Description & Map
Right from the off, from the car park in the grounds of a Norman Castle, it's clear this walk is a little bit special. The Motte is still there and can be climbed giving clear views across the historic town of Clare and over the surrounding countryside. The walk takes you along the banks of the River Stour then up through the hills of north Essex to the lovely village of Belchamp St Paul, with its stunning 16th century thatched pub overlooking the village green. A gentle stroll through farmland brings you to the 15th century parish church of St Andrews.
A. Leave Clare Castle Country Park car park (P) via an old railway bridge over the River Stour, in the south west corner. At the far end of the bridge, turn hard left immediately along a narrow path through trees towards the south bank of the river (1).
B. Follow the towpath (2) with the river on your left for around a quarter of a mile, to the weir at Clare Mill Gates. Continue ahead to the old mill building, then fork right across the meadow towards a footbridge (3).
C. Cross the footbridge and continue ahead over a field to the roadside. Turn left for 180 yards. Turn right into Claredown Farm, and 60 yards later, go through a gap in the hedge on your left (4). Immediately turn right to walk southwards up the slope, with the hedge and farm on your right. Follow the field-edge path with the hedge on your right: there is no right of way through the farm.
D. After about 500 yards the field begins to level out and the hedge stops. Continue ahead to the next hedge and cross a footbridge a few yards to your left (5). Continue southwards, again with a hedge on your right.
E. After about 300 yards, on the opposite side of the field you will see a waymarker near the corner of some woods. Don't go straight across the field towards this: continue ahead for a further 40 yards or so to another waymarker on your side of the field and zag back to the woodland post (6).
F. Turn right and walk south for 50 yards with the woods on your left. Bear left across a field boundary then continue south with a ditch and trees on your right (7).
G. After 250 yards the ditch on the right stops and the field opens out. Continue ahead across the field passing slightly to the left of a pylon. About 100 yards before the facing hedge, the footpath splits into a Y-shape with arms heading to the south east and south west corners of the field. There's no waymarker, however the farmer does clear a path through his crops (8).
H. Take the left fork heading south east. As you approach the corner you will see a small scrub area on your right: cross this diagonally and go through a gap into the adjacent normal-sized field (9).
I. Bear right, then with the hedge on your right walk southwards for 500 yards to the roadside and turn left. 180 yards later, just before the Belchamp St Paul sign, turn right along a grassy bridleway with a hedge on either side (10).
J. Once the hedge on your left ends, continue ahead for about 200 yards. Look for a footpath crossroads. Again, there is no waymarker at the junction although the farmer does clear a path through the crops. (If the way is not obvious, look for a pylon off to your right in the adjacent field: the footpath junction is about 50 yards south of this.)
K. Turn left (east) towards an inverted field corner and cross the footbridge (11). Continue eastwards for 250 yards and go through a kissing gate (12), then bear right towards a wooden gate leading to the roadside.
L. At the roadside, turn left and walk along the wide grass verge towards Belchamp St Paul village green (13) 300 yards later you will reach the village green, the Half Moon is opposite.
M. Bear left opposite the pub, across the village green then along Bakers Road heading northwest for about 120 yards. Look for a footpath on the right heading north, opposite a long low building (14).
N. 100 yards after leaving Bakers Road, cross an easy-to-miss footbridge through the hedge on your right. Turn left to continue northwards with the hedge now on your left. When the hedge stops, turn right to cross the field (15).
O. Go through a gap in the facing hedge and turn left along an enclosed path through trees (16).
P. When the trees stop, continue ahead northwards with a hedge on your left (you can see the tower of St Andrew's Church across the fields to your right), cross a footbridge in the facing hedge, and keep going north to a T-junction (17).
Q. Turn right heading east for almost 400 yards, until you reach a wide field entrance. Turn left through this gap and walk north with a hedge on your right (18).
R. After 160 yards, turn right along a wide grassy path towards some silos, then continue east along a gravel track to the roadside. Turn left along the road then a few yards later, turn left again into St Andrew's churchyard (19).
