The Route: 11 mile Loop Walk in Braintree District, North Essex.
Colne Engaine – Earls Colne Airfield – Marks Hall – Burton’s Green – Colne Engaine.
I was daunted by stepping out on a 10+ mile walk, since I have been averaging 6 miles for the last two weeks and not every day at that. With only 16 days until my big Essex Way hike, I need to get off my rather large backside and get some longer distances in. I’ve done big distances before, but it’s been a good while and lot of tubs of Ben & Jerry’s…
We started late as usual, my resolution to do things on time being one of the hardest to keep and most guilt-therefore-stress-and-squawk-inducing. Nevertheless the beautiful blue Essex sky and shining February sun lifted my spirits quickly. Accompanied by the three dogs – Reg the ginger Lurcher, Elsie the blue Greyhound and my brother’s long-haired Lurcher, Jeff – we set out from Colne Engaine at 11am.
Any dogwalker knows that the messy business happens in the first mile or so, so of course I know where all the dog poo bins are. The walk out of the village was pleasant enough with lots of interesting seedheads and curled leaves. Although I wasn’t geocaching I spotted a telltale tupperware box that I had seen a few weeks before in a tree nook and taken down to photograph. When we first moved here we learned many of the local routes by searching for Gillywig’s geocaches and I’m forever imagining that I will get around to setting some of my own.
Crossing the River Colne, a field of horses amused themselves by chasing the dogs from the other side of the fence before coming up for a scratch behind the ears. A little further on, the walk was sadly marred by vandalism of the raised wooden walkway along the river at the bottom of Earls Colne Millenium Green, although it was still walkable and will no doubt be fixed before Summer. It was certainly less dangerous than crossing the A1224, with its staggered footpath entrances and lack of pavement requiring the rather hairy navigation of a bridge at the bottom of a hill on a blind bend.
I had roped in the husband to come and collect Elsie and Jeff, at the 4 mile marker. Elsie’s getting a bit old and stiff to walk much further and Jeff has an inability to walk anywhere other than under your feet so he wasn’t getting more than he needed. This allowed us time to bark at some rather startled llamas and then have a lounge in the grass on the airfield while we waited for husband.
I pressed on with a trotting Reggie, who is so easy on the lead I was able to attach him to the poppers on my coat and swing my arms freely. The footpaths and roads around the Airfield allow the generally interested (nosey?!) plenty of things to see, including the aforementioned llamas and airplanes, as well as the sound of golfers and the industrial sights of a busy business park. That does mean that lorries charge about a bit but that can generally be made up for by getting to see big machinery in action – the Street Crane at Milbank Concrete was particularly impressive.
The footpaths are clearly marked except for the one leading off the Airfield to the South West, which took us through the middle of a busy timber yard. Presumably this is rarely walked because, although the entrance was marked with an unusual ‘PATH’ sign in the fence, the walk through the yard was obstructed and confusing and I was fearful for Reggie’s paws.
Surviving the gauntlet of the timber yard, we found ourselves in a wooded area surrounded
by a road so quiet I could take Reg off the lead. I spotted a handy poo bin marking the start of the next footpath and turned to find a spectacular, tree-lined “road through the woods”. Reg and I wandered down it feeling gloriously that we walked where carriages had gone before or Romans had trod. It was undoubtedly used most recently as a utility route from the Marks Hall Estate to the Airfield and has subsequently encouraged me to investigate the history surrounding this ancient site. From its appearance in Saxon records, to its lost Jacobean mansion, being requisitioned during World War Two and now run as a nationally important arboretum and income-generating business park, the site is fascinating. There’s lots of information on the Marks Hall website.
This was the 5.5 mile mark and I noted with pleasure that we’d hit our halfway point. We stalked around the outside of the Arboretum, me greedily stealing views of the snowdrop carpets and landscaped gardens through the fence and Reggie literally stalking a Muntjac Deer. After watching him follow a scent through a copse, I caught sight of a dark object in the next field and wondered dopily what it was. As Reg and his jingly collar neared, the object moved off quickly making its shape obvious. I kicked myself for letting Reg off the lead, however he returned after a clearly exciting chase, panting and covered in mud and saliva but no blood in sight. He’s a chaser not a killer, thankfully. (Unless it’s a rabbit or a hare, in which case our supper plans change at speed!)
Homeward bound now, my knee and lower back were starting to hurt and the weather was beginning to turn. I walked for 2 miles with the pain steadily increasing, before going for a pee and finding that most of the discomfort disappeared. I kicked myself again, twice, for not peeing sooner and for not carrying any water. I’d taken on an energy bar and a litre of water at mile 4, brought out by the husband when collecting the dogs, but hadn’t been able to fit the bottle in my coat pocket. It may be time to invest in a Camelbak or better yet a Katadyn water filter to drink from water sources.
The track out of the woods was so rutted and flooded that we had to duck onto an animal path, winding between the trees. This afforded better fungi-spotting and I wished for Rob Veater and his wild food foraging knowledge.
The wood spat us out onto a quiet road through Burton’s Green, where we saw charismatic houses and charming details everywhere, before heading back the way we’d come. A quick dip in the river for Reg was followed by 15 minutes of naughtiness, just because he could. Once I’d rescued him from a friend’s garden, allowing me the opportunity to have a nice chat with said friend and a much-needed glass of water, we headed home, arriving just after 4pm. Not a swift walking speed at all but considering the dog-related delays and nature’s distractions I felt perfectly happy with my day’s achievements.
The husband then presented a bath, a book and a beer so he got mega brownie points too.
You can find my downloadable route map on the OutdoorGPS website. I made the map using their iPhone app and with my iPhone 6S on Low Power Mode and mostly in Airplane Mode the battery lasted the day.
Disclaimer: All third party links included in my post are there because I like their work. I have not received any benefits in return for the links and I take no responsibility for what you find there.