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Essex Walks: Layer de la Haye

  1. Description
  2. Directions
  3. Photos
  4. History

Description & Map

Title: Layer de la Haye
Distance: 7 miles
Time taken: 3 hours
Location: 2½ miles south west of Colchester town centre
OS Explorer Map: 184
Grid Ref.: TL 967 229
Parking: Gosbecks Archaeological Park, off the B1022,CO2 0HR CO3 4RN
Bus:bus Frequent 75 bus service from Colchester town centre
Train: No train service
Refreshment: Layer de la Haye: Donkey & Buskins 01206 734 774
Colchester Shrub End: Leather Bottle, 01206 766018
PEAR Rating: PEAR Rating Parking: 3/3 Easiness: 1/3 Amenity: 3/3 Refreshments: 3/3

[Click image to enlarge]

OS map extract 
[Click image to enlarge]

Download and print all 3 for your walk: 1. pdf Download Directions PDF
2. pdf Download PDF photo-set
3. pdf Download Layer de la Haye Map PDF
View online on 3 different interactive maps: Link to full screen OS map Layer de la Haye Map (Ordnance Survey)
Link to full screen Google map Layer de la Haye Map (Google)
Bing map Layer de la Haye Map (Bing OS 1:25k)
Additional information: gpx GPX track
Elevation View Elevation Profile
Display local weather Layer de la Haye Weather

Walk Description  

This is an wonderfully varied walk, packed with scenic and aural diversity. The flat high grasslands of Gosbecks Archaeological Park at the start are wide open and full of the sweet song of larks. Later, passing close to Colchester zoo, there are gently rolling fields and if the wind is in the right direction, the sound of trumpeting elephants, screeching monkeys and funky gibbons. The ruined church is quiet and still, the Roman River gurgles and splashes along. Some areas of woodland are enriched by the sound of birdsong and squirrels rustling through the leaves; others are uncannily still with just an eerie creaking noise to fill your ears. Take care in Chest Wood, it's easy to get lost (although the photos will help guide you through) and as a result the walk has a lower Ease rating than the terrain and footing would warrant.

To make the walk a little shorter you can continue ahead at point G and re-join the route at point L, with the large barn on your right and Hill Farm house ahead. This reduces the length by about ¾ mile.


pdf Download Description & Directions PDF here

A. Exit the car park of Gosbecks Archaeological Park(P) to the right of the information board, heading south. After 280 yards you will see a hedge on the right and a pair of trees on the left: go up a slight rise and turn right to pass behind the hedge (1).
B. Walk around the meadow along a track, with the hedge on your right and the lark song in your ears, for 500 yards. Although the track continues ahead, the official footpath turns right here. Follow the hedge (keeping the bushes on your right) before looping round to the left and back up to rejoin the track (2).
C. Once you are back on the track, turn right and walk southwards for a further 500 yards, with a wooded area ('Oliver's Thicks') on your right, to a T-junction. You will see a strange structure consisting of 4 vertical posts and a crosspiece to your left. Turn right to walk downhill along a sunken lane (3).
D. After a few yards the lane begins to go uphill. Near the crest of the hill there is a footpath junction: you can see the ruins of a church ahead of you, and to the left, the roofs of the animal enclosures of Colchester zoo. If the wind is in the right direction, you can hear the animals! Turn hard left, to dogleg back along a cart track across the fields towards the woods (4).
E. As you approach the woods, go over a footbridge then fork left along a bridleway into the trees (5). 100 yards later, bear right along the main path.
F. Continue for another 175 yards then follow the path around a sharp left turn then downhill. A few yards before the bottom of the hill look for an easy-to-miss exit through the hedge on your right before the next footbridge (6).

G. If you wish to take the shorter route, don't turn right here, instead continue ahead crossing the footbridge and walking along the bridleway to Hill Farm. Re-join these instructions at point L, with the large barn on your right and the farmhouse and boat ahead.

