** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
One emphasis in this issue is on Uttlesford, Essex, an administrative district named after a rather obscure little village. There is some excellent walking to be had in this quiet, northern part of Essex, in spite of the presence of nearby Stansted. With plans for airport expansion, many of these walks will be a deal less peaceful in the years to come, so I would exhort you to enjoy some rambling in these parts while you may.
Readers may be intrigued to learn that copies of Cantab are posted regularly to two former local walkers who are still members of Ramblers’Association Cambridge Group, now living in Collobrières, Provence. Marie-Claire and Kalman Szaz tell of their surveying paths in the lovely wooded, hilly district around their village, as part of a plan by the mayor to produce a local walking guide.
This Essex parish is only 6 miles from Cambridge [ed. should say 10 miles], and, lying on the Icknield Way Long Distance Path, is a popular venue with walkers. Although easily accessible by rail, and with a bus service, parking for parties of walkers is less easy, and care should be taken not to block the narrow village streets. But visits to Great and Little Chesterford are well worthwhile, there being several excellent walking routes as well as the Icknield Way. But tarry awhile in the village before setting off, consider its long history, and note the fine old buildings which still stand.
Prehistory and The Romans
Evidence of prehistoric settlements in the area are to be found in stone tools in Saffron Walden Museum. The first contemporary historical record of residents appears in the writings of Julius Caesar, in 54 BC, who mentions the local tribe, the Trinovantes. These were indigenous iron-age farmers, possibly with a Belgic warrior ruling class. A fine bronze mirror of this period was recovered from the village. (1)
A small, first century Roman fort was built somewhere between the road junction of Stane Street and the Chelmsford road. A much larger fort, indicative of a determination to keep tight control on East Anglia, dates from after the Boudicca uprising in 60 AD. (1) The Trinovantes were romanised & drawn into the larger province.
This second fort, Duroviguto, stood a little W of the present village and close to the river. It covered 35 acres (14 ha) and was capable of accommodating half a legion as well as auxillaries. A civilian settlement, centred around the S gate of the fort, started life outside the walls but by the second century, civilian buildings were standing inside the line of later town walls. The fort grew into a walled town, second in East Anglia only to Colchester, and existing into the fourth century. Traces of numerous wooden houses of rectangular plan with gravel or earthen floors were found all over the N sector of the walled area. Substantial buildings existed, some with roller-stamped daub, implying walls plastered and painted. A late corridor-type villa was found. Another imposing structure in the settlement is suggested by a large octagonal block of carved sandstone, discovered in C18th, and now in the British Museum. Of the original 8 faces, only 4 survive, each with a head – Mercury, Jupiter, Mars & Venus. It may be all that remains of a Jupiter column.
The stout defensive walls of the Roman town were still standing in part in the C18th, as described by Stukeley. However, they were constantly being robbed to provide stone for building and road repair. Twelve enormous iron scythes, iron blades and cropping shears were found in a Roman hoard. Roman coins and pottery are in Saffron Walden museum. In the early C20th, all that remained of the walls were a robbers’ trench, but now, sadly, not even that. The Roman town was excavated in 1948 for the then Ministry of Public Buildings and Works before gravel digging. (2)
Historic buildings in Great and Little Chesterford
The village is a large one & numerous houses remain from a time when it had an important market. (3) The restored church is ancient: it was formerly cruciform and much longer than at present. There was a large W tower which fell and destroyed the W end of the nave and aisles in the late C14th. It was rebuilt E of its old position, but this fell in 1790 and was again rebuilt 2 years later, then was altered in 1842. The chancel is probably C13th, as is a lancet window remaining in the N wall. The nave is late C13th, but the aisles rebuilt in the C15th, when chapels were added N & S of the chancel. There are some gargoyles on its walls and a winged dragon sprawling over one of the buttresses. Sycamores & pines enhance the churchyard, which has by its entrance one of the village’s fine old houses. Timbered & plastered, with overhanging gable, this was built in 1470, with good timber work, and a pargetted front with 1692 shown on a panel.
The history of the village is celebrated by the fine wooden sign on the green. It recalls Roman origins, the coming of the railway in the C19th. to displace coach-and-horses, as well as local farming traditions and the church.
On the Icknield Way route down Manor Lane, one passes the old Manor Farm – although much altered, the house retains a beam carved with the Pelican of Piety. Near the B1385 river bridge is a large C19th mill (converted into smart flats).
