Hatfield Forest, Takeley to Wall Wood walk, Essex
This circular walk with the National Trust, starts from the old station at Takeley, treks across country to ancient Wall Wood, continues into and across the forest, and then back along the old Bishop's Stortford to Braintree railway line (Flitch way), finishing at the old station. See St.John the Evangelist church, Woodside Green, Stane Street Halt and site of The Hatfield Forest ‘Doodle Oak’.
Explore ancient Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood on this 9.5 mile walk. Great for active families. Some road walking - watch out for traffic. The forest trails become very muddy in winter, so this route is best enjoyed in the summer months. We may also need to close off some parts of this trail, even in summer, to allow the ground to recover. If so, an alternative route will be provided.
Takeley old Station House TL562211
Starting from Takeley Old Station House, access Flitch Way from behind the building. Turn right and walk under the railway bridge. Continue for about a ¼ mile (400m) until you reach Forest Way footpath. Turn left and follow the path downhill. After about 10 minutes, cross a field boundary and continue downhill. In 10 more minutes, you'll reach another field boundary and enter a wood. Cross a footbridge, go slightly uphill and turn left out of the wood. Follow the path down the field towards a stile.
Takeley had a single platform on the north side of the line. There was a substantial brick building, including the station master's house, booking office, waiting room and lamp room. There was a 'small goods' yard, also on the north side, and a signal box on the 'up' side of the line. Although the station closed in 1952, August Bank Holiday excursions continued to use the line until 1964.
Cross the stile and head diagonally to the left, to the far corner of the field, to another stile. Cross the stile onto a small lane. After the stile, turn right and follow the lane downhill over a road culvert and then uphill until you reach a T-junction with the Takeley Street to Hatfield Broad Oak Road. Turn right and visit the church of St John the Evangelist on the right.
St John the Evangelist
St John the Evangelist, Bush End - a classic Victorian Church started in 1856, and opened for divine service in May 1858. It was described at ordination as the 'pretty little edifice'. It has an interesting round tower, seemingly attached to the main tower. The names of the Houblon family occur many times in the history of the church, and The stained glass windows of the 'Apse of St Peter' was presented by Georgina Anne Archer Houblon in 1857. Restoration work started in early 2012 with the help of a grant from the Essex Environment Trust, and the church was turned into a multi-purpose building for community use.
After visiting the church, turn left out of the gate and re-trace your steps, turning left again and heading back down the lane until reaching the stile with a green on your right. Follow footpath signs across the green and cross a small footbridge into the field. The path heads across the field (which may be muddy or have growing crops). Alternatively, turn right and walk round the field boundary and re-join the path going into the next field. Follow this path downhill through another field boundary until reaching a made-up path. Turn right and, passing Pincey Cottage on your right, re-join the Takeley Street to Hatfield Broad Oak road. Turn left and follow the road for 200-300yd (180-270m) round Z-bends. Be careful, this road can be busy.
On the right, you will find the Doodle Oak entrance to Hatfield Forest. Enter the forest and turn slightly left. Heading along the open ride, keeping the tree line to your left, keep going until reaching an exit gate on to the road. Exit the forest, turn right and follow the road until reaching the Wall Wood entrance on the left. Enter the wood and head straight ahead on the path. At the end of the path you are free to explore Wall Wood.
Wall Wood is the ancient wood of Great Hallingbury, and can be traced back to the 13th c. It was one of Hatfield Forest's ancient 'purlieu woods', associated with the forest but not entirely part of it. Owned and managed by us since 1946, it has ancient coppiced trees; in the more open parts - good ground flora, largely due to the absence of grazing animals, e.g. dog's mercury, bluebells, primroses, cowslip, wood sorrell, and goldilocks buttercup. Look out for golden mistletoe stems on the trees in March, spring flowers in May and butterflies in July.
