Description & Map
This walk takes you through some of the prettiest parts of Essex, visiting the villages of Clavering, Arkesden, Wicken Bonhunt and Rickling. It's a circular route, with detours to four beautiful, ancient churches, most of which are open during the day. The paths are generally well signed and maintained, and the scenery is lovely: rolling hills, thatched cottages, ancient churchyards, open fields, hedgerows, and quiet lanes. This is a landscape at ease with itself. Little seems to have changed in the last 200 years except there are a few less hedges and some extra pylons. Wide farm tracks lead the eye over verdant meadows, the trees and hedges are full of blossom and birdsong, butterflies dance around the wild flowers at the field margins and larks sing their hearts out high above the fertile farmland.
There are two pubs and a Thai restaurant (maybe some things have changed over the years!) en route.
A. From the lay-by at the Clavering Christian Centre in Stortford Road, Clavering (P), head 100 yards north to the B1038 junction. Turn left on Pelham Road for the church detour or right to continue the circular walk.(1).
B. Walk along the roadside towards Newport for 200 yards. You will see white railings on the left as the road crosses the River Stort. Turn hard left past the railings. 70 yards later, turn right into Colehills Close and immediately bear left along an enclosed byway (2). The byway goes uphill initially, then across open countryside for half a mile, to Stickling Green.
C. At the roadside, turn left, passing a thatched cottage on your right. 120 yards later turn right over a stile into a field, and head north with a hedge on your left (3).
D. Continue around the field edge and over another stile. 200 yards after the stile, the hedge and ditch on the left stops, there is a gap, and then another hedge and ditch begins. Cross to the other side of the hedge and continue north, now with the hedge on your right (4).
E. Keep going roughly northwards. After about 400 yards keep straight on over a footpath crossroads. You will pass some chestnut trees on the right, marking the grounds of Wood Hall. The only visible sign of the hall is the electricity wires (5).
F. Continue northwards ignoring the turning on the right. As you approach Arkesden you can see St Mary's Church across the fields ahead of you. Keep going north until you reach the roadside by Parsonage Farm Cottage, and turn left for the church detour or right to continue the circular walk. (6).
G. From Parsonage Farm Cottage walk towards the Axe and Compasses with a low white fence on your left. Continue past the pub then 200 yards later, bear left over a weak bridge, along Wicken Road (7).
H. 75 yards later, turn left uphill along a small lane, marked with a No Through Road sign and fingerpost. Go past Hill Farm and Christiana when the lane becomes a grassy path. Follow the path eastwards up into the fields. 400 yards later, bear left with a fence on your right (8) and 250 yards after that, bear right by a waymarker, with a hedge on your left (9).
I. Continue along this path, passing through a small copse at one point. There are lovely views across the fields all along this stretch. After about half a mile you will pass under some electricity cables and 200 yards later, you will reach a T-junction with the M11 visible in the distance to your left. Turn right, away from the motorway (10). The fields on the left are owned by the Quendon Estate.
J. Head south with a hedge on your right for half a mile; then continue southwards along the track with a hedge now on your left, towards an open barn (11).
K. After the barn continue ahead into Wicken Bonhunt along a sunken track sloping downhill (12). You can see St Margaret's Church on your right. At the roadside, turn right, and turn hard right to go behind an old pub for the church detour, or go down towards the pub restaurant to continue the circular walk. (13).
L. Take the bridleway opposite the old Coach and Horses, now the Ananta Thai Restaurant, heading south up a gravelly then grassy track to the right of 'Greenacre'. After a quarter of a mile, turn right with a hedge on your right (14).
M. At the facing hedge turn left then go through a field entrance to continue ahead, now with the hedge on your left (15).
N. Continue beside the hedge for a quarter of a mile, then carry on southwards along a gravelly track through open fields, for another half a mile (16). Go straight on to the roadside, passing some tall trees on your left.
O. Turn right at Church End Farm, past the farmhouse (17). 250 yards later, turn right into All Saints Churchyard, Rickling (18). Go in through the porch for the church detour or stay on the path to continue the circular walk.
P. Go past the church tower towards the north west corner of the churchyard, climb over a stile and continue to the facing fence, then turn left over a second stile and head westwards towards Rickling Road with a hedge on your left. At the roadside, turn right.
Q. 200 yards later, turn left into a field and walk northwest towards the red-tiled roof of Orchard Farm (19) and cross a 3-plank bridge into some scrubland.
