I had missed the Takeley to Little Canfield stroll past the snow drops of Eastern Lodge and was looking forward to getting back into my walking boots.
We re-joined the Flitch Way next to the church at Little Canfield. One of the beauties of the Flitch Way is that apart from trekking through the centre of Dunmow the rest is a car free zone. The upside of having to wander through Dunmow was that we were able to have a toilet and coffee break at The Paradise Cafe. Once we sat down I was also tempted by the extensive breakfast menu and couldn't resist the mushrooms on toast. I was not disappointed.
Re-fueled, we hit the road, navigated the streets of Dunmow and rejoined the countryside footpath.
Walking along The Flitch Way I felt a real sense of connection with the steam journeys of the past. We walked past the old platforms, alongside the little brooks that flow into The Chelmer and under the old brick bridges. I was encountering a similar view to that the Victorian passengers would have observed from the train. Although, there were some modern additions like the lovely wooden sculpture!
The Flitch Way is a great example of how Essex County Council rangers and volunteers from 'The friends of the Flitch Way' charity work together to maintain the footpaths and surrounding woodland. The 'Friends of the Flitch Way' encourage local people with an interest in the outdoors and conservation to help maintain and improve the environment for the benefit of everybody in the community, for example through their Wednesday footpath working group.
Back to The Flitch Way:
I had previously walked the first section between Start Hill and Takeley, ending at the delightful community cafe in the old Victorian station building. The cafe is a great local initiative sponsored by Takeley Parish council and run by volunteers. It is only open on Thursday's between 12noon- 4pm and Friday's between 9am -1pm and we were really lucky our Friday morning jaunt coincided perfectly with the Friday morning opening time. What better way to finish a walk than to be greeted with a reasonably priced cup of tea (50p), homemade soup with a roll (75p) and delicious cakes (50p) and all served in a beautifully renovated station?
Last Friday, I set off on another Phoebe walk. We were going to walk the final 11 miles of The Flitch Way.
The Flitch Way is a country park passing through fifteen miles of countryside along the former Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree railway line.
Another perk of pottering about in the countryside is coming across random local, fresh food for sale. It is always a treat to buy local produce for tea and often saves a fatigued, post-walk trek to the shops.
We disembarked for another coffee stop at the Booking Hall Cafe in Rayne station. It has a very similar Victorian feel to that of Takeley station. Again, I was transported back in time by the old signs in the cafe.
Whilst we were supposed to walk on to Braintree we decided that the Booking Hall Cafe was a great place to end the walk. It was a cold, grey day and sore feet were encouraging us to catch the earlier bus back to the car. It would also give us a great excuse to come back and try more of the wonderful homemade fayre at The Booking Hall. There is also an old restored carriage on a small section of track outside the cafe.It houses a small museum and it would be lovely to come back to visit that too.
A little 'side-line' and potted history of the original railway line:
In 1859, a proposal was submitted to Eastern Counties Railway by a group of Hertfordshire businessmen: a railway line, 18 miles long, linking the towns of Bishop's Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree to transport malt and barley from towns and villages in West Essex. The application was granted permission by parliament.
On the 24 February 1864 the first turf was cut at Dunmow. Most of the route was a single track with the exception of some stations that had dual tracks to enable trains to pass each other.
22 February 1869 the line opened with stations at Takeley, Felstead & Rayne. Other stations were later added- Easton Lodge in 1894, Hockerill Halt in 1910 and Stane Street and Banister Green Halts in 1922. However, It struggled as a profit making passenger service.
In the 1880's the demand for agricultural produce in London and the new industries that were starting up in Braintree in provided important revenue for the railway due to the increasing demand for the freight service.Whilst the freight traffic grew the passenger numbers were low.
During he Second World War rubble was transported for the construction of Saling airfield, near Braintree and bombs were carried at night. Local air-force bases were also supplied with armaments and stores. At the end of the war it was used to transport wounded soldiers home.
1st March, 1952 the line closed to passengers due to loss of revenue because of the growing competition from cars and buses.
End of 1971 all freight traffic stopped too.
Rayne Village Sheild ( depicts aspects of village history, including agriculture and the iron foundry works.The spinning wheel and straw plait represent past industry:wool yarn spinning, weaving and straw plaiting. The plough share represents the first improved plough made at Rayne Foundry.)
(Eggs at Little Canfield)
Booking Hall Cafe and Carriage at Rayne on The Flitch Way
Stortford end of Flitch way
Takeley Station Community Cafe on The Flitch Way
Platform at Bannister Green
Interesting Flitch Fact:
The route name comes from the Flitch Trial. This is a folk custom which originated in Little Dunmow. Every four years a married couple stands before a mock court. If they can prove that they have, for a year and a day, ‘not wished themselves unwed, they are awarded half a pig known as a ‘flitch' (side) of bacon.