This walk introduces us to the varied landscapes that characterize this corner of the Essex countryside stretching between Wickford, Ramsden Heath, Downham and the southern fringes of the Hanningfield Reservoir. I have chosen autumn, because this is the time when the countryside displays a rich tapestry of golds, reds and browns, which join to bid farewell to the verdant profusion of summer.
View from Pump Hill towards the east and Downham Church.
The landscape is bathed in the colours of autumn.
On these pages you will see a description of the walk and some facts and figures (including maps and heights) relating to the walk. I have also included a description of the interesting "history and mystery" surrounding
"Little Abbotts" house, which we pass on one part of our walk.
From Wickford Station we cross some fields to reach a bridle path which enables us to reach higher ground. The bridle path was probably an old drovers' road. In the middle ages, such roads tended to take to the higher ground to maximize protection from marauders for travellers, merchants and those driving livestock. From our bridle path we get good views to the East - to Rettendon with its church - and to the South West - to Laindon, to the Thames-side docks and Refineries and onwards to North Kent. See also
Wickford Circular and
At the start of the bridle path leading to the Grange we enjoy this view towards the west. Downham Church is just about visible to the right.
On the bridle path ...
... we ascend through a ...
... an autumnal canopy of branches.
Once on the level, we can enjoy this view towards the south east and Rayleigh.
As we turn the corner ...
... we experience more and yet more ...
... autumn delights.
To the east we see Rettendon Church.
After more autumnal delights, ...
... we get another view of Rettendon Church, placed strategically,
as many village churches are, on a rise in the landscape.
Here is "Plumtrees" where we can deviate
to the horses and turkeys and avoid Downham Village.
Near the "Plumtrees" sign we can see the duck pond, often the haunt of mallard ducks. The island duck house provides moorhens with nesting facilities. The good state of the pond is thanks to the judicious use, over the last year, of barley straw which has an appetite for green algae.
Now we come to the main entrance to the Grange, once owned by the Keddie family who built up the "Keddies" store in Southend.
Beyond we see the driveway basking in the colourful ebullience of autumn.
Hard by we can take in the view to the south.
From the same spot we can also look westwards to Downham Church
. Nestling to the left below the church we can sometimes make out Downham Hall. Church and Hall were the axis of local power in mediaeval and late mediaeval times.
The church represented matters spiritual and the Hall (as residence of the local squire) matters temporal. Between them they held sway over the local populace.
After the gate to the Grange and our view towards Downham Church, we reach "down-town" Downham, whose houses and village pond exude an air of affluence. The church, as shown on the village sign, is about half a mile from the centre of the village.
The village sign proudly shows us Downham Church
and the dovecote, which are actually about ⅓ mile south of the village. The sign also reminds us of the De Beauvoir family who were one-time residents of Downham Hall and were of importance in these parts. We meet the name "De Beauvoir" in various places including as an erstwhile name of the local pub now "gastro pub", "The De Beauvoir Arms" and in Ramsden Bellhouse the "De Beauvoir Hackney Stud". "De Beauvoir" is of course of French origin, as are many names in England, especially in the South East.
Here is Downham Village Pond, still with its covering of algae.
On the south side of the road through the village we see a red brick house from the early 19th century. The red bricks being from those times, so the owner told me, were also slightly smaller than today's "standard" bricks. This can provide renovation work with a challenge. However, the front garden is always well kept, the old sewing machine table coming in useful for the floral displays.
Before we enter Crowsheath Wood, we pass number 66.
The cast iron message at number 66 can make you either laugh or cry,
... depending on how seriously you take humour.
An option which skirts around Downham Village is to turn off at the "Plumtrees" (near the Grange and before entering Downham Village) and do the scenic "down and up" past horse pastures and past Laylands. Now Laylands is a turkey farm, at this time of year filled with gobbling turkeys which are blissfully unaware of their fate - the Christmas dinner plate!
We turn off at the "Plum Trees" and ...
... descend into the valley ...
... all the while "soaking up" the colourful blaze of autumn tints.
On the other side, we look back towards the "Grange"
trying to hide behind the trees on the far right.
Then comes the horse paddock, and then come the festive turkeys.
Laylands Farm does
Free Range Bronze Christmas Turkeys.
Free Range indeed, but why Bronze?
Here are our Christmas birds,
gathering together in garrulous herds.
Unaware of their imminent fates,
soon they'll grace the festive dinner plates.
From Downham we enter
Crowsheath Wood which is a riot of autumn tints. This wood is administered and now owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The wood is managed, in part, by coppicing. It provides important support for birds of the passerine Siskin family on their migrations. Soay sheep are often kept in a paddock near one of the entrances. Nature is carefully tended here - even to the extent of ensuring dog business is removed, as one of the wardens told me on one of his regular removal drives!
Crowsheath wood is a riot of autumn tints ...
... and yet more tints.
When we exit to reach Crowsheath Lane, we are reminded of the flora and fauna which abound in Crowsheath Wood.
The wood is owned and managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust
and has been so for a number of years now.
Here is another glimpse back towards the way we came,
before we pass the Soay sheep and head for Crowsheath Lane.
After Crowsheath Wood and the sheep paddocks, we reach Crowsheath Lane and the semi-detached cottages "Little Abbotts". From here we come to the Crowsheath Community Woodland (as distinct from Crowsheath Wood). This is also administered and (I think) owned by the Essex Wildlife Trust. From these woods we can branch off our main walk to view the Hanningfield Reservoir (3.5 square kilometres or 880 acres), before continuing westwards to the bridle paths. Hanningfield Reservoir and "Little Abbotts" have some interesting history.
