A late flight from Stansted, and half a day to kill – how better than to spend the previous night in the friendly Swan Inn at Great Easton, only a spit and a shout from the airport, and get out for a leg-stretch along the green lanes that thread the gently rolling landscape of this rural north-west corner of Essex? First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Great Easton is full of lovely old houses, half-timbered and whitewashed, with some fine pargetting plasterwork on the walls of the former Bell Inn – a beaky gryphon, a sun in splendour, a bell enfolded by its ropes. Broad fields of rape surround the village, and crossing them felt like walking in a Sergeant Pepper-style dream of intense, opiate yellow, all the more sense-scrambling for lying under a sky full of sharply defined but still grey clouds from which issued the occasional grumble and whine of a Stansted-bound jet.
Apple blossom frothed in pink and white along the path to Tilty Mill, a witchy ruin caught with its curly-spoked flywheels in a thicket of ivy. In the field beyond stood the crumbling walls of Tilty Abbey, the magnificent rose window and chequerboard flint flushwork of today’s parish church the only reminders of the former glories of the 12th-century Cistercian foundation. ‘Allelu-alleluia,’ sang the congregation at their Sunday morning devotions within, their harmony floating us past and away over the billowing cornfields.
Sleek horses were grazing the paddocks at Brookend stables. ‘There’s wartime USAF runways hidden under these crops,’ said a man over his garden gate. ‘You’ll find a window to those brave young men down in Little Easton church.’
That wasn’t the only memorial in the church. Beautiful medieval frescoes adorned the nave walls, and the south chapel was packed with magnificent monuments to Bourchiers and Maynards – ruffs and beards, armour and silks, faces lean or podgy, all lent authority and in some cases arrogance by their whiteness and immobility. Yet it was those young Americans, far from home, daily facing death, who filled my mind as we walked the fields under the growling airliners of the modern age.
START: Swan Inn, Great Easton, Essex CM6 2HG (OS ref TL 606255).
GETTING THERE: Bus service 313, Saffron Walden-Great Dunmow
Road – M11, Jct 8; A120 to Great Dunmow; B184 to Great Easton; left to church and Swan Inn.
WALK (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 195): From Swan Inn, left up village street, left beside The Bell (607255; fingerpost), over stile, on across fields (stiles, yellow arrows/YA). In ¼ mile, at footbridge (604258), don’t cross, but turn right along right bank of stream, aiming for Duton Hill ahead. At top of field, left across footbridge with metal rails (604265); across stile; half right to stile into road. Right for ¼ mile. Opposite the right turn into Duton Hill (602269, ‘Lindsell’), turn left across ditch (fingerpost). In 200 m path bears left; cross stream and keep ahead to Tilty Mill (600267). Left through gate opposite mill; cross field and pass Tilty Abbey (600265) to road.
Turn right; in 400 m, 2 adjacent footpaths go left; take the first (597264, black wooden fingerpost) and follow Harcamlow Way (marked on map but not on ground). In ½ mile, at bottom of 2nd shallow dip, follow track to right (595256); in 200 m, left (YA) to cross road (594253). Over stile (YA); down track and through gate. Right (YAs and white arrows/WA) down right side of paddock; through gate at bottom (YA, WA); up field edge to road (594250). Right; in ½ mile, on right bend, keep forward (589245; fingerpost, blue arrow/BA) along green lane. In 100 m fork left and continue between stream and paddock; on between paddock fences. At Brookend stables (587242), bear left past house. Left along drive (YA) for just over a mile to Little Easton church.
Left by church gates (604235; fingerpost), through gates of Little Easton Manor; along drive with manor on left and barn on right; through gates beyond and on down field. Cross between two ponds (606239); ahead up fence with garden on right. Bear right round top of garden (BA); follow track to road in Little Easton (608241) with Stag Inn to your right. Left; right at village sign down Butchers Pasture, through gate at end (YA); cross footbridge and bear half left across field. Cross footbridge (610245); go straight ahead (not left) for 50 m, then turn right over another footbridge and stile. Bear left along right bank of stream (YA). Cross a stile (610247, YA); fork left, aiming for church; follow stream. In 300 m, by metal rails on left, turn right (608248) up right bank of a ditch. In 100 m, left across ditch (YA); follow path up to Great Easton.
LUNCH: Swan Inn, Great Easton (01371-870359; swangreateaston.co.uk); Stag Inn, Little Easton (01371-870214)
ACCOMMODATION: Swan Inn, as above