H. Go through the hedge and continue ahead heading south west across a meadow with the woods on your left. This area gets very boggy from time to time, so don't walk too close to the bottom. But in early summer, when the buttercups are out, it's beautiful.
I. As you approach the trees and a small brook at the far end of the meadow, the path swings round to the right and goes into a thicket. The entrance is hard to see until you are close, but you do not need to cross the brook. (7).
J. Follow the path as it meanders up the slope to a wide grassy sward and after the stile turn left to walk south over the grass (8). Continue for about 320 yards, passing a cottage (Keepers Cottage) and then walking along a stony track to the roadside. Turn left along Birch Road towards a gatekeepers' cottage (9).
K. Walk along Birch Road past the cottage. Hidden in the trees on your right is the beautiful but derelict St Mary's Church. It is on private land, but there is a path to it from the access road to Birch Hall.
L. Continue along Birch Road past the reservoir, then turn left immediately along a meandering private road (10). After a third of a mile you will reach Hill Farm.
M. Go around a large barn on your left, then turn right. Walk along Leas Lane with the farmhouse (and boat) on your left (11).
N. 400 yards after the boat, you will come to a T-junction with a metal post indicating you are on a cycle route. Bear left at this junction and head northwards beside Chest Wood (12). Stay on the track (at this point, the woods are private) as it descends through the woods for just over a third of a mile.
O. At the bottom of the hill is Roman River. Look for the entrance into the Roman River Valley Nature Reserve on your right, and follow the (somewhat overgrown in summer) path roughly eastwards through the trees (13).
P. After about 170 yards cross a 2-planker, pass through a small clearing, then look out for a large footbridge on your left and a bench to the right of the path. At this point, turn right and with your back to the footbridge, walk up the hillside to the right of the bench, along a muddy track (14).
Q. 80 yards later bear left alongside a barbed wire fence on your right, then bear right to follow the fence line up the slope. Where the terrain flattens out, look out for a path off to the left past a distinctive twin-trunked tree, towards some pine trees (15).
R. Walk east south east through the pine tree avenue, for 125 yards. Where the pine trees stop and you regain broadleaf cover, there is a wide track going up to the right and down to the left. Ignore this. Instead, proceed ahead east-south-east on level ground. We took a route passing between two holly trees (16).
S. After 50 yards or so, you should reach a steep slope. Go down towards a path alongside a stream. Turn right along the path and a few yards later, cross the stream on a narrow footbridge and turn right (17). This takes you into Charity Woods, so called because of an ancient bequest: forty faggots of firewood were supplied from these woods annually to each of five widows in St. Mary Magdalene's almshouses in Colchester. Each faggot was worth about fourpence.
T. Follow the path up a slope for 150 yards, to a gate with a 'Wildside Walk' logo attached. Bear right onto an unmade road with houses and hedges on either side, and walk along the rough track for 60 yards to a Y-junction. The house at the corner on your right is called 'Woodview'. Turn left to walk along the mettalled road (New Cut) (18) to meet the High Road at a T-junction.
U. Turn left and walk down the High Road for a quarter of a mile to the Donkey and Buskins. Continue ahead for a further 250 yards to cross the road bridge over Roman River, then look for an entrance back into the Nature Reserve, 70 yards later on the left (19).
V. Go into the reserve and walk ahead for about 30 yards then turn left over a boardwalk. Follow the path around to the right, with the river on your left (20). This path meanders through the woods for about a third of a mile, then through a meadow. Access is only permitted along the riverbank, not out into the field.
W. 300 yards after leaving the woods you will see a footbridge on your left - the same footbridge as in point P above. Do not cross it, instead bear right to walk north west along a grassy track beside the trees (21).
X. 100 yards later pass through a wooden gate into an avenue heading north (22), then through another wooden gate 200 yards later. Continue ahead, passing a hexagonal black barn on your left.
Y. When you reach a stile with a surfeit of waymarkers attached (23), climb over and turn right along the gravel track (Oliver's Lane). Go past a black weather-boarded house, and keep going until you pass a wide field entrance on the left. 100 yards later turn left along a bridleway, with a hedge on your right (24).
Z. Follow the bridleway round to the right and then walk northwards for about half a mile (25) back towards Gosbecks Park from where you can choose any route you wish back to the parking. You will pass the site of a Roman theatre on your right, and may cross the site of the temple on the way to the car park (26).

pdf Download Description & Directions PDF here


Download PDF photo-set here (700Kb) pdf
P Gosbecks Park 1 Gosbecks 2 Layer de la Haye
3 Layer de la Haye 4 Layer de la Haye 5 Layer de la Haye
6 Layer de la Haye 7 Layer de la Haye 8 Layer de la Haye
9 Layer de la Haye 10 11
12Layer de la Haye 13Layer de la Haye 14Chest Wood
15Layer de la Haye 16Layer de la Haye 17Layer de la Haye
18Layer de la Haye 19Layer de la Haye 20Layer de la Haye
21Layer de la Haye 22Layer de la Haye 23Layer de la Haye
24Layer de la Haye 25Layer de la Haye 26Layer de la Haye
Download PDF photo-set here pdf



