Thaxted, Little Bardfield and Duton Hill

Start: Thaxted, Margaret Street car park (TL 611 311)
Finish: Duton Hill, Three Horseshoes (TL 604 268)
Distance: 12 miles (19km)
Walking time: 5½ hours
Maps: OS Explorer 195, Landranger 167
Refreshments: pubs and cafe in Thaxted; Farmhouse Inn, Monk Street; Three Horseshoes pub in Duton Hill
Public Transport: buses to Thaxted from Stansted Airport, Great Dunmow and Saffron Walden; some Stansted/Dunmow buses serve Duton Hill

 
There are a nice variety of views on the way to the Saxon church at Little Bardfield, a lovely place for a stop. From here the walk often feels surprisingly remote on the way to Cowels Farm, in part dating back to the 1300s and a dairy farm in my uncle’s day. A pleasant walk across fields to the pub at Monk Street holds many memories, and the walk finishes with one of my favourite Essex riverside stretches, beside the Chelmer.

Thaxted

Thaxted

From the car park in Thaxted, turn left then left again, and almost immediately right to follow an enclosed footpath. Where the fences end bear right down to a stream, and turn right along its bank. Ignore a footbridge, and some confusing waymarkers, to stay beside a hedgerow until you can cross a field slightly right to another hedgerow. The path leads to an electricity substation and later a large solar farm. Eventually you pick up the farm’s access road and come out onto a road. Stay on the road for about 400m, passing the entrance to West Wood nature reserve, and then take the path on the right, initially a green lane.

Pass through Great Clark’s Farm and pick up its access lane. Turn right on its minor road, right at the next juntion, and continue for 800m. Where the road turns right, keep ahead on the lime-fringed road to The Hydes. Through the farm, a good track descends through open countryside. Ignore a right turn but continue by a ditch for another 400m, and then turning right on a grass path beside a stream. There’s soon a left turn by a patch of woodland, but don’t continue for too long – look out for a right turn which will lead you to a wall. As it curves right, you do to, and soon see the pretty church of Little Bardfield beside you, a good place for a break.

Little Bardfield church

Little Bardfield church

Over the road, continue ahead on the bridleway, which rises and falls twice on its way to the road at Oxen End. Turn right here, but only for a few metres, then taking a footpath on the right. This is initially on a headland but where this turns right continue ahead over open fields. There is a path marker at a plank footbridge nearly 200m away, roughly in the direction of the right edge of a patch of woodland, and another about 400m further on where the possibly-invisible path crosses a track. Note though that you are not heading into the wood; you keep it about 200m away on your left. From the track head towards a brick house; though much is still across fields, there is one section where the path takes headland with a hedgerow on the left. Eventually, the path comes out into Bustard Green, just to the right of the house.

Veer right, and just before Cherry Plum Cottage, go left on a track. At Duck End Farm go slightly left on its lane, which soon bears left, and at the road junction keep ahead. Where this minor road turns right, go ahead on the lane towards the magnificent half-timbered Cowels Farm.

Cowels Farm

Cowels Farm

Family history note – this was my uncle Roy’s second farm, then part of a thriving Essex dairy industry that has all but disappeared. Like the Old Forge at Fyfield, this was the site of many happy family Christmases. Later, the footballer Jimmy Greaves lived here.

Note that a later resident to my uncle had the footpath diverted away from the farm’s garden and so there is no right-of-way past the house, although OS maps have not caught up yet. Instead, there is a marker on the right of the lane which leads into a meadow, and another marker post – turn left at this and head down towards a stream, crossing it near the bottom of the garden and continuing ahead for a few metres before veering right on a track.

At a patch of wood the track veers left and then at a path junction take the track on the right, not the one contiunuing ahead. This leads down to a complicated-looking junction at a stream. Cross the stream, and rise slowly. The path is signed off towards an old farm building, but instead continue ahead on a reddish track which winds its way to a minor road at Sibley’s Green. Turn left for a few metres and take the path on the right. This is cross-field again, heading for a hedgerow corner, soon going through a hedge gap and continuing to come out to the B184 at Monk Street. Take the minor road on the left to the Farmhouse Inn. Gustav Holst lived in the village while writing The Planets, so this must have been his local!

Farmhouse Inn

Farmhouse Inn, Monk Street

River Chelmer

The Chelmer near Duton Hill

Family history note – I remember the walk from Cowel’s Farm to the Farmhouse Inn for a summer visit in the early 70s, when I was about 20. The reddish path was then just a track through orchards, and one evening we scrunched on the windfalls. On top of these I later put several pints of cider at the pub. Alas, in the small hours I ruined Aunt Thelma’s best guest towel, my stomach not being able to cope!

Just past the Farmhouse Inn, take the minor road to Folly Mill. Just before the mill, take the path on the left through a gate, and walk beside the Chelmer for just over 2km. It’s a very pleasant riverside stroll, with willows fringing the river nearly the whole way. The path comes out through a back garden (legally) to a minor road. Turn left up the road to the Three Horseshoes at Duton Hill. The bus to Thaxted stops opposite the pub. There are only five or six buses a day (none on Sundays) so check times in advance at Traveline.

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