights except as sudden hills (such as at Colchester) Essex flattens its yielding clay plain even more on the fringes of its indented coastline, it changes to tidal mud as it goes east towards the North Sea and south to the Thames estuary. Here are slow flowing tidal water courses and bays where shallow inlets make a mysterious coastline of shadowy beauty.
. Stretching along the Thames estuary the scrubby marshland and wide mud flats with underlying silt means the coast encourages all sorts of wading and shore birds
. The northern half of the county has expanses of high exposed land enfolding handsome villages with plastered and painted houses, set on wide main streets. Along the border with Suffolk is prime agricultural land, rich and lush, and the scenery is mostly wide fields with prosperous farms, broken with coppices and fine big trees.
Origin of name: From the Old English meaning 'land of the East Saxons '.
Name first recorded: 604 as East Seaxe .
CHELMSFORD its railway viaduct is a true monument to Victorian daring and engineering genius, it took over 10 million bricks to build?
BARKING: A 7th-century description has it as a town of fishermen whose boats, called smacks, lie at the mouth of a creek and take fish up to Billingsgate.
BASILDON : Political heartbeat of Thatcherism and media barometer of Conservative fortunes. CASTLE
HEDINGHAM Is a pretty village with an ancient inn, the Bell .
COLCHESTER : A museum 'must-see ' and fine zoo; look out for oysters to eat. Oh, and Roman ruins!
DAGENHAM: Has the famous Ford factory (one of the largest car plants in Europe ).
EPPING TOWN : On the edge of a famous forest.
HARWICH: Historic port and North Sea ferry terminal with the country's first purpose-built cinema (1911) still flickering.
MALDON: A small town rich with centuries of British history.
SAFFRON WALDEN: The saffron crocus gave this town its name (and its fortune until the 1700s; 30,000 flowers made one pound of spice for dye, medicine, perfume and flavouring). A pattern of medieval streets and merchant houses reflect this old wealth.
SOUTHEND-ON-SEA : Funfairs, candy floss, one-arm bandits on the seafront. Hidden behind that is a resort favoured by the Prince Regent and some fine Regency traces are still left over.
STANSTED MOUNTFITCHET: Commonly known as Stansted, home to London 's third airport and wildlife park.
TILBURY: The docks, opened in the 1880s, are the largest in the country and now handle timber, grain and general cargo bound for Britain .
TIPTREE: Near Witham, is famous for fruit-preserving and jam- and marmalade-making industries.
. Brentwood . East and West Ham . Harlow . Hornchurch . Wanstead . Woodford . Witham
Stour , Blackwater, Lea Colne, Chelmer, Crouch, Roding.
High Wood near Langley at 480 feet.
. Mid February: Visit the Primrose Festival at Pass Nurseries at Marks Tey, which features up to a quarter of a million bloomin' primroses.
. End of March: Clacton 's traditional ale and jazz weekend makes for a heady mixture.
. Fighter Meet at North Weald Airfield in Epping is Europe 's premier fighter aircraft airshow; not for those of a sensitive disposition.
. Sailing events along the Blackwater estuary.
. Regular events through English Heritage at Audley End House from craft and country shows to sheepdog demonstrations and teddy bears' picnics.
. June/July: Harwich shows off with concerts, exhibitions, folk dancing and other entertainments.
. June: Essex County Show at Chelmsford .
. Boadicea, or Boudicca, queen of the iceni tribe of East Anglia , rose against the Romans and swept down onto the stronghold of Colchester .
. The Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth's last love and a dashing if irresponsible courtier, was portrayed by Erroll Flynn in the famous film Elizabeth and Essex.
. One of the favourites of Charles 11, Nell Gwyn, was among a motley company that performed The Merry Wives of Windsor in Boreham Hall.
. 'Darling Daisy', the mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VI 1) became Countess of Warwick, and is remembered in Little Easton Church.
. John Fowles, author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman was born in Leigh-on-Sea in 1926.
. Colchester schoolboys Damon Albarn and Graham Coxton shared a teenage obsession with innovative pop music and went on to form the four-piece band that spearheaded Britpop - Blur.
. Gustav Hoist composed The Planets in Essex .
. TV Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell) was a fanatical West Ham fan.
The County of Essex has two-tier local government for a large part of its territory, with Essex County Council and 12 District Councils providing the local services: they are Basildon, Braintree , Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford , Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow , Maldon, Rochford, Tendring and Uttlesford. There are seven unitary councils where Essex County Council has NO authority: Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Thurrock , Southend-on-Sea and Waltham Forest .
