Saturday 6th July 2013
Toilets: Epping Station; Theydon Oak pub; Green Man pub, Toot Hill; public toilets in Chipping Ongar; various pubs in Chipping Ongar.
The Essex Way stretches for 81 miles from Epping to Harwich. We originally tried this section of the walk around the end of March. It was the only walk we have ever abandoned due to the path being awful, and I would strongly advise against doing it in winter. We made of point of waiting until it hadn’t rained for a while, and I’m pleased to report that the paths were in much better condition this time around. It was a boiling hot day and most of the ground was completely dry.
We started off at Epping Station. The Ongar Branch of the Central Line closed in 1994, however we could still see the tracks continuing for a while. Most of the rest of the branch is now run by the Epping Ongar Railway, so our original plan was to get back to Epping by steam train, however we didn’t start our walk until around midday and we took a very leisurely pace due to the weather, so we didn’t have time to catch the last train back. We took a local bus instead – more about that later.
We walked through a few agricultural fields, and it was great to be out in the open as our last few walks had been along some quite enclosed routes, as well as canals. We then headed along Steward’s Green Lane, where most of the path was bone dry and we had some good views over the fields.
Last time we were there, it took us nearly an hour to get down Steward’s Green Lane as it was absolutely drenched and churned up by horses. We ended up getting so fed up that day that we gave up and had a thankfully brilliant lunch at the Theydon Oak. This time, we just stopped there for a much-needed drink as it was such a hot day.
Our walk continued through some exposed fields, and we were relieved to reach the woods near Coopersale. We crossed a bridge over the M11 motorway, before joining some more woodland which seemed very artificial, with sections full of conifers abruptly meeting sections full of birch trees. The path down the middle was artificially straight, not that any footpath could ever be natural, but it just added to the strange experience.
After a while the path emerged into some more exposed fields, where there were peas growing.
Most of the fields had crops growing in them, but a couple of them had already been ploughed. It was an interesting contrast.
We finally reached the village of Toot Hill, where we stopped for lunch at the Green Man pub. It was in a beautiful setting, and the food was okay but nowhere near as good as the Theydon Oak. We stopped for an hour, then continued through more fields, where once again we had a lovely feeling of open space.
Later on, the small village of Greensted featured Greensted Church, which is the oldest wooden church in the world. Well, okay, so not all of the building is that old, but the wooden panels at the side are nearly a thousand years old. It was an absolutely beautiful little building. Inside, there was a stall selling postcards and jars of jam.
From there, it was a short walk through some more fields to Chipping Ongar. The path emerged at a bus stop next to some public toilets, opposite a library. All in all it had been a brilliant walk, though I must reiterate that it was awful back in March and we originally abandoned it due to the state of the path.
Our adventures weren’t over, however. We were too late to catch the steam train back to Epping, so we took a local bus instead, and this was far easier said than done. The bus stops were completely unhelpful, with just a list of buses that went from the stop, but no timetables. They didn’t even tell us which direction they were going in, so we didn’t even know which side of the road to go from. We sent a text message to a number advertised at the bus stop, which told us the times of the next few buses going to Harlow. There was no bus map, though, so we didn’t know if the buses went to Epping on the way to Harlow, or if Harlow was in the wrong direction – it could go either way if you were driving.
We gave up and walked down to Ongar Station, where luckily some of the volunteer staff were still there, and were very helpful. They told us we needed to wait on the same side of the road as we’d arrived, and the same side of the road as the station. In fact, the route started a couple of stops down at the Two Brewers pub (turn right from the station or the public toilets and continue south down the High Street, over a bridge). It was a good thing the station staff told us we’d need the 20 or 21 bus, because those routes weren’t even mentioned at the bus stop. Buses go twice an hour, except on Sundays when you need the 501, which goes every two hours.
Thinking we could have a quick drink at the Two Brewers while we were waiting, we sat outside enjoying the sunshine, with the aim of crossing the road back to the bus stop five minutes before the bus was due. Unfortunately, we saw the bus arrive five minutes early and drive off without waiting for us, so we had to sit there for half an hour waiting for the next one. As it was a very hot day and we’d been drinking lots of water, I had to pop back into the Two Brewers to use the loo. When I returned, I found the next bus already waiting, having also arrived early. The only reason the driver hadn’t driven off early was because Ilmari had asked him to wait for me, which he grudgingly did. Even then, he still drove off three minutes early, so I hope nobody else was hoping to catch it at the last minute. We paid £3 each for a single to Epping. Not impressed, SM Coaches, not impressed. Apart from the unreliable transport, though, it was a lovely day out.