Essex bluebell walks to explore
PUBLISHED: 17:37 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 17:37 20 April 2015
One of the great pleasures of an Essex spring is wandering among the lakes of bluebells that suddenly spill out in April and May through many local woods. Here are four of the county’s best spots for a springtime stroll courtesy of Pheobe Taplin
Norsey Wood (www.norseywood.org.uk) claims to have one of the highest concentrations of bluebells in the world; it also has a fascinating history and is less than ten minutes walk from Billericay Railway Station. Head up Norsey Road and turn right, immediately after Norsey Close, onto a path beside a meadow. You can soon see banks of bluebells already to your left.
Enter the trees where the fence ends, but keep along the edge of the wood. After a little footbridge, red-topped posts with white arrows guide you round a woodland trail, passing a Bronze Age burial mound and a picnic area. The car park here, near Outwood Common Road, is an alternative starting point. Crossing the wood’s central ride, which dates back to the Iron Age, go on along the way-marked walk, past ponds and ancient coppiced hornbeams and trenches dug for practice during World War I. The wood also has Roman remains and Wat Tyler’s rebels hid here in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss the woods around Hanningfield Reservoir (www.essexwt.org.uk/reserves/hanningfield-reservoir). A sea of spring bluebells turns the woodland floor as blue as the water. From the welcoming visitors’ centre to the lakeside Fishing Lodge is a lovely half-hour’s stroll. You can even walk the four miles there from Norsey Wood on country roads and tracks, through further flowering woods. Turn right off Goatsmoor Lane onto a bridleway, just beyond Forty Acre Plantation and simply keep going in this direction to emerge at last onto Downham Road and turn right towards the reservoir. Occasional buses run to Chelmsford from outside the Old Windmill pub.
Hillhouse Wood, near Colchester, is small but perfectly formed (www.colchesternaturalhistorysociety.org.uk/hillhouse.htm). With flowering valleys and clear steams, nightingales and woodpeckers, patches of wild garlic and – of course – bluebells, a springtime walk here is a delight. For a short, sweet walk you can start from St Mary’s Old Church just outside West Bergholt village. The church is open every day and has the royal arms of James I painted above the chancel arch.
The friends of the church serve tea and cakes to visitors for the wood’s Bluebell Weekend in April and alternative refreshments can be found in one of West Bergholt’s pubs. To walk from the village instead, a path leads from the end of Firmins Court across the fields to the old church. Then take the lane beside the church and follow it left to the wood’s main entrance.
There are many paths through Hillhouse, where getting lost in May is a pleasure. One scenic route is to fork left near the pond, through the valley, and follow any way-marked path through the woods in this direction until all ways converge to cross two little bridges and climb up to a gate in the southeast corner of the wood. Follow the path ahead along the edge of a field. Reaching a brick cottage, you can either turn left back to the old church or follow Cooks Hall Road towards West Bergholt.
This quiet lane leads past paddocks with goats and donkeys and a stately Georgian rectory. Turn left at the cross roads and go on over Lexden Road to find the stop for buses to Colchester and the unpretentious Queen’s Head pub, reflected in the village pond.
Blake’s Wood near Danbury (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/danbury-commons-and-blakes-wood) has flowering banks that slope down to little, fern-fringed streams, shaded by huge oaks and fine sweet chestnut trees. Here you can find mossy tree trunks, early violets and curtains of wild honeysuckle. A three-mile trail leads from the gate of the car park on Riffhams Chase around the wood, following grey and white arrows with a footprint symbol, past carpets of bluebells and views of distant Chelmsford.
At marker post 8, you can choose to continue right along the trail or go straight instead on a track, leaving the wood and walking along Parsonage Lane to the Generals Arms in Little Baddow (www.generalsarms.co.uk). Afterwards, head back along the lane and turn left onto the trail again to return to the car park. For a longer ramble through Blakes Wood and beyond, try the seven-mile Little Baddow Millenium Walk, following green waymarks with a bluebell logo.
The National Trust’s trails continue to the south, linking Blake’s Wood with nearby Lingwood and Danbury Commons and combining to make an eight-mile route. Bus 30/31 runs from Chelmsford to Danbury Village, where you can find more pubs and the Tea on the Green café. Alternatively, head north for peaceful walks along the River Chelmer and homemade cakes at the waterside Old Stable tearoom (www.papermilllock.co.uk/tea-room).
Quendon and neighbouring Rickling, in the northwest corner of Essex, were once on the main road from London to Norwich, but construction of the M11 turned them back into peaceful villages, accessible on the 301 bus from Bishop’s Stortford or Saffron Walden. The Cricketers Arms at Rickling Green is an excellent base for a short walk through nearby bluebell woods and for a great meal afterwards. Turn right past the school and right again along the track near thatched Tudor Cottage. Cross over the Cambridge Road, walk a few steps right and turn left along a path to the edge of a wood.
Keeping the trees on your right, follow the forest’s edge until you have just rounded the far corner; then take the path diagonally left across a field, heading for the 13th century church of St Simon and St Jude, with its little, white bell tower. At the far corner of the field, follow the track right into trees and left to pass the church and reach the road again.
Cross over and turn right, then left along a sign-posted path beside a hedge. Follow the path across fields until you see an avenue sloping up ahead. For a longer walk, you can go straight on here to Rickling church and back or follow a flower-fringed lane all the way to Newport.
Otherwise, turn left before the avenue and follow the lane that soon runs beside woods. Just before reaching a road, turn left into the trees and follow the path along the edge of the wood to reach the road near the Cricketers Arms. The village green, where you can watch weekend games in summer, is home to the Rickling Ramblers cricket club. The pub’s seasonal menus feature local sausages or Suffolk lamb and you can even stay the night (http://thecricketersarmsricklinggreen.co.uk).