This is one of a series of three walks around Danbury Common, Lingwood Common and Blake's Wood. Each walk can be undertaken separately or joined with this one for one long walk.
Total steps: 12
Total steps: 12
National Trust Armoury car park, grid ref: TL781044
Start outside the Armoury (marker post 1) head down to the Bicknacre Road. Turn left onto a signposted public footpath until you reach 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.
From here, continue straight until reaching marker post 3.
History of the managed common land
Danbury and Lingwood Commons were given to the National Trust in 1953 by the Lord of the Manor, Mr F.B. 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. If left unmanaged, commons, like most open spaces, would revert to original high-canopy forests. Grassland plants become taller and coarser, with nettles, docks and thistles shading out the smaller plants which, in turn, are then overtaken by brambles, thorns and gorse. Eventually trees would start to emerge, shading out the scrub. The Trust clears this important ecosystem, which is an important nesting site for birds, when trees start to emerge over the scrub, which allows birds and wildlife to flourish.
Marker post 3 is 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. Now head slightly to the right to marker post 4.
Between 1850 and 1900, this open area was used as the village cricket pitch, doubtless the reason one John Jaggs (who became innkeeper in 1848) named his brewhouse 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. Keep an eye out for peacock butterflies. In early spring, the caterpillars like to feed on stinging nettles and, once they emerge as butterflies, you might see them taking advantage of the bluebell nectar.
At this point, head slightly right until reaching bridle path 28, turn left and after a few metres turn right and head south towards marker post 5.
This area was probably once dominated by heathland before being invaded by scrub and birch. In times past, the heather here was used in thatching, walling, making mattresses and medical infusions.
Now head on and shortly bear slightly to the left to marker post 6.
Backwarden Nature Reserve
Pre-1600 ancient woodland required 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. 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. Here you'll find 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 and has populations of reptiles and amphibians along with its own waymarked nature trail.
Turn left and go ahead to re-cross the bridle path 28 and head on up to marker post 7.
Old gravel workings
In 1994, this area of old gravel workings was part of an experiment to further the control of vegetation. A flock of Hebridean and Jacob sheep were allowed to graze within a temporarily fenced area, bringing full-circle of the management of at least a small part of Danbury Common.
Continue ahead, following the path to the left after a short way, then turn right and head north to marker post 8.
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 a valuable habitat for a wide variety of species. Look out for birds; warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats, linnets, flycatchers, finches and nightingales are known to breed here.
Go straight on and turn right to reach marker post 9.
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. This soil mix 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 forward for a few paces towards the boundary and turn left towards marker post 10.
A spring line at approximately 70m above sea level runs right around Danbury Ridge. The largest of note is from Spring Buell some 50m north-north-east from this point. 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.
Go on for a little way and cross the bridle path 30 and continue 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.
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 used to create a wet, boggy area that attracts amphibians and small waders, together with many wetland flowers and plants.
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
Easy walking on a numbered route. There are grass tracks and some tree roots. It may not be suitable for push/wheelchairs as some areas become muddy in wet weather and during winter.
The Armoury, Penny Royal Road, Danbury, Essex CM3 4ED.
Service 30 or 31 from Chelmsford bus station to Danbury Eves Corner.
National Cycle Network Route 1 is open between Harlow and Maldon, via Chelmsford. It passes by the edge of Blakes Wood and Danbury and Lingwood Commons. Note that cycles are not allowed in Blakes Wood, and are only allowed on bridle paths in Lingwood and Danbury.
The nearest station is Chelmsford.
From A12 take A414 signpost Maldon/Danbury. At Eves Corner, Danbury take Mayes Lane into Penny Royal Lane.
Dogs are welcome as long as under close control. Please clear up any dog litter.
National Trust car park (free).
There are toilets in The Cricketers Arms pub in Danbury.
The Cricketers Arms in Danbury.
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