The thread tying these aspects together is "Fremnells". Although there is a new "Fremnells" house nearby, here we mean the old "Fremnells", a 16th Century (but sometimes regarded as "Jacobean" which period came later) Manor House demolished in either
to make way for the Hanningfield Reservoir. In the post-war euphoria which courted the philosophy "out with the old, in with the new", the yielding of a slice of British history to the demands of the ever-increasing population of south east Essex for water, found ready acceptance. The Sandon Valley was flooded in
1951 to become the Hanningfield Reservoir in
1957. As far as I understand, Crowsheath Wood and the Crowsheath Community Woodland were both part of the estate of the old "Fremnells" manor house.
"Little Abbotts" has an interesting past with some mysterious and unsolved aspects.
Do click here
to dip into its past!
This looks like the builder "PJ 1922
who restored "Little Abbotts" in 1922.
From here we reach "Crowsheath Community Woodland" ...
... in all its autumnal glory!
Eventually we reach the second of the "PJ 1922
" houses close to the Hanningfield Reservoir" and originally just down the lane from "Little Abbotts" before the said lane was finally severed in 1957 by the coming of the reservoir.
Yes, it's that "PJ 1922
" mark again.
Here's a present-day view of Hanningfield Reservoir. "Fremnells" used to be to the right of this picture. Its site is now covered by the waters of the reservoir.
This is one view of the 16th century Fremnells Manor House. We see the west front.
Judging by the new style hand-mower, this view might date from anywhere between 1920 and the 1950s. I wouldn't, of course, bet on it! The picture is from the
Wickford Community Archive
", to whom, many thanks!
We shall reach the "Nags Head" by one of the bridle paths which are a feature of this area.
The "Nags Head" public house (no apostrophe) appears to date from Victorian times, although no historical details could be found. It is a Greene King® pub. Apart from the ales served, its claim to fame is the visible tap room which enables customers to see their ale being dispensed.
After seeing the Hanningfield Reservoir, we continue through the Crowsheath Community Woodland. We reach this thatched cottage. About ten years ago I saw the thatchers at work on this roof. The thatching firm has survived for seven generations since it was founded around 1830 - and still going strong in Essex, believe or not!
Before the pub, we reach the bridle way - one of a number hereabouts.
The autumn sunshine "trickles" through the autumn foliage
and produces complicated patterns on the ground.
The "Nags Head"
(no apostrophe) may hark back to Victorian times ...
... but is still going strong today and certainly worth a visit.
Here is the nag in colourful closeup.
The new sign was made in the last ten years and looks to be in good condition.
We reach Pump Hill with splendid views to the south, as far as Kent, and to the east to Downham Church. Some hills may have been collecting points for water from the nearby landscape, and may therefore have been suitable places in mediaeval times to obtain water even from a considerable depth (as in "Jack and Jill went up the Hill to fetch a pail of water"!).
View towards the south and the Thames-side docks.
View towards the south east and Rayleigh.
View towards the east and Downham Church.
Downham Hall nestles below it and can just about be discerned.
We descend from the heights of Pump Hill, all the while realizing that we are in horse riding country. In addition, we are reminded of the De Beauvoir family who once reigned supreme hereabouts from their base at the former Downham Hall, just below Downham Church.
The Fox & Hounds at Ramsden Heath is a very popular village pub with a wide catchment area. It has been serving customers for over two hundred years. It is a nice stop towards the end of our walk and gives us sufficient sustenance for the final few miles to Wickford Station.
From Pump Hill we come out by the ever popular ...
... "Fox & Hounds" pub. Good food. Good beer.
The fox has become a member of the sport loving landed gentry.
This yellow Rolls Royce of 1934 vintage adds a colourful finishing touch to this web page and enhances the "landed gentry" image of the "Fox". It is owned by a local farmer who bought it in 1954 and kept it in his barn to take his family for rides. I actually saw it here about two years ago on the walk on 26th November 2017, and the farmer told me that the car is now on show in Basildon. However, on today's walk, as a substitute, the farmer showed me an American Oldsmobile Rio from 1928, which dates it from the Bonnie and Clyde era (although the couple are usually associated with a 1932 Ford V-8). The Oldsmobile looked in reasonable condition but still seemed to need some attention and was sheltering under coverings in the same barn.
I hope you enjoyed our excursion in autumnal Essex. We have a little way to go to Wickford Station, but here are some lights to lighten up part of our return walk. Wickford is only about 30 miles from London's Liverpool Street Station, so come again, perhaps in another season!
Here are some welcoming lights on the return stretch of our walk. It's autumn and the nights are drawing in but there is sufficient time to reach Wickford Station "before candle light".
- Wickford Circular walk via West Hanningfield
- Downham Church
- "Essex Wildlife Trust",
Crowsheath Wood Nature Reserve, accessed: 2019-11-27
- "Wikipedia", Hanningfield Reservoir, accessed: 2019-11-21
- "Essex Life",
Forgotten Secrets of Hanningfield Reservoir, accessed: 2019-11-21
- "Wickford Community Archive",
Fremnells Manor and Hanningfield Reservoir,
- "Lost Heritage, England's Lost Country Houses",
Fremnells, accessed: 2019-11-21
- "The Nags Head". Official web page of the public house.
- Fremnells. I would like to thank the
"Wickford Community Archive", for the picture of "Fremnells".
- Clip Art. On this web page, the autumn leaves and the sprig of holly are from Microsoft's® clip-art libraries, originally supplied with some versions of MS Office®.
- Essex Crest. The Essex crest is my own creation!