These notes were made from my first experience of the Harcamlow Way, part with my walking partner Dave Travers and part solo, during 1993-98. I have revisited it often since, particularly in 2011-12 as I prepared my Cicerone guide Walking in Essex.
A cold Saturday early in 1997. Cambridge to Wimpole Hall, 14 miles.Not a bad start at all, past the famous colleges. Leaving the city outskirts we passed two physics dons discussing Heisenberg, as one does on a chilly Saturday morning in Cambridge. Coton is quite early for a stop, but there is a good chance to rest by a pretty pond with the church beyond. Much of the walk is coincident with the waymarked Wimpole Way, but not all of it is; in particular the Harcamlow finds a better route towards Wimpole Hall itself.
1 March 1997. Wimpole Hall to Heydon, 14 miles.
The dull bit. Let’s be honest, the bit you really wouldn’t want to have to do. A very promising start through Wimpole’s grounds soon becomes a dull trudge along litter-strewn bridleways and arrow-straight tarmacked roads. Shortly beyond Melbourn, our lunchtime break was a Little Chef, and that’s since closed. Nuff said. At the very end, some contours: promise of better to come.
26 April 1997. Heydon to Debden, 13 miles.
Much better than before: gentle, varied countryside, with a picture book village in Arkesden and its famous pub the Axe and Compasses. I’ve since found out that the Way misses a better descent into Arkesden, via the old corpse road of Steven’s Lane. The crossing-point of the figure-of-eight is at Newport, soon after. Debden was a surprise to us: it’s nothing like its namesake the bleak Central Line Debden, a vast housing estate, but has a perfect little green on which morris dancers were performing that sunny afternoon (though the pub is now an Indian restaurant).
31 May 1997. Debden to Takeley, 13 miles.
Thaxted is a deservedly famous little town: make a note to come back if you cannot stay long. From here you follow the infant River Chelmer for a few miles, a simple little bit of route finding which Matthews and Bitten managed to spend a whole page over. Stansted Airport supplies the aerial distractions. Since we walked the route, the A120 has been diverted north of Takeley and upgraded to fast dual carriageway, so paths at the end of this stretch may be very different now.
8 November 1997. Takeley to Harlow, 13 miles.
Hatfield Forest is the highlight of this section, a relic of southern England forests of long ago (well OK, not the bit by the lake with the car park). Pishiobury Park in commuterland Sawbridgeworth is a welcome surprise before you join the River Stort towpath on its way along the top of Harlow: look one way, greenery; look the other, warehouses; look on the river, maybe kingfishers. There’s now a sculpture trail along here, which I describe in Walking in Essex.