Start: Fyfield, Black Bull pub (TL 572 072)
Finish: Ongar, Lorry park (TL 550 026)
Distance: 9½ miles (15km)
Walking time: 4½ hrs
Maps: OS Explorer 183, Landranger 167
Refreshments: Queen’s Head and Black Bull pubs in Fyfield; cafe at Norton Heath; Two Brewers pub at the finish
Transport: buses to Ongar from Epping, Brentwood, Chelmsford and Harlow; some Chelmsford buses serve Fyfield
It’s not far from Fyfield to Willingale, with its two churches in a single churchyard. Pleasant field walking takes you to the tiny patch of access land at Norton Heath, once gravel workings and now a nature reserve, before land slowly declining to the River Roding allows good distant views as far as Docklands. Later, St Peter’s Way is taken into Ongar, with a brief stretch beside the Roding itself.
Four or five buses a day (not Sundays) run direct from the Two Brewers at Ongar to the Queen’s Head at Fyfield. From here, the Black Bull is 350m along the Dunmow road. Alternatively, from the Queen’s Head walk along Queen Street, later Willingale Road, and pick up the walk at Witney Green. Check bus times in advance at Traveline.
Leave the Black Bull by the clearly-signed path from its beer garden. Over a bridge crossing the Roding, turn half-left (not full left) – there is a gap in the conifers although it does not look as though there will be. The path goes right then left and passes a house (the Old Rectory) on the left by a well-kept path. Turn left on the road (this is where the direct road walk from the Queen’s Head joins in), and in about 100m take the waymarked Essex Way on the right. Follow this across a field to a road, turn left, then just past a road junction turn right at a wooden sign. The Essex Way waymarks lead you clearly to the two churches at Willingale.
Leave the Essex Way here, turning right on the road to the junction, then taking the path running to the right of a house. Keep a hedge to your left to a patch of wood, turning right where it ends and then soon left, another hedge on your left. Where the field ends, look for a marker in a dip across the next field, and from that marker look for another – if no path has been left by the farmer, try to use tractor tracks to minimise crop damage. At the end of the field, turn left on a track, and soon go ahead where it becomes a minor road.
300m beyond Hodgkins Farm, go left on a path which later switches sides of a hedgerow and then joins a lane from the moated farmhouse on your right. Turn right on a minor road, then take the footpath on the left just before the next house. Turn left at a marker and cross the field to Dodd’s Farm – the telephone wires are a good guide. Cross a minor road and a field through a hedgerow, turning left beside it. At a road, enter the access land at Norton Heath. There was small-scale gravel extraction here early last century; now, it is a good site for dragonflies, damselflies and grasshoppers.
Cross the Heath on a boardwalked path to another road, on which turn left, past a cafe to the A414. Cross it carefully and take the path opposite, soon walking on a tree line between fields. Where it ends, look for a marker half-right and walk to it, then keep the field boundary on your right to pass an impressive collection of brick farm buildings, soon joining the lane from the farm. Turn right on the road then in about 120m take the path running half-right. Cross a road and continue, coming to the left edge of a large field and into another even larger. Cross this half-right – again, there may be no path, but there will be good views to compensate. You are aiming for the far hedgerow; the crossing point into the next field is by one of the smaller trees. In the next field, keep on roughly the same line with a large farm ahead of you.
Turn right on a lane to the farm, then left to go through it, and continue along a lane leading from it. 400m after a belt of woodland joins in on the right, look for a gap in the belt and take it – you will soon see a St Peter’s Way waymark, leading you across a field and down to a road at High Ongar. Turn right on the road then soon left onto Millfield. Look for steps leading down on the right; through scrub, the path leads to a bridge over the Roding. Cross it and turn left beside the river, then right to keep a hedgerow on your right up to the top of the field. Turn left on a path – you will see you are back on the Essex Way. Follow it out to the main road in Ongar, then turn left back to the lorry park – there is a gap beside the Two Brewers bus stop.
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