Down South

Travelled a little further afield this weekend to visit relatives in the county of Essex.

Essex is a funny county. It’s got this awful reputation that its citizens are brash, blingy, wide boys with trophy high maintenance girlfriends and wives who have got less intelligence than a bacteria and who dance around their handbags in white stiletto heels, thanks to dreadful TV programmes like “The Only Way Is Essex” and other tasteless programmes. It may of started back in the 1980’s with its proximity to London and all the so called Yuppies and high City earners making their homes there, but it’s got this label and the poor county can’t shake it off.

In reality, it’s a lovely county in its own right. Okay, the southern end blights it slightly with heavy industry and docks, but as you travel further north, it becomes more charming and delightful. Londoners have always emigrated to Essex, especially the Eastenders. They used to buy little plots of land, build a little cottage and use it as a holiday home. Then as London became more of an attractive workplace, they moved in permanently and commuted in. North Essex still retains the rural and rolling countryside that has been lost further south and its here that we stayed.

We had booked a little cottage just outside a little village called Little Baddow, near Chelmsford. It was in the middle of nowhere and trying to find it in the dark was a bit of a challenge, down tiny dark lanes. In the morning, we found ourselves looking out into a ploughed field with trees and fields in the distance. Partridge birds pecked in the soil and got The Dog in a froth. It was pretty in the autumn sun. In the front, was another cottage and a large farmhouse, built out of the traditional black clapboard which is common in Essex. Hubby went investigating with The Dog and found the river and a pleasant circular stroll.

The Old Calf House

The view from the kitchen

The day was spent with our relatives, but later we drove to a place called Rayne near Braintree for a walk along the Flitch Way. It’s a disused railway line and stretches for 15 miles from Braintree to Bishops Stortford. We started at the railway station, now a cafe and where a railway carriage has been converted into museum. The Dog wasn’t allowed in so she and I lurked outside. I peered in through the windows. There was a very small miniature railway and lots of old pictures telling the history of the line. The family spent about ten minutes in there – the elderly curator want to engage them in conversation but they managed to make their excuses and we went for our stroll.

We walked off the end of the platform and onto the rail bed. It was a pleasant walk along a tunnel of autumnal trees. There was rain in the air. The Dog was off lead and had found an abandoned football, so we kicked that around for her. That kept her occupied. We crossed a busy dual carriageway by bridge and skirted another bridge that was under repair. We walked up to a certain point – Bishops Stortford was a little too far for today – and so turned around just as the light was starting to fade.

(And somehow, I failed to take any photos – my apologies)

Despite this part of Essex being relatively rural, I was dismayed to see huge housing estates being built on edges of towns and communities. Years ago I lived in Essex and contemplated in living in Witham, before I came to my senses and moved to Yorkshire. Now my heart sank as I came across two large developments where before there had been green fields. One development, admittedly had made an effort by giving the houses a little 1950’s character and chimneys, but still another piece of England had been nibbled away. On the other side of this pretty little town was another field earmarked to be buried under concrete. Witham does abut the main A12 road into London and it’s all very commutable with a railway line, so people want the best of both worlds – live out in the country and work in London. Ironically, they all live in brand new houses on monolithic dull cramped estates, that’s just eaten the very countryside they crave.

The next day, we all piled into cars and headed towards Saffron Walden and in particular, Audley End House, an magnificent pile set in acres of countryside. We put on the satnav and it took us along a rather exquisite route through rural Essex. We followed a back lane through tunnels of trees, along ploughed fields and rolling countryside. With a weak sun, there was just another light to highlight the colours. We drove through little villages, past century old buildings and thatched cottages. We passed through Finchingfield, a well known tourist hotspot, with its chocolate box houses and delightful duck pond in its centre. Just doing the drive made our day. There was a lot of oohing and arring going on.

We drove through Saffron Walden, another gorgeous town stuffed with old and quaint buildings. There is just an abundance of beautiful buildings in this area.

We followed the brown tourist signs for Audley End, past a high brick wall for seemingly ages, thinking someone had to build that and actually it’s Audley End’s back garden wall. We pulled in and gave English Heritage a huge chunk of money for admittance and parked up.

The back of Audley End

We parked on the grass that faced a modest man made water course, another expanse of highly maintained lawn and then the stately home, a beautiful solid building. It was impressive. We wandered around the grounds, admiring ancient trees with thick gnarled trunks and splendid majestic canopies which almost reached the ground. We kicked the autumn leaves, exciting The Dog and strolled across the Falconry display where a husband and wife team, dressed in Victorian garb, oversaw a group of falcons, hawks and owls. We asked questions and waited for the display to start, which was excellent. Four birds flew, whilst their handlers gave a detailed and interesting commentary, the birds swooping over our heads. The Dog got sent on a walk as she spotted one of the hawks and kept barking. We were very impressed as a group.

When it finished, most of our group wanted to go into the House to look around. Hubby and I are not ones for looking around stately homes and The Dog wasn’t allowed in so we went for a walk through the gardens and up to the folly higher up in the grounds. It was large grassy area with lots of trees and very pleasant.

We headed back to the main area and found a little cafe where we refreshed ourselves with a cuppa and a rather large scone and waited for the others. They reported on their return, that the House was excellent and had not seen all of it. Once regrouped we wandered off into the organic garden, laid out in Victorian orderliness with beautiful white glasshouses. It had clouded over since we had arrived, but now the sun made another appearance and lit everything up.

We sauntered around to the various outbuildings and stables on the estate, very impressed. It was well worth the money. We wished we could stay longer as there seemed more to explore but it was on the verge of closing for the day. More than satisfied, we jumped back into the cars where the satnav took us on a magical mystery tour, briefly into Hertfordshire and back home for tea.

The next day was our final day and to give The Dog a stretch of the legs before being stuffed into a car for 5 hours, we strolled out of the cottage, down the track and along a footpath to the little River Chelmer. It was quite warm – we were only in jumpers – as the sun was out and made it all very pleasant. It was all farmland with little copses of trees. You felt you were in the middle of nowhere.

Eventually we had to leave. We packed up, said our goodbyes, stuffed The Dog in the boot (not impressed) and began our long journey back to our little corner of England.

Author: apathtosomewhere

Come with me and my dog on my meanderings around northern England and further afield, encountering all walks of life and everything in between!

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