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.
The 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.
Leaving 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.
One 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.
There 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.
Then 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.
From 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.
The 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.
Just 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…