R. Getting through the scrubland is a bit of a trial, there are some saplings and brambles in the way and the path is not clear. But it's only 100 yards. Exit the scrubby area over another 3-planker (20).
S. Walk ahead with a hedge on your right for 110 yards ignoring the gap on the right half way along which leads towards Orchard Farm. At the footpath sign, turn right through a large field entrance to walk north for 150 yards with a hedge on your right (21).
T. At the facing hedge, near the farm greenhouses, turn left to walk westwards with a hedge on your right. Go through the facing hedge, past a trigonometrical point, into an open field. Continue straight ahead, passing about 60 yards to the north of a pylon (22).
U. About 200 yards past the pylon you will reach a field boundary. Ignore the clear path downhill to the right, and instead, bear very slightly left to cross the open field ahead, heading almost due west. The farmer clears a path but if it's not visible, use the single poplar tree in the middle distance to orientate yourself (23).
V. Continue ahead across another field towards a small copse and walk down the hill passing some trees on your right. Cross the Fox and Hounds car park to the roadside. Turn left and walk back along the roadside to the parking.
Village greens are common land where anyone had the right to graze their livestock, and now in the 21st century greens are an historical archetype for the traditional village with its church, and pub and stocks. If greens are a sign of tradition then Clavering is very traditional with no less than 7 greens: Roast Green, Sheepcote Green, Deer's Green, Starling's Green, Bird Green, Stickling Green, and Hill Green. These greens are signs of dispersed settlements that were established in the high medieval period (11th - 14th century) along the lanes outside the nucleus of the village, centred around the church, manor and castle. Archaeological evidence suggests these dispersed settlements contracted after the 14th century, probably due to the Black Death, but began to thrive once again from the 16th century onwards.
After the Norman invasion, the lands of the Saxon province of "East Seaxe", were taken from the 90-odd Saxon owners and presided over by Norman barons who built castles for defensive purposes and as a means of subduing any locals who might contest their post-invasion hegemony. There were twelve castles built in Essex - Colchester, Hadleigh, Languard and Tilbury Forts were built for national security while the remaining eight were castellated mansions. Clavering was one such manorial fortified base owned by Swein, one of the wealthiest landowners in post-Conquest Essex, who also built Rayleigh Castle. Clavering Castle consisted of ringworks with timber palisades, with a diverted channel from the River Stort to supply the moat and network of channels and ponds: probably on the site of a former Saxon fortification. Alll that remains now are earthworks from the motte & bailey design. In the Domesday Book, 17 households are listed in Clavering or "Clavelinga" and was sufficiently large to be the titular name of the Hundred which included Manuden and Ugley. It was distinct from the Uttlesford Hundred, which included the other 3 villages on this walk.
This fine large Perpendicular church is built of flint rubble and is entirly embattled, with a west tower that has angle buttresses. The roofs are original with low pitched cambered tie-beams, and have interesting head corbels as well as carved wooden angels below the rafters. The chancel screen of c.1450 has beautifully crafted tracery, and has remains of paintings on the dado panels (Anthony with pig, Lawrence with gridiron, and Agnes with lamb).
In a recessed arch in the north wall, a knight's effigy in Purbeck marble can be seen. This is from an earlier church on the site, and is dated c.1250 AD, possibly representing one of the 13th century Lords of Clavering.
Consisting of the two separate manors of Wicken and Bonhunt: 'Wica' and 'Banhunta' as they are referred to in the Domesday Book. Wicken was situated to the west of Bonhunt where we now find the centre of the village of Wicken Bonhunt around St. Margaret's church. Bonhunt was an important middle-Saxon settlement, and is thought to have been extended into a new burh or fortified town, by Edward the Elder in his English campaign against the Dames in AD 917. That settlement grew and became a separate town known as Newport. Bonhunt was a large deliberately planned rectilinear settlement created in the 8th century on the site of a former settlement, and became the successor to the post-Roman administrative centre of Great Chesterford which is 6 miles to the north. Archaeological discoveries of imported Ipswich and Frankish pottery at Bonhunt suggest that it was a high-status settlement in the early and mid-Saxon periods, probably based around a sacred site. An later exodus to the more successful trading centre of Newport saw a decline in its population. The Chapel of St Helen in Bonhunt is one of the oldest buildings in Essex, a small flint built structure with thatched roof, built in the 10th century.
