In short: amazingly rural and remarkably slow walk! Largely our lack of speed was due to trying to navigate across fields without an obvious footpath but also to trying to photograph the fabulous wildlife that we saw. Proper boots required due to very rural nature of the walk – also Anthisan (or equivalent) would have helped with the enormous amount of nettles – dock leaves did take the edge off. Clean, smart toilets available in garden centre/cafe combo at the start and end of the walk. Delicious lunch here too. 3hrs walking + 40 mins pitstop.
A month or so ago I visited the exquisite little 1000 year old church at Lambourne in Essex and noticed a number of footpaths fanning out from there. Determined to return for a ‘Wednesday walk’ I researched published walks in the area and found one to fit the bill at www.essexwalks.com – the Abridge walk.
And so we set off for a lovely section of countryside located between the M25 and M11 – easily accessible from North London and unbelievably quiet given the proximity of these 2 motorways. We park in the car park of the Blue Rooms Cafe, Abridge, postcode RM4 1AA – sharing its location with the Abridge Garden Centre. This means we are starting the walk from point K (photo 14) on the published walk.
Having made use of the good on-site toilet facilities we set off through the car park to the lane on the left of the building, turning right to head towards the Laser Mayhem and Paintballing site.
Shortly after passing the Laser Mayhem entrance we walk through a set of light industrial units and continue straight on along a footpath ahead – just after a leylandii hedge.
The path takes us between fields to a small footbridge which we cross and turn right. Here we are so busy chatting and admiring the fabulous birdsong in the trees around us that we miss the instruction to take the path across the field. After retracing our steps we spot the way marker on a tree and pick a path across the cornfield – heading towards a couple of oak trees with a copse beyond.
At the copse we turn left in front of the trees and head south across another field to the corner of the woods (at this point I discover how handy the compass app on my phone is, as we are basically choosing which trodden down path through corn to take). At all points we find footpath signs at the start and end of our paths but these aren’t always obvious from the far side of each field.
We now turn right to take a path directly across the field to a gate out next to some houses – the Lambourne church spire clearly visible between the trees.
Passing through the metal gate we find ourselves on a lane and continuing straight on we soon find ourselves alongside the church.
After pausing to admire and photograph the church we continue along Church Lane – ogling the amazing properties in this gorgeous location too!
Just in front of a ‘Private Road’ sign on a fence we turn right onto a footpath through a small gate. Following the path downhill slightly with woods to our left we enjoy fabulous views over Roding valley to our right.
At the entrance to Soapley’s Wood on our left we enter and turn immediately right to follow the path downhill through the woods – all other directions are marked ‘Strictly Private’ so there is no mistaking where to go!!
At the end of this path we emerge through a gate into a field with a couple of (completely uninterested) horses in it. We head in the direction of the footpath arrow, diagonally across the field to an odd concrete and metal footbridge at the bottom.
We cross the bridge and find ourselves now in a field with a herd of goats – who eye us curiously but are far more interested in eating than approaching us at all.
Once again we walk blindly across a field – using the direction arrow on the initial sign – and the walk instructions which tell us we will exit onto New Farm Drive next to an imposing house. And this we do – as ever spotting the footpath sign as we get closer to the far side gate.
We turn right onto the road and follow it down to the main road at the bottom. Here we turn left onto Ongar Road to walk through Abridge village turning right just after a small block of flats onto Abridge Road and here crossing the River Roding.
Immediately after the bridge there is a footpath sign on our right and we drop down to the field level by crossing a stile. We are supposed to cross the field ahead of us diagonally but this is clearly completely impossible – there is absolutely no path whatsoever through the densely planted corn. And so we decide to take the more obvious path alongside the river and then curving left around the field edge to the bushes and trees on the far side.
The views here are just divine – waving green fields of wheat with glorious skies above. On top of this it is gloriously quiet – no real road noise – not even any noisy farm machinery.
