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The Stour Valley Way, Gainsborough country and historic Sudbury.
Essex TOCW Book 1, Walk 8 • Toughness: 4/10 • Length: 9 miles (16 km)
This walk has few hills and some pleasant scenery. It should be quite easy going, with simpler route-finding once a couple of farmers en route have been persuaded to maintain their overgrown footpaths. Sudbury lies at the heart of the Stour Valley, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Much of the walk is along the Stour Valley footpath, which is well waymarked. On the final approach into this historic town, you cross the Sudbury Common Lands, a traditional pastoral landscape which has the longest recorded history of continuous grazing in East Anglia, where the painter Thomas Gainsborough is said to have played as a child, to tea in a converted millhouse on the banks of the river
2 circular walks on either side of the Colne estuary. **check ferry times in advance**
Essex TOCW Book 1, Walk 30 • Toughness: 2/10 • Length: 9 miles (15 km)
This walk is made up of two loops, one on the Wivenhoe side of the river Colne and one on the Rowhedge side. However, there is no bridge - you need to take a ferry. This means the full walk is only possible at weekends and on bank holiday Mondays between Easter and the middle of October when the ferry at Wivenhoe is working (although you might be lucky enough to thumb a lift across from a boat at other times). You also need to get there at a time to suit the tides (see the travel details below). But it is well worth making the extra effort to fit in this unusual walk. Both parts of the walk are about 7km, so allow 2 hours for each.
Wivenhoe, perhaps because of its proximity to the University of Essex, is a remarkable village bursting with community spirit, with volunteers out there constantly manning the ferry, re-roofing the boat house or washing down the slipways. There are always half a dozen dinghies being made by amateurs in the riverside’s Nottage Maritime Institute. From the church and town, the morning’s walk is along the mudflats of the River Colne past zones of former dereliction (now in the course of regeneration through new housing), past a £14.5 million flood surge barrier, and past sand-extraction works and lakes created in old extraction craters. Returning to Wivenhoe, catch the ferry over to the village of Rowhedge.
Rowhedge must be the only village in the UK where swans frequently block the main high street. But having circumvented this fearsome obstacle, you go via the church into a wood controlled by the Ministry of Defence and used on occasions as a firing range. The last part of the return journey is, for me, the highlight of the day: passing the lovely Norman Church of St Andrew in Fingringhoe, with its chequerboard design of banded flint, to the former Fingringhoe Mill and on along the John Brunning Walk – mudflats and saltmarshes beside Roman River and a haven for heron, redshank, lapwing, shelduck, kestrels and barn owls.
River Stour - Constable country
Essex TOCW Book 1, Walk 39 • Toughness: 4/10 • Length: 10 miles (17 km)
This is a walk through the Stour valley that Constable loved, passing by the settings of some of his most famous paintings, a landscape now protected as the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Lunch is in the beautiful village of Dedham. In the afternoon the route goes past Dedham Lock and Mill, and from Essex into Suffolk, along the River Stour to Stratford St Mary and its church; and from there to East Bergholt, Constable's birthplace, which has a church with an unusual bell cage and an old friary that is now an organic farming community. Tea is by Flatford Mill and more Constable connections.
After prolonged heavy rain, the river may overflow and you may have to make a detour to avoid flooded water meadows.
The Colne Valley, thatched cottages, brooks, farms, woods and undulating hills
Essex TOCW Book 1, Walk 46 • Toughness: 5/10 • Length: 10 miles (18 km)
This walk is delightful. Chappel & Wakes Colne, the station where the walk starts, is a railway museum on every side, with old carriages on display. The village and church at Chappel are a foretaste of the lovely architecture to come, along the Colne Valley, such as fine thatched barns and cottages and the neo-Tudor mansion of Colne Priory. The lunch pub at Colne Engaine is just past the church, and then the route follows the side of a fishing lake. Brooks, farms, woods and undulating hills lead into tea at one of the pubs in Bures.
