On one of those peerless late summer afternoons we left our table by the stream in the garden of the Queen’s Head at Fyfield, full of potted shrimps. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Hath Essex anything to show more fair? White clouds rolled evenly across the gently swelling countryside of bean fields and pastures where small black cattle grazed intently. The path ran above ditches full of fluffy pink hemp agrimony, where comma butterflies displayed their tiger-striped wings with deeply scalloped edges. Lampett’s Farm lay backed in among its trees with red tiled roof, tall chimneys and whitewashed walls, a rural picture of perfection. The barley fields rustled in a rising wind, and pigeons scooted like Spitfires at unaccustomed speed before it.
In a tunnel of trees we found the Three Forests Way, an old green lane running broad and direct through the cornfields, past the weatherboarded barns at Green’s Farm and on by ploughlands where starlings and seagulls rose in their segregated flocks and wheeled, brightly lit by the sun against slate-grey rainclouds that were quickly running up on us from the west.
We hustled on into the shelter of Butthatch Wood and the path to St Botolph’s, the church in the fields. Branches weighed down with wild plums and bullace hung by the way, and we pulled handfuls of the sharp and succulent little fruits, yellow, scarlet and purple.
St Botolph’s stands solitary in the fields, sole marker of the original site of Beauchamp Roding village. How strange it is to find a large flint-built parish church, solid and stately, footed in the beanfields all alone. Inside, the massive old rood beam still spans the chancel arch, resting on two corbels with carved figures – one an angel with widespread wings, the other a jolly, if demonic, porcine lion (or leonine pig) with a squashed-in snout, some medieval mason’s bit of fun.
We moved on through cornfields edged with mauve drifts of mallows. In the hedges, blackberries hung intertwined with wild hops whose leaves and buds were sticky to the touch, pungent in the nostrils. At Shellow we passed fishing lakes where a young boy was in the act of landing a carp, his upper body strained tensely backward in counterbalance to the bow of his rod as the big fish flapped and splashed just out of reach of the landing net.
A last stretch beside the snaking River Roding, half choked with spikes of purple loosestrife, and a glimpse of a children’s tea party laid on a blue and white check cloth under a tree at Miller’s Green.
Start: Queen’s Head PH, Fyfield, Essex CM5 0RY (OS ref TL 570069)
Getting there: Bus 46 and 146 (Chipping Ongar – Fyfield) – harlowride.co.uk
Road: M11 Jct 27, A414 to Chipping Ongar, B184 to Fyfield.
WALK (7½ miles, easy, Explorer 183)
From Queen’s Head, right along B184 (‘Dunmow’). In 30 m, left (fingerpost/FP), diagonally left across field; left through hedge gap (569072; green arrow ‘Epping Forest Countrycare’/EFC). Keep hedge on right for 4 fields (stile, yellow arrow/YA) to reach a cross path by stile. Right (565072; EFC); then bear left through jungly bit to meet gravel byway (565075; ‘Three Forest Way’ on map, unmarked on ground). Left (red arrow), following byway for ¾ mile past Malting Farm and Green’s Farm to road at Claydon’s Green (566086). Dogleg left and right across road and on (FP) along hedge. Through next hedge gap; left, with hedge on left, aiming for right side of Butthatch Wood. In 150 m ignore YA pointing right; in another 50 m, right (567090, YA) to wood (569093); follow its nearer edge (YAs). At top end of wood, left (YA); in 50 m, right (570096) across 2 fields. Halfway across 2nd one, 100 m before barn, turn right (570100) on path; through hedge and on (YA) to B184 (574099). Left for 200 m; opposite end of road (‘Woodend’), turn right (576100, ‘St Botolph’s Church’) down stony lane to church (578097).
Return up lane. 150 m from church, right (578099; YA) towards pink house. At road, right (581099); in 50 m, left (FP) and follow field edge with hedge on left. In 500 m, at field end with footbridge on left, bear right (587098) across field, then on with hedge on left, aiming for 5 tall poplars in far hedge, with house on their right. Aim left of poplars, ignoring kissing gate on left, to YA post in far corner (589092). Pass it, and turn right along lake; through car park, past ‘Birds Green Fishery’ notice; follow drive to road (589089). Left to cross Shellow Bridge; immediately right (FP) along field edge with River Roding on right. Along right edge of copse (588088; YA); bear half left and follow posts and YAs for ⅔ mile across fields to road at Miller’s Green (589078).
Right for 200 m; at sharp right bend, ahead down drive (588077; FP). Keep right of house, with hedge between you and it, across grass, past YA and on. Bear round right side of field (Essex Way/EW); in 50 m, right across bridge (588075). Cross field to post; left to road (EW, YA). Left, round sharp left bend; right (586071, EW) across fields for 700 m to road (580068). Left for 50 m; right (FP), keeping left of house and following grassy path. In ¼ mile, dogleg right and then left (576070) through hedge (YAs). Pass some weatherboarded houses; cross EFC path (green arrow) and continue across River Roding (573070). On far side, 2 YAs; follow left-hand one, with hedge soon on your right. At road (571071), left to pub.
LUNCH: Queen’s Head, Fyfield (01277-899231; thequeensheadfyfield.co.uk) – deservedly popular village watering hole