First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A beautiful sunny morning in rural Essex, wintry but bright, with a blue sky mitigating the sharp northwest wind. There were puddles in the rough old road leading east from Newport Station, and a good solid crunch of flint underfoot.
South of the lane the big bowl of Chalk Farm Quarry has scooped away half a hill. Its roadways lay slick and glistening with the sheen of chalk compressed and polished by heavy tyres.
The lane ran as a holloway in a tunnel of goat willow and hawthorn. Hard green crab apples lined the ruts. The hedges were filled with brushy green heads of ivy berries, scarlet droplets of rosehips, and the plump pink fruits of spindle, about to burst to reveal their bright orange interiors.
Up in the open fields the feeling was a top-of-the-world one. The wind at our backs bowled dry beech leaves ahead of us along the track. Enormous fields of dark plough and tender green bean shoots stretched away to woods with intriguing names: Hop Wood, Cabbage Wood, Pig’s Parlour.
At Waldegrave’s Farm the barns were tight packed with the winter’s straw in neat square bales. At the farm fence three little spaniels did their best to give us a fierce send-off, their wagging tails belying every yap.
Down at Rook End we turned north beside the woods of Debden Park to reach the lonely church of St Mary the Virgin. The grand estate developed in Georgian times by well-to-do merchant Richard Chiswell is only a memory now, but St Mary’s retains a whiff of the family’s whims and wishes in the strange Moorish roof of the chancel and the exuberant monuments and stained glass armorial devices.
A snaking footpath runs the length of the Debden Water’s shallow valley, and we followed it back to Newport through coarse sheep pastures and whispery groves of poplar and willow.
I fell for the old trick pulled by sloes each autumn – look how plump and blue we are! How tasty we must be, don’t you think? Ugh! Nothing had changed. Still that old sensation of blotting paper and sour metal on the palate. Never mind – drowned in sugar and a Kilner jar of gin, they’ll sweeten my Christmas potations.
Start: Newport railway station, near Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 3PL (OS ref TL 522335)
Getting there: Rail to Newport. Bus 301 (Saffron Walden-Bishop’s Stortford).
Road: Newport is on B1383 (M11, Jct 9)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 195): From Platform 1, right along Byway (‘Saffron Trail’). In 1 mile, ahead along road (536329); in 100m, right past Waldegrave’s Farm on track for 1 mile to road (550323). Left; just beyond Rook End cottage garden, left (552323) across field. Cross ditch; left up field edge. In ½ mile, path turns left through hedge (553332) across field to road. Left to Debden church (551332). From west end, path to kissing gate and on (‘Harcamlow Way’/HC). In 150m, right by stables (549333) to cross road at Newport Lodge (550340). On past Howe Barn. At corner of wood (547343), left along grass strip to pass Brick House Farm (545341, arrows). At road, right over stile (545339), following HC. In 600m fork left off HC (540339, yellow arrow) on path through meadows. In 1 mile at field corner, fork right (525342) into trees. Cross footbridge (524343); under railway (522343) to Newport High Street. Left to station.
Lunch: Picnic from Dorringtons Bakery, 24 High Street, Newport CB11 3PQ
Accommodation: The Cricketers, Clavering, Saffron Walden CB11 4QT (01799-550442, thecricketers.co.uk)