This is a longer walk which starts outside the area at North Weald and passes through some of the most beautiful villages & countryside, before returning along the river to the Roding Valley nature reserve and ending at Woodford Bridge. A perfect summer walk which has many things to offer along the way with woodland, farmland, countryside & the river to enjoy, as well as enchanting old buildings from a forgotten age.
I start this walk from a footpath which goes through a small gate to the left of the Epping Ongar steam railway entrance at North Weald. The pathway comes out just east of the railway platforms where i cross over the level crossing into the fields south of the station & this is where the long walk begins. Following a grassy path after crossing the railway track i head south, after a short way the path bends to the right heading towards the edge of Ongar Great Wood. I walk south beside the Great Wood along the field edge keeping the woods to my right.
This is quite a long path south and gives lovely views to my left over the fields heading towards Ongar. Halfway along this path i cross the Essex Way and continue south along the edge of the woods. Eventually i arrive at a small carpark which brings me out onto Epping Road. Here i turn left into Colliers Hatch then right down Tawney Common, and here is where the views really start to get a lot more impressive.
Tawney Common in all it’s bleakness is simply beautiful. A tiny isolated hamlet either end of a long lane which gives a feel more akin to walking on a lonely moor in the middle of nowhere. You really could be anywhere in the world here. As i walk down the long narrow lane, to my left are just a few houses. One of these sat back a way from the road with its mock Tudor frontage is the Colliers Hatch moat house. This is one of a number of surviving moated dwelling around the North Weald area & i plan a separate walk in future to visit some of these in more detail.
This particular moated house is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Historic England gives a detailed insight into the prevelance of these type of dwellings in the area;
As i continue down this lane the views over the Roding Valley to the South and South West come into view and are wonderful. This is very different to the Lea Valley. The Roding Valley is much more shallow and the many visible hills have a more gentle and rolling feel, creating long and wide views. It’s easy to forgive the presence of the M25 occasionally appearing through gaps in the distance.
Reaching the southern end of the lane i arrive at the hamlet of Woodhatch on Tawney Common itself. To my left the now closed Moletrap Pub, a beautiful 18th century Inn said to have been built by Samuel Threader who invented the mole trap. This village almost looks like a rural film set. Sitting on the bench by the village pond it almost feels like going back in time & you expect a horse and cart to pass by any moment delivering coal. This must have been a wonderful place to live centuries ago.
Beside the Moletrap pub are two beautiful weather boarded cottages of a similar age and style, with equal charm. I walk around the village pond turning right, then left through Woodhatch Farm. This farm holds a varied selection of livestock. As i follow the track south through the centre of the farm i pass a large out building on my left after which i find myself being watched closely by a herd of large Bullocks behind a wire fence which looks far too thin for my liking. To my right in a separate field a herd of Heifers with calves.
I continue south through a gate into a bigger field with a hedgerow to my left. There are sheep in this field i feel much safer with than my previous watchers. I walk the length of this field alongside the hedge going slightly downhill and go through a gate in the bottom left corner. There are no livestock here, these are arable fields & i continue south going back uphill until at the brow of this hill, once again beautiful views across the Roding Valley open up to me to the South East, South and South West. Once again i find it incredibly easy to pretend the distant M25 appearing through occasional breaks in the landscape doesn’t exist.
These fields and gentle hills around the Northern edge of the Mid Roding offer some of the most pleasant countryside scenery this side of the M11 and seem to be sadly overlooked. From here i can now see Abridge down on the valley floor. Reaching the end of the path through Woodhatch Farm i arrive at Little Tawney Hall, once famed for it’s Little Tawney herd of Fresians. Now a busy Livery yard, i pass a lovely old farmhouse to my right then find myself leaving the driveway onto Tawney Lane where i continue south past the Old Rectory on my left, opposite which i cross a style into a paddock to follow the path West.
From here the views over the valley to the South remain constant and draw me in once again. I head West just to the end of the paddock before going through a small gate into an open cornfield. Going slightly uphill there are two very noticeable large oak trees in the middle of this field which mark the convergence of several footpaths. At this point there is another walk where i would turn North to return to North Weald which i will post separately. For this walk i continue west across this field toward St Michaels at Theydon Mount.
Once again i find the beautiful wide open landscape with it’s gentle flowing hills inviting me to stop for a while to absorb it. The one thing i notice more about these fields than others is the amount of Partridge everywhere i look, running in every direction with their comical waddle. I have never seen so many. I continue West until i reach Mount Road where i turn left walking over the M25 bridge, after which i enter the North East corner of Abridge golf course to follow the footpath South West down to Epping Lane.
Exiting the golf course i turn right and then left into a small field which i have noticed feels boggy under foot all year round. From here i continue South West through the fields until i reach the bank of the River Roding. I now follow the river West all the way to Abridge. This section of the river really is a thing of absolute beauty as it gently winds its way through the cornfields, in summer this is a shallow babbling stream you could walk across but in winter a raging torrent that violently bursts its banks overnight swallowing up huge tracts of arable farmland its wake.
Thankfully i chose summer. Walking along this section of the river on a summer day is nothing short of blissful. The gentle breeze in the willows, the trickling of water as the river passes over the Ford, the tall clumps of balsam with their shocking pink flowers. But it’s the peace you notice the most. This really is the most peaceful stretch of the river Roding to walk along. I keep the river to my left as i continue West through occasional paddocks and negotiate the perimeter of the sewage treatment works hidden away.
As i walk alongside the river through the rear of Hill Farm i look North toward Theydon Garnon and notice that this is a place of big skies and long horizons. I stop to take a picture of the huge sky above the farm buildings in the distance. I really wish this piece of the river was longer as it really is so very tranquil and special, but almost too soon i find myself approaching Abridge. I walk diagonally South West through the last field towards the old pub which is now private flats beside the humpback bridge at the back of the village.
I exit the field onto Abridge Road where i turn right & then a little way along i turn left walking through Piggotts Farm. From here i continue West eventually crossing the M11 to the Debden estate. I carry on South towards the Bank of England at Langston Road, where i walk to the end of the road before turning left & then right just before the motorway into the Roding Valley nature reserve. From here i follow the river along the M11 corridor first through the peaceful nature reserve, and then through the notably busier recreation ground before taking the riverside path to the East of Buckhurst Hill which leads me to Woodford Bridge where my walk will end.
This section of the river is a stark reminder that the peace and tranquility this very same river offered me in Abridge is now far behind me as i can no longer escape the ever present sound of traffic on the motorway beside me. This walk may not largely be within the Epping Forest district but it does bring home to me the reality that some of the most beautiful isolated villages and wonderfully inviting countryside scenery is only just a relatively short distance away from us, waiting to be discovered.