With the weather forecasts all predicting lots of rain and then the cold of winter to come in the next few days, yesterday seemed like the last chance to have a decent long walk this year, so I took the opportunity to head out on the Essex Way. The Way skirts around the outskirts of Colchester so I decided to walk out to West Bergholt and pick it up there, then head along it through the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale.

pringlesThe walk out to Bergholt is one I’ve done a few times. It’s relatively easy to do from the centre of town, and gets you out into the countryside quite quickly, taking advantage of the open space around Cymbeline Meadows. The main path from there takes you out past the farm at Lexden Lodge, then around a bit of the golf course and over the railway at Bakers Lane. The only problem with the countryside feel here is the ever-present roaring of the A12 which you pass under a little way after Bakers Lane, marked by the Pringles can-topped fence. I’m not quite sure if this is just creative litter disposal or the beginnings of some outside art, but they look interesting and the earliest ones have clearly been there for a while.

bergholtpathLeaving the A12 behind, the path continues across the golf course where I managed to get a little lost and so almost get hit by a ball flying over a hill. I soon managed to find the correct path and avoid any more inadvertent golfist attacks, plunging back into the undergrowth and the first bit of the path that was both boggy and strewn with branches blown down in the high winds earlier of the week. It’s still easily passable, and only a short cut through that leads out to the bottom of a lane that gradually widens as you head into West Bergholt and get to join the Essex Way properly.

essexwayOne of the good things about the Essex Way is that it’s pretty well waymarked and the red-on-white waymarkers are quite easy to spot so it’s hard to get lost on it. It also helps that it’s in a lot of open countryside so the paths tend to be straight and easy to find too. It cuts through West Bergholt than out past Armoury Farm, over fields and around an orchard to take you into Great Horkesley where it follows the roads for a bit before heading onto country lanes again. This isn’t the most interesting part as you’re just walking along the A134 and then another road for a while, but it passes quickly and there aren’t really any other ways to get from one side of Horkesley to the other without using the road.

alpacaThere were a couple of interesting sights around the edge of Great Horkesley, as the path left the road and headed into the countryside. First up, there was a paddock with some alpacas (I think, though they could be llamas) that watched me curiously as I walked past. Unlike other farm animals they didn’t either run away at the sight of a human or flock to the fence to greet me in expectation of food, just stood still and kept an eye on me until I was gone.

fallentreeThen just past them there was a rather large tree that had fallen down, almost completely blocking the lane. There was just about enough space for me to squeeze under it (shorter and more flexible people would have found it no trouble) but there definitely wouldn’t be any vehicles getting through there. There wasn’t anyone there, so there didn’t seem any immediate urgency to remove it, but I expect it’ll be gone by now. However, if you want to go and see for yourself (or just be stared at by alpacas) it was around here.

After that, it was out across more fields, surrounded by the scent of the onions that were growing in them. This was one of the most open and exposed parts of the walk, so it’s naturally the time the weather chose to go very grey and windy though the rain held off. Luckily the open fields did have a small wood in them to shelter from the wind in and have a cup of tea while sitting on another fallen tree, thought this one looked like it had been like that much longer.

dancingtreeFrom there, I roughly followed the path of the way (with a few shortcuts, as it does tend to meander in some places) through Boxted and Langham, and got to see the remains of a tree by the road that looked like the remains of a giant frozen in the middle of some ancient rave. You can find it just outside Boxted, near the interestingly named Wet Lane. It’s on one of the short cuts I took to shorten the route a little from one of the way’s meanders so you’ll have to leave the Way it, but this is one part where that are plenty of other interesting paths around and they all tend to intersect each other eventually.

I didn’t follow the Essex Way all the way into Dedham as I’ve walked around there a few times and find the Suffolk side of the river to be a nicer walk than the Essex side. I left the Way and crossed the Stour at Stratford St Mary, then managed to initially take the wrong path and found myself wandering in thick undergrowth for a while before getting back to the road and carrying on down to the right one. For future reference: the path under the A12 is a few hundred metres south of Stratford St Mary, at the second footpath sign, not the first one.

dedhamviewingpointThe path on the Suffolk side of the Stour is right next to the river, while the one on the Essex side (at least to the west of Dedham) is further away in the fields for most of its length. Yesterday was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen it – I think I only saw one other person in that stretch – and the sound of the A12 soon fades away as you’re walking along. I did spot this strange Roman-styled folly by the river which appears to just be somewhere for people on the other side to sit and watch the river, but please let me know in the comments if it has some other purpose.

startledhouseJust after to that there’s the Dedham lock and weir which I crossed over and then followed the road into the village. I had thought about carrying on down the river (on the Essex side this time) to Flatford Mill, then on to Manningtree to get a train home but my legs were pretty tired by this point after fourteen occasionally muddy miles, and I realised that not only was the bus to Colchester from Dedham due soon but that it also stopped at the bottom of my road. By that point in the day, the idea of a very short walk home was too good an idea to pass up.

