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The Longer Ongar walk

Rolling farmlands, big skies and a pretty Essex village where missionary David Livingstone lived and preached.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 151ft (46m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Track and field paths prone to muddiness, stretches of road, 6 stiles

Landscape Rolling farmland, patches of woodland, village streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 183 Chelmsford & The Rodings, Maldon & Witham

Start/finish TL 552031

Dog friendliness Larger, or older, dogs (and their owners) will find stiles quite difficult

Parking Pay-and-display car parks at rear of Sainsbury's, police station and library in Chipping Ongar High Street

Public toilets Public library at Chipping Ongar High Street

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1 From the rear of the car park take the Essex Way towards Greensted. As the path narrows, walk between dwarf oaks, over the cross path and through the kissing gate. Bear right, then left towards the second kissing gate, passing the pond of Greensted Hall on your right. Walk through the gate, passing Church Lodge on your left; Greensted church is on your right.

2 Keeping the church on your right, bear right past terraced cottages and go through the gate. After 100yds (91m), turn left across the footbridge and follow the field-edge path keeping the hedgerow on your right. Maintain this direction through three fields, passing Greensted Wood on your right, until you reach Greensted Road. Turn left and pick up the footpath on your right. Continue along the field-edge path keeping hedgerows on your left for about 100yds (91m), where you cross the stile so that the hedgerow is now on your right. Climb a series of five stiles.

3 At the fifth stile turn right and after 100yds (91m), cross another stile. Turn right, passing the low wall of Widow's Farm on your left, and follow the path right. After 25yds (23m), take the footpath left and follow the field-edge path to Toot Hill Road. Turn left for Clatterford End. At the T-junction maintain direction for Coleman's Farm, following the lane.

4 As the lane bears right into Coleman's Farm, maintain direction on to the bridleway for ½ mile (800m), ignoring paths left and right until you reach the tarmac lane. Just before the T-junction, turn right on to the cross-field path to Stanford Rivers. At the converted barn dwellings on your left, turn right on to the gravel path and left on to School Road with St Margaret's Church on your left.

5 Walk past the church to the crossroads and turn left. After 400yds (366m) follow the right turn next to the house called Ambermead. Maintain direction on the uphill path for views of farmland and pass the ridge of oak trees at Kettlebury Spring. Follow the path past the school and turn right on to The Borough. Continue to the T-junction passing the Two Brewers pub on the right. Turn left into the High Street and return to the car park.

Chipping Ongar's most famous resident was explorer and missionary David Livingstone (1813-73). Born in Blantyre in Scotland he came from a simple working class background and as a 10-year-old worked at a cotton mill, finishing at the end of the day to bury himself in books. In 1836 he studied medicine in Glasgow, working at his books during the winter and returning to the mill in the summer. At this time he attended a meeting by Dr Robert Moffat who ran a missionary station in Africa, and was inspired by his work there.

In 1838 Livingstone moved to Essex to extend his understanding of missionary work. He lived in a room near the United Reformed church in the High Street, Ongar and in his spare time would take long walks in the surrounding countryside. Livingstone stayed in Ongar for 15 months before leaving for London to complete his medical studies. In 1840 the London Missionary Sociey sent him to Africa where he spent his life immersed in his missionary work, establishing trade routes and writing books about the great continent, where he discovered Victoria Falls in 1855.

During his time in Ongar, Livingstone walked to London to visit a sick relative but got hopelessly lost at Stanford Rivers and had to climb a direction post to get his bearings. On another ocassion, when standing in for his minister at the Independent Chapel at Stanford Rivers, Livingstone apparently forgot his sermon, panicked and fled from the congregation. This was the shy nervous individual who went on to become a world famous explorer!

Like Livingstone it's easy to get lost when exploring the muddy lanes around Ongar. On this walk you take the Essex Way, which is nicely waymarked, to Greensted and the oldest wooden church in the world. Livingstone would have walked around this delightful church discovering the Crusader coffin in the churchyard and the original timbers, which archaeologists confirm date back to 1066. Thereafter you traverse farmlands to Stanford Rivers climbing to a fine ridge of ancient oaks at Kettlebury Spring and views of rolling countryside. You finish your walk in the High Street with its timber-framed buildings and pass the room where Livingstone once lived.

In 1871 a very sick Livingstone was found beside Lake Tanganyika by the American journalist Henry Morton Stanley who addressed him with the famous phrase, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume'. Stanley failed to convince Livingstone to return to England for treatment and the great explorer died in Africa two years later. Unlike Livingstone, no hack will be waiting to track you down but, as you emerge into the High Street after being ankle-deep in mud, the locals might just say, 'Essex walkers, I presume?'

What to look for

Behind Ongar's High Street seek out the 11th-century St Martin's Church with its narrow round headed windows, some of which are blocked up. This church is built of Roman bricks and rubble and its site, close to the castle, is an indication of Ongar's Norman importance.

Where to eat and drink

For food on the hoof go for take-aways in the High Street. If you'd rather take cover there's also a good choice of pubs here. You can choose from Ongar's oldest brick-fronted building, the Kings Head, the Cock next to the library, the Two Brewers or the Georgian-styled Royal Oak.

While you're there

Visit the site of the Norman castle just behind the High Street. Take the path beside the library and follow the signs to an impressive motte. The gateways and buildings have long disappeared, but an information board explains the layout of the castle.

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