Walking the Essex Way, UK

Walking the Essex Way, UK

Mention Essex and the first thing that comes to mind wouldn’t be hiking. Sure there are no mountains, and it’s mainly flat, yet it’s one of the most unspoiled counties in England. The route can be done in either direction, taking around ten days, but I’m hoping to do it in six, walking from West to East.

Day 1 Epping to Salt’s Green 16 miles
I take the tube to the Epping, at the end of the Central Line, and set out into the countryside. It’s raining heavily and this makes the path muddy and treacherous. I’m soon in vast fields of wheat, something I’ll see a lot of in the next few days, as well as beans, onions, and apples.

Just before Ongar, Greensted has the oldest wooden church in the world. This is the land of remarkable churches and later, in Willingale, there are two in the same churchyard, apparently catering for different parishes.

Day 2 Salt’s Green to Great Leighs
The castle here gets a mention in Shakespeare’s Richard II, but it’s long gone, just the mound and moat remain. Great Leighs has the world’s largest producer of cricket bats, fashioned from Willow plantations growing on Essex’s many riverbanks.

Day 3 Coggleshall to Great Horkesley
Coggeshall marks the halfway point with an engraved stone, next to the remains of the abbey, now just the small chapel.

Day 4 Great Horkesley to Mistley
After days of level walking, I begin to encounter some ups and downs. Passing Dedham Vale vineyard, I’m soon into Constable Country. On the banks of the River Stour the combination of light, water, and dappled greenery are real live versions of his great works. The painter was born in Dedham and, predictably is a magnet for tourists. Still, it’s a good place to stop for a pint before I wind my way through Manningtree to the banks of the wide Stour estuary and Mistley.

Day 5 Mistley to Harwich
The day begins with the distinctive aroma of malt. Mistley has been malting barley since the 17th century and now has the largest facility in the country. The path leads through the factory yard, then across farmland, to tiny Bradfield. Soon it’s back on the estuary banks before heading south, past Ramsey with its windmill, The huge cranes at Felixstowe loom on the horizon and I pass bathers before arriving at Harwich. A sign on the lighthouse tells me I’ve reached my final destination.