Wind and rain were set to bear down on the low-lying Essex countryside this morning. We clapped on all sail and scudded away out of Great Bardfield, stopping only to admire the handsome red façade of Brick House.First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Here in the early 1930s the artist Eric Ravilious came to live and paint the village and the subtly undulating farming country in which it lies. Anyone who walks these fields will recognise the modesty and honesty of Ravilious’s local landscapes, the way a fence or a row of posts draws the eye to the curves and lines of the land. Like the Impressionists, this lively and life-loving man found his inspiration in quiet countryside.
The warm red brick and half-timbered houses of Great Bardfield, the outlying farms and fields and stream dips, give an impression of timelessness. We followed a bridlepath east through broad Essex fields. At Great Lodge stood a square-sided, slit-windowed brick barn, built in the 1540s for Anne of Cleeves as part of her divorce kiss-off from King Henry VIII. Here Ravilious painted a Frisian bull, head lowered, chained by the nose in a memorable attitude of animal strength in human bondage.
In the margins of the beetfields big white swallow-tailed scarecrow kites jerked in the wind like shimmying ghosts. An intense sun turned distant trees into burning bushes of gold against a wall of slate-coloured storm cloud driving down from the north. The squall drove us to hide in a prickly hedge, then into the stable barn at Hunt’s Farm where we waited it out in the company of three politely inquisitive horses.
A red fox with a black-tipped tail went cantering off across the paddocks as we emerged. Beyond the farm the rest of the party, soaked through and chilled, set back to Great Bardfield. But I hadn’t yet had my fill of Ravilious country, and took to a skein of lanes hardly wide enough to admit a car. Between the dapple of brilliant sun shafts flickering through the hazels and the gleam of puddles it was hard to see my way.
The homeward path lay across meadows and under hissing poplars, below the white sails of Gibraltar Mill on its ridge and past the gently thundering sluice of Great Bardfield’s watermill, a coda to this walk through the countryside that so enchanted Eric Ravilious. The artist died on active service with the RAF in 1942, and his muted and intimate landscapes have subsequently gained a fame they never achieved in his short lifetime.
Start: Vine PH, Vine Street, Great Bardfield, Essex, CM7 4SR (OS ref TL675305)
Travel: Bus: Service 9, 10 (firstgroup.com) from Braintree.
Road: Great Bardfield is on B1057, between Finchingfield (B1053) and Great Dunmow (A120)
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 195): Take road signed ‘Braintree’. Opposite church, left along Bendlowes Road (678303, ‘playing field’); immediately right (‘Bridleway’) on path among trees. Follow this (blue arrows/BA) for 1¼ miles (keeping ahead where track bends left for Bluegate Hill at 683299) to pass Great Lodge (695291). Continue to Park Hall. Don’t fork right through farmyard, but keep ahead (701287) with cottage on right. In 250m track forks right, but keep ahead past BA on electricity pole. At end of field (706287), left up hedge. In 200m, right through hedge (705289, BA); on to Hunt’s Farm. Right down drive to road (708289); left for 400m; at triangular junction, right (710292); in 400m, fork left (714293, ‘Redfants Manor Farm’). Follow lane past farm (714296); follow yellow arrows/YA past pig field on left. At end of field (711301), right for 30m; left through hedge and over wire (YA). Keep ahead (same direction) across field, then along its edge (709302) with plantation on right. Aim left of line of poplars and row of stables, and cross field to foot of lane at Ashwell Hall gates (707302). Cross lane and keep ahead along muddy track (YA). In 300m, fork left (705303), walking round edge of field on your left to reach road (703300) and turn right..
In 200m at junction (701302), Great Bardwell is signed to left, but keep ahead (‘Wethersfield’). In 600m, left at T-junction (698306; ‘Walthams Cross’); in 400m, by Chiefs Farm (695306), right past Whinbush Farm. In 350m, left over stile (694309, fingerpost, YA). Dogleg right and left round field edge; into next field (YA); across it, through hedge by stream (690309, YA); across next field and footbridge (689310, YA) into big field. Half right across field for 150m; at bushy reservoir tank (688311), bear more left (due east), aiming for electricity pole in a corner of the field. Just before you reach it, pass a YA in a hedge gap (686311). Ahead with hedge on left; across 2 fields, following electricity poles, to enter woodland strip by waterworks (682311; YA). On along next field edge (YA). At The Watermill, left at house (680311); in 50m, right past sheds and along green lane. In 500m, right across footbridge (676309, YA) to road; left into Great Bardfield.
Lunch: The Vine PH, Great Bardfield (01371-811822; thevine-greatbardfield.com)
Accommodation: Bucks House, Great Bardfield CM7 4SR (01371-810519; buckshousebandb.co.uk) – art-filled and comfortable
Great Dunmow TIC: 01371-872406/876599; visitessex.com