Our walks may take us past Little Chesterford church, where looking out over the willows fringing the River Cam is an historic manor house, dating from the time of Magna Carta. The house can be viewed from the churchyard. The oldest part is the kitchen wing from which 2 deeply moulded doorways lead into a central hall. It is thought-provoking to consider the oak posts with their moulded capitals and remember that they have been here since 1275. This is possibly the oldest inhabited house in Essex. It is H – shaped but originally consisted of the E wing only, which was built of flint and stone ca 1190. The church dates back to the C13th., though the chancel was rebuilt ca. 1380. There is an early C16th screen separating nave from chancel.(3)
Routes around The Chesterfords
The Icknield Way.(4)
Many of us will have approached the village down the Icknield Way LDP. The bridleway leaves the road on Strethall Field on a signed cross-field path, often sticky in Winter. However down the field, one enters a very pleasant hedged lane, which eventually leads to the bridge over the M11. It goes down a ramp, and rejoins the wooded lane, passing a couple of houses, then turns left alongside the railway embankment, and emerges on the road beside the level crossing, and near the station.
For interest, as well as being part of a skein of parallel routes which formed the prehistoric Icknield Way, this path is also on the line of a Roman Road which ran from Braughing in Essex, through Great Chesterford, to Worstead Lodge. (5)
The Icknield Way Path leaves the village along Manor Lane, turns left to cross the B184 Walden Road, and follows a good track N towards Burtonwood Farm. Just short of the farm there is one field to cross. This Winter, for the first time, the mid-field section was left unploughed – a big improvement.
Two other routes leave the Walden Road going North. These are the hard-surfaced, quiet Cow Lane and Park Road. Excellent walking circuits can be made by walking up one of these 3 paths, and returning down one of the others. Some possible combinations are:
- Gt C along the Icknield Way (IW) to Burtonwood Farm, then farm access road to Cow Lane & back to Gt C. (4 miles).
- The more energetic may extend this along the IW route into Linton, returning via the ruins of Crave Hall (11 miles).
- Or go up Park Road to Park Farm Gt C. Follow the waymarked path over the county boundary towards Abington Park Farm, and turn right along the N edge of Hildersham Wood. A path leads along field boundaries to join the bridleway between Linton silos and Crave Hall, and thence back to Gt.C (7 miles).
- This excursion may be extended into Abington, via the former Land Settlement, Hildersham, and Little Linton (12 miles).
From Burtonwood Farm, other excursions could lead across Hadstock old airfield, returning via Linton and Crave Hall.
Both Manor Lane and Rose Lane in the village also give access to a well-maintained path going SE to Little Chesterford. Having viewed the Church & manor house, continue S by the R.Cam to Springwell, where cross the B 184 and climb the hill on a signed path starting beside the nursery. This path gives a stupendous view of the Cam Valley, climbing E, before turning S near the summit, and gradually descending into Saffron Walden. This is a route for landscape epicures – and has several seats on which to pause and admire.
Within the village, at the junction with the far N end of Carmel St & the B 1383 is the path into the large recreation ground. The right of way goes round the rear of the pavilion, to run beside a hedge in an arable field and exit onto the B184 near Park Road. Another exit is via Meadow Rd, off Jackson’s Lane.
1. Peoples of Roman Britain – The Trinovantes, by Rosalind Dunnett Publ. Duckworth, 1975.p.30.
2. The King’s England – Essex,by Arthur Mee, Publ. Hodder & Stoughton, 1966 Ed. pp.119 – 120; 172
3. Uttlesford District Council Official Guide, Home Publishing Co. Ltd. 1982 pp. 37, 39.
4. The Icknield Way – a walker’s guide. Publ. The Icknield Way Assoc. 3rd Ed. 1993.
5. Roman Roads in Britain Ivan.D.Margary Publ. John Baker (revised edition) 1973.
Hadstock’s Nature Reserve
On a recent circuit from Great Chesterford through Hadstock, we discovered an unusual nature reserve. It is on the west side of the B1052, at TL 557 441, on the hill nearly 1km from the centre of Hadstock village, and not far from the start of the bridleway running towards Burtonwood Farm.
A display board by the roadside gives its name, “Harrison Sayer”, after a previous owner. It is a curious place, with residual concrete and two huge old fuel tanks amongst the grass and scrub, dating from its past use as a wartime airbase. When we were there in January, the site, on heavy clay, was partly flooded, but in the Summer, we are promised a display of wild roses, bee orchid, wild liquorice, twayblade, fairy flax and blue fleabane. An interesting place, rather than beautiful, but we shall go there again.