Sticking to the field edge we eventually come to the promised stile which we climb over to enter the next field. The next path is more obvious – following as it does the field edge on our right and continuing straight to the next stile ahead. During this stretch of the walk though we are thoroughly distracted by the beautiful sight of a kestrel circling and swooping above us. Try as I might the best shot I get of him is this:
After crossing into our third field of this section we follow the direction of the footpath arrow and also the walk instructions to continue along the field edge towards Epping Lane at the top – however as we approach the edge of the field there is no apparent way out… We try the field to our right as there’s a bridge across the ditch and we think this might give us an exit, but this field has barbed wire running along the boundary with the road and we’re definitely not trying to get past that.
We return to our original field and take what we think is a path through the wheat but this doesn’t really get us anywhere. There’s a big puddle in the corner and we gingerly pick our way around it and scramble along beside the hedgerow boundary until we find a way through close to a lay-by. Pretty idiotic all in all – there’s clearly a footpath here so why not make it obvious how to exit the field – surely it can’t benefit the farmer to have walkers trudging around getting frustrated??
Anyway, finally we are on Epping Lane where we turn right until we come to a footpath sign on our left and here we start walking beside a ditch between two fields. We cross the ditch at the first opportunity and continue uphill with the ditch and hedgerow on our right.
The field edge bends right and shortly after we cross at a footbridge into the neighbouring field on our right. Turning left we continue with the hedgerow now on our left until we reach the corner of this field – here we pass through a wide gap in the hedge to pass into the next field – we should however have crossed a footbridge and are initially therefore confused – but it soon becomes apparent that the bridge is completely overgrown and we are in the right place.
From here we are supposed to walk diagonally across the field – according to both the footpath sign and the walk instructions – once again however, this is completely impossible. There are though wide paths along both edges of this field and we decide to walk ahead to the next boundary and then right uphill towards the farmhouse which is our next marker.
This sort of works – but on the rise at the far side of this field – when we think we are in line with the diagonal marker across the field – we come to a path off left through the next field (and a fallen down post with footpath arrows which is particularly unhelpful). We know we are supposed to head to the farm access road but after walking for about 5 minutes it becomes apparent that this path is swinging away from our intended destination.
So we retrace our steps to the gap in the hedge where we turn left to continue along the field edge, soon coming to the stile on our left out and onto the promised access road.
Here we turn right and follow this pretty lane to the end where there is a black gate out onto another lane; here we turn right again enjoying beautiful views and follow the lane back down to Epping Lane.
We turn left onto Epping Lane and walk along here for a good five minutes – taking care of the rather too fast cars passing close to us. Just opposite Hobbs Cross Road on our left we take a footpath right (having passed a couple of signs leading off right already) through a kissing gate and downhill through a meadow where we encounter a couple of lovely, mild-mannered and utterly uninterested horses.
The meadow narrows as we progress along and at the far end we cross a metal footbridge into a field. As pointed out by our directions we can indeed see the next metal footbridge diagonally in front of us across this field – but once again it’s impossible to take a direct path across – and so we stick to the field edge to reach it. This section really is very nettley and we are both stung several times – the bridges in particular are quite overgrown with nettles. However it is while looking around us enjoying the peaceful rural views that we spot a hare running away on the far side of the field.
Once across this second metal footbridge we turn right and follow the path beside the river.
Here we become absolutely obsessed with getting a good photo of one of the beautiful damselflies that swarm around us. I’m actually rubbish at this but fortunately Alison has more patience and takes this lovely shot:
This last section of the walk is as stunning as any of the other parts and we continue alongside the river till we reach our biggest footbridge yet – a concrete one across the Roding.
Here we cross and pick our way through the last lot of nettles to reach the main road, Ongar Road, where we cross with care to the nursery and Blue Rooms cafe on the far side.
Sitting out on the deck, we enjoy the views across the far side of the road – and in fact enjoy even more the delicious food on offer!
All in all this is a challenging walk – not for the distance or the terrain but purely in terms of navigating some of the confusing signage and missing paths across fields. We loved it though and will definitely be back to this area to explore further.