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Six Farms and a Castle at Hedingham

Explore the wealth of history packed into this tiny area.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 64ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Grassy, field-edge and farm tracks, some woodland and town streets

Landscape Arable and grazing farmland, patches of woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 195 Braintree & Saffron Walden

Start/finish TL 784356

Dog friendliness On lead round farms and on country lanes. Lots of other dogs around

Parking Informal street parking in Castle Hedingham village

Public toilets Behind Castle Hedingham Club in Church Lane


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1 With the church on your right, walk along Church Ponds into Falcon Square with its medieval houses. Turn left into Castle Lane with the 17th-century Youth Hostel building on your right and walk uphill to Bayley Street. Cross the road and, at the castle entrance, turn right and walk to the T-junction. Turn left into Sudbury Road and, just after New Park Road on your right, turn left at the narrow track to Rosemary's Farm.

2 Turn left, follow the track to the Y-junction and bear left passing the red brick, thatched Keepers Cottage on your left. Pass several houses and admire the fine view of rolling countryside beyond the stile on your left, opposite Yeoman's Cottage. After 200yds (183m) the track bears right with the converted barns of Rushleygreen Farm on your left. Ignore the timber footbridge immediately after the farm and continue along the main farm track with arable fields away to your left.

3 Pass Lippingwell's Farm on your right, bear left across the meandering field-edge path passing the front of Newhouse Farm, with its pond on your left, and continue to Hewson's Farm and the brick-built tower on your right. Turn sharp left at the fingerpost along the field-edge path to the small row of trees at the rear of Newhouse Farm. At the waymark bear right across another field-edge path to Kirby Hall Farm.

4 Turn left at the crossroads to Kirby Hall Road and, ignoring all footpaths left and right, follow this wide farm track passing hedgerows and rows of trees to return to Castle Hedingham. On the way, pass through high embankments of hedgerows and an impressive row of oak trees. Before rising towards the village of Hedingham you can see the top of the castle keep, peering above trees to your half left.

5 Walking into the village, pass de Vere's Primary School and the modern housing estate on your left. At the T-junction, turn left into Nunnery Street and right into Crown Street, where jettied buildings and medieval cottages herald your return to the old village and the church.

The Castle Hedingham story begins with Aubrey de Vere, a favourite knight of William the Conqueror, who was rewarded for his valour at the Battle of Hastings with land, which included Kensington and Earls Court in London. Aubrey's son built Castle Hedingham in 1140, which became the de Vere stronghold for the next 550 years and is still owned today by one of their descendants.

The de Veres became extremely rich and influential over the years and often entertained royalty, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. But they are best known for being great crusaders, fighting alongside Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) and taking leading parts in the famous battles at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Bosworth. Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford, was one of the barons who persuaded King John to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.

But in 1703 the de Vere title fell out of use when Aubrey, 20th Earl of Oxford died, leaving no sons. The castle was bought by Sir William Ashhurst, MP and Lord Mayor of London, who landscaped the grounds and built a fine country house, which was completed in 1719. The estate eventually passed to his great grandaughter, Elizabeth Houghton, who married Lewis Majendie. The Majendies owned Hedingham for 250 years before it was inherited by a cousin who was descended from the de Veres.

This walk starts from the grand Norman Church of St Nicholas where, above the window of the Tudor bell tower, you can see the star and the boar, both symbols of the de Vere family. The star is said to have fallen from heaven upon the shield of the first de Vere on one of the crusades and since then has become the family emblem. The castle dominates the view as you walk along Castle Lane and uphill into open countryside dotted with farms, which date from the 16th and 17th centuries, and arable and grazing land.

The tranquillity of the surrounding countryside is a far cry from the mayhem of the crusades and other famous battles. When you return to the village via a pleasant country lane, you cannot fail to notice the castle looming in the distance, a constant reminder of the power and influence of the de Vere dynasty. Back in the village, the tiny houses in Church Ponds cluster around the church, while those in Church Lane were the homes of weavers, built 400 years ago when the community benefited from the wool industry. Wander around and perhaps call in at the oldest pub, the Bell Inn, which dates back 500 years and is where Disraeli downed a pint or two after a speech. Or relax at the bar which, it is said, supported one or two de Veres too.

While you're there

Moorhens, herons, kingfishers and woodpeckers can be seen at the farm park of the Colne Valley Railway. Enjoy a half-day exploring the working steam railway at this family attraction and maybe try the goodies served in the buffet carriage at this delightful country railway station before, or after a visit, to Castle Hedingham with its Banqueting Hall and Minstrels' Gallery.

What to look for

Explore the lane leading down to the old school house from the police station in Queen Street. This is where the de Vere Silk Weavers manufactured the silk for the wedding dresses for the late Diana, Princess of Wales and the present Duchess of York. If you have time, visit the interior of St Nicholas' Church where the de Vere star and boar can be seen in the nave roof.

Where to eat and drink

A good choice of old pubs, restaurants and tea rooms are clustered in and around St James Street. For atmosphere and fine food try the 15th-century Old Moot House. Tea and tasty cakes can be enjoyed at the delightful Buckleys & The Magnolia Tea Room just along the street. The 18th-century Wheatsheaf in Queen Street has a dog-friendly garden at the rear and does children's meals.


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