To the lonely chapel
Even to this day, the chapel of St Peter on the Wall, on the Bradwell Marshes of the Dengie Peninsula, is one of the most isolated religious sites in Britain. Add in its great age – dating from 654AD – and it is a spendid object for a long-distance path.
St Peter’s Way crosses Essex largely due east from the small town of Chipping Ongar and in its 41 miles takes in many places of interest on the way. The Way is one of the trails first published by Fred Matthews and Harry Bitten of West Essex Ramblers, following a proposal of 1970 by the Epping Forest Holiday Fellowship. Matthews and Bitten considered it to be ‘the finest [long-distance path in Essex] for variety and atmosphere’, citing as example Hanningfield Reservoir and the views from Purleigh Hill. And of the trail’s end-point, they say:
“To arrive here, isolated but not lonely, with the colours which abound on the marsh and the call of the birds, is to appreciate why Essex, although it has not the grandeur of the Pennines or the Lake District, is such a beautiful county and such a happy place for walking.”
St Peter’s Chapel
The chapel of St Peter on the Wall was built inn 654 by Lindisfarne monk St Cedd, using the Kentish ragstone of an earlier Roman fort (Othona) on the site. Cedd became an important figure at the Council of Whitby, which adjudicated on the form of worship in post-Roman Britain. The chapel fell out of religious use in the 18th century and was used as a grain store, but was restored in 1920 and is today a regular site of summer pilgrimage.
Walking St Peter’s Way
I first walked the path in 1998-99 with my walking partner Dave Travers. The notes that follow show where we broke the route and at the bottom of the page there’s a link to a chart showing detailed mileages and times. If you really want a challenge though, get in touch with the Essex & Herts Long-Distance Walkers’ Association. Every August, they walk the whole lot in one go!
21 November 1998. Ongar to Stock, 13 miles.
After typical Essex farmland on the way to the village of Blackmore, more wooded country arrives and soon you pass through Mill Green, once an open plain of Writtle Forest, now with a little remaining heather amongst the birch and other trees. Beyond lie the A12 and main-line railway, both using the River Wid to approach the higher ground around Brentwood. Pass all three and you will arrive in Stock, its windmill still a landmark.
23 January 1999. Stock to Mundon, 14 miles.
Hanningfield Reservoir is just off-track, and worth a visit to see its wildfowl, including gadwall, tufted duck and pochard. After the two villages of West and East Hanningfield, the larger settlement of Bicknacre is skirted until vineyards are crossed on the way to Purleigh. The village sits on a little hill and there are good views from the Way across the Dengie peninsula, which you are now entering.
1 April 1999. Mundon to St Peter’s Chapel, 14 miles.
Soon you pass the weird shapes of the Mundon Oaks, trees killed by salt-water poisoning. For you are now close to the Essex sea-wall at Mundon Creek, and there will be an important maritime influence for the remainder of the Way; the marina at Maylandsea is one of many that dot the county’s coastline. There’s a bit of road walking through Steeple before a little rise and descent to Tillingham, with its beautiful village green. Soon you will be on Bradwell Marshes, largely arable now, but increasingly desolate as the sea nears. For its last two miles, the Way heads north by the sea-wall, saltmarsh stretching out far to the east, but the chapel beckoning on throughout.
My log of St Peter’s Way is available here (PDF viewer required).