Many walkers associate Essex with flat landscapes, surly pubs and badly maintained footpaths. This walk suffers only from this last failing – in summer, one 400 metre stretch near the end (just past point ) can be invaded by almost head-high nettles or vegetation, so wear long trousers and take a walking pole and compass if possible. Other paths on this walk can also be overgrown in high summer.
Since the last edition there have been some path diversions and a new route is now recommended between Chalkney Wood and Earls Colne.
A short North Sea coastal walk between 2 seaside resorts
Essex SWC Walk 52 • Toughness: 1/10 • Length: 7 miles (12 km)
This walk is ideal for a hot summer day, not too strenuous with plenty of swimming opportunities.
Coastal walk from a faded grandeur Victorian seaside resort with pier to a fast eroding, fossil rich headland and a sand spit. Return along the beach or through a nature reserve.
Essex SWC Walk 98 • Toughness: 1/10 • Length: 7 miles (12 km)
This is a short and easy but varied costal walk is as much a day out as a walk. It starts in a faded grandeur Victorian Seaside resort with a long pier. But its real star is the Naze - a headland with fine views and red cliffs of London Clay subject to rapid erosion and a fossil hunters paridise after stormy weather.
After leaving the pier, arcades, beach huts, some nice Victorian architecture, and good swimming beaches behind, you quickly reaches the Naze - a wild headland with good sea views. There is a small tower with a tea room, which is visible for much of the walk as a landmark. Due to the erosion on the headland - by up to 2m a year - walking along the beach is quite interesting, and can be rich in fossils after storms. After the Naze is a sand spit out to Stone point (closed May 1st to July 31st in case there are any ground nesting birds)
The Naze and spit protect the backwaters, shallow waters with salt flat islands, which inspired Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books. The return route is either along the beach, or optionally around a nature reserve's sea wall overlooking the backwayers (good for birdwatching, but a bit hard going in summer as overgrown)
Depending upon tide times, walk out along the cliffs, and back along the beach or visa-versa
After returning to the town centre, head out to the end of the pier. For a longer walk, head south along the coast and beach huts to Frinton (station)
Your opinion of this walk will be in part how you see Walton-on-the-Naze - faded grandeur, or tacky amusments which may be busy and noisy during summer evenings. In winter, the town would be very quiet, the amusements closed, and beaches empty
Essex Hills, wooded Nature Reserves and panoramic Thames Valley Views
Essex SWC Walk 114 • Toughness: 6/10 • Length: 12 miles (21 km)
This is an energetic and varied figure-of-eight walk through some tranquil, hilly parts of Essex, mostly through woods, both ancient and modern, and through flower-rich meadows and some farmland, which are all parts of Langdon Hills Country Park and the neighbouring Langdon Nature Reserve (which itself consists of five separate reserves). The hills form a crescent shaped ridge running West-to-East, giving panoramic views over the Thames Estuary from many points: out to Canvey Island and Fobbing Marshes in the East, across to Kent and to London’s Skyline in the West.
The lunch destination Horndon-on-the-Hill is a conservation area and features several noteworthy buildings as well as a multi-award winning pub. On the return you walk through more beautiful, undulating woods and then through the Dunton Plotlands part of the Nature Reserve, an interesting area formerly full of bungalows and chalets for Londoners.
This walk contains some arable field crossings around lunch (about 1000m in total), where it is also afflicted by some road noise from the nearby A13 for a short while.
A couple of shortcuts cut out 2.4 km (1.5 mi) and 2.6 km (1.6 mi) respectively. Taking either of the shortcuts reduces the rating to 5/10, taking both shortcuts reduces the rating to 4/10.