S. Leave the churchyard via a stile in the north west corner (diagonally opposite the entrance) (20).
T. Turn immediately left alongside a wall. After a few yards bear right to cross diagonally towards the north west corner of the meadow. Look for a ridiculously large stile a few yards along an enclosed path and clamber over it (21).
U. A few yards later, turn left over a footbridge into a field. Turn right to walk down the field initially with a hedge on your right and then bear very slightly left to cross the field towards an inverted corner (22).
V. At the inverted corner, continue ahead now with a hedge on your left. Cross the footbridge onto a lane and turn left. 120 yards later locate a camouflaged footpath through the hedge on your right (23).
W. Walk north with a hedge on your left for about 250 yards until you reach a farm track. Turn left along the gravel track (24) following it as it curves to the right and passes a house (Simpson's), then continue ahead along a grassy track, and over a rather awkward stile.
X. Continue ahead along an enclosed track. Follow the track downhill for almost half a mile. When the land levels out you will come to a space where the hedge on either side ends and you have reached junction of field entrances, with wide openings ahead and to the left and right. Turn left to walk west, with a hedge on your right (25).
Y. Continue west keeping the hedge on your right for about half a mile, until the hedge stops. Follow the track around to the right and walk downhill to a stony track. Turn left and walk south west back along the track (26) for about a third of a mile, to the roadside. Turn right, passing the entrance to Claredown Farm, and re-trace your steps back to the car park.
Clare Castle, built shortly after the Norman Conquest on the site of a pre-existing manor house, consisted of a motte and two baileys. The total area enclosed was about 30 acres. External defences consisted of palisades and deep ditches, later reinforced by a keep with walls 6 feet thick, and by adding walls up to 30 feet high onto the earth banks. The motte itself is 850 feet wide and 100 feet tall, with a flat summit 63 feet across. The castle was the home of the 'de Clare' family, who for 200 years were a powerful political force in England. In 1153 Roger de Clare was a signatory to the Treaty of Wallingford, effectively ending the long civil war known as 'The Anarchy'. Later, in 1215 Richard de Clare played a leading part in the negotiations for the Magna Carta and then, when King John refused to abide by the terms of the charter he had signed, fought against the crown in the first Baron's Wars of 1215 – 1217. In 1314 Gilbert de Clare fought and died at the Battle of Bannockburn and the castle passed to his sister Elizabeth, who despite being married and widowed three times by the age of 27, died without issue. After her death in 1360 the castle passed to the Mortimer family and then to the Crown.
By the 16th century the castle was in ruins except for one tower which was being used as a prison. In 1867 the Cambridge and Colchester branch line of the Great Eastern Railway was built through the castle, cutting across and largely destroying the inner bailey in order to make room for a new station. The railway line was closed in 1967 and the disused station and goods yards were incorporated into Clare Castle Country Park in 1972.
Belchamp St Paul was founded in Saxon times or earlier, pre-dating the Domesday book by at least 150 years. The suffix St Paul was added in 930 AD when King Athelstan (arguably the first king of England) granted the manor to St Pauls Cathedral. In the middle ages the main industry apart from agriculture was the spinning of wool. By the 17th and 18th centuries the wool trade was no longer dominant and instead, women and children from the village used to flatten and plait straw destined for Luton (almost 50 miles away) which had a flourishing straw hat industry.
By the 19th century the village seems to have been thriving since it supported a forge, shoemaker, coffin maker and wheelwright, three bakers, two grocers' shops, a separate post office, and four public houses. All that is left in 2014 are two very nice pubs - the Half Moon and the Cherry Tree.
Built on the site of a Norman church, St Andrews was completed in 1490. It is Grade I listed. Inside, the 15th century octagonal font has a carving of the 'Green Man'. The chancel has two choir stalls of 15th or 16th century origin. These are decorated with four carved figures, a knight and a monk on the south side and a king and an apostle on the north.
The king and monk are believed to be by Thomas Loveday, Master Carpenter (1503 - 1536: he worked on other churches in the area but is most renowned for his extensive work on St Johns' College, Cambridge and the rood screen and pews of the Old Chapel at St John's). The knight and apostle are probably 17th century replacements. The church also contains carved misericords dating from the 15th or 16th century.