Both Elmdon and Chrishall are close to the borders with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire and stand on a chalky ridge more than 400 feet (122m) above sea level which is high for Essex. Both villages have attractive churches and these two are no exception – in fact on this walk you will also discover another, quite exceptional one called the Hamlet Church roughly half way along the route. Its churchyard on the other side of the lane is easily missed but well worth a look. Part of the route includes The Icknield Way, an ancient neolithic trackway which ran along the higher, drier ground of East Anglia, from north Norfolk to south west England.
The best of three
Before the Norman invasion in 1066 a church called the Virgin Mary sat on the site of Chrishall’s Grade I Listed Holy Trinity Church. Located away from the village on an isolated hill, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside as did its predecessor. Chrishall village has an interesting history as it was given to Eustace of Boulogne after the Norman Conquest and the house he built in which he raised his daughter, Matilda of Boulogne, is thought to have been on the site of the present Chiswick Hall.
Near the end of the walk is St Nicholas Church in Elmdon where, in the tower, you will find the grave slab of William and Katherine Lucas which was placed here when the church at Lofts Hall became redundant. They had eight children and one of their sons was abbot of Waltham Abbey. You can also catch a glimpse of the old Lofts Hall church towards the end of the walk.
Along School Lane near Duddenhoe End is the Hamlet Church, one of only two thatched churches in Essex. Originally a tithe barn, it was consecrated on St Peter’s Day in 1859 after the Reverend Robert Wilkes of nearby Lofts Hall took pity on the parishioners who, up until then had to walk two miles to the church at Elmdon. Inside, you will see that the altar is located on the long east side of the building; a rather quirky feature, and the pews are made from wood from the Lofts Hall Estate.
The Elizabethan mansion was built in 1579 by Sir Thomas Meade and it remained with his descendants until 1722. A few years later it was purchased by the Wilkes family who made their fortune from malting and distilling at Spitalfields in London’s east end. The estate would remain in the family for 200 years and by the time it went up for sale in 1927 it included almost 4,200 acres, 70 cottages, and 14 farms. It is now called Lofts Hall Stud and covers an area of 110 acres.
From the triangular green take the wide track at a byway sign and follow it to a path junction. Turn right and at a public footpath waymarker turn left to join a grassy crossfield path, part of the Icknield Way. At the field corner, cross a stile and keep ahead, now along the right-hand edge of a field, towards houses. Go through a kissing-gate at a cul-de-sac and turn left to reach a road.
Cross the road and continue past the World War I war memorial into High Street and just after The Red Cow pub turn left along Hogs Lane. This narrows and leads to a field corner. Bear left here and follow the field edge path as it curves right and then runs between two fields to reach a lane. Bear left and almost immediately right to join a footpath which veers left at a field corner. At a fingerpost, bear left along a narrow path between paddocks and pass beside a metal gate to a road. Cross the plank footbridge opposite, then another and a kissing-gate and continue through a meadow to arrive at Chrishall’s Holy Trinity Church.
Go through the gate in the far corner of the church yard and cross a track to take the cross field path ahead. Cross a footbridge and at the lane turn left and then almost immediately right at a public footpath sign. Keep ahead towards Chiswick Hall.
Before you reach the grounds to Chiswick Hall turn left at a waymarker on a fence and follow this bridleway keeping to the left of the hedge that surrounds the hall. Where the hedge meets a garden gate, turn left by a fingerpost along the grassy bridleway and head towards woodland. Cross a wooden bridge and bear right along an uphill meandering path beside Mead Bushes Wood. Just before reaching a hedge gap, turn right at a waymarked fingerpost and cross a plank footbridge.
At the field edge turn left along the bridleway and at the lane turn left. Cross the road bridge and after a few paces, bear right into School Lane. Pass the Hamlet Church and at the public footpath sign turn left and the path descends to a road. Look out for a public footpath diagonally to the right and follow this path over a ditch and along an enclosed stretch to the right of a hedge. Go through a hedge gap and keep ahead along the right edge of a field.
At a fingerpost between two plank footbridges turn right over the one with metal handrails. Go over a stile and along a path separating paddocks. Cross a track leading to Lofts Hall and maintain direction. Where the paddock fencing ends, go through a kissing-gate and continue past Elmdon’s cricket pitch. At the road, turn right and after a few paces turn left at the public footpath sign, to join a meandering path that later runs along the left edge of a meadow. Continue along the grassy path to the right of farm buildings and then go through a gate to the right of a garden fence. This enclosed path leads to a road. Cross the road and ascend steps opposite and continue through St Nicholas churchyard in Elmdon. Turn right at the war memorial in the direction of Chrishall to return to the start of the walk.
Field edge paths, country lanes
Woodland, village views
On a lead near livestock
OS Explorer 194 Hertford & Bishops Stortford
At the triangular green in Hertford Lane, Elmdon
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.