IT MAY NOT be obvious but this can be a county of ravishing scenery. Some is quite dramatic and comes as quite a surprise. Spend an evening on the mist-haunted Blackwater, for instance, cut off from the busy thoroughfares of the rest of the county, and you find yourself in quiet, reflective Essex , where white- and pastel- painted houses are often constructed of clapboard, very much an Essex style. From the clay lands that yielded much of the Agricultural Revolution as well as sweet-smelling roses, sweet peas, and saffron (not to mention sugar beet), through the planned new towns and chaotic sprawl of metropolitan Essex with its Fords, football clubs and factories churning out jam, sugar, beer and boots, there appear to be many real Essexes .
So real Essex could be in the coastal resorts or in the London sprawl but is more likely to be tucked in between the two. Essex runs a gamut of settlements from the clone- like conurbations near London such as Romford, Leyton, Walthamstow and Ilford (but also Epping and 13th- century Waltham Abbey) to the most romantic thatched and half-timbered villages deep in landscape that is often very beautiful and varied. To find the real Essex you will need to get away from main roads and into the countryside proper, not far off, yet a world away from the hurry of the high road. Colchester is an old and fascinating town set high on a ridge. It was a port and important city under the Romans and preserves many traces of those days from an entrance gate to bits of a theatre which can be glimpsed just by the Norman castle. This was an army headquarters and the strength of the town can be gauged from the vast Roman foundations of a temple and the fort where Boadicea herded the luckless Roman residents at the height of her success.
The city has crooked lanes lined with old buildings and rows of pleasant Georgian houses mounting up to the town centre, while a number of earlier cottages are grouped above the old walls. You get a fine view from these over to the abbey porch of St John whose abbot refused to give up his church and was beheaded at the entry. Along the coast the resorts include Leigh-on- Sea with its cockle boats, Clacton and Frimon. In the northwest are Braintree with its frescoed town hall, and attractive Dunmow, once famous for crocus flower flavouring and dyes, and later for hollyhocks and even an Ealing comedy. Thaxted has a handsome high-spired church beside an ancient wooden guildhall, while Halstead on the Colne has a Queen Anne house where Alexander Pope visited. West of here is a cluster of splendid typical villages - Finchingiield, Great Sampford, Great Bardfield and Wethersfield .
There are comic names too: Ugley actually comes from the Old English originator - one Ugca, who called the village after himself. Others are Weeley, Wixoe on the Suffolk border, Moze (it means marshy place and as a salt, panning place was recorded in the Domesday Book), Rotten End with a cluster of fine old houses beside Wethersfield air base, and Stansted Mountfitchet. This name comes from a Norman knight who was given almost 50 manors here, a pretty place divided by a highway with a noble church and a brick windmill.
Maldon makes sea salt from its flats. The oysters of Colchester were famous, first consumed by the Romans - Pliny, the Roman historian and scientist, records that the shellfish were one of the few good things about cold and clouded Britain !
Colchester is the ancient Roman Camulodunum, where Cunobelin was king, later to be the inspiration for the Shakespeare play Cymbeline. It was the most important Roman garrison town in the country. Because the conquerors decided to make Colchester their capital, Essex became the most Romanized part of Britain with excellent roads such as Stane Street , Icknield Street and the Via Devana. All roads led to Colchester (rather than London ) in those days and the town also received the first written record of any British city, from the pen of Tacitus.
This became the land of the East Saxons , the kingdom being founded in about AD527. Slowly the area converted to Christianity, largely due to Bishop Cedd, who in Tilbury arranged the first mission to the East Saxons . One of the country's architectural treasures lies in the simple church at Greensted-juxta-Ongar. An example of forest art or wood craftsmanship depending on your point of view, St Andrew's Church - the only surviving example of a wooden Anglo-Saxon church - is made of split oaks dating from AD850. The carpenters marks are still visible on the solid oak walls.
The residential area of Hornchurch has a bull's head with horns over a window, a pagan symbol annexed by the 'horned church'. Castle Hedingham has a church with a double hammerbeam roof, a 12th-century rarity It also has one of the finest Norman castle keeps in the country. At Billericay there is the Mayflower Hall in which the Pilgrim Fathers met before they set off on their voyage to America in 1620. None of the Billericay group survived the epidemic that struck the settlers while moored off Plymouth , Massachusetts .
In 1826 the Courtauld family established a silk factory at Halstead and it remains one of the best sights of the town, with an imposing white weather-boarded frontage on the River Colne. Finally at Writtle, near Chelmsford , Marconi sent out his first broadcasts and developed his electronic industry. The village green here is framed by some delightful buildings ranging from the 1500s to the 1900s, so again Essex revels in its contrast of rural and industrial.