Explore Essex on the Essex Way Walk
PUBLISHED: 16:38 25 August 2016
Tackling the 81-mile walk from Epping to Harwich is a fabulous way to explore the varied aspects which give our county its unique appeal.
The Essex Way — an 81-mile long distance path running roughly south west to north east from Epping to Harwich — may sound a lot like a sequel to a familiar reality TV show, but (in contrast to the aforementioned show) it actually represents the perfect means to get to know the county.
For those of you not familiar with the terminology, a long distance path or LDP is usually taken to be more than 30-miles long and often joins together existing rights of way. Essex has several of these LDPs, but the Essex Way is the most significant walk, growing in stature and reputation since its inception in the early 1970s.
Connecting the fringe of London to the North Sea coast well away from the bustle of the A12 and mainline railway corridor that so many of us spend so much time traversing, if the very thought of it sounds arduous, it needn’t be, for there are no rules here. You can walk it east to west or vice versa, in small sections or large chunks, over several weekends or even years, or tackle the whole length flat out in two or three days if you fancy a real challenge on your doorstep.
John Juchau of the West Essex Ramblers took part in the group’s walk of the Essex Way in ten legs from April to October three years ago. ‘You can dip in and out and do bits of it, or in circular walks to get back to your car or transport,’ explains John. ‘People may think that Essex is all flat and boring, or built up, but that’s not the case. It has some delightful countryside to walk through.’
Aside from the varied landscape it reveals along its route, the real beauty of the Essex Way is its comparative accessibility – never far from useful transport links, but always only a short stroll into rural tranquillity. One end is alongside Epping’s Central Line tube stop, the other a stone’s throw from Harwich Town train station. You can hop off the train at several spots back towards Chelmsford for quick access to the nearby path, or for simple bus connections north to south. With a car, or two in a group, it’s a doddle and a pleasure to pick out entry and exit points to the Essex Way’s pastoral delights.
‘Essex is such a diverse county with many different things to offer and when you are walking you can get a real sense of place,’ says Lisa Bone, strategic tourism manager at Visit Essex. ‘72% of Essex is rural and the Essex Way showcases the variety of landscapes, towns and villages — each with their own unique character. Much of it challenges the perceptions that people have of Essex.’
Wide tracks and grassy paths flow into woodland walks and waste-height cuts through ripening crops, with occasional forays onto the Tarmac of country lanes. On a wet winter’s day, with Essex clay clogging your walking shoes after tackling tricky muddy field-edges, those back roads can provide some welcome respite. Stride out on a summer’s roam along any decent-length stretch and your focus will be far more upon the variety of things that come your way.
Intersecting daily life along its route, you’re more likely to greet a local dog-walker than a fellow long-distance traveller. But this is still somewhere you will get the chance to swap stories with other Essex Way expeditionaries — as well as stroke and feed wayside horses, be startled by a pheasant darting into a hedge, see a hare cavort across a field and spot endless birds in flight and song, which, perhaps like me, you woefully can’t identify.
In planning and executing your own personal attempt on part or all of the Essex Way, a few Ordnance Survey Explorer and Landranger Maps wouldn’t go amiss and, to my mind, always add to the enjoyment. But in truth the path is so well maintained and waymarked — thanks to the efforts of volunteers from ramblers groups and others working alongside the local authorities — you’d struggle to go far wrong if you set off without.
The Essex Way is more or less untaxingly flat, with no obstacle more troublesome than a hidden tree root or a slippery stile. The main barrier for your feet to overcome will simply be the distance.
But take comfort in knowing that however at one with nature or remote you feel — and whatever the size of the Essex Way quest you’ve set yourself – you’re truly never too far off the beaten track or somewhere to break your route. You’ll come across pubs, plenty of them and some literally a step off the path, variously providing much-needed liquid refreshment, good food and even overnight accommodation for those requiring a longer recharge.
If you like rural churches, the Essex Way offers a real treat. There are hidden away gems boasting all kinds of architectural interest and ecclesiastical treasures. More often than not, their doors are left wonderfully unlocked, welcoming you into their peaceful solitude for a thoughtful rest.
Each walker will find their favourite stretch for peace and relaxation out on the path. Long distance vistas vary from the hilly agricultural aspects between Epping and Ongar, to the views out over the River Stour east of Manningtree, and the satisfying sight of the sea if you head into Dovercourt having completed a long trek eastwards — with the Low Lighthouse on the Harwich front, within a skip of the finishing line, the ultimate beacon of relief for aching legs.
The path can take you to places you’ve not visited before, passing through villages not seen on A or B road travels through the county like Terling and Pleshey, Bradfield and Great Tey. Or give you a different entrance to and en route aspect of familiar tourist spots such as Dedham and Coggeshall. The latter provides a perfect example of a place to take a quick family walk along a small piece of the path, looping round its southern edge by the River Blackwater before returning through its historic centre.
A sense of history is never too far from the Essex Way either and an excellent downloadable walking guide from Essex County Council gives you a useful background on the many points of interest. Set foot along those ancient byways and you can feel the presence of those who have trod the path’s forerunners in centuries past.
Lisa adds: ‘There are many places of interest along or nearby the path. Essex is steeped in history and there are many historical facts attached to the places along the Essex Way, from the world’s oldest wooden church in Greensted to Cressing Temple, the home of the Knights Templar.
‘Whether you are interested in history, enjoy beautiful landscapes and views, enjoy visiting a variety of attractions from vineyards to historical buildings or just like having lunch in a country pub, the Essex Way has it all. If you are looking to discover something new and want to be surprised, this walk is a must.’
People do run and even cycle the length of the Essex Way. But walking it, at your own pace, will do just fine. The main thing is just to get out there and give it a go.
Find out more:
The Essex Way is 81 miles long, running from Epping to Harwich, and is signposted both ways.
Go to www.visitessex.com/walk to download a useful Essex Way leaflet and start planning your journey.
Visit Essex also provides a route accommodation list