Traversing Essex

During August 2021 (well, with a few days’ overhang into July and September), I walked in Essex. I had already decided that my first post-Covid extended walk outside London would be the Essex Way, but I also wanted to begin a walk encircling the capital to link up the termini of my London radial routes using named footpaths (of which the first two were the Saffron Trail and St Peter’s Way). I used public transport to and from the routes from my home on the western edge of London (LB Hillingdon), and carried a set of maps for the next stage of each route, just in case I missed a train at Liverpool Street. My two routes converged on Ongar, and the morning from there to Epping on the Essex Way did double duty.

The Essex Way was generally well waymarked and in good walking condition: my staging-points were Harwich, Wrabness, Manningtree, Great Horkesley, White Notley, Great Waltham and Chipping Ongar, then on to Epping

Saffron Trail: the Crouch estuary west of Hullbridge

The other route had staging posts at Southend, Hockley, East Hanningfield (where I switched from the Saffron Trail to St Peter’s Way), Margaretting and Chipping Ongar, then walking on to Epping.

OK, let’s cut to the chase. The Saffron Trail’s waymarking is often missing, and what is there is often perverse. This combines with a fetish for avoiding paths used by other named routes, such as the Roach Valley Way, I remember this sort of route, devised by on-spectrum “must save every footpath” RA members, from my days administering the National Register of Long Distance Paths, back in the day when it was independent of special-interest lobbies. The result is that there are stretches which pass through the thickest of thickets, and I have the flesh wounds to prove it: a soupçon of worldly-wise pragmatism could have avoided all this. It’s not as if the combined footfall of the Saffron Trail and the Roach Valley Way would have pounded the footpath into oblivion, even if the perpetrators of either had believed their own hype.

Poor waymarking on the Saffron Trail north of Battlesbridge

The route of St Peter’s Way is perhaps a little better, though one often has to walk beyond a waymark and see what is intended in the opposite direction before stepping forward: in both of these routes, the waymarking has been done by people who have no need for the waymarking to decide on the route: there is a serious lack of a competent Devil’s Advocate for each of the two routes.

A note on the Essex Way section from Great Waltham to Chipping Ongar. I broke at Willingale, the half-way point, but the bus went off-piste unannounced, and I was forced into the extra 8km. As I was passing the library in Chipping Ongar, the hourly bus to Epping passed, and it was almost 14 hours after setting off that I arrived home. The lack of information was a serious blot on the reputation of First Essex.

Overall, the double traverse was good, but there needs to be continued interest in St Peter’s Way and (particularly) the Saffron Trail. The latter has the air of a route devised by an individual who lost interest, and whose successors in the little group have had no interest in keeping it going. If that is the case, the route should be struck from the maps as an outdated ego-trip.

Crusader’s Tomb, Greensted church

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