St Margaret's dates from the 12th century, and like St Mary's at Arkesden originally had a round tower: often a sign of the use of the building for defence as much as worship. The tower, nave, chancel arch and porch were rebuilt in 1858 by the wealthy rector and amateur architect John Sperling, according to the best Victorian ecclesiological principles which, unsurprisingly, has resulted in a lifeless and gloomy church. A spire was provided for the new tower but this fell apart and was replaced with a pyramid tiled roof in 1936. Look out for the sundials carved into the corner stones where the east and south walls meet.
Arkesden is the classic "picture-postcard" kind of English village with thatched cottages, stream, village green, church and 18th century pub. St Mary's church is sited dramatically on a rise over the village green framed by mature trees and the open sky. Below, historic buildings cluster about the small triangular green or sit on the banks of Wicken Water. The area is rich in history - to the west near Steven's Lane, a hoard of prehistoric swords, daggers, spearheads and bronze ingots were found. With the timeless quality of such beautiful villages, it is sometimes tempting to think nostalgically that they were always thus. But throughout the centuries, life was hard. War, crop failure, animal disease such as sheep rot and cattle plague took their toll. Bubonic plague decimated many villages in 1348, which resulted in the vacant small-holdings being merged, so that the rights over land were in fewer hands.
By the 19th century, the idealised agrarian life depicted in the Romantic and Victorian narrative paintings had little to do with the reality experienced by the dwindling number of farm labourers. The biggest change in Arkesden was in 1819 when the land was enclosed. The medieval practice of farming scattered strips of land was brought to an end. Scattered holdings, along with much common-land, were enclosed so that landowners had a block of land in one place. Many smaller landowners were dispossessed. Those that found themselves landless and starving faced either the dreaded workhouse, or tried to find work in newly industrialised towns and cities, or abroad. Back in the village it no longer made sense for farmers' houses to be gathered together. When the village had held a central location amidst many scattered strips of land it had been a convenient place to live. Now farmers moved into new buildings on their enclosed farms. The village houses were left to the landless labourers. The agricultural depression of the early twentieth century only exacerbated the general decline in population as more and more villagers moved away from the land. In common with many other rural settlements, Arkesden has seen a steady erosion of local facilities over the years. The National School was closed in 1949 and was subsequently demolished. The 16th century Green Man Inn has been converted to a private house and the village no longer has any shops, the last one - the Post Office and local crafts shop - having closed in 2004. Today only the Axe and Compasses still trades, but who knows for how long?
The chancel and the nave of St Mary's were built in the 13th century, while the existing tower is modern (1855) and is the third one built. The first tower was circular, but this was replaced by a square tower in the 14th century. Inside, the north wall of the chancel has a recumbent statue of the priest John Crosby who was vicar here in the mid-15th century. More spectacular is the elaborate C15 six-poster canopied tomb of Richard Cutte (d 1592) and his wife Mary in the south aisle. Above the brightly painted figures the canopy has the inscription:
As ye nowe are, fo once were we
As we nowe are, so fhall ye be
When ye remember us, forget not your felues
The Domesday Book listing of 'Richelinga' refers to the followers of Ricola, Queen of Essex in the late 6th Century. In Norman times, Rickling was a thriving village in the Uttlesford Hundred and much larger than the other three villages on this walk and was originally based around its church. Plague or fire seems to have driven the population to move closer to its near neighbour, Quendon, a mile and a half away around Rickling Green. Rickling Hall, a Grade II* listed farmhouse built 1490-1500, stands on the site of a former castle and includes a moated castle mound to the south of the present building.
All Saints Church at Rickling is a 13th-century flint church, although the nave's unusual proportions may indicate an earlier plan. The chancel, south aisle and west tower were built in 1340. The earliest part of the church is the 13th century lancet window in the west wall which existed before the tower was added The fine tracery of the wooden screen is an excellent example of 14th century craftsmanship, and the 15th century pulpit is equally unspoilt.
TP2204 - Clavering
Grid reference: TL 48979 32037
Flush Bracket: S4364
OSGB36 Station: TL74/T21
Trigpoints are the common name for triangulation pillars. These are concrete pillars, about 4 feet tall, which were used by the Ordnance Survey in order to determine the exact shape of the country. They are generally located on the highest bit of ground in the area, so that there is a direct line of sight from one to the next. By sitting a theodolite on the top of the pillar, accurate angles between pairs of nearby trigpoints could be measured. This process is called 'triangulation'.A major project to map out the shape of Great Britain began in 1936. The network of triangulation pillars, with accurately known positions, led to the excellent OS maps which we enjoy today. You will see trig points at waymarks 10 and 22 on this walk.