Visitors find the only way is the Other Essex

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The white-stilettoed stars of ITV2's reality show have boosted interest in the county's more natural attractions

For a television show to depict Essex as a world of white stilettos, vajazzled women and monosyllabic men is hardly revelatory; after all everyone has heard the age-old jokes about the mental aptitude of the county's female population. Which means many of the scenes in tonight's opening episode of The Only Way Is Essex should hardly come as a shock.

What might surprise anyone catching the small-screen inhabitants of the reality drama for the first time is the effect that the show, which returns for a second series this evening, has had on the coastal county. Far from reinforcing stereotypes, the show has sparked something of a rush for hotel beds, prompting optimism among local tourist chiefs about the region's prospects for this summer.

Granted, the subtleties of The Other Essex – a land of rolling countryside, brilliant birdlife (in the true sense of the word "bird") and one of the longest coastlines of an English county – may have escaped the producers, but locals can at least seek solace from the fact that visitors have broader minds.

Since The Only Way Is Essex first aired last autumn, the travel website reports that bookings have soared by 140 per cent. Towns across the county are sharing in the boom, which tourist officials attribute to the area's natural beauty – in direct contrast to some of the distinctly unnatural beauties in the show.

And as for the myths about the intellectual abilities of half of the county's population, Dee Gordon, a longstanding champion of The Other Essex and author of books including Infamous Essex Women and Essex's Own, answers: "It is a shame that national television is undermining Essex in this way, and that such a shallow group of individuals have been singled out for attention. There are more reading groups in Essex than in any other county." She points to scores of people who smash the stereotypes seen in the ITV2 show, ranging from the actress Dame Maggie Smith to the scientist Joseph Lister to fellow authors and Dodie Smith and Tony Parsons.

Anyone doubting her has only to take a visual tour of the county, starting with the green hills and moody low skyline that inspired the painter John Constable: some of his best-known landscapes depict areas of Essex. Then there are the Essex marshes: ornithologists and nature lovers flock to the vast area in the Thames Gateway that proves such a magnet for migratory birds, which use the wetland as a pit-stop en route to warmer climes. And that's not to mention the many other binocular-worthy creatures, from marsh frogs and muntjac deer, also known as barking deer because of the noise they make.

And, for those who prefer books to walking boots, Essex boasts an annual literary festival in March, which attracts writers including Andrea Levy, David Baddiel and Will Hutton.

Then there's the art. Old masters line the walls at Southend's Beecroft art gallery, while co-operatively run galleries thrive in the fishing town of Wivenhoe and in picturesque Leigh-on-Sea. Factor in the many Victorian gardens, sculpture trails, medieval castles and vintage fashion fairs, and the trash-tag quickly peels off this much maligned English county.

The crime writer Martina Cole, who grew up in Averly, Essex, is infuriated by shows that perpetuate stereotypes. "It's an insult to all the hard-working people in Essex. If [producers] bothered to do their research properly, they would find that Essex girls have a higher-than-average pass rate in exams."

Others are annoyed that the TV Essex relates only to a small, urban area within the M25, which bears no relation to the broader, rural county. "There is a selfishness and brashness in parts of metropolitan Essex that is not in the rest of the county," says Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP for Colchester.

Essex facts: History, castles, stately homes, wildlife and walks aplenty

The coastline 350 miles of it, one of the longest of any English county, and featuring the world's longest pleasure pier at Southend.

Naze tower, Naze Panoramic views of Essex from the octagonal top of this landmark; work by the region's best artists line the walls of a gallery inside.

Medieval castles Take your pick, the area's full of them. Hedingham and Mountfitchet are recommended, as is Colchester's Norman keep.

Stately homes English Heritage's Audley End House, near Saffron Walden, with its Capability Brown designed grounds, is a high spot.

Essex Marshes Bracing walks with tremendous bird- and wildlife-spotting potential.

Walk the Essex Way Starts at Epping and ends at Harwich, winding its way through ancient woodland and historic villages as it goes.

Constable country Flatford and Dedham – inspiration for the Romantic painter's famous landscapes.

Wivenhoe An attractive fishing town that has become an artistic and bohemian centre.

Parks aplenty Including the Weald and Hadleigh country parks.

History If archaeology is your thing, Essex has ruins all over the county. Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town, has more than a mile of Roman walls still intact.

Rachel Shabi

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk