Finchingfield, Great Bardfield and the Sampfords

I've been wanting to include a walk from the Finchingfield area for quite a while. This walk explores the delightful area around this part of Essex - Finchingfield is often referred to as the most picturesque village in Essex, and is typified by the classic view looking east from the green, across the duck-pond, with the hill rising to the church in the background.

Quite a bit of the walk is along roads (about 3 miles in total). There are alternatives looking at a map, but they're not appropriate due to their overgrown nature, especially during crop growing. (I have actually tried them!)

OS Ref: TL687328
Length: 14 Miles approx.
Approximate time: 5-5 hours.
Parking: Roadside parking in Finchingfield.
Refreshments: Pubs and numerous tea-rooms at Finchingfield. Pubs in Great Bardfield and Great Sampford.

The walk

Start at the southeast corner of the church, at the junction of Vicarage Road and The Pightle. The word "Pightle" actually means "an enclosed piece of land" - I just had to find this out, as I was curious! Walk in a WSW direction along The Pightle, then just after a right bend in the road, look out for a footpath, with its "attendant" sign to the left. Take this tarmac footpath, soon turning left at a way-marker, to walk along a slightly more enclosed path. The path follows the back of some gardens for a while. The path eventually comes out of its wooded environment into a more open area.

Keep along the path, with a fence now to your right, and Finchingfield Brook to your left. Follow the path along the left edge of three fields. Go through a gap at the end of the third one. Cross a plank bridge, then keep to the left edge of a meadow, still with a fence to your right. The path zig-zags a bit - cross another plank bridge, then continue to the left of another meadow, with a fence still to the right. We lose the fence for a while, then go through a narrower section with a fence to the right again.

At the end of this section, we come out onto the left edge of a field (ignore the tempting bridge to the left here). At the far left corner of the field, turn right for a few paces, coming to a rather buried plank bridge. Cross the bridge, to continue along an enclosed path, with a fence to the right at first, soon joined by one from the left further on. The path gets quite narrow later on, and if you're wearing shorts, you may get stung by one or two nettles!

When the path comes to a track, turn right for just a few paces, then left at a way-marker to follow the left edge of a field. Turn right at the far left corner of the field, again resisting the temptation of yet another bridge on the left! Continue in this direction until you get to a bridge on the left, which you cross. Go to the left of a house, with an old water-wheel just before it then turn right(1), to follow a WSW direction. Keep to the left of several paddock-type enclosures, until you come to a stile at the end. Turn left to cross this stile, then follow the right edge of a field - the church of Great Bardfield soon coming into view straight ahead. After a short while, a windmill comes into view the other side of the field. Ignore the first turn to the right, but take the next one, pointed to by a way-marker, through an enclosed section with a brook to the right.

On coming to a road (Mill Road) turn right, soon to bear right into Brook Street. You may want to explore Great Bardfield; if you do, make for a pub called The Vine afterwards to rejoin the walk! If you don't wander around the town however, take the next turn right (Crown Street). This has a signpost pointing to Finchingfield and Steeple Bumpsted at its start. Take the first left (still Crown Street - with a signpost to Thaxted and Great Dunmow).

When you get to The Vine public house, turn right(2), to the right of the pub to follow a public footpath signpost. Go through the pub car park, keeping right at the other end to walk along a short grassy patch to a gate. Go through a smaller gate to the right of the main one and strike off diagonally across a meadow. At the far corner, go through a gap, then follow a path through the boundary turning immediately right to walk in a diagonal direction across the area of scrub here. At the next far corner, go through another gap, cross a plank bridge, turn left after the bridge, then right onto an enclosed path at first - later to be on the left of another area of scrub.

Go through a gate by a way-marker, then follow the path which heads towards the centre of another bit of scrub-land. After a short while, there is a meeting of paths (which may seem a bit undefined) when you're level with a gate to the left. Turn left towards this gate, then pass to the right of it to turn right into a field, initially along the right edge, but soon coming into the open to walk by a lone tree.

