Walk 71: Little Dunmow Circular: Bringing home the bacon & an otter surprise too

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3 miles (4.83km)

Time to walk: An interesting situation….it should only take about 1.5 hours, but if you fancy stalking an otter…then maybe all day!

Difficulty: A mixture of hard & woodland paths

Parking: Outside the Fitch of Bacon in Little Dunmow

Public toilets: The pub at the start or end

Map of the route: None

Now this is one of those walks which starts off with a purpose & then circumstances take over & everything changes. We were thinking about walking 6 miles tonight, but then it’s not everyday you spot an otter is it??

Little Dunmow is a village situated in deepest Essex. Many fine 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th century buildings can still be found in this beautiful village. The village was the original home of the Flitch Trials which now take place in Great Dunmow every four years. The ancient The custom rewarded a couple who had been married in the church & remained ‘unregreted’ for a year & a day, with a flitch of bacon. The claimants had to swear an oath kneeling on two sharp pointed stones in the churchyard. They were then carried through the village to be acclaimed. In later years they were carried in the Flitch Chair, thought to be made from pew ends from the Priory Church. The original kneeling stones & Flitch chair can still be seen in the church

No-one is sure how or why the ceremony came about, but one theory is that the church preferred couples to be married rather than live together & a side of bacon, at a time when money & food were scarce, provided an edible bonus. Winning such a prize was equivalent to winning today’s National Lottery & some people sold off slices to convert it into cash

The last recorded Priory trial was held in 1751 but the custom was revived in Victorian times following the 1854 publication of the novel “The flitch of bacon” by William Harrison Ainsworth

Shall we set out with a plan in mind & see what happens….

Let’s Walk…

1. Park up in the street outside the Fitch of Bacon Pub in The Street…

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It’s tempting but we’ll save a pint until the end of our walk so let’s carry on

2. Carry on past the pub – this village really is a little treasure..

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The village pump’s incredible & over 6 foot tall…

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…plus this is the sort of place that has plenty of community activity

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3. At the junction turn right into Grange Lane – there’s some beautiful properties around this part of the village…

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Look for a turn on the left up what looks like a private lane & continue past the churchyard which lies over the wall

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4. Turn left to arrive at the church itself. The large house on the right was one which belonged to the priory & behind that was the priory fishponds. This is St Mary’s of the Virgin & is all that remains of the old Augustinian priory of Little Dunmow which was associated with the Flitch Trial…

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Dating back to the 12th century it was, like many others dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536. The bell tower’s particularly impressive

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5. Turn your back to the church & walk down the gap between the hedge & fence along The Saffron Way…

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The Saffron Trail was devised by Essex Ramblers because they noticed that the two major long distance walks in Essex – The Essex Way & St Peter’s Way – both went from west to east, & thought it would be a nice idea to have a south-north route as well. The walk is called the ‘Saffron Trail’ because it ends in Saffron Walden

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The name conjures up exotic images of an historic spice trail & since the town is named after the saffron grown there from 1400 – 1700 (extracted from crocuses), this seems to make sense. Sadly though, there is no evidence of any such spice trail between Saffron Walden & Southend. Nor is it likely as Southend has never been a trading port. In fact the bulk of the saffron crop was sold in England, where it was in high demand as medicine (it does have many medicinal uses, & was thought to be a cure for the plague), as a flavouring & for dyeing, & a small amount was exported via London in the 17th century to the American colonies & to northern Europe

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6. Pass down the narrow pathway, across the edge of the playing field into the woods again to finally emerge at the crossroads with the Flitch Way…

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The Flitch Way is a former railway line that passes through 15 miles of rural Essex between Bishop’s Stortford & Braintree. The flat, relatively straight & well-surfaced route is a favourite with joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers, horse riders & families looking to escape the traffic

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7. Turn right &…in early June, appreciate the flora…

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You’ll feel very isolated along this stretch & could be anywhere. There’s always the faint hum of the nearby dual-carriageway, but otherwise it’s peaceful

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8. Eventually the path reaches a fork at a sign signifying the Flitch Way Country Park…

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Take the right one down the hill to the old railway bridge

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We’ll come back to this bridge on our route back to Little Dunmow, but for now turn left under it

9. The stony path now drops down towards the River Chelmer which at this point is an overgrown, small stream. The river flows entirely through Essex. Its source is close to Debden Green, a village near Thaxted & it eventually empties itself into the North Sea via the Blackwater Estuary

It was whilst walking under the bridge that we saw a moving wave that looked like it was being made by a large fish…

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It was only as it came up into the reeds at the end of the bridge that we realised it was an otter. Unfortunately it moved so fast & we weren’t ready with the camera to get a clear shot

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We’d seen wild otters before in the lochs on Mull, but never in a river system

10. We should now have followed the river & cut back across the fields to Little Dunmow, but became hopelessly lost so decided to retrace our steps & try to lie quietly in wait under the bridge again. After about 10 minutes the otter made another appearance – how fab!

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11. It was now getting dark & time to return to the start of the walk. So retrace your steps to the old railway bridge we turned under to drop down to the river. Instead of turning right back onto the Flitch Way, head straight on up the hill…

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At the top the track bends right past a footbridge we should have crossed if we’d stuck to the original route & then becomes a hard surface called Grange Lane…

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12. We’re going to follow Grange Lane all the way back to the village…

 

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…turning left to arrive back at The Flitch of Bacon where we began today’s walk

So…whilst we didn’t make the original walk, which is poorly signposted at times, we were rewarded with something you don’t see every day & something that was certainly unexpected. If you’re in the area it’s well worth a visit & we hope you’ll catch a glimpse, but…let’s keep the location between ourselves

Go Walk!