I should probably write up more walks on here as not only is it motivation for me to get out more, I do get quite a few visitors from Google looking for information on walks in and around Colchester. Maybe that should be my niche…

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A charitable break

london2brightonOld friends and long-term readers of this blog will remember that I spent the summer of 2006 walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money of brain tumour research. This was in memory of my brother Simon, who died from a brain tumour in 2005.

Now that walking bug has caught on with some other members of my family who are taking on a different walking challenge. Although I walked over a thousand miles in total, the most I did in a day was about 30 miles and that was partly thanks to me not realising quite how far I was going that day.

At the end of May, my brother Andrew, my sister-in-law Julie and my niece Lucie will be walking 62 miles (100km) in a day as they take on the London to Brighton Challenge. It’s a massive distance to walk, and one that I’m not sure I could do in a day even if I got back in training.

Like me, they’re doing it to raise money for brain tumour research and so they’re looking for sponsors. If you’ve got a spare few quid and you’d like to support them, then please pop along to their JustGiving pages – Lucie’s is here, Andrew’s here and Julie’s here – and make a donation. Every bit helps, and I’ll give an update on their progress – and hopefully, their successful completion of the walk – when the time comes.

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Walking north

No meetings today, and the weather was reasonably good so I went for my first long walk in a few months – probably the first proper walk I’ve done since the Roman Circus one back in February, actually.

Mostly places I’ve been before, starting with the back route to West Bergholt (detailed here) and then following the Essex Way up as far as Boxted, then heading off towards the Stour on the way out of the village, rather than carrying on the Way towards Langham and Dedham. From there, it was a just a short walk up to Stoke-by-Nayland to complete 13 miles with a rather nice sandwich and pint at the Angel. Here, have some pictures:
Oilseed field between West Bergholt and HorkesleyView from the bridge, crossing the River Stour near BoxtedWisteria-covered barn between Boxted and Stoke-by-Nayland
I’m going to try and blog a few more walks this summer – just like I promised to do last year, of course – and am thinking about doing the full Epping-to-Harwich Essex Way this summer. It’s been a while since I’ve done a long stage walk like that, and while it’s not the full 1,000+ miles of John O’Groats to Land’s End, it should make an interesting challenge.

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Just to let you know that you can now directly donate to Colchester Archaeological Trust through Justgiving as well as through Charity Choice.

In other news, Sunday’s weather forecast is still looking dry. Fingers and crossed and wood is being touched in the hope it stays that way.

The route

After some playing with Google Maps, I think I’ve managed to plot a rough outline of the route we’ll be taking on Sunday:

View Roman Circus walk in a larger map
If there’s nothing showing above, then click here to see it on Google.

It’s slightly approximated at points because it’s hard to follow footpaths on Google Maps, so the southern section (along the Roman River and through Friday Woods) shows up as basically a straight line when it’s anything but, but a look at Ordnance Survey maps on Streetmap will show you how many routes there are through there.

So, if you live near Colchester (or were watching The One Show last week) you’ll have heard about the appeal to raise funds to save Colchester’s Roman Circus.

Well, as part of the appeal, I’m putting my walking boots back on and hitting the road this Sunday to help raise cash. Along with Jo Hayes and my fellow councillor Theresa Higgins, I’ll be walking a twelve mile circuit that starts and finishes at the circus and also takes in some of the other Roman remains in Colchester, including the walls, the Balkerne Gate and Gosbecks Archaeological Park.

So, if you want to contribute then please visit the Roman Circus website and pledge cash there, or contact me for other details of how you can make a donation.

Or, if you feel like joining us for part of the walk then please come along. We’ll be starting from the Circus at around 10am, and I’ll be updating throughout the day on Twitter, and possibly finding some way over the next few days to use the GPS functions on my new phone to report our location.

We’re also arranging a separate shorter walk around the Roman sites in the town centre, which will be led by Bob Russell MP and will cover about three miles around the walls and other sites. Bob’s happy for anyone to join him – they’ll be starting at the same time, and we’ll be covering the same route for a while – as long as they make a donation of £5 or more to the Circus appeal.

So it’s fingers crossed for good weather on Sunday…

Weekly Walk #3: Man-made landscapes

a>We’re heading west this week, and I’ve attempted to give a theme to the walk, of what humans have done to the landscapes of Colchester over the year. People have been living here for thousands of years, and every passing wave of them has left their mark on the area in one way or another. Stone, however, isn’t very common around here, so large walls weren’t always an option, and so lots of earth was moved to provide defences and define boundaries – and some of those boundaries remain today.

Read the rest of this entry

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