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Pretty Ugley

An easy ramble taking in views of undulating countryside and part of the Harcamlow Way.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 75ft (23m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland and grassy tracks, field edge, some road walking, 5 stiles

Landscape Gently undulating arable and grazing farmland, some woodland and isolated farmsteads

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden

Start/finish TL 513288

Dog friendliness Decent-sized field-edge paths and dog-friendly stiles make this walk hassle-free

Parking Free car park at Chequers pub, Cambridge Road

Public toilets None on route

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1 Cross the B1383 with care and follow the fingerpost directly opposite the Chequers through Broom Wood. Cross the stile and follow the yellow waymarks through the plantation of conifers, via the plank bridge and another stile. After the stile, turn left and follow the field-edge path to the right. Maintain direction following the field-edge path right and left until you reach the cross path.

2 Turn left on to the wide cross-field path towards conifers. Go through the gap in the hedgerow and left on the wide bridle path, which is the Harcamlow Way. Ignore the path left and bear right to continue along the Harcamlow Way south, with fields on your right and the conifer wood to your left. Maintain your direction passing the dilapidated farm buildings of Wade's Hall, followed by the isolated farmstead of Bollington Hall. From now on the path is tarmac, with arable fields on either side and clear views of the houses at Ugley.

3 Turn left in front of Bollington Hall Cottages and take the straight road towards the B1383, with the skyline of Ugley looming ahead. Cross the road with care and follow the narrow, overgrown path ahead through Gaul's Croft. This well-defined path crosses the stile and meanders through the small thick forest bounded by bramble. At the next waymark, bear half left along the field-edge path and continue via waymarks right and left between houses to emerge at peaceful Ugley Green. Stop for a breather here to take in the architecture of elegant houses from various periods, some of which are thatched.

4 Turn left along the tarmac road following the 'Fieldgate Lane no-through road' sign. Maintain direction past houses, passing the modern looking Fieldgate Farm on your right. The road becomes a wide muddy track bisecting arable fields and from this high elevation there are views to the west of Bollington Hall, the tranquillity of which is broken by the noisy traffic on the M11 ½ mile (800m) away.

5 The track bisects the outbuildings of Ugley Hall Farm where you maintain direction on to the road and turn left immediately after the large corrugated barn and into St Peter's Church at Ugley. Go through the churchyard and follow the tarmac road through grazing fields, passing The Lodge, where you turn left and return via Patmore End to the car park.

Ugley village, straddling the busy Cambridge to London road and a few miles north of Stansted Mountfitchet, is the butt of many jokes. It's tempting not to start this walk without references to ugly people, ugly ducklings and ugly sisters, such descriptions of course being in the eye of the beholder. But it is nothing like the Cinderella of Essex villages and is, in fact, a pretty hamlet consisting of delightful houses, a pub, village hall, church and even an Ugley Womens Institute, although no members have yet entered the Ugley Beauty Competition! Walkers, on the other hand, will discover just one blot on the landscape and that is the black netting of the landfill site, visible for miles around, on this otherwise lovely walk through gently undulating countryside.

The village is named after Ugga the Viking who set up home in a clearing, or ley, in what was once a huge forest. Those forests have long since gone and today are replaced by arable farmland, patches of woodland, plantations of pine forests, isolated farmsteads and the tiny hamlets of Ugley and Ugley Green. Ghost stories are rife in Ugley and where better a place to start a spooky trail than from the Chequers pub. This 16th-century coaching inn stands near the site of a Viking burial ground and was almost in ruins when its present owner bought it some years ago. It's said that some parts of the pub are haunted and that if you linger long enough you can feel an inexplicably chilly draft. If you're extra vigilant you may see the ghost-like figure of a wizened Victorian lady dressed from head to toe in black. Some tradesmen swear they will not work in the pub unless there are plenty of people around.

From the pub we walk into the woods, now pine plantations, where Ugga and his friends may have set up camp, and continue on to the Harcamlow Way, part of a figure-of-eight 140 mile (225km) cross country route between Harlow and Cambridge. On the way you pass the dilapidated farmstead of Wade's Hall, with its outbuildings entwined in ivy and just the sort of place to spot Ugga's ghost. Bollington Hall, the next farmhouse, stands majestically on a hill overlooking gently undulating farmland and it is indeed a pleasure to walk along this landowner's wide field-edge paths with wonderful views of Ugley.

Our walk continues to Ugley Green where The Place, a magnificent thatched house, overlooks the green. A few miles across open fields brings us to Ugley Church where the Victorian lady in black sometimes hovers amidst the gravestones. Hurry on to the Chequers for some sustenance, but make sure you avoid sitting in that chilly draft?

Where to eat and drink

The lack of choice of eateries in the area is compensated by the variety of food at the Chequers pub in Cambridge Road, Ugley. This former 16th-century coaching inn has plenty of character, welcomes walkers and cyclists and has an attractive garden where you can relax with your dog. Choose from an extensive carnivorous and vegetarian menu or opt for tasty sandwiches or salads.

What to look for

Ugley Green has a clutch of beautiful thatched houses overlooking the green. If you cross the green and walk towards the bus stop you will see a perfectly preserved water pump beside a huge pudding stone. Pudding stones are glacial deposits dating back 180 million years and look like a boiled suet pudding studded with cherries and currants. Pilgrims would use them as medieval markers in much the same way as we use fingerposts and road signs.

While you're there

Look for the 32nd milestone from London on the Cambridge Road, famous amongst cycling enthusiasts of all ages. It is just north of the Chequers pub and is the start and finishing point of many cycling trials. You may see members of the 32nd Association (or their ghosts!) formed from various clubs throughout Essex who make regular use of this road.

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