North West Essex hills and pretty villages
Essex SWC Walk 116 • Toughness: 5/10 • Length: 14 miles (24 km)
This is a relaxing walk in the quiet chalky uplands of north-west Essex, on the borders of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, very much off the beaten track, and with gently rolling hills, plenty of woods and copses as well as some pretty villages. Right from the start the walk takes you past picturesque thatched cottages with ample examples of pargeting, a decorative medieval plastering technique, and on through some farmland to the early lunch stop in Arkesden, one of the prettiest villages in Essex with one of the best pubs and loveliest churches.
The route then gently ascends to Chrishall, the dedicated lunch stop on the full walk, along field boundaries and green lanes. Chrishall village is close to Essex’ highest point and the approach offers fine views into a corner of the Cambridgeshire plain and back down the wide ‘winding valley’ that gives Wendens Ambo its name. After lunch you follow the Icknield Way to Elmdon, with more views north out across the Cambridgeshire plain to Cambridge, then later alongside a high hedge with views off to your right into the winding valley back to Wendens Ambo.
Through rolling hills and river valleys to the historic market town of Saffron Walden and one of Britain's finest stately homes
Essex SWC Walk 130 • Toughness: 3/10 • Length: 11 miles (19 km)
All Essex walks seem to feature lines of pylons marching across enormous crop fields and this one is no exception. On the plus side, most of the farmland walking is along wide grassy field edges and there are pleasant interludes through small woods and river valleys to add variety.
The centrepiece of the walk is the historic market town of Saffron Walden. Originally called Chipping Walden, the town acquired its present name in the Middle Ages when it became the centre for the saffron crocus industry; the yellow pigment was used in cloth-making, food-colouring and medicine. The north-west corner of the town has retained many attractive medieval buildings with fine examples of pargeting, the East Anglian craft of decorating external plaster walls. You enter the town through the elegant Bridge End Garden and after lunch you could visit the Fry Art Gallery of works by local artists and the impressive church of St Mary the Virgin, the largest parish church in Essex. If you have time for a longer tour of the town you can see a notable Museum of local and natural history, the Norman ruins of Walden Castle and the largest surviving historic Turf Labyrinth in England.
Immediately after leaving the town the walk route goes through the spacious parkland surrounding Audley End. The house was adapted from the buildings of a Benedictine monastery (Walden Abbey) and since the Dissolution there have been many alterations by a succession of owners. Now one of Britain's finest stately homes, the mansion mostly dates from the 18thC, with interior rooms designed by Robert Adam and parkland landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The property is managed by English Heritage and is open daily from April to October; admission for non-EH members (2016) is £16.60.
From Audley End the Main Walk route follows part of the Harcamlow Way, a long-distance walk linking Harlow and Cambridge; Newport is the crossover point of this unusual figure-of-eight walk. This large village acquired its (rather...
Grassy fields, quiet lanes, a smattering of woods, Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve and the tidal River Crouch.
Essex SWC Walk 157 • Toughness: 4/10 • Length: 13 miles (22 km)
This surprisingly diverse and rural walk avoids industrial and suburban features often associated with walking in Essex, but instead leads through plenty of rolling grassy fields, quiet lanes and a smattering of woods, before heading through the enchanting - Wildlife Trust run - Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve. After a short stretch along the reservoir itself it then heads for the lunch pub: The Old Windmill in South Hanningfield. The afternoon route leads through more grassy fields, valleys and wooded strips, before following the tidal River Crouch into Battlesbridge.
The Wid Valley and the Wid itself, Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve and the Crouch Valley via a mix of woods and fields.
Essex SWC Walk 158 • Toughness: 5/10 • Length: 15 miles (25 km)
This long but rewarding Essex walk avoids major roads and all remnants of industry and suburbia to initially traverse through grassy fields in the Wid Valley and follow the Wid itself for a while, before ascending through a wood to the lunch stop in Stock. Afterwards several charming woods and Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Reserve are passed through, before a late lunch/early tea stop in South Hanningfield is reached. From there the route descends through more woods and fields into the Crouch Valley to the finish in Battlesbridge. Depending on the season, the 1200m of arable field crossings near the end can be a challenge.
