What images are conjured up when the word Essex is mentioned to you? If you live outside the United Kingdom chances are you have never heard of this county nestled just to the East of London, if you live in Britain youve probably heard and even chuckled at the occasional Essex girl joke, or thought that Essex was where most London Cabbies returned to when not terrorising the streets of the Metropolis. Most gritty television dramas have the big time villain living in his mock Georgian mansion in Essexs leafiest suburbs, and nearly every time the cast of BBC Eastenders want to go on a seaside outing in the program they head for sunny Southend-on-Sea. If that is how you view Essex I cannot say I blame you, television and the printed media thrive on Stereotyping people and places, with Denise Van Outen being constantly shown as the stereotypical brash Essex girl, although Miss Van Outen is loved by most Essex folk and even considered by some to be our counties unofficial leader, Essex has so much more to offer. And it is my aim, nay my quest, to show you the hidden beauty that Essex has to offer both to the casual day-tripper and the discerning individual looking for a different but hugely fulfilling holiday location. Firstly I think a little information on Essex as a whole is called for. The Real Countryside website describes Essex as a rural county with small market towns, traditional villages and small hamlets linked by country lanes. Farmland is interspersed with woodlands and the vast coastline is the longest in England. Well, you cannot really beat that for talking up the county can you, but Essex is much more than a sleepy rural outcropping. The South of Essex meets the Thames estuary, with Tilbury docks, the Dartford tunnel and QE2 Bridge near to the outskirts of London. North Essex is more picturesque with glorious countryside and delightful walks to be enjoyed. Transport links throughout the county are good with Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street railway stations linking London with the furthest reaches of Essex North, East and South. Stanstead airport is situated in Essex and is the fourth busiest in the United Kingdom, It is also the fastest growing major airport in Europe handling over sixteen million passengers a year and delivering them to and from over one hundred destinations. Essex has inspired great people such as Constable, Tennyson and Betjeman to produce some fine artwork and literature, and has many delightful attractions and destinations to visit and enjoy, just a few of which are:- Colchester Zoo I remember visiting Colchester Zoo on School trips and weekend jaunts with my family when I was younger, each trip a memorable and enjoyable occasion with fun and education in rich abundance. Colchester Zoo is said to have amongst the best big cat and primate collections in Europe, Snow Leopards and white tigers are present and are part of EEP and ESB breeding programmes (European Endangered species breeding programmes). Humboldts Penguins can be seen at play in the award winning Penguin Shores enclosure, while another award winning enclosure, the Kingdom of the wild is home to Giraffes, Rhinos and Pygmy Hippos. Colchester Zoo has also recently added Interactive discovery centres as well as an undercover picnic area to cope with the unpredictable British weather. The Zoo is open all year around apart from Christmas day with times varying according to the time of year visited; they are 09.30 to 18.30 during July and August, 09.30 to 18.00 during October, June and September and 09.30 to 17.00 from October until March. Prices for a day ticket are £9.89 for an adult, £6.29 for a child (3 to 14 years old), with concessions for OAP`s - £6.29 and Disabled - £4.00. 5% discounts are available for larger family groups with all major credit cards as well as cheques and cash accepted. Flatford Mill Flatford Mill sits on the Essex and Suffolk border in the sleepy village of Flatford. The 18th Century mill building and mill pond Inspired John Constable to produce one of his most famous pieces of art, which he painted while living in nearby East Bergholt. Unfortunately there is no public access to the actual Mill or any of the surrounding buildings, but the National Trust run a number of guided walks taking in many of the places that both inspired and were included in Constables work. There is one small thatched cottage nearby which is owned by the National Trust which houses an exhibition of Constables paintings, and there is also a chance to see Willy Lotts cottage, which had its gatepost adapted and included in The Haywain. Many walks can be enjoyed in the surrounding area, with lazy strolls beside the river Stour and the Dedham Vale a firm favourite of mine. Southend-on-Sea Southend-on-Sea is located at the mouth of the Thames Estuary and is the largest town in Essex with a population of around 180,000. Southend-on-Sea is perhaps best known for its pier, which is the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.3 miles long. Although the pier has suffered terrible fires on more than one occasion in its history it has been extensively refurbished and provides an enjoyable walk along its length with spectacular coast and sea views all the way, those who do not fancy the walk will be pleased to know that a railway runs the length of the pier every day. Just east of the Pier is the recently opened Sealife Centre which offers a fascinating insight into marine and aquatic life living off the Southend coast and from further afield. Southend is also renowned for its golden mile and nightclubs all guaranteed to provide entertainment aplenty. A thriving shopping centre is also present with all of the major shops and smaller specialist outlets sitting comfortably together. Southend is served by two railway stations with a journey time of just fifty minutes taking you to London. Lakeside Shopping Centre Perhaps a strange choice of places to visit in Essex, but the Lakeside Shopping centre really has to be experienced to be believed. Lakeside Shopping Centre boasts over 320 shops, 4 major departments stores, 30 cafes and restaurants and a seven screen multiplex cinema, all of which are covered, it even has a chapel. The centre gained its name because it is located around a twenty-six acre lake which hosts boat rides and a certified diving school. The surrounding retail park is also host to every conceivable Superstore and the whole complex has car parking for some 13,000 vehicles. Travelling to the Lakeside Shopping Centre is simple; it has its own railway station on the Fenchurch Street to Shoebury line and by car it is a straight forward journey with the centre sitting next to Junction 31 of the M25. The Lakeside Shopping Centre is the type of place you can easily spend a whole day enjoying, with so much to see, do and buy. Hadleigh Castle Hadleigh Castle was built in Norman times and overlooks Hadleigh Marshes on the Thames estuary. It is not a complete castle, having fallen into ruin over many years due to land slides. It has been immortalised in paintings by both Constable and Turner. The remains of the castle consist of a stone keep and Bailey fortress, with two towers and a curtain wall. Visits to Hadleigh Castle are free during daylight hours, with limited parking available. Chelmsford Chelmsford is the county town of Essex, and has been since 1250. It has a rich heritage including a 15th Century Cathedral and two museums in the Oakland Park area. Glorious walks can be enjoyed around the five hundred acre Highlands Estate with its 18th Century neo-classical villa, and a vibrant shopping centre is also present for those wishing to practice a little retail therapy. The Marsh farm Country Park and farm is nearby offering an enjoyable and educational trip for both children and adults, as is the Tropical Wings Butterfly and Bird Gardens. Chelmsford is the birthplace of radio, with Guglielmo Marconi having established the first ever radio factory. All in all Chelmsford is a fun and lively place to visit. I have highlighted just a fraction of what Essex has to offer, it is a lovely place to visit, with friendly people and much to see and do. I will leave the final words of this review to John Betjamin, a man who was inspired enough by Essex to write some of his finest poetry on the county. The deepest Essex few explore where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers and out of the elm and sycamore rise flinty fifteenth-century towers John Betjeman.