Len’s Path, Hadstock, Essex
This is the name of a smart new gravel path running from the end of the footway on the Linton Road, near the Zoo, at TL 557 460, to the edge of Hadstock village at TL 557 451. The path, a shared route for pedestrians and cyclists, was made by Hadstock Parish Council in September 2003, with financial assistance from the Countryside Agency. Its southern end meets the road at the same point as the Icknield Way bridleway, and thus avoids walkers needing to use the narrow deep-cut road into Hadstock.
On a recent walk, the waymarking of Hadstock paths to a high standard was much admired.
Afoot in Collobrières, Provence
Collobrières is a most attractive village, with a population of about 1600, situated in the Massif des Maures, in central Provence, some 35 km ENE of Toulon. The nearest towns are Hyères, and Aix-en-Provence. A network of narrow residential streets of tall old houses nestle together to exclude strong sunshine, between Notre Dame des Victoires church at one end of the village, and below the ruined twelfth century church of Saint Pons on a rocky promontory. The village has banks, a doctor, a good range of shops, restaurants, two hotels, campsite, and overnight gites, and a tourist office* which produces a guidebook in English. The village is surrounded by vineyards shaded by peach-trees, and forested hills, including cork oaks and sweet chestnut trees, for which the place is famous. The area has wonderful flowers in the Spring, menhirs (standing stones), wayside shrines, ancient threshing floors, old monasteries on the hills, and ancient farms that look as though they themselves grew out of the soil, along with the trees.
From the village, Marrons Glacés are tranported throughout the world, and chestnuts can come in every culinary guise. The local rosé wine is light and delicious, as well as a fuller red. There are wine festivals and Chestnut Festival weekends in the Autumn, when the village is very crowded.
For the walker, the hills and forests are a source of delight, as we have discovered ourselves on several visits, when our walking has been guided by experts, Kalman & Marie-Claire Szaz. In recent years, a nature trail near the village has been waymarked with attractive plaques, but although the waymarked grande randonnée (GR) routes 9, 90 & 51 pass nearby, the local paths are sometimes obscure and overgrown.
Kalman & Marie-Claire are working to overcome this, by producing surveys which hopefully will be used as a basis for a new walkers’ guidebook to the village. Kalman writes,
“The Conseil General of the Var (equivalent of the County Council) decided to clear, waymark and maintain certain paths in the parish of Collobrières. The idea is to guide tourists away from the crowded coast towards the interior, help the economy of the smaller villages, promote health by walking, riding, cycling… Early in December, M-C and I were invited by the local councillor responsible for the forest to check the new waymarking. With others, the two of us, or just myself did 10 walks in December and January. I prepared an illustrated report on each walk and gave them to the councillor.
“The work was nicely done but a few problems remain. Paths already waymarked were not recognised as such, some old marks had been removed, others duplicated. Certain guidebooks need rewriting. For some reason, connections with existing long-distance paths are poorly indicated; maybe signposts are coming? We are waiting for the publication of maps showing the newly opened and marked paths.
“I fear that the official recognition of some paths might lead to the closure of others. Already, a notice ‘close the gate’ (because of the goats) has been replaced by ‘no entry’. On a track of transhumance (used in the old days for the migration of sheep between the South and the Alps) ‘private’ signs appeared.
“The FFRP (the French RA) also shows an interest in our area. They publish TOPO-GUIDES, descriptions of the French footpaths and a representative recently visited Collobrières. The plan is to create a guide covering the parishes of Collobrières, Pierrefeu, and Bormes. I hope they call it ‘Heart of the Maures on foot’ The village would benefit from the inclusion in such a guide but there is a little fear that the users of the guide in case of accidents hold the Mayor responsible. So we propose that the new white-green paths (the waymarking livery) should form the circuits; they are the County Council’s responsibility.”
All these problems associated with opening up of path networks, waymarking, and production of walking guides will be only too familiar to those of us who have been involved, over the years, with the promotion of path networks in East Anglia.
But central Provence is a wonderful area, which we would recommend for walking outside of the hottest months (mid-June to September, when temperatures are often above 30 degC). If this article has aroused your interest, contact the Tourist Office,* Boulevard Caminat, 83610, Collobrières, France.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
Cantab usually appears every two months. A large number of you now receive Cantab by e-mail. By hand, 10p is appreciated towards the cost of paper and ink. If you would like to receive an issue by post, please send a large SAE, and a 10p stamp.
Offers of brief articles will be gratefully received.
This is a privately produced magazine, and the views expressed are solely those of the editor, or of the author of an individual item. Janet Moreton 01223 356889
Price 10 pence where sold
© Janet Moreton, 2004