The Essex Way is a walk very much about history, and it is the townships and buildings on the route which provide most of the interest along the path. While plenty of evidence of the Roman occupation of England remains in Essex, the route of the walk does not coincide with too much of this. There are some hints of medieval times but the history which can be seen today really starts with the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. William of Normandy rewarded his faithful French barons with tracts of land, many of them in Essex, and the route passes right through a couple of well-preserved motte-and-bailey castle sites.
For those with a passion for ecclesiastical history, the Norman Church of St Martin of Tours is well worth a visit. From the church, the path proceeds by the earthworks of the motte-and-bailey, the moat now providing a very pleasant border for a row of houses. The wide grass track then zig-zags north, past playing fields and a school, to the main A414 Chelmsford–Harlow road.
It is possible to walk through the culvert at the bottom of the field as an alternative to crossing this busy road. The culvert holds the water of the River Roding, with which the walker now becomes fairly well acquainted for the next few miles. The route crosses the second bridge over the river, then follows a sunken and very overgrown track up the hill towards Cannon’s Green. After heavy rain this path can become a veritable stream.
Towards the top of the hill, take the left fork, leading along a field and eventually to the road at Cannon’s Green.
The route follows the road for 150yd (137m) north, before turning right onto a bridleway and proceeding to a road by Witney Green. Turn right along the road then right onto a path just after a left hand bend to cross a couple of huge fields. If these have been recently ploughed there will be no sign of a path anywhere, but it is a right of way, so fix on Willingale Church tower up ahead and march.
Turn left at the road, and continue straight until reaching a footpath to the right, leading around a field and then across it. This leads all the way to the twin churches of Willingale; two churches in the same churchyard, one slightly more recent than the other. The story goes that these were built by two sisters who fell out and refused to worship together under the same roof.
From the churchyard the path crosses straight over the main street, past the sports field, and then turns north, heading towards the white house in the distance. The next few miles follow well-marked tracks through low-lying, fertile agricultural land to reach civilization at the hamlet of Pepper’s Green, and a track leading to the main A1060 road.
Crossing this, the route follows a pleasant track leading northeast and descending to Farmbridge End; an attractive hamlet on the banks of the River Can. Turn left on the road, cross the bridge and look for a concealed waymark on the left-hand side. On the other side of the small valley, the path climbs gently through a large field to the church of Good Easter, with its 13th-century nave and chancel.
A few yards of road-walking is now necessary, to the main crossroads by the former Star public house, now converted to a private residence. Turning north, the route then regains the footpath behind the left-hand row of cottages, and continues along this path to a minor road.
The route leaves again a few hundred yards further on at the hard right corner. This byway leads downhill into trees and presently bears sharp left. At this bend turn right alongside a long field, and follow the bridleway. This continues for over a mile (1.6km) to reach the small hamlet of Stagden Cross. Turn right here.
The route from Stagden to Pleshey is well signposted, following a long farm track to Pleshey Grange, and then another clearly marked path past the ramparts of Pleshey Castle to reach Pleshey itself.
Field paths, tracks, riverside paths – can become very muddy
Much farmland, river, multiple hamlets
Mostly off-road but do use a lead when near livestock
OS Explorer 183
On Chipping Ongar High Street roughly opposite the library
High Street, Chipping Ongar
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Essex is full of pleasant surprises. It has the largest coastline of any county in England, with its fair share of castles, royal connections and scenic valleys. Take Colchester, for example, which was built by the Romans and is Britain’s oldest recorded town. Its castle contains the country’s largest Norman keep and yet, a stone’s throw from here, East Anglia’s newest arts centre promises to put Colchester firmly on the map as Essex’s capital of culture.
Tidal estuaries are plentiful and their mudflats offer migrating birds a winter feeding place. Essex was known as the land of the East Saxons and for centuries people from all over Europe settled here, each wave leaving its own distinctive cultural and social mark on the landscape. Walking a little off the beaten track will lead you to the rural retreats of deepest Essex, while all over the county there are ancient monuments to explore:
- the great Waltham Abbey
- Greensted, thought to be the oldest wooden church in the world
- the delightful village of Pleshey has one of the finest examples of a former motte-and-bailey castle
- Hedingham Castle, magnificently preserved and dating from the 11th century.