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The county's southern sweep between London and Chelmsford has three faces. Epping Forest, covering 5600 acres on the fringe of Greater London, is the remnant of an enormous 60,000 acre hunting ground of Saxon, Norman and Tudor monarchs. It is a place of sunlit glades, of rough heaths and great hornbeam trees. Quite different is the built-up Thames-side fringe from Purfleet to Shoeburyness. Once marshland and farmland, this region of Essex is now given over to ducks, oil terminals and factories. Southend, with its famous pier, is the local playground for Londoners. Different again is the coastal belt of reclaimed marshes sweeping north from Shoeburyness to the Blackwater Estuary. This great swathe, reclaimed from the sea in the 17th century by Dutch engineers, has wide horizons, the sharp tang of the sea and even sharper winds.
North-east Essex, bounded by water-meadows, willows and proud little churches along the River Stowe, is a region of peaceful beauty, with its roots deep in English history.
Colchester was one of the greatest Roman fortress-cities in England after London. Vikings harried the coast and left their names along shining creeks such as Wivenhoe, and Norman-French names linger in village names - Layer Breton. The coast is a maze of mud-flats, winding creeks and salt-washed islands; the tides creep in like silk through uninhabited marshes as did smugglers and Viking raiders before them.The western borders of Essex, where it rubs up against Cambridgeshire, is a countryside little changed for centuries, inching right up to the edge of Saffron Walden, itself dating from the Middle Ages and one of the most attractive small towns in the county. The relative emptiness of these rolling and heavily wooded hillsides give way further south to the Rodings, a group of eight picturesque Essex villages set among rich farmland. The villages retain an 18th century charm and are rich in half-timbered houses, moated manor farms and ancient churches.