A circular walk in a comparatively unspoiled part of mid Essex, between Chelmsford and Braintree. It is particularly suited to being a winter walk as most of the route is on quiet country lanes, surfaced bridleways and grassy field paths, thus avoiding the worst of the Essex mud. It is a good walk for any time of year though, with fine views across open countryside and is, for the most part, devoid of traffic noise.
Calculated time is computed with the distance, the height difference, and an average speed of 2.2 mph. For an intermediate walker, this time includes small breaks.
Start : St. John's Church Car Park, Little Leighs (TL71871680).
(D/A) Leave St. John's Church car park by the left hand exit, cross Church Lane and go straight ahead on the width-restricted Rectory Lane. Cross the very narrow bridge over the River Ter keeping ahead on the road.
At the T-junction turn left (North-North-West) to continue following the lane. Ignore a public footpath off to the right and another on the left. Continue on this hedge-lined narrow lane, passing The Old Rectory, for nearly half a mile until reaching a T-junction on a bend.
(1) Bear left (North) at the junction and after a few yards take a footpath on the left beside a fingerpost and large wooden post. Go straight ahead keeping close to the field boundary towards trees ahead. At the time of writing this path was between two field boundaries and was quite easy to follow; it does deviate slightly to the right of the OS map marking, but should be quite obvious.
(2) On meeting the hedge and fence line, bear right and almost immediately turn off to the left into a wooded area with a pond on the left. Keep ahead on this path through trees and bushes to eventually drop gently down to cross a footbridge (the River Ter again).
Pass through two lines of newly planted (probably cricket bat) willow trees to cross another footbridge then cross the field, going straight ahead towards an oak tree to the right of a telegraph pole, virtually directly ahead. The path leaves the field at a fingerpost and joins a narrow country road - Church Lane.
(3) Turn right (North-West) on the lane passing Little Warricks, ignoring a footpath on the left shortly after. Pass the optimistically named Court Hill to reach a T-junction. At the junction cross the road to take a marked footpath beside a gate (North-West).
Follow the field edge track shortly after a concrete standing, with the hedge and trees on the right and field on the left, soon passing a white-topped marker post. The path begins to swing gently to the left.
(4) Just after meeting a small copse on the right there is a T-junction of paths - turn right (North) to follow the track downhill, passing the end of the copse. At the corner of the field beside a large willow tree and a white-topped marker post (which, at time of writing, looked as though it was about to fall over), turn left (West) to follow the field edge track, again with a hedge and tree on the right. Behind these trees is Lodge Lake which cannot be seen due to its very high bank.
Keep ahead very gently downhill, swinging right on the obvious gravel farm track. This drops down to a ford which even in June was too deep to cross, but there is a handily placed footbridge on the left, behind a beech tree. Re-join the track which shortly turns sharp right (where it can be quite wet) and then sharp left. Here it is possible to climb the bank to see the rather attractive fly-fishing lake, where there is a handily placed bench to rest awhile and admire the scene.
(5) Continue along the gravel track (North) until reaching a car park. Here turn sharp to follow the tree-lined gravel track - the access road to the lakes. Pass on either side of metal gate if it is locked, keeping straight ahead, passing farm buildings and two cylindrical fertiliser stores on the left. Just after these, do not go ahead towards Leighs Lodge but turn left to go between farm buildings towards an earth bank.
Turn right to pass by a black barn then leave the farm on the left side of a gate by a fingerpost beneath a horse chestnut tree. Turn left (South-West) to follow a traffic-calmed lane ahead. Where the lane bears left, with a large oak tree on the right.
(6) Take a fingerpost marked footpath off to the right (North-North-West), initially through trees and scrub, across a plank footbridge to reach a field corner. Follow the path gently downhill along the line of power cables and a hedge on the left. At the bottom corner of the field cross the footbridge and turn sharp left following a fairly distinct path with trees mainly on the left. After a few yards ignore an unmarked path which heads off to the right across a footbridge.
(7) There are many ancient fish ponds (no doubt used to feed the priory) marked on the OS map, but I could see no evidence of them. Pass through the hedge where there is a field gate on the left, keeping straight ahead. Keep ahead through another hedge with a fallen tree on the grassy farm track. This eventually starts swinging to the left.
Where it meets a low but obvious earth bank, there is a Y-junction of paths. Ignore the right hand path, bearing left on the main path, soon passing a marker post with a Saffron Trail and other waymarks on it, still keeping the trees on the left, eventually reaching a dilapidated stile. Cross this to enter a delightful hay meadow.
The path follows the left hand side of the field, keeping quite close to the trees, hedge and fence on the left. Here there are more fish ponds marked on the map. At the end of the meadow, where it meets a plantation of willows, bear slightly right to cross a rather substantial footbridge (the Ter - again!) which bears a Saffron Trail waymark. Follow the obvious path as it meanders between a barbed-wire fence and willow trees, to meet a country lane (Leez Lane) at a road junction. Turn right (South), then left (South-East), following the road sign to Littley Green and The Walthams.
