On these pages, you can find out more about how to walk the Essex Way, and a precursor trail through Epping Forest – 96 miles in total.
A tale of two paths
The walk described on this site brings together two paths: a version of the Centenary Walk of 1978, commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the Epping Forest Act, and the Essex Way of 1972. For the detailed planning for both, we can thank Fred Matthews and Harry Bitten of the West Essex Ramblers, who between them created much of the long-distance path network that still serves the county so well.
The Centenary Walk can be traced in detail from the OS Explorer map of the Forest. Over the years I’ve developed a personal version, roughly 90% the original and the rest my own, partly for personal preference and partly to reflect changes in the Forest; it is this version described here and in Walking in Essex.
The Essex Way was one of the first county Long Distance Paths to be created, in 1972. I walked it for the first time in 1994-95 with my long-time walking partner Dave Travers – conveniently, each of us lives close to one end of the path. In preparing Walking in Essex, I walked it several times more in 2012-13.
The Forest section starts at Manor Park station, just 13 minutes from Liverpool Street station in London and on the edge of London’s inner city. It runs first across the open ‘flats’ of Wanstead and Leyton before heading above Woodford and Chingford to the one hamlet in the Forest, High Beach. It ends at Epping, the the furthest reach of the Central Line from London, also the start of the Essex Way.
Chipping Ongar is a pleasant half-day away from here, with one of the country’s oldest churches passed at Greensted just before. You’ve already used a couple of green lanes, those great relics of mediaeval if not prehistoric transport, in reaching Ongar but soon after, beyond Willingale, the Way takes advantage of many more on its way to Pleshey, site of an ancient castle mentioned in Shakespeare.
From here you become conscious of the many little rivers that drain the interior of Essex, the Chelmer, Ter, Brain and Blackwater among them. The latter leads to Coggeshall, one of the architectural highlights of the county (though you need to take an off-Way loop to see the town at its best). Beyond, you head towards the Colne, a companion for several miles and my personal favourite of all the county’s rivers, Thames perhaps excepted. To finish, you cross over the watershed to the Stour, and the glorious countryside of Dedham Vale, before finally heading for a sea-side approach into Harwich itself.