The author behind 'Excellent Essex' talks of her love of the Dengie

  Posted: 05.05.21 at 08:00 by Paula Spenceley

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THERE is something about the title of Gillian Darley’s best-selling book that warms the heart of many people who regard this county as their home – ‘Excellent Essex’.

Perhaps the title is more surprising than it should be, but the truth is that all too often Essex is given an unfair and brash reputation, when in so many ways and places it is as fabulous as the book title suggests.

When I meet Gillian Darley online, I ask her why she chose this county – and the title of the book.

She tells me: “It was a discovery of this incredible place to the East of London that too many of us are taught to curl our lips at.

“But I can’t take the credit for coming up with the idea. It was my publisher who asked me if I’d ever thought about writing about Essex because he thought it would be a good idea – and he was right.”

So it was that Gillian, who grew up in Sudbury, discovered the county and some of its most atmospheric places. These, of course, include the Dengie Peninsula and most especially one of England’s oldest buildings, St Peter on the Wall Church at Bradwell.

In her book, first published in September 2019, there is now a 16-page extra suggesting ‘walks and wanders’. Among these is the trek from Tillingham to the church, a journey of around eight miles. Among these is the trek from Tillingham to the church, a journey of around eight miles. It is also the walk Gillian will now make as part of the Essex Book Festival on Saturday, 21 August, giving those who take part a chance to learn more about the 7th Century church and its history.

It is clear when Gillian talks of both the walk and the church itself that she has been captivated by it.

“The atmosphere in the church is so evocative,” she says, “and when you’re on the walk it starts off as just a speck on the horizon, with agricultural settings to one side of the seawall and mud flats to the other.”

One thing that Gillian has found in her research of the church’s more recent history is the astonishing “lack of protection” for the church back in the fifties when the first nuclear power station at Bradwell came into being. Prior to that, there had been the hole put in the roof of the church during the days of the airfield at Bradwell and attempts by misguided architects to ‘revamp’ the building. Thankfully, in 1959, it finally received significant legal protection with Grade 1 listed status.

Tickets are now available for Gillian’s Essex Book Festival event, which includes the walk – more details are available by visiting the Essex Book Festival website here.


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