Witches, highwaymen and art by Grayson Perry: take a walk on the wild side in Essex and beyond
Autumn is the perfect time to ramble in the countryside, kick up the leaves and wonder at nature’s burnished palette, and get fit at the same time. Visit Essex, the county’s tourism organisation, is encouraging people to discover the miles of diverse rural walks that Essex has to offer.
Walking with Witches
The Walls at Manningtree is a stunning short walk along an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Stour Estuary, and its gruesome history includes the 17th century witch trials, led by the Witch Finder General and Manningtree resident, Matthew Hopkins. The walk also passes Mistley Towers, now looked after by English Heritage, ‘Old Knobbly’ one of England’s oldest and largest oak trees, as well as quaint tearooms, pubs and even a shop selling wine and vinyl.
The Flitch Way
The former trainline that linked Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree is now a 15-mile path suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The route is a haven for wildlife: mammals, birds, flowers and insects, with the path passing the ancient royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Forest. The Flitch Way has several Victorian train stations along its course, and you can stop for a break at the former Rayne station, which is now a café with a railway carriage museum.
The famous highwayman, Dick Turpin, was born in Hempstead and worked as a butcher in nearby Thaxted. There are three linked trails which take in places with a Turpin connection, via a six-mile circular walk of Great Sampford to Hempstead, which passes the Bluebell Inn, the birthplace of Turpin. The walk passes rivers, fields, ancient churches and is a wonderful stroll through the Essex countryside.
The Essex Way
The Essex Way is the county’s epic 81-mile route across Essex, starting in Epping and ending on the coast at Harwich. The walk showcases the true diversity of the county as it passes through ancient woodland, fields and meadows, river valleys, historic buildings and beautiful villages and towns. The 81-mile trail is easy to break down into manageable sections with many natural breaks that are not far from bus stops or train stations. Highlights include a ramble through meandering Constable Country and the magnificent views of the towering cranes sitting majestically on Harwich’s skyline.
Wrabness Circular Walk
Between Manningtree and Harwich is the hamlet of Wrabness. Starting at Wrabness train station, the two-mile walk will lead you to Grayson Perry’s masterpiece, ‘A House for Essex’, a dwelling dedicated to ‘Julie’, Grayson’s woman of Essex. The path then leads down to the banks of the Stour Estuary and into Wrabness Woods, an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve, passing through fields and meadows. To extend the route there are plenty of additional paths and don’t forget your binoculars; there are migrating birds to discover.
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation
The 18-mile Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation links the county town of Chelmsford to the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin. The walk starts in the urban city, but soon enters the unspoilt Essex landscape, following the course through 13 locks. Visitors can treat themselves to a special pint at the end of the walk in Heybridge at one of the pretty lock-side pubs or enjoy an afternoon tea at the Tiptree Tearoom.
Walk in the footsteps of historic artist John Constable in an area much-loved for the painter’s romanticised view of the Essex countryside. Starting at Manningtree station, the walk meanders along the River Stour for two miles until Flatford Mill, which Constable immortalised in his painting of The Haywain. A further one and a half miles takes you to the delightful village of Dedham. Here you can relax, hire a rowing boat, stop at one of the village’s fine eateries, or wander around its independent stores.
To discover more head to visitessex.com