Gosbecks Archaeological Park

Site of the Roman Temple The flat, open meadows at Gosbecks Archaeological Park were once the home to a magnificent Roman encampment. There was a large fort to the west of what is now the car park, and one of the biggest Roman theatres in Britain and an impressive temple, to the south. The semi-circular theatre had seating for 5000 people. The temple was sited within a large four sided precinct, surrounded by a double portico almost a quarter of a mile long. Although these magnificent buildings have long since disappeared, you can see their outlines on the ground. This grand settlement had important historical significance. When the Romans invaded in 43 AD, Britain was a tribal nation. There was a pitched battle between the Romans and an army of British warriors from the tribes in the south east, probably on the banks on the Medway in Kent. After two days the Roman troops were victorious. Some contemporaneous accounts state that the Romans were equipped with a variety of heavy armaments including war elephants. The Romans pushed the British soldiers north to the Thames, then pursued them across the river (at least one division of troops swam across the Thames). The British troops took heavy losses. Shortly after this, one of the chieftans died, and the remaining British army surrendered. Emperor Claudius formally received this surrender from 11 tribal leaders at a site believed to have been Gosbecks. The Roman army then continued its campaign of conquest north and west across the rest of the country, but was never able to completely subdue the population.
More information


St Marys Church, Little Birch

This derelict church has enormous charm. However it is on private land and access to it is moot. As far as Essex Walks has been able to discover, back in the 1990's there was a 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' sign at the site entrance. More recently there have been proposals to allow public access. By 2013, the sign had gone and a beautiful, meandering walkway to the church has been created, starting from the access road to Birch Hall. It looks as though public access is permitted: but Essex Walks has been unable to confirm this. The church itself is of Norman origins, with much of the north wall built during the 14th century. The upper part of the tower is Tudor. The church fell into disuse in 1598, and by 1768 was a ruin. No gravestones remain. Still, given that the building has been neglected for over 400 years it is in remarkably good condition.

Another derelict church, All Saints, is less than a mile away on the site of Colchester Zoo. It was the former parish church of Great Stanway, with a 14th century nave. It fell into disrepair in the 17th century, after it was raided for its timber and lead during the Civil War.


Roman River Valley Nature Reserve

This 44 acre reserve is a traditional river valley landscape maintained by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The Roman River meanders through marshland and Chest Wood and Needles Eye Wood. The marsh is fed by springs filtering up through glacial sand and gravels and is particularly boggy underfoot near the entrance by Kingsland Bridge (B1026).

The valley supports a regionally rare species of the Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly. The Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) prefers fast-flowing clean water over sand or gravel, and the luxuriant vegetation along the Roman River is extremely important for egg-laying and their 2 year development as larvae amongst the submerged vegetation. The male is very territorial and will sometimes engage in aerial combat with competing males. When perched near the water, males will flick their wings open and shut, occasionally chasing off passing insects, often returning to same perch. Demoiselles have a graceful butterfly-like fluttering flight, which you can see inset at 0.44 on the video.

Needles Eye Wood is ancient woodland with a variety of trees including Pedunculate Oaks and Sweet Chestnut. Birdlife includes most of the common woodland species and occasionally Nightingales.

Donkey and Buskins pub

Donkey & Buskins

The pub was built in 1840, and took over the porter business from the 'porter house' in the village. A porter house was a kind of gastro pub of its day, serving chops and steak as well as beer and porter. The cut of beef known as 'porterhouse steak' derives its name from these establishments. The first licensee of the Donkey and Buskins was a man called Robert Gentry. He had been educated at a charity school in Colchester known as the 'Bluecoat School'. He commuted daily to school on a donkey, wearing buskins (a calf length laced boot) – hence the name.


Layer de la Haye

The village was known in Saxon times as 'Legra', meaning lookout: its relatively high elevation made it a good place to keep a watch on the various ne'er-do-wells who frequented the marshland nearby. At the time of the Norman Conquest the land belonged to a Saxon farmer called Alric. He had cleared 330 acres (the remaining area being heathland and marsh) and was doing nicely, with the estate valued at £4. William the Conqueror took his manor and gifted it to a Norman called Eustace, Earl of Bologne. Eustace increased the head of cattle and sheep, employed more men and added 6 hives to the estate but even so, by 1086 the value of the estate had fallen by a quarter. Eustace's granddaughter was Maud, who married King Steven. Following his imprisonment during The Anarchy (civil war in England between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, 1135 - 1153), Maud took up arms herself winning several victories and capturing an ally of Empress Matilda. This enabled her to negotiate her husband's freedom, and he ruled until his death in 1154. Although the land belonged to the Crown following Maud's marriage, it was tenanted by the De La Haye family until 1253.