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Braintree and the Flitch Way

Braintree's industrial heritage and a stroll along a disused railway line.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 48ft (15m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Grassy and gravel tracks, some street walking

Landscape Wildlife-rich railway cuttings, river bank and urban landscape

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden

Start/finish TL 760227

Dog friendliness Pedestrians and dogs share Flitch Way with cyclists and horses so may have to be on lead

Parking Pay-and-display at George Yard, Manor Street at rear of library and Braintree Station

Public toilets Braintree Station

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1 Start from Braintree Station where a set of buffers terminates the old line from Liverpool Street in London to Bishop's Stortford. Beyond is the Flitch Way, a narrow bridleway approached via the path at the western end of the station car park. The Flitch Way crosses the bridge over Notley Road and soon becomes a grassy track. After a mile (1.6 km) the River Brain flows under the track. Turn right here over the stile, just before the river, and follow the path past Clapbridge Farm, modern housing estates and across meadowland. Keep the river on your right until you reach Clap Bridge on Rayne Road, the former Roman road of Stane Street. Turn right, continue over the roundabout and into the town to the White Hart Hotel. Walk past the hotel into Coggeshall Road to the double roundabout. Cross Railway Street and, on your right, there is a block of apartments fronted by a heritage board describing the site of the Crittall's Manor Works, demolished in 1992. Continue along Coggeshall Road and take the first turning left into John Ray Street, to a pair of weathered timber gates which mark the entrance to the recreation ground, a gift to the town from Julian Courtauld.

2 Back in Coggeshall Road, turn right into Cressing Road to the Kings Head pub, where a heritage board describes the site of a grand old oak tree opposite. In 1964 the tree was removed because it was considered too big and dangerous, but many townspeople remember sitting on the bench beneath it to watch the world go by. In Cressing Road there is an interesting mix of late 19th-century cottages, and an impressive thatched row of cottages dating back to 1620.

3 At the end of Cressing Road cross over to Clockhouse Way, a conservation area of houses constructed with concrete blocks, complete with Crittall metal windows. Built for Crittall workers in 1918-19, the design was copied, in 1926, at Silver End (to the south east of Braintree). Similar, albeit grander, houses can be seen at 146 and 148 Cressing Road.

4 Return to the junction and continue along Chapel Hill. At the end, turn half left to the roundabout then turn right on to Mill Hill. Go under the railway bridge, on the left is another heritage board describing the site of an old flour mill which Courtauld converted into a silk mill, and which is now a residential area.

5 Turn right up Skitts Lane, go under the railway bridge and take the first right into The Yard, a modern complex of apartments. Keep left and follow the footpath towards the gas works where a heritage board describes the function of Lake and Elliot's Power House. Follow the footpath into Manor Street, turn left passing modern developments in Trinovantes Street and return to the car park.

The attractive town sits astride the junction of two Roman roads, where the White Hart Hotel, a former coaching and posting house, now stands. In the 19th century, Samuel Courtauld, a descendant of a Huguenot weaving family, created a successful textile industry in the town; further prosperity was brought by iron foundries and manufacturing businesses including the window-making enterprise set up by Francis Crittall. Crittall started as an ironmonger in the late 19th century and became one of the town's major employers, producing metal-framed windows, the forerunner of double glazing.

In this walk you will discover Courtaulds' and Crittall's contributions to the town and see how Braintree is facing the future with a regeneration programme. Yet for all the changes, the town still retains links with the past with an interesting heritage trail and a linear country park, the Flitch Way, following the railway line, from Braintree to Bishop's Stortford, abandoned in 1969.

Near the end of the walk is Lake and Elliot's Power House, which generated electricity for use by the town's businesses until 1946 when the National Grid started lighting up the country. The firm originally produced cycle parts then expanded into jacks and armour plating for the military. Like other businesses they no longer operate in town, but they have been replaced by new initiatives keeping Braintree the bustling town it has always been.

While you're there

Visit the spectacular aisled barns at Cressing Temple, built 800 years ago by the warrior monks of the Knights Templar. The Wheat Barn has an interesting exhibition explaining the history of this elite fighting force, whose aim was to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. If you're there on a Sunday join the free guided tour or wander round the Tudor walled garden.

Where to eat and drink

There are plenty of pubs in Braintree and assorted restaurants, including Indian, Chinese, pizza houses and fish and chip shops. The White Hart Hotel opposite Rayne Road (Roman Stane Street) serves excellent bar snacks and wholesome lunches in an atmospheric setting. Try the Swan in Bank Street or fill up with a hot breakfast at the café at Braintree Station (closed Sunday).

Essex

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