At a track, turn right, then just before a gate turn right to follow a path to a concrete bridge. Cross it (be careful - the far bottom step is sinking into the ground!). Turn left then make for a metal gate which is part of a boundary (sometimes left open). Go through the gate then bear slightly right to walk to the far right corner of a meadow. This corner is punctuated by a river "gauging station" for the river Pant (this river also makes an appearance in the "Radwinter walk" on this site)! Cross a stile in the corner to walk along an enclosed section of path beside the river. Pass a bridge to the left, climb another stile soon after to come out on the left edge of some meadows, vaguely following the course of the river for a few hundred metres, and climbing some more stiles. In the last of this succession of meadows, head for a pole carrying a power-line (with a way-pointer on it). Follow the direction pointed to on this pole, to a stile. Cross the stile then continue along the right edge of another meadow, with a road just to the right.

After a short while, there's a stile to the right onto the road (Cook's Lane). Cross the stile, then turn left(3) to cross a concrete bridge (crossing a ford). The obvious way on from here would be to cross the road here and use a footpath on the opposite side. On the last two occasions I've tried this, the path has been totally unwalkable, even bordering on the dangerous! I'm not a fan of road-walking, but I'll make the exception here (and again later too)! Walk along Cook's Lane in a WSW direction, soon coming to a t-junction. Turn right at this junction to walk towards Little Sampford (there was no actual signpost here last time I did the walk). This is a little-used road, so you shouldn't be constantly diving out of the way of cars. Last time I walked this stretch, I think I only encountered 3 or 4 vehicles!

Follow the road to Little Sampford - about 2km (1 miles). The one advantage of using the road here instead of the parallel footpath is that the views are better. To the right, across a valley, you can see some of the return walk including Hawkin's Hill.

Pass to the left of Little Sampford church; also pass a turning to the right to go in the direction of Thaxted and Great Dunmow as indicated on a signpost. Shortly afterwards, look for a footpath signpost to the right(4). Follow it to go through a farmyard (Little Sampford Hall). Follow a concrete path at the end to come to a gate. After going through the gate (it may need a bit of heaving to open then shut it) go half-right to come to a rather dilapidated stile. Cross the stile then go diagonally across a field, in a northerly direction. Cross a stile at the far side, then walk diagonally across a meadow towards a concrete bridge. At the bridge, cross a stile to the left of it, then cross the bridge to walk along a boundary. After a short while, the track becomes a bit feint, but keep to the left of a wooded area (Millfield Plantation). Follow the track round to the right to head in an ENE direction. Go through a large gap, then continue in a NNE direction across a meadow, swinging left to a more northerly direction soon-after.

There is a stile ahead, which is not always easily findable! After you have found it, turn left after it, to go in a NW direction towards another stile. Cross this stile, turn left along the left edge of another meadow. Ignore a concrete bridge to the left, but carry on to a stile - cross a bridge just before it, then cross the stile, bearing slightly right after it. Make for the far right corner of the meadow you're now in (in a NW direction). At the far corner, there's a wide grassy path to follow (still in a NW direction). There seems to be a way-marker by a stile some way to the left of this path, which doesn't seem to go anywhere (although it may have done some 10 or so years ago)! We follow the River Pant for another stretch now. At the end of this grassy path, carry on to the left of a field.

Follow the contour of the left edge of the field for a while to pass a weir to the left. Soon after, look out for a pretty missable gap to the left. Turn to go through it, cross a plank bridge, then turn right for a short way. On coming to a power pole, turn half-left to walk in a westerly direction. Follow the path to the town of Great Sampford, turning right(5) onto a road briefly (B1051), before turning right at a junction in the direction of Finchingfield and Great Bardfield. Here begins another fairly lengthy session of road-walking, but as before, the roads get pretty light use by vehicles. At a bend in the road, follow it round to the right, then turn left at a junction, by a post-box, in the direction of Cornish Hall End. Follow the road to a tee-junction, again about 2km (1 miles).