When you've finished in Wall Wood, head right at the end of the entrance path. The path takes you to an exit onto Woodside Green, also under our care. Turn right towards the road, and turning right, head back down the road past the Wall Wood entrance, continuing until reaching a National Trust entrance gate into Hatfield Forest on the left. Continue past this gate to the next entrance on the left (you exited previously) with signs for the Forest Way. Enter the forest here and, heading straight ahead, follow the left-hand of the two 'rides' presented.
Woodside Green, at the southern end of Hatfield Forest near Little Hallingbury, is an ancient common consisting of open grassland with scattered ancient trees - now often grazed by cattle. It was given to us in 1935 by Major Houblon.
Head straight on, keeping to the left-hand ride with Emblems Coppice on your left. When you reach the open plain, skirt round the right-hand side of Forest Lodge, a 16th-century former hunting lodge. Follow the made-up path, passing through a gap in the tree line. If you don't wish to visit the Lakeside Area, turn left and go to (8). Otherwise, head straight ahead down a ride through Collins Coppice. On reaching the bottom, turn left and head down until you reach the end of this ride. Bear right along a small path until you reach a gated footbridge. Cross this bridge; turn right and follow the side of the dam until reaching the path along the side of the lake. Turn left and the Shell House, café area and toilets are in front of you.
When you've finished at the Lakeside area, turn left at the café and exit through the gate into the car park. Head straight across the car park, looking out for the very tall un-missable Cedar of Lebanon tree. Cross two small footbridges and head around the tree. Continue up the wide ride in front of you and when reaching the top, you'll be on the plain near to Forest Lodge.
Cedar of Lebanon
This tree was planted in the 18th century by the Houblon family, who owned the forest at that time. It acts as a landmark to travellers in the forest.
Now continue right along this main plain known as London Road. Bearing left across the road, keep the treeline to your left. Keep to the left pass Round Coppice. You're now in the 'London Bridge' area and will see a small plantation to your right. Continuing on, you may see piles of coppice, left in the open to 'season', on your right.
Almost opposite Spittlemore Coppice are the Portingbury Hills - the visible remains of an Iron Age settlement probably associated with early woodland clearances and livestock grazing.
Coppice in the Spittlemore Coppice area
What is coppice? In prehistoric times, people noticed that certain trees grew again after they were felled. The new growth consisted of many thin poles, useful because they were easy to harvest and suitable for firewood, woven fencing and house building. When people began to develop a settled way of life and keep domestic animals, they were able to keep an area of woodland regularly cut over. This practice of cutting trees to a cycle is known as coppicing. The length of the cycle depends on the species and the size of poles required.
Still keeping to the left tree line, continue on what is known as Shermore Brook - look for an area of reclaimed wood pasture. Just after, if you look into the trees, you will find the site of the Doodle Oak, with an information plate.
The oak, which died in 1858, was believed to have been one of the biggest trees (by girth circumference). The oak growing to the right is thought to grow from one of the roots of the original tree.
Keeping to the left, bear round to the right and exit the forest through the Elman's Green gate with information board. If you fancy a snack, a small diversion down the path in front of you will take you across the main Bishop's Stortford to Dunmow road and on to Café Park in Thremhall Park. It's open until 4pm on weekdays (3pm Fridays).
Turning right out of the Elman's Green gate, it's a pleasant walk along the old railway bed going through 5-bar gates. On passing the 4th gate and last Forest entrance gate, continue a few yards until reaching the site of Stane Street Halt. Continue for a mile along the Flitch Way until reaching the old Takeley Station House (1) and your parked car (if you came by car).
Stane Street Halt
Sit and imagine yourself back in the 1920s. To combat competition from local bus services in the 1920's, several cheaply built 'Halts' were constructed to try to attract custom from nearby communities. Halts were unmanned, so specially adapted rolling stock was introduced. Steps were provided from each side of the 3rd coach to serve the 'halts', which had platforms at track level. The guard lowered and retracted the steps by using a lever located within the carriage.
Takeley old Station House TL562211
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