Some passengers flying in from the Continent bound for Stansted may be surprised to peer out of the window and spot a Norman castle on a hill, around which is a village, a brook and a railway line. On landing they may be even more surprised to learn that this castle is only 2 miles (3.2km) away at Stansted Mountfitchet.
The castle's origins
Stansted appears in the Domesday Book as Stansteda – a Saxon name meaning 'stony place'. After the Norman conquest, William I granted the lordship of the manor to the Gernon family, who later changed their name to Montfichet. The Montfichet family came from Normandy, and during the 12th century Richard de Montfichet built a motte-and-bailey castle. The second Richard de Montfichet was one of five Essex barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, and in revenge the King destroyed the castle in 1215. All that remains are the mound and part of the stone wall, but today you can visit an imaginative reconstruction of the castle, complete with Norman village and interpretative displays showing what life was like in Norman times.
In Stansted Mountfitchet you can see old houses and pubs, some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries and the village sign, depicting the Montfichet shield, stands as a statement reminding visitors and locals that their heritage must be conserved. This walk also takes in the pretty windmill on a hill at the back of the village, before cutting across Stansted Brook and the railway line to old Stansted. A pleasant footpath leads past the Manor House, one of the original vicarages of the beautiful Norman church, St Mary the Virgin, which stands in the grounds of Stansted Hall. The church, another legacy of the Montfichet family, contains the worn figure of a 14th-century cross-legged knight believed to be Richard de Montfichet. Stansted Hall is now the Arthur Findlay College for Psychic Studies, colloquially known as 'Spook Hall'.
You will also pass through the charming hamlet of Birchanger, which is blessed with views of rolling countryside and woodlands.
From the car park turn left into Church Road, cross the railway bridge and, a few paces after Churchfields, bear left onto the concrete track by a public footpath sign.
Maintain direction along the track, keeping to the left of Manor House, where it becomes a narrow path. Pass by the line of trees and an arable field to your left. Keep the church to your left and follow the path to Church Road. Turn right and then left into Forest Hall Road, past the leisure centre.
Turn first left (Parsonage Lane) and follow the red posts along a track and then a field, passing farm buildings. At a bridleway signpost turn right across the field. Pass to the right of Digby Wood towards houses, and where the wood ends keep ahead past houses and look out for a grey Scout hut on the left.
Turn left at the Scout hut and right along an enclosed path by a public footpath sign, to reach The Three Willows pub. Turn right along Birchanger Lane, and turn left at a public footpath sign beside Gower Barn. At the next waymark post turn right then right at a bungalow, and follow waymarks to the church on your left. Cross Birchanger Lane with care, bear left and turn right to join a footpath past allotments. Go through a copse, bearing right to cross a plank footbridge. At the field-edge turn left and look out for a set of steps on your left.
Turn right across the field, passing to the right of a metal barrier to join Tot Lane. Turn right, and at the top turn right again, and then left along an enclosed footpath just before a new housing estate. At the end bear right to join West Road. After 0.25 miles (400m) turn left to cross the green footbridge over the railway line, and catch a glimpse of the windmill. At the bottom of the slope turn left and cross the footbridge over the brook on your right. Turn left along Brook Road and right up Mill Hill, passing the windmill. Follow the narrow lane to the road, turn right and at the crossroads turn right again and continue down Chapel Hill to return to the car park.
Grassy and forest tracks, field-edge and some road walking
Arable farmland, grazing meadow, some forest
On lead for most of way
OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden
Pay-and-display car park at Lower Street
Lower Street car park
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.