Stonework Face, St Martins, Chipping Ongar.

I was born in St Margaret’s Hospital in Epping, following a morning of bean picking. My mother had been entrusted with a friend’s allotment and was adamant that she needed to avoid a long drawn out labour in hospital. She had kept herself busy picking beans until the very last minute, almost delivering me in the corridors of the hospital. Her prime motivational force was to avoid any unnecessary hospital food. This is my very first connection to Essex crops.

I then grew up in Thurrock. Sadly, it is an area of Essex not noted for its beauty. It was once famous for its chalk quarries that later became the foundations for the more famous Lakeside Shopping Centre. I spent many a carefree afternoon exploring the local farmland alongside the river Mardyke with my friend, on her brother’s 'borrowed' bike. During the long summer days we disappeared for hours on end to explore the countryside of the Mardyke valley and meander along the river. We blissfully re-enacted plots from our favourite Enid Blyton books, enjoyed cobbled together picnics of stolen goodies and had the added excitement of being chased by farmers off their land. To us the farmland was nature's playground and a place of endless possibilities. My childhood friend and I ignored the law of trespassing preferring the life of make-believe and no consequences instead. My roots are firmly embedded in the farmlands of Essex. I am an Essex girl, born and bred from an era before the stereotypical Essex girl, 'dumb-blonde with a fake tan and stiletto heels' was invented. Those Essex girls sprouted from the artificial lands of Essex nightclubs in the 1980’s and 90’s.

The Essex Way is not merely a series of paths through fertile agricultural land. It is also holds pathways back to the heritage of Essex, for example  Celtic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon times. So far, we have discovered a multitude of historical delights wandering into the churches and exploring the villages along The Essex Way. 
Last Saturday 

  • I discovered the little 'hermit- window ' in the walls of St Martins Church in Chipping Ongar. The window opened into the church to give a view of the altar. I learnt about anchorites, the hermits who lived a life of extreme religious devotion during the Middle ages, within the walls of a church.
  • I learnt that St Martin's was built around 1080 from rubble and re-used roman bricks  
  • I had a tasty pub lunch by a roaring fire in the friendly Black Bull at Fyfield. It is a wonderful grade 2 listed building dating back to the 1400's. It is steeped in history from the old beams to the black and white photographs depicting the local farmers harvesting their cabbage and bean crops for the East London markets. The bean harvesting photos made me smile and think of my mum avoiding her hospital dinner. I must tell her about the Black Bull as she would definitely enjoy their freshly cooked meals.  
  • ​I heard the legend behind why there are two churches in the same grounds at the village Willingale. The tale tells of  two local wealthy sisters who argued about where to sit in the church pew so one built another church of her own. Whilst it is an interesting story it is unlikely to be true.

 I still live close to my Essex roots, literally a few miles away from the Essex border. It is not because I didn't want to fly too far from the nest but it is where life with my husband and his work has taken me. My work too often takes me back to the Essex towns of my childhood and again I love the sense of familiarity and belonging I experience while I am there.

I have a strong sense of wanderlust and enjoy the thrill of travelling much further afield, becoming immersed in other cultures, learning about different customs and trying new foods. However, it has been weirdly exciting reconnecting with my roots and enjoying the farmlands of Essex through grown-up eyes. It has been fun to recall my childhood memories but I no longer have the desire to trespass or experience the thrill of being chased by the farmers (well, most of the time!) Instead, I am enjoying the beautiful scenery, a chance to chat to my walking buddies about the random things that crop up in conversation, devour pub ham and chips and unearth interesting historical fact. I must say I really enjoyed the smug feeling after clocking up over 25,000 steps too, which meant I could enjoy some celebratory jelly babies! 

Welcoming fire in The Blackbull, Fyfield

I spent a very muddy and damp Saturday hiking across the farmland of Essex between Chipping Ongar and Pepper Green. It was the second leg of The Essex Way, which is an 81 mile long distance walk stretching across Essex, from Epping to Harwich. It is one of Phoebe's latest walking projects and one that I am hoping to complete. Admittedly, the challenge will help me rack up my step count but more importantly I want to walk it because I feel a deep connection with the heartland of Essex. 

'The deepest Essex few explore

where steepest thatch is sunk in flowers

and out of elm and sycamore

rise flinty fifteenth-century towers'

Sir John Betjeman (1954)

Once again I would like to thank Phoebe (phoebetaplin.com) for supplying me with amazing photos and for wanting to walk The Essex Way. 

Farmland near Fyfield Village, Essex


Week 33

Friday 15/1/2016