Starting on the outskirts of London beside a far outpost of the London Underground network, the Essex Way winds through peaceful rural scenery in a northeasterly direction, connecting briefly with civilization at the market towns of Ongar and Coggeshall before arriving at Dedham Vale and Dedham in the very heart of Constable country. While Essex has for many the reputation of being a land of commuters and slightly seedy seaside towns, the route of the Essex Way sees nothing of this, being almost completely confined to idyllic rural English countryside, with views that probably have not changed too significantly in the last 100 or so years. This particular section is typical in that respect, passing through farmland to the River Blackwater to finish at Coggeshall’s ancient St Peter ad Vincula church and the almost as venerable Woolpack pub.
While apparently out in the middle of nowhere, the proximity of the route to the railway makes a good start and/or finishing point for this section of the Essex Way. Just downhill from the railway station is a track leading off to the northeast, which takes the walker through the farmstead of Fambridge Hall, where the ancient timber barns are worthy of a few minutes’ contemplation.
Beyond this farm, the track turns right and passes under the railway track, through a delightful old egg-shaped and echoing tunnel, and then continues to the Braintree–Witham road. A few hundred yards up this road, the route regains the fields and leads to Cressing Church.
Although now a sleepy hamlet, Cressing has an interesting history and is certainly worth a visit. From Cressing, follow the route as it crosses over fields and next to Egypt Farm. Turn right and make your way cautiously along a road beset by speeding cars and turn left after 250yd (229m) onto a footpath. The route zig-zags over very flat land through a number of fields and can be difficult to follow along this stretch, but make sure that your first right turn is immediately after a high hedge rather than before it as the waymarker appears to suggest. You should eventually emerge at a small road, within sight and sound of large gravel workings up ahead.
The path proceeds down the left-hand side of a lake to join the entrance track to these gravel workings, which leads to another road east of Bradwell Hall.
After following this road to the east for a few hundred yards, the path is signposted off to the left, descending to the tree-lined banks of the River Blackwater past an alpaca farm. Then follows a pleasant stretch along the side of the river for 0.5 miles (800m), to more gravel out of the slight valley towards Curd Hall Farm, where it joins the farm drive and proceeds once again parallel with the river for almost a mile (1.6km), eventually emerging by Grange Farm.
Grange Barn is the oldest surviving timber-framed barn in Europe and dates to the mid-12th century. It was originally part of the Cistercian Monastery of Coggeshall, and was restored to its present glory in the 1980s. It is now a National Trust property. From here, about 0.25 miles (400m) south of Coggeshall, the walker has a number of options. It is possible to skirt the town centre and rejoin the footpath on the easternmost side of town. Alternatively, continue eastwards across the road from the barn to the remains of the abbey itself, founded by King Stephen and given over to the Cistercian order in 1148. The abbey is of particular architectural interest because of the widespread use of brick in the 12th and early 13th centuries. Continue east across the river and then take the footpath north, eventually reaching Coggeshall town church.
Field footpaths, riverside paths, tracks, some road
Fields, river, gravel workings, ancient market town of Coggeshall
There is one short section of busy road and livestock in fields
OS Explorer 183, 197
On street in White Notley
None on route
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.