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.
As ever, the basics first. This is another relatively easy walk – though see the warning in the Gryme’s Dyke section – without much in the way of hills. Much of it is on grass and fields, so it might be pretty muddy after rainy weather, but generally you’ll be alright with a pair of decent walking shoes. It’ll take about 2 1/2-3 hours in total with the start point by Colchester Institute and the end at Tollgate Retail Park (though there’s also an alternate end at Copford).
To start with, follow the path by Colchester Institute to Hilly Fields. The entrance is pretty clear, off the south side of Sheepen Road between the Institute site and the car park, opposite St Helena School. A cycle path runs alongside, but the footpath runs through the trees pictured and is a much better walk, as well as not placing you in the way of any cyclists on their way to and from the Institute and the school. Follow this down until you’re just past the car park, and then turn right past the sign into Hilly Fields.
The path from here is pretty well marked across Hilly Fields, though there are several marked paths criss-crossing over this area, so do make sure you keep on the main route through, marked by the public footpath arrow markers. The footpath rises up along a mound, part of the border of an old camp below you, then carries on through Hilly Fields. Like High Woods last week, there’s a lot to discover here, and we’ll come back for a proper exploration in a future walk, but for now carry on through as the path heads into the trees.
There’s some wildlife about in Hilly Fields, but not as obvious as in High Woods, though you might be lucky and spot a rabbit like I did, though he did run off before I could get any closer for the picture. The path becomes a private driveway, then Elianore Road – follow the road along, past the Croquet Club, then cross over Glen Avenue. The path then resumes over the junction where it runs behind Bramley Close – it should be obvious when you cross the road, just keep to the left and keep an eye out for the fingerpost pointing out the route.
You then head into the small Lexden Springs park (also known as the Loop), where the path continues along the ridge from Hilly fields before dropping down into Spring Lane. Cross over Spring Lane and turn right where you’ll see a fingerpost by a small bridge. Don’t follow the path direction indicated, but cross over the bridge into the open space you see there. Head across the park, either towards the gap in the hedge over to the left, or towards the road down on the right, then follow that up to London Road.
If it’s wet and the park looks too muddy, you can instead turn left on Spring Lane and head up to London Road, then turn right when you reach the junction by the church. However you’ve got there, follow London Road to the west, and cross over to the south (left) side if you’re not there already. Turn left onto New Farm Road (opposite King Coel Road) when you get there.
You’re now following the path of Gryme’s Dyke which marks the western boundary of Colchester, a straight line between Lexden and Stanway. When New Farm Road turns to the right, carry straight on down the path. It’s now very easy to follow the path along the route of Gryme’s Dyke, but you can also walk along the ridge of the earthwork to your left if you prefer. Various paths – some official, some not – head up the bank and along it, but do take care when walking along there as the ground can be a little loose at some points and there are also various sharp branches and bushes encroaching onto the path, eager to scratch and sting you.
Cross over Peartree Road when you reach there, and carry on down the path until you reach a crossroads. Turn right here, and follow the path down towards the village-like Stanway Green, where a group of older houses are around a nice little patch of green. You’re just on the very edge of the built-up part of town here, and about to head into the open country and farmland.
Follow the road through Stanway Green to where it turns into a path again and comes to a T-junction. Turn left here, and you’re following the path of another dyke.
There are actually two paths down here, the obvious one running through the trees, and another running parallel to the left, following the ridge of the earthwork. The path through the trees is nicer, though if you’re feeling a little claustrophobic after following Gryme’s Dyke or just want to see a bit of farmland scenery, take the path to the left. They join up again before you reach the Maldon Road.
At Maldon Road, you can turn left and head down the road, but if you don’t want to walk along there – it can get quite busy at times, there’s a pleasanter diversion by Stanway Hall Farm. Cross over the road and head down the path, then turn right at the bottom of the field and head towards the farm buildings and the remain of the church. The path heads through the buildings, then brings you out at the entrance to Colchester Zoo. Cross over Maldon Road again, and follow the signposted path.
You then head through some trees and out into a much larger man-made landscape with mounds and ridges that the Iron Age builders would have been very jealous off. Yes, you’re passing through the quarry, on a very well-marked path that keeps you away from anywhere dangerous and if you’re interested in that sort of thing you can see a lot of how they work, including taking a bridge over a conveyor. It’d be very hard to lose your way along this path, but do be careful and don’t wander off into the trees, as there are some very unsafe areas there.
The path leads out onto a side-road from Warren Lane. Turn left here and along the road, then cross over Warren Lane where you’ll see a fingerpost pointing out a path. Turn right and head along, keeping the road to your right. If you want a longer walk here, take one of the paths off to the left which will lead you to Copford. We’ll be taking one of those on a future walk, though.
For now we’re heading straight on, through the kissing gate at the end, then following the pathway across the old quarry behind some new houses. The path here isn’t that obvious, as the land has been a somewhat churned up by kids on quad bikes, but it’s easy enough to follow the route marked on the map towards the ridge on the other side. Head up there and out onto the road at Oldhouse Farm. Turn left, then quickly right where a fingerpost signals a path. This takes you between the farmhouses and out into some more open land behind Tollgate.
Once you’re out into the open, bear around to the right and you’ll see more old quarry lands in front of you, but in better condition than the ones you’ve just walked on. Follow the ridge towards the shopping centre at Tollgate and the large arena-like depression in the ground there. Following the ridge is probably best in wet conditions, but you should see a number of very obvious paths there, leading across and up to Tollgate Road. Once you reach the road, turn left, then left at the roundabout to enter the main Tollgate complex, where there’ll be a bus stop directly in front of you to provide you with transport home. Alternatively, you can carry on up Tollgate Road to the large London Road roundabout, turn right, and then walk along London Road back to the town centre, which will take you about an hour or so to walk.