(8) Pass the entrance to Leez Priory wedding venue, follow the road and go sharp right (South-West), rising slightly uphill, past a pair of cottages. Shortly after another pair of cottages - 3 & 4 - (where the Quiet Lane ends) keep straight ahead passing to the left of gates to join a marked bridleway for a little over half a mile.
This rises very gently and soon offers 360° panoramic views of the largely unspoilt Essex countryside with virtually no traffic noise. The path begins to descend gently towards the houses and farm buildings of Littleypark. At the end of the bridleway pass to the right of the gate to meet a lane.
Turn left (South-East), passing cottages, continuing along the lane until it reaches Littley Green. Follow the road around to the left, signposted to Willows Green and Braintree, passing a K6 telephone kiosk and, shortly afterwards, the award winning Compasses Inn.
(9) Just after the pub, opposite its car park, take a marked footpath on the right (South-East) to follow the Saffron Trail away from the road. This path follows the field boundary with a hedge and trees on the left. At the corner of the field follow the hedge line around to the right, heading gently downhill, soon turning sharp right, entering another field and passing a marker post (that was leaning to one side in June 2022). Keep ahead on this path.
At the corner of the field, where it meets another line of trees, there is a T-junction of footpaths and remnants of an old gate: here turn right to follow the line of trees along the side of the field going gently downhill with a red-roofed building visible ahead.
The path swings slightly left where there is a minimal break in the hedgerow and a marker post showing the Saffron Trail and public footpath. Turn left here to reach horse paddocks. Continue alongside the paddocks until reaching their entrance, bearing left to join the tarmac drive. Continue along the lane to reach a T-junction. Turn left along a tree-canopied little used lane. Ignore the signed Saffron Trail footpath on the right, keeping ahead on the narrow lane.
(10) Just before the lane swings to the left, where there is a break in the trees and hedge on the left, there is an unmarked, almost imperceptible, footpath that joins a field (a discarded tyre may be visible here) and immediately turns right, following the field edge.
If the path is impossible to find (or, having found it, the field corner is too wet/muddy) continue along the lane, turning left at the drive to Old Shaw's Farm and continue at waypoint (11) below. At the corner of the field where the path meets properties there are waymarks: turn right at the hedge/fence to meet a gravelled drive, turn left and on reaching a lane and fingerposts turn sharp left towards Ivy Cottage (11).
(11) Go through the swing gate and follow the path alongside the cottage garden then either climb the stile or, more likely, walk past it, and initially keep straight ahead.
The path here is indistinct: if you have chosen to walk to the left of the ditch, cross the plank bridge to a marker post; if you chose right, look out for the marker post near the plank bridge. Either way, at the marker post, follow the field edge path, keeping the hedge and trees on your right, going gently downhill.
The path leaves the field at a concrete yard with a liquid fertiliser store. Keep left of the cylinder to join a bridleway/farm track going downhill with a line of willows, and a group of beehives, on the left. Follow this track gently downhill for 1200 yards (1.1km) to meet a road - Church Lane - at a fingerpost.
(12)Turn right (South-Esat) on the road and follow it back to the church car park, where the walk began at St. John's Church car park. (D/A)
D/A : km 0 - alt. 49m - St. John's Church car park
1 : km 1.1 - alt. 60m - Fingerpost / wooden post
2 : km 1.27 - alt. 54m - Hedge and fence line
3 : km 1.74 - alt. 53m - Church Lane
4 : km 2.81 - alt. 63m - T-junction at copse
5 : km 3.71 - alt. 55m - Fishing car park
6 : km 4.8 - alt. 64m - Trees and scrub
7 : km 5.63 - alt. 58m - Ancient fish ponds
8 : km 6.89 - alt. 58m - Entrance to Leez Priory Wedding Venue
9 : km 8.67 - alt. 65m - Compasses Inn
10 : km 9.82 - alt. 64m - Hard to find footpath
11 : km 10.07 - alt. 66m - Ivy Cottage
12 : km 11.34 - alt. 49m - Church Lane
D/A : km 11.67 - alt. 49m - John's Church car park
Car park : Parking (at your own risk) is at St. John's Church Car Park, Little Leighs (TL71871680). This is private property but parking is permitted if there are no church events. It is requested that a donation is placed in the box or, if preferred, use the contactless terminal, both located just inside the church. Click here to check on church service dates.
Public transport : If using public transport, buses do run along the A131 between Chelmsford and Braintree - details can be found by clicking here.
Fascilities : Compasses Inn - a very popular award winning real ale pub that serves food every day.
Visorando and this author cannot be held responsible in the case of accidents or problems occuring on this walk.
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Please see the Useful Information section for important information regarding the aerodrome.
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