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Taking Off from Stansted

A rural walk beside the runway of London's third international airport and a plane spotter's paradise.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 54ft (16m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Grass and gravel tracks, grassy verge, field edge and some road walking

Landscape Arable farmland, open meadow, airport runway and airport installations

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden

Start/finish TL 528239

Dog friendliness Grassy verge next to airport perimeter fence is a great place for an off-lead sniff

Parking Informal street parking at Burton End village

Public toilets None on route

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1 Follow the fingerpost opposite the poultry farm at Burton End and walk between houses to the arable field. Ignore the fingerpost on the left and follow the field-edge path with the ditch and hedgerows to your right. At the waymark, cross between bushes and maintain direction half left with the ditch and hedgerow on your left.

2 Maintain direction, turning right and left at the waymarks, until you reach the waymark on the edge of the copse of trees and the footbridge. Turn right and after 300yds (274m) take the footbridge left over the railway cutting. This is the spur line to Stansted Airport so you can even plane and train spot at the same time. Once over the bridge, turn left with the railway on your left and, at the waymark, turn right on to the cross-field path to emerge at Tye Green Road.

3 Turn right on to Tye Green Road. At the houses, turn left to explore old cottages and the moated farm at Tye Green. Follow the track around The Green back to Tye Green Road and turn left along the road which changes its name to Claypit Hill. The road bears sharply right, opposite is the emergency gateway set in the perimeter fence of Stansted Airport. From here, if there is room, you can jostle for position with plane spotters to watch aircraft landing.

4 In front of the fence, turn right to walk along the verge between the airport perimeter fence and the road. Maintain your direction following the path around the control tower and fire service training centre. At the grassy mound, possibly earthworks from the runway, there is some parking used by plane spotters.

5 Turn right on to the farm track between Riders Farm and Monks Farm to the three-way junction at Belmer Road and then turn left. Call in at the Ash public house on your left, although the tree after which it is named no longer exists. Here there is a large car park and garden area, popular at lunch time with aircraft maintenance workers from the nearby hangars. From the pub, turn left passing Warmans Farm on your right and return to your car at Burton End.

Stansted Airport is London's third international airport. Built on the site of an American airbase, its construction ended 50 years of debate as to where it should be sited. During the 1930s plans were announced for building an airport at Fairlop, near Hainault Forest, but these were overtaken by shortlists drawn up between the 1960s and 1970s for sites much further away from the urban fringe. One of these was Stansted and, after prolonged public debate, the airport opened in 1991.

One of the conditions of construction was that no soil was to be taken from the site, and as a result some interesting archaeological finds from neolithic to medieval times were discovered, some of which are displayed at Saffron Walden Museum. The striking design of the airport terminal, by Sir Norman Foster and much admired by visitors, is an example of how closely rural Essex is tied to the fortunes and changing needs of London.

The airport is one of the biggest employers in the area, currently employing 9,500, and is one of the fastest growing in England with modern terminal facilities. These include a spacious one-level terminal with natural light, minimum walking distances for passengers and state of the art equipment to monitor noise levels.

This walk starts at the tiny hamlet of Burton End, which is the nearest you'll get to the runway to see aircraft taking off and landing. Burton End with its attractive 18th- and 19th-century cottages and houses, like its neighbour, Tye Green with its pleasant green and thatched dwellings, seems untouched by the development of the airport and their proximity to the busy M11. As you traverse arable fields you can't fail to hear the roar of aircraft engines as they take off or come into land. In your meander across the beautiful rolling countryside of north west Essex you may be surprised to discover a railway track, a spur line from Stansted Mountfitchet, which disappears beneath the airport runway. This line is the Stansted Express, which connects passengers with London's Liverpool Street Station and the airport terminal.

By far the most frequent visitors to the quiet lanes of Burton End and Tye Green are plane spotters who seem to come out in all weathers to pursue their hobby from the grassy verges skirting the airport perimeter fence. If you're into plane spotting, or spotting plane spotters, or just enjoy the countryside with rather surreal views of roaring metal-winged birds swooping from the skies, rather than the feathered kind that twitters and sings in tranquil woodland, then this walk may be right up your runway.

While you're there

Take an informal tour of Stansted Airport where you can indulge in retail therapy, enjoy a drink or meal, go to church, or sit back and dream about your next holiday. If you've had enough of tramping in muddy Essex fields you can even book a flight and take off for some blue-skied tropical paradise.

Where to eat and drink

Fodder is scarce along the perimeter fence so your best bet is to take your own. The only eaterie in the area is the attractive thatched-roof Ash pub at Burton End, which offers wholesome soups and warming curries amongst other goodies in winter. In the summer enjoy home-cooked meals al fresco in the delightful beer garden. Open all day.

What to look for

The best place at Stansted for watching aircraft take off is on the mound beside the fire service training centre of Stansted Airport. To see them land keep to the embankment along the perimeter fence near Claypit Hill. In both locations you can join plane spotters, complete with 'poles' or telescopes, spotting Jumbo jets and a host of other multi-coloured aircraft emblazoned with serial numbers and their airlines name.

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