Long and varied walk in the Crouch valley across hilly parts of Essex, with some challenging field crossings and a serene riverside finish.
Essex SWC Walk 159 • Toughness: 6/10 • Length: 15 miles (26 km)
This varied and fairly hilly walk (for a flat County) offers splendid views of the Crouch Valley and some undulating landscape. After winding its way out of South Woodham Ferrers through some fields, it leads across plenty of rolling hills and past a RHS Garden, then passes through an overgrown cemetery and along more fields to lunch. The afternoon route features an extended stretch between trees on a long disused railway line and finishes very serenely after tea, along the tidal River Crouch and through the grassy salt marshes of Blue House Farm Nature Reserve.
Follow the tidal River Crouch eastwards towards the North Sea atop the sea wall. Wide open and scenic countryside, mudflats, creeks, rich bird life, sailing boats and marinas.
Essex SWC Walk 162 • Toughness: 3/10 • Length: 12 miles (21 km)
Serenity, tranquillity, solitude: you’ll find lots of it on this walk on the Dengie Peninsula in Essex, which largely follows the tidal River Crouch eastwards towards the North Sea, on a wide grassy path atop the sea wall, and with the prevailing wind in the back. Far away from any conurbations, you’ll experience wide open and scenic countryside, constantly changing river views, salt marshes, reed ponds, mudflats, creeks, rich bird life, sailing boats and marinas, to then end along the promenade in charming Burnham-on-Crouch, with its plethora of tea options. Flat throughout (apart from the diversion inland for lunch at the good value pub The Three Horseshoes in Althorne), and with exceptionally easy route finding.
Fabled tidal road off the coast off Essex across Maplin Sands to Foulness Island.
Essex SWC Walk 166 • Toughness: 3/10 • Length: 9 miles (16 km)
"The Broomway" is the historic route to Foulness Island, dating back to Roman times. It is a public right of way which starts at "Wakering Stairs" on the coast of Essex near Shoeburyness, and heads 300 metres out to sea onto the tidal flats of Maplin Sands. It then runs for several miles parallel to the coasts of Havengore, New England and Foulness Islands. There are several spurs back to farms (and public footpaths) on the the islands. There is quicksand, and the sea comes in faster than you can run. Its easy to get disorientated if a sea fog comes in, and a strong wind can significantly reduce the 'low tide' inter-tidal window. The Broomway was the original route to the island before the advent of a road bridge in the 1930's. Historically, the route was marked by brooms stuck in the sand, but they have long since gone.
Foulness Island is owned by the Ministry of Defence, and operated for them by a private company (QinetiQ) as a missile firing range. There is a road bridge to the Island, but it is closed to the public. There is a village on the island (Churchend), but the road to it has a Police checkpoint and is only open to residents. The only way to get to the Island (and its extensive network of public footpaths) is via the tidal Broomway. However, you have to go out and back via The Boomway during the intertidal 'low tide' window when it is safe to do so.
There is public access to Foulness Island from 12pm-4pm on the first Sunday of the month from April to October (providing you say you wish to visit the Heritage Centre. In theory, if the tide times were right, you could be dropped off at the centre, and walk back via public footpaths to the coast, then The Broomway. Note that the Island's pub is long since closed.
One problem with any potential walk is that out and back along The Broomway is too long. Ideally, it would be a linear walk to Foulness Island finishing in the village of Churchend, then a bus back to your car. While there is a bus to the Island, you...
Gentle Essex walk through the quiet Blackwater Valley to historic Coggeshall, with 300 listed buildings, for lunch.
Essex SWC Walk 216 • Toughness: 4/10 • Length: 14 miles (23 km)
This walk is centred on the gentle landscape of the Blackwater Valley, close to Constable Country, and includes some very tranquil and scenic stretches along the river itself, interspersed with long stretches along country lanes, green lanes or field boundaries with wide and extensive views across the rolling Essex countryside of fields and woods.