Go straight ahead at the tee-junction to follow a signpost. Go through a gap then head slightly right to cross a stile. Walk across a meadow to cross a similar style of stile, soon visible after crossing the first. By nature of their design, these stiles seem to need a lot of energy to cross them! Cross a footbridge which can be a little overgrown with various types of vegetation (mostly nettles, it has to be said). Go ahead to a road. Turn left for a few paces, then right(6) at a footpath signpost. Follow the right edge of a field going slightly up-hill at first. Follow a way-marker right at the end of this field, then very soon after follow another way-marker to go left at the corner of the field you are now in. Follow the right edge of the field, round a couple of bends to go through a gap at the far corner to walk in the same direction along the edge of the next field. Keep to this field-edge as it goes slightly left, then follow quite a long stretch (about 500m) in this direction.

Cross into the next field - here you can see Cornish Hall End ahead. If you wanted to, you could explore the village by walking in an easterly direction to it. The walk however leaves to the right soon, at a way-marker(7). Follow a path in the direction of a pylon to start with. After walking under a power line turn right to walk parallel to it. Continue in this direction, walking on alternate sides of the next few fields, to a road. Turn left onto the road for about 600m, then follow a footpath signpost by turning right onto a track(8).

At some farm buildings, bear left, to walk to the left of a green. Turn right at a way-marker, just after coming to a field. Follow the right edge of two fields, turning left at a corner in the second one. At a way-marker, turn right. The navigation aids and bridges etc. seem to be pretty new for a while, so I guess the path has been re-vamped recently! Anyway, walk on the left edge of a field, with Little Howe Wood to your left.  It can be a bit uneven here, and also get a bit water-logged after long periods of rain. At the end of this field, turn left at another way-marker. Follow yet another way-marker soon to go slightly right (this stops you inadvertently wandering into the wood at a rather tempting spot for doing so)! Cross a footbridge to the left, then carry on along the left edge of a field. This can get a tad overgrown near harvesting, but should normally be no trouble.

After losing Little Howe Wood to the left, keep ahead to another wooded area (Great Howe Wood). On coming to the wood, turn right(9) at a way-marker just before it. Keep this wood to your left until you reach the corner of the field. Here, by a rather hidden way-marker, turn left into the wood. On emerging from the wood, keep ahead, in the same direction. You may want to spend some time here admiring the views to the right. You are now on Hawkin's Hill, and some of the area you walked earlier can be seen from here, especially Little Sampford church - it's great here on a clear day!

After all your viewing of the locality, carry on in the same direction to eventually come to a road (B1053). Here, turn left, then left again to follow a footpath signpost to walk along the right edge of a field. At the far right corner, cross a bridge then turn left to walk along the left edge of the next field. Keep ahead at a boundary, still walking in an ESE direction. At the end of this field, bear left(10) to follow a way-marker to the left of a meadow. At the far end of this meadow, keep ahead along a short enclosed section, which can be a bit uneven and muddy. This enclosed section opens up to be a bit wider near the end. On coming to a track, turn left.

Just after some farm buildings, bear right onto a track to walk in an easterly direction. Finchingfield appears in the distance to the right soon, the church with its distinctive squat-looking tower. The grounds of Spain's Hall can be seen directly ahead too. The present house at Spain's Hall dates back to the 15th century; its present front dates back to 1585. At a road, turn right (this is the third time we've encountered this road)! Follow the road for about 400 metres, then turn right(11) at a footpath signpost. After wading your way through some vegetation, make for the left edge of a field.

Keep ahead at a fairly new-looking way-marker to come into another field. At the far left corner of this field, turn left then immediately right to walk along the right edge of an adjacent field. Go through a gap in the corner, then cross a footbridge to walk to the left edge of an area of scrub. Go though a gap at the far end then go turn slightly left though an enclosed path.

When you come to a road, turn left onto it. After a few paces, you can see that classic picture-postcard view of Finchingfield, with the pond in the foreground surrounded by cottages, and the road behind the pond, leading up to the church. The safest option here is to turn next right along a one-way road then cross a green, then a road to walk to the right side of the pond, crossing a metal bridge - actually part of a weir. Finchingfield windmill can be seen to the left. Carry on up the right side of a road for a short while, then just opposite the Red Lion pub, turn right at an entrance, into the churchyard. Continue through the churchyard back to the start of the walk.

Click here to get an OS map with the route highlighted.
Click here for a file containing Garmin eTrex details for the walk.