Witches, Highwaymen and art by Grayson Perry: take a walk on the wild side in Essex

Autumn is the perfect time for a ramble in the countryside, kick up the leaves and wonder at nature’s burnished palette. Essex is only a stone’s throw from the capital but offers up some unique charms from rolling Constable country, to winding canal paths, estuarine views and places where the infamous Highwayman, Dick Turpin, called home!

Visit Essex, the tourism body for Essex, is encouraging people to discover the miles of diverse rural walks the county has to offer.

Cllr Mark Durham, Vice Chair, Visit Essex said: “A joy of Essex is walking our network of footpaths that links towns, villages, history, nature, rivers and coast. Visitors can choose to walk routes that suit their abilities, short walks, circular walks and long-distance rambles. Essex also has a variety of accommodation for visitors  to stay a few days and explore our beautiful county.”

Walking with Witches

The Walls at Manningtree is a stunning short walk along the newest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Stour Estuary. The Walls also has a gruesome history as the location for the start of the 17th century witch trials, led by the Witch Finder General and Manningtree resident, Matthew Hopkins. The walk also passes Mistley Towers, now looked after by English Heritage, ‘Old Knobbly’ one of England’s oldest and largest oak trees, as well as quaint tearooms, pubs and even a shop selling wine and vinyl!

The Flitch Way

The former trainline that linked Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree is now a 15-mile path suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The route is a haven for wildlife: mammals, birds, flowers and insects, with the path passing the ancient royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Forest. The Flitch Way has several Victorian train stations along its course, and you can stop for a break at the former Rayne station, which is now a café with a railway carriage museum.

Turpin’s Trail

The famous highwayman, Dick Turpin, was born in Hempstead and worked as a butcher in nearby Thaxted. There are three linked trails which take in places with a Turpin connection, via a six-mile circular walk of Great Sampford to Hempstead, which passes the Bluebell Inn, the birthplace of Turpin. The walk passes rivers, fields, ancient churches and is a wonderful stroll through the Essex countryside.

The Essex Way

The Essex Way is the county’s epic 81-mile route across Essex, starting in Epping and ending on the coast at Harwich. The walk showcases the true diversity of the county as it passes through ancient woodland, fields and meadows, river valleys, historic buildings and beautiful villages and towns. The Essex Way has many natural breaks which are not far from bus stops or train stations, making the 81-miles easy to break down into manageable sections. Highlights include a ramble through meandering Constable country as well as the magnificent views of the towering cranes sitting majestically on Harwich’s skyline.

Wrabness Circular Walk

Between Manningtree and Harwich is the hamlet of Wrabness. Starting at Wrabness train station the two-mile walk will lead you besides Grayson Perry’s masterpiece, ‘A House for Essex’, a dwelling dedicated to ‘Julie’, Grayson’s woman of Essex. The path then leads down to the banks of the Stour Estuary and on into Wrabness Woods, an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve, passing through fields and meadows. There are plenty of additional paths if you wanted to extend the route and don’t forget your binoculars, there’s plenty of bird hides and migrating birds to discover.

Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

The 18-miles of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation links the county town of Chelmsford to the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin. The walk starts in the urban environment of the city but soon enters the unspoilt Essex landscape, following the course of the Chelmer River and Blackwater Navigation through 13 locks. Visitors can treat themselves to a special pint at the end of the walk in Heybridge at one of the pretty lock side pubs, or enjoy an afternoon tea at the Tiptree Tearoom.

Constable Country

Walk in the footsteps of the historic artist Constable in an area much-loved for the painters romanticised view of the Essex countryside. Starting at Manningtree train station the walk meanders along the River Stour for two miles until you reach Flatford Mill, immortalised by Constable by his painting of The Haywain, which is currently celebrating its 200th birthday. A further one and half miles will take to you the delightful village of Dedham. Here you can relax, hire a rowing boat, stop at one of the village’s fine eateries, or wander around its independent stores. 

WHERE TO STAY?

Walking with Witches – The Mistley Thorn, High Street, Mistley. Award winning dining and accommodation. www.visitessex.com/accommodation/the-mistley-thorn-p1266661

The Flitch Way – Great Lodge Barn, Great Bardfield, Braintree. Barn conversion surrounded by vineyards and walled gardens. www.visitessex.com/accommodation/stables-cart-lodge-and-the-rose-barn-p1266471

Turpin’s Trail – Puttock’s Farm B&B, Philpot End, Great Dunmow. Barn conversion and shepherds hut on working farm surrounded by Essex countryside. www.visitessex.com/accommodation/puttocks-farm-b-and-b-p1266171

The Essex Way – Greyfriars Hotel, High Street, Colchester. Michelin recommended luxury hotel. www.visitessex.com/accommodation/greyfriars-hotel-p1266291

Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation – The Warren Estate, Woodham Walter, Maldon. Collection of lodges each with a hot tub. www.visitessex.com/accommodation/the-warren-estate-p1266501

Constable Country – The Mistley Thorn, High Street, Mistley. Award winning dining and accommodation.  www.visitessex.com/accommodation/the-mistley-thorn-p1266661

GOOD FOOD ON THE WAY?

Walking with Witches – Lucca Enoteca, High Street, Manningtree. Wood-fired pizzas and classic pasta dishes. www.visitessex.com/food-and-drink/lucca-enoteca-p1341831

The Flitch Way – Step into the booking hall café at Rayne station and tuck into cakes, coffee and ice creams! www.thebookinghall.co.uk

Turpin’s Trail –  Tiptree Tea Room, Saffron Walden. Home-style food in the market town of Saffron Walden. www.visitessex.com/food-and-drink/tiptree-tea-room-at-the-courtyard-saffron-walden-p1269571

The Essex Way – The Kings Arms, Coggeshall. A family run pub serving traditional home cooked food. www.visitessex.com/food-and-drink/kings-arms-p1270831

Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation – The Barge Tea Rooms, The Hythe, Maldon. Breakfast, light lunches and afternoon tea on a barge with riverside views. www.visitessex.com/food-and-drink/the-barge-tearooms-p1318091

Constable Country – The Sun Inn, High Street, Dedham, the pub offers a menu influenced by seasonal, local produce www.thesuninndedham.com

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