A pre-lunch north westerly loop explores the valley cut by Robin’s Brook, leading to Marks Hall Gardens and Arboretum, with its atmospheric early lunch stop in a converted barn.
There are a further four recommended lunch stops in Coggeshall itself (two pubs and two cafes) plus an upmarket Brasserie to choose from.
Coggeshall is one of Britain’s most historic market towns. It has 300 listed buildings, amongst the ones passed on the walk are Britain’s oldest barn and one its finest medieval buildings, built on the remnants of a 12th century abbey, an impressive carved timber-framed Wool Merchant’s house as well as a couple of photogenic watermills and an outsized church.
A much shorter walk of 16.3 km length enables extended visits to the NT properties en route.
A scenic extension in Coggeshall leads west from Grange Barn along the Essex Way and back along the wooded Blackwater valley, closely following the river.
Tidal river Colne to Brighlingsea. Then short ferry for coast walk to Clacton (long) or West Mersea (bus)
Essex SWC Walk 247 • Toughness: 2/10 • Length: 6 miles (10 km)
This walk starts in the lovely tidal-river side town of Wivenhoe, and follows the River Colne path towards the sea, with pretty views across the river to saltings, creeks, and mud-flats on the opposite bank throughout.
The ford at Alresford Creek is no longer useable as the river is no longer dredged (it has been done at low tide, but is very dangerous due to deep mud), so this means a detour inland.
At Brighlingsea, the Colne meets the sea, and after having a beer by the harbour, you have a choice:
- A) Finish the walk here, maybe after taking 1 of the ferry trips. Catch a bus back Alresford (1 stop after Wivenhoe)
- B) Walk back to Wivenhoe (also worth a beer by the river)
- C) Take a short ferry to Mersea Island, and walk along the coast, passing through Cudmore Grove County Park, to West Mersea town, for another picturesque harbourside drink, before catching a bus back to Colchester. Its a 30 min trip.
- D) Take a very short ferry ride to Point Clear (St Osyth Stone Point on OS maps), and follow the coast to Clacton-on-Sea. This is a long walk, but it is flat. There is a long detour inland past Point Clear (print out a map of this section). When the route rejoins the coast at Lee over Sands, there is an area used by naturists between there and St Osyth beach. Be aware that there have also been reports of people being inappropriataly friendly in public in this area. From here on its sea wall past St Osyth beach (caravan park, pub), then promenade past several Martello Towers, Jaywick (which features in 'Life on the Dole by the Sea reality TV programs), to Clacton's pier. The station is 1km inland.
Varied walk around a unique island in the Thames Estuary: mudflats, creeks, river traffic, sandy beaches, seawall murals, grassy marshland, oil terminals & refineries
Essex SWC Walk 258 • Toughness: 3/10 • Length: 14 miles (23 km)
A flat walk, that starts and finishes with a busy road stretch, features a fair amount of hard surface paths and some A-road noise near the end, and passes - in succession - a golf course, a static caravan park, an ex-landfill site, housing estates, another caravan park, a sewage plant, an LNG terminal, an oil product terminal, an oil refinery, the site of a never-finished oil refinery, another oil terminal and another - larger - landfill site?????? And yet, and yet...
This is one not just for the Industrial Romantic, or for fans of the Pub Rock legends Dr. Feelgood, or for students of the lives of the ex-East End White Working Classes.
Without navigational challenges (as all you do is: walk to the seawall and follow it) you experience an ever-changing scenery of tidal creeks and mud flats, river marshes, salt marshes, flood barriers, sluices and sandbanks, get views of the Benfleet Downs, of Hadleigh Castle & Country Park, the Essex cliffs, Southend with its Pier, the North Sea and the busy river traffic, of ships big and small, boatyards, yacht clubs and marinas, pass sandy beaches and enclosed pools on the foreshore, jetties, extensive seawall murals telling Canvey Island stories and - post lunch - long tranquil stretches past grassy marshes with abundant birdlife.
