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On the Ground at Stansted

A suprisingly rural saunter around the ancient and modern sights of Stansted Mountfitchet.

Distance 5.7 miles (9.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 101ft (34m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Grassy and forest tracks, field edge and some street walking

Landscape Arable farmland, grazing meadow, some forest and motorway

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden

Start/finish TL 515248

Dog friendliness On lead for most of way and a bit too noisy near M11

Parking Pay-and-display at Lower Street

Public toilets Lower Street car park

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1 From the car park turn left into Lower Street and cross into Chapel Hill. At the top of the hill turn left at the traffic lights on to the B138 and take the next left into Millside. Pass the windmill on the left and turn right into Brook Road where after 100yds (91m) walk between houses to the footbridge over Stansted Brook.

2 Cross Stansted Brook and turn left so that the brook is on your left. Take the slope up to the railway footbridge on your right to cross the line. Turn left and bear right uphill into Park Road through the housing estate to the T-junction. Here turn right into Church Road and, a few paces after Churchfields, bear left on to the concrete track signposted 'Manor House'.

3 Maintain direction along the track keeping to the left of Manor House where it becomes a narrow path. Pass by the line of trees and an arable field to your left. Keep the church to your left and follow the path to Church Road. Turn left and after the gate for Stansted Hall, cross over the M11 and at the T-junction turn right. After 250yds (229m) follow the fingerpost through the hedgerow on to the track running parallel with the M11. Maintain direction for 1,000yds (914m).

4 Turn right into the tunnel under the M11. Turn left along the field-edge path following the ditch. After 200yds (183m), turn left over the concrete slab bridge, left again on to the path and after a few paces turn right keeping the pond on your right. Follow the field-edge path for 100yds (91m), turn right over the second bridge, then left and right to maintain direction keeping the hedgerow on your right. After 200yds (183m), cross the wooden bridge and continue across the field to the waymark where you turn half right with woods on your right. At the next waymark left, follow the field-edge path. After 150yds (137m), turn left with backs of houses on your right and emerge into Birchanger Lane next to the Three Willows pub.

5 Turn right at Birchanger Lane and right into Wood Lane. Continue along the track, with Digby Wood on your right, to Parsonage Lane. Turn left along the road to cross Foresthall Road on to the footpath. After 300yds (274m) turn left into Church Road and return to the car park.

Some passengers flying in from the Continent bound for Stansted may be surprised to peer out of the window and spot a Norman castle on a hill, around which is a village, a brook and a railway line. On landing they may be even more surprised to learn that this castle is only 2 miles (3.2km) away at Stansted Mountfitchet. In this walk we take a trip back in time to the 11th century and explore the rural delights surrounding Stansted Montfitchet.

Stansted appears in the Domesday Book as Stansteda, a Saxon name meaning stony place. After the Norman conquest, William I granted the lordship of the manor to the Gernon family, who later changed their name to Montfichet. The Montfichet family came from Normandy and during the 12th century Richard de Montfichet built a motte and bailey castle. The second Richard de Montfichet was one of five Essex barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, and in revenge the King destroyed the castle in 1215. All that remains are the mound and part of the stone wall, but today you can visit an imaginative reconstruction of the castle complete with Norman village and interpretative displays showing what life was like in Norman times.

This walk takes in the pretty windmill on a hill at the back of the village before cutting across Stansted Brook and the railway line to old Stansted. We take a pleasant footpath passing the Manor House, one of the original vicarages of the beautiful Norman church, St Mary the Virgin, that stands in the grounds of Stansted Hall. The church, another legacy of the Montfichet family, contains the worn figure of a 14th-century cross-legged knight believed to be that of Richard de Montfichet. Stansted Hall is now the Arthur Findlay College for Psychic Studies, colloquially known as 'Spook Hall'.

You're suddenly brought into the 21st century as you cross the bridge over the busy M11 and return to Stansted Mountfitchet via the delightful hamlet of Birchanger which is blessed with views of rolling countryside and woodlands. In Stansted Mountfitchet you can see old houses and pubs, some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries and the village sign, depicting the Montfichet shield, standing as a statement reminding visitors and locals that their heritage must be conserved.

Where to eat and drink

There's just one pub in Birchanger, conveniently situated at the end of one of the footpaths. The 19th-century Three Willows, complete with pub sign depicting cricketer, W G Grace flanked by two batsmen, is both dog and child friendly and has a large grassy garden.

What to look for

Inside the Norman church at Birchanger look for the brass memorial depicting a solider and a machine gun. One of the few modern brasses in the country, it commemorates Jack Watney, a 19-year-old Birchanger boy, who died in the Boer War in 1901.

While you're there

Stansted Windmill at Stansted Mountfitchet was built in 1787 and donated to the village by Lord Blyth. It last worked in 1910 and if you're there on the first Sunday of the month from April to October or any Sunday in August between 2pm and 6pm you can go inside.

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