Danbury Common to Lingwood Common walk, Chelmsford, Essex
Walk with the National Trust from Danbury Common to Lingwood Common, along this way-marked route, discovering open heathland, wooded glades, wetland and all the wildlife that thrive in the variety of habitats. Ideal for families.
Danbury and Lingwood Commons were given to the National Trust in 1953 by the Lord of the Manor, Mr FB Plumtree. The Commons at that time, were an overgrown mosaic of habitats of different heights and ages: grass, heath, scrub, scrub-woodland coppice and a wetland area with ponds. One of a series of three walks, each walk can be undertaken separately or co-joined with this one for one long walk. Links below.
National Trust Armoury car park, grid ref: TL781044
Starting outside the Armoury (marker post 1) head down to the Bicknacre Road. Turn left onto a sign posted public footpath until reaching the road known as 'The Common'. This road can be quite busy so be careful. Cross the road and bear right towards marker post 2.
The Armoury was reconstructed in 1996 after a fire and is now the National Trust's site office. The original timber-framed Armoury was built in 1802 as a store for arms for soldiers garrisoned on Danbury Common as part of a line of defence across the country to intercept any Napoleonic invasion.
Unmanaged, commons, like most open spaces would revert to original high canopy forests cleared by early man. Grassland plants become taller and coarser, with nettles, docks and thistles shading out the smaller plants, which in turn are then overtaken by the likes of bramble, thorn and gorse. Eventually trees would start to emerge shading out the scrub. The Trust clear this important nesting area on rotation when trees start to emerge over the scrub, allowing birds and wildlife to flourish. Now continue straight until reaching marker post 3.
Danbury Common in summer
Danbury Common shortly after the start of the trail on a sunny day in early summer.
Marker post 3 marks the boundary between scrub habitats and the main dry acid grass heathland areas, and shows, to the south, the more typical landscape of a traditional open common. From 1850 to 1900 this open area was used as the village cricket pitch, doubtless the reason one John Jaggs (became innkeeper in 1848) naming his brew-house close to the Common, 'The Cricketers'. Almost immediately on the right is the site of a new pond, currently fenced-off to enable pond life and plants to multiply. Now head slightly to the right to marker post 4.
Butterflies such as the Peacock can be found at Danbury. They’re probably Britain’s longest-living butterflies and may live to see their eleventh month -albeit having spent five or six months hibernating. Peacock adults survive from late July into the following spring, perhaps into June. They can be easily recognised by their four large eye spots. When the bluebells flower, peacocks are just starting to wake after their hibernation and can take advantage of their plentiful supply of nectar. The Peacock caterpillar feeds on stinging nettles.
This area was probably once dominated by heathland before being invaded by scrub and birch. Heather was used in thatching, walling, making mattresses and medical infusions. Now head slightly right until reaching the bridle path 28, turn left and after a few metres turn right and head south towards marker post 5.
Pre 1600 ancient woodland requires little management. Open glades occur naturally as old trees die and fall, and they support woodland flowers and shrubs until young saplings grow tall enough to shade out the lower vegetation, producing a range of trees of different ages. The woodland structure is now managed by the National Trust to provide as many different ages and types of tree as possible, and the glades and openings are artificially created by felling. Now head on and shortly bear slightly to the left to marker post 6.
Backwarden Nature Reserve
The south western part of Danbury Common is managed on behalf of the National Trust by the Essex Wildlife Trust, and is part of the Danbury Common Site of Special Scientific Interest which has a variety of habitats; extensive wet areas with wetland species like Marsh Willowherb, Fine-leaved Water-dropwort, Pennywort and Common and Lesser Skullcap. It also extends the lowland heath habitat range of the Common; has populations of reptiles and amphibians, and has its own way-marked nature trail.
This area of old gravel workings was, in 1994 part of an experiment to further the control of vegetation. Now turn left and head on to re-cross the bridle path 28 and head on up to marker post 7.
Old gravel workings
In 1994 a flock of Hebridean and Jacob sheep started grazing within a temporarily fenced area, bringing full-circle of the management of at least a small part of Danbury Common.
The woodland in this area, mainly stocked with Hornbeam, is divided into 20 'coupes' (the traditional term for an area of coppice) and each is cut on a 20 year rotation. When cut, the larger wood is sold as firewood and the twigs are formed into deadwood hedges providing valuable habitat. Now continue ahead following the path to the left after a short way, then turn right and head north to marker post 8.
Birds such as warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats, linnets, flycatchers, finches and nightingales are known to breed here.
The change in vegetation across this area, from hornbeam, oak and holly on the eastern side to silver birch and heather on the west, indicates the change from clay to sand. The soil mix here creates what is probably the best area on the Common for cultivation, and it was here that billeted soldiers in Napoleonic times, grew vegetables. Now head on straight and turn right to reach marker post 9.
A spring line at approximately 70m above sea level runs right around Danbury Ridge. The largest of note is from Spring Buell some 50m NNE from this point. Now head forward for a few paces towards the boundary and turn left towards marker post 10.
Buell Well provided the drinking water for Danbury in the 18th and early 19th-centuries. In the late 19th-century water from the well was piped to this site to enable a pumping station and reservoirs to be built. The pumps and their accompanying reservoirs became defunct in 1936 and were finally demolished in 1962. The foundations of the old pumping station are still visible, and it's just possible to see the pipe from the well, from which spring water gushes all year round, even in drought conditions.
There is little standing water within the Common, but as one of the lowest points of Danbury Common this area is often flooded after heavy rain. By retaining some of this run-off in a series of small dams along the main flood line, this water is utilised to create a wet boggy area attracting amphibians and small waders, together with many wetland flowers and plants. Now head on for a little way and cross the bridle path 30. Head on until reaching a footpath on the left. Make a left turn, then a right turn, then a half right turn, and then a left turn following on to cross 'The Common' road again. Then turn left with the houses on your left until reaching marker post 11.
Livestock would have been allowed to graze here in the early spring but removed at the end of April, for the grass to be grown for 10-12 weeks before being cut for hay. Now make your way back to the car park or across the road to the Cricketers Inn for some refreshment, before continuing to Lingwood Common.
If continuing to Lingwood, from the car park head left, cross the Bicnacre Road and turning left down Sporeham's Lane take the first signed footpath on the right. Now continue on the Lingwood trail.
National Trust Armoury car park, grid ref: TL781044
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