The recommended lunch options are the iconic Labworth Beach Bistro in its modernist building with panoramic views of the Thames estuary, or the legendary smugglers' inn the Lobster Smack.
A walk like no other? Most certainly.
Hadleigh Castle, Leigh on Sean, and Benfleet Creek
Essex SWC Walk 268 • Toughness: 4/10 • Length: 9 miles (15 km)
This Essex excursion is a companion walk to the short 5.6km (3.5m) Benfleet to Leigh on Sea amble along the Benfleet Creek shoreline which was devised to coincide with the Leigh on Sea folk festival and which usually takes place at the end of June. You can find more information about this walk here. Another related walk is SWC Walk 258; a Canvey Island circular starting and finishing at Benfleet Station.
This is a flat walk of 23.2km (14.5m) essentially following the sea –wall around the island in an environment of tidal flats, marshes and sandbanks. This day walk covers completely different territory: the higher ground north of the estuary and Canvey Island, and is a walk of contrasts. In the morning you go along narrow, grassy paths through the dense, hilly woodland of Benfleet Downs and Hadleigh Country Park. You visit the ruined Hadleigh Castle which is an excellent picnic spot and has superb views; on a clear day you can see all the way across Canvey Island to the Hoo Peninsula and the North Downs in Kent. You have lunch at Leigh on Sea; a town rapidly gentrifying with boutiques and up-market restaurants.
After lunch in Leigh on Sea you walk back to Benfleet along a wide track adjacent to Benfleet Creek with fine views of the flat open estuary waterscape and the hilly woods away to your right which you walked in the morning. You can also incorporate a circular walk of Two tree island which has fine bird-watching opportunities.
The undulating hills of Hadleigh Country Park were the venue for the mountain bike events in the 2012 London Olympics and there are a large network of bike trails of varying severity criss-crossing the area. This walk however uses “walkers only” paths and routes with just short and unavoidable stretches on bike trails.
This walk is best done from May to October. In winter, stretches of the narrow woodland paths are likely to be very muddy with some short sections quite tricky to navigate.
The Essex Way broadly following the former Epping to Ongar tube line. Muddy in winter.
Essex SWC Walk 276 • Toughness: 2/10 • Length: 7 miles (13 km)
This is the third of the NE Central Line walks which enables a continuous route from Leytonstone in Travel Zone 3 to Ongar in deepest Essex. The other two walks are:
- SWC Walk 241 Leytonstone to Loughton -12.8km (8m)
- SWC Walk 197 Loughton to Epping - 13.4km (8.4m)
This walk is best done in the summer or autumn (May to October). Although the short distance means it could be done in winter it is not recommended for then because some woodland sections - particularly through Gernon Bushes an SSSI- would be very boggy and muddy). About 40% of the walk is through woodland.
The route follows the well sign-posted Essex Way. It celebrates and broadly follows the former Epping to Ongar tube line which closed in 1994. By then the line was carrying just 80 passengers a day. A heritage railway group now operates a very limited service with tickets that can be booked on-line.
Essex Coastline, a ruined castle with a view, and 2 Tree Island
Essex TOCW Book 5, Walk 14 • Toughness: 1/10 • Length: 4 miles (6 km)
This short walk along the Essex shoreline was devised to coincide with Leigh Folk Festival, normally held at the end of June.
The Festival lasts several days culminating in a full Sunday of free events. It is very much a community affair with local Essex acts as well as some bigger names. And there is a pretty wide interpretation of the word “folk” - reggae, C&W, cajun, and blues bands rub shoulders with more traditional performers. You'll find free stages along the waterfront as well as artists in pubs and other venues. Be sure to buy merchandise or put coins in a tin to add your support. Most of the action happens along the waterfront but there is at least one pub and a hall on the other side of the tracks that are worth visiting