A circular walk from High Ongar through Willingale
Description: A pleasant walk in Essex with extensive views over central Essex. It takes in the unusual "twin churches" of Willingale. Be prepared for some parts of the walk to be a bit muddy and overgrown at some times during the year.
OS Ref: TL566038
Length: 7 Miles approx.
Approximate time: 3-3¼ hours, but allow extra time to investigate Willingale's churches!
Parking: High Ongar, opposite church.
Refreshments: Pub at High Ongar, otherwise none during the walk, but Chipping Ongar is close to the start/finish.
Start by facing the church at High Ongar. Turn right and proceed down the road in an easterly direction, until you come to a road on the left with an "unsuitable for motors" sign. Turn down this road, then a short distance afterwards, carefully cross the A 414. This road can be very busy, as it is a main route between Chelmsford and Harlow at this point. It's almost certainly the road you used to get here, so I'm sure you know this already!
Follow Forest Lodge Road (formally known as Norton Lane,) bearing right after a short time in front of a house. Follow the road then go though a gap to the left of a gate to follow a public bridalway. From here you can, depending on the season, see the next destination - Norton Mandeville church. Follow the bridalway to Norton Mandeville. Go though a small gate to the right of the main one. The outbound route proper starts here.
Turn left opposite Norton Mandeville church, leaving Norton Lane to follow a bridalway sign. After a short while, just by a house, you get to a T junction which you turn right at. Follow the track, but don't be tempted to follow it to the left. Keep ahead to walk down a tree lined track. Bear left further down, onto a concrete apron. This marks the start of a second World war airfield. This was constructed ready for 1943, and was used during the last part of the war. It was eventually turned back to agriculture in 1959, but still bears the scars from the war period. Follow the track for a short while, then turn right at a T junction. From here, you can see the next destination in the distance; Willingale church (St. Christopher's.)
After a short while, turn left at a bridalway waymark post. From hereon, you have an uninterrupted view for miles around. The next part of the walk is pretty straight. Carry on down the bridalway in a northerly direction to a T junction. Turn right, then almost immediately afterward left, to continue following the bridalway to Willingale. Keep ahead until the bridalway dives to the right through a hedge gap (soon after a hedgerow and series of small trees starts on the right.) Follow this for a few meters, then turn left to follow a track to the left of a copse, to a gate.
Turn right at the gate and follow the Fyfield road, passing a sewage works on the left. Keep ahead until you reach a road on the left (unimaginatively named "The Street"!) Turn left down "The Street" until you arrive at Willingale's two churches on the left. Turn left at a public footpath waymark. This is the Essex Way, and is the path we'll mainly be following back to the start.
At this point, it is worth investigating these churches. The larger one, Willingale Doe (St. Christopher's,) and the smaller one Willingale Spain (St. Andrews.)
As to why there are two churches on the same site, no-one is quite certain. One reason I've read for this is a simple one. Willingale was at one time a thriving woollen Town. Its population became too big for the original church, so an "overflow" church was built beside it to house all the worshipers in the Town. Seems reasonable! Another reason I've read is that is that two sisters quarrelled and each built their own church. This story is without foundation, as the churches date from different periods (some 200 years apart!) Anyway, if you stop by these interesting churches, you can read more local information than I can provide in these directives! On with the walk.
Pass through the churchyard and follow the path, first to the left of a field, then cross a bridge, turn right then follow the path to the right of a field. Keep ahead to the field corner. Don't be tempted to turn right to follow a track near the field corner. Turn left at the corner of this field. Shortly afterward, turn right to cross a plank bridge to walk through a field to the opposite side. Turn left then follow the right side of the field, eventually to come to a gap on the right. Turn right through the gap, then turn left onto a road. Follow the road then at a junction bear left.
Carry along the road to a footpath. You'll have to watch out for this, as it is a bit hidden. Turn right to cross a field. Carry on through a large hedge gap, then across the next field. After you come to a road, turn left and follow it to a footpath sign on the left. Turn left to carry on along the Essex Way. The path is first along a tree lined passage. Later it is along the left edge of a field. It then dives left into another tree lined passage. During the period it comes into the field, you get views to the right of the rather unusual Fyfield church.
When you come to a road turn left. Follow the road to a gate on the right. Duck under the gate (if it's not open,) then turn left to walk along the left side of a field (the official Essex way is just to the left of this field.) As this part of the Essex way often gets boggy, the route seems have been diverted to the right of the original Essex way here. Walk to the left corner of this field, then turn left.
At this point, (if you have an OS map,) the obvious way back seems to be using the "Three Forests Way". Don't be tempted by this, as it always seems to be "walker unfriendly" (I've tried it.) Carry on along the Essex Way! To do this, turn right then follow the right edge of a field for a short distance to a bridge.
Cross the bridge then turn left. For the next part of the walk, you will have the river you've just crossed to your left. Keep ahead, following the river. During this part of the walk, all the great views you had earlier seem to disappear due to being in a small valley.
There are a number of plank bridges to cross for a while (across tributaries and drainage channels.) After eventually crossing a stile, you break away from the river. Keep ahead, following the path to a road.
Cross a stile, cross the road then cross another stile to follow the Essex way sign. Continue along this path. Walk up a few steps, then Carefully cross the busy A 414 again. Turn right down steps. Cross another stile. Follow the right side of a field. Turn left at the field corner. Follow the path to a T junction.
Turn left to eventually cross a bridge. After a short while you can see High Ongar to your left. Turn sharp left after crossing the bridge, and follow the left side of a field for a short way. The path diverts right after a short while. Go through a kissing gate to the left of a main gate. Turn left at a T junction. follow the road for a short while, then turn right at another T junction.
You are now pretty well directly in front of High Ongar Church, where the walk started from.
Click here to get an OS map with the route highlighted.