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Woodland walks in Essex: 9 to try this autumn

PUBLISHED: 14:03 22 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:19 22 September 2017

(c) Owen Prescott, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

(c) Owen Prescott, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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As the greens of summer give way to the browns and oranges of autumn, there’s no better time to go and explore Essex’s wonderful woodland. Here are 9 you should try

1) Blake’s Wood Walk

A number of trails go through this ancient wood near Chelmsford and as well as rare oaks, hornbeam and sweet chestnut trees, you’ll also be able to enjoy a mosaic of heath, valleys and bog habitats.

With many quiet areas throughout this sloping site, it’s an ideal spot when you’re looking for some solitude away from the hubbub of everyday life. If the 2.5 mile stroll isn’t enough for you, Lingwood Common and Danbury Common are easily accessible nearby.

2) Epping Forest – Oak Trail

Beginning at Theydon Bois tube station, this 7-mile walk can be a little tricky to navigate, but with the proper preparation, there’s nothing stopping you enjoying this trail’s buffer lands, deer sanctuary and many veteran beech pollards.

Only 40 minutes out of central London, you’re likely to see black fallow and muntjac deer as well as hares and skylarks. For a slice of ancient history, make sure you find Ambresbury Banks, an Iron Age hill fort and alleged site of Boudica’s last stand against the Romans.

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3) Belfairs & Daws Heath Living Landscape – Seven Woods Walk

After hundreds of years of coppicing and woodland rotation, this 1160-acre area supports an unusually diverse selection of plant and animal species. This woodland work is continued today to promote rare species like the dormouse and heath fritillary butterfly.

To learn more about the considerable conservation efforts that take place here, visit the newly-built Woodland Centre. If the 5 mile Seven Woods walk isn’t enough for you, take part in one of the ranger’s walking talks about bats, birds, woodland management or wildflowers.

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4) Hockley Woods – Boundary Walk

The largest remaining area of the wild wood that covered Essex during the Ice Age, Hockley Woods’ varied terrain and soil conditions produce a patchwork layout of trees. Birches occupy the acidic areas, hornbeams live in the wet clay and willows lie next to streams, producing a wonderfully eye-catching setting.

Adding a dramatic feel to parts of this 5km walk are remnants of the great storm in 1987 where you can see smashed or uprooted trees. To get into the heart of the wood, divert down onto the 1km Valley Walk which covers an area formed by the River Roach.

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5) Stour Woods – River Walk

As the only place in Essex where woodland leads naturally into saltmarsh, this 4.5-mile walk is home to a number of unique features. Dating back to 1675, the woods are a part of Constable Country and have unmatched views over the Stour Estuary.

When near the banks of the Stour – which is also home to a variety of wading birds – you can peer over to Suffolk and the Royal Hospital School. The wood itself is well populated with sweet chestnut trees and in autumn it’s bursting with blackberries just waiting to be thrown into a crumble.

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6) Weeleyhall Wood

Despite considerable damage during the 1987 storm, this wood remains one of the best for a wander in the Tendring district. Park up by Weeley Church just off the B1441 and explore its 32 hectares that house oaks, sweet chestnuts, hornbeams and areas of conifer.

As well as having the largest population of climbing corydalis in Essex, two ponds and damp, grassy rides add ample variety to an area of woodland north of Clacton-on-Sea. There are a number of trails through the area so the length of your walk is up to you.

7) Friday Woods – Circular Woodland Walk

A Roman River Site of Special Scientific Interest, this ancient woodland has grown over the last century and today, a patchwork of different habitats has developed at this site on the outskirts of Colchester.

Fungi of all colours carpet the ground in autumn, nearly 1000 species of butterfly and moth call it home while redwings, fieldflares and skylarks soar above the 4-mile walk. As the site is managed by the Ministry of Defence, you may spot the odd soldier training in the area – or not depending on how good their camouflage is.

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8) Hatfield Forest – Fitch Way and Forest Walk

As the only remaining fully intact medieval Royal Hunting Forest in the world, this 403 hectare wood is Britain’s most authentic place to experience rural pursuits from the Middle Ages. Some of the trees you’ll pass on this 3.5-mile walk are over 1000 years old, a living reminder of our country’s history and heritage.

There are over 3,500 species of wildlife to see – including eight species of bat and 600 types of fungi – as well as Shell House, a picnic home overlooking a man-made lake. Don’t forget to follow in the footsteps of folk from the Middle Ages by visiting the site of the Doodle Oak, formerly one of the largest trees in Britain with a circumference of 18.2 metres.

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9) Chalkney Wood Walk

If you’re trekking on the long-distance Essex Way why not divert into this forest in the Colne Valley that has likely existed since the Ice Age. Over this 5-mile walk you can see the remnants of a medieval woodbank, parts of a Roman trackway and the Grade II-listed Chalkney Mill.

The long history of this joint-managed, 73 hectare wood has created diverse environments capable of supporting several species of bird, deer and countless seasonal species of flora. Once you’re done, Earls Colne is just up the road to provide plenty of refreshment options.

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