Monday, 3 July 2017

Wickham St Pauls, Gestingthorpe and Castle Hedingham Circular 3rd July '17

On Monday the 3rd July 2017 I set off from home for an hour and a quarter drive to Wickham St Paul. I planned to follow the route from The Essex Walks website. I had chosen the Castle Hedingham walk, link to which is here. If you are following this route make sure you print off the photos too, you'll see why later.

I parked up next to the village green,before starting my walk crossing the main road into Rectory Lane to the left of The Victory Public House.

The Victory PH

The village of Wickham St Paul like most villages in Essex is rooted in an agricultural way of life. In early censuses, typical occupations would list farmer or farm worker, while at the village centre there would be the publican, the blacksmith, miller and cobbler and in Victorian times, the school-mistress. In times when the simplest of disease, injury or infection could kill people, the age profile of the parish is very different to that of a typical Essex village of today.

The 1851 census of Wickham St Paul showed around 334 people (similar to recent figures), where the numbers of both men and women of middle-age, and older, were very few. With women having large numbers of infants, the median age was in the late-teens, compared to around 40 years today. Clearly, if there was hard work to be done in the fields, it would fall to teenagers and young men.

Village Duckpond

A short walk along Rectory lane and I take a footpath on my right and across some farmland.

I approach Butlers Hall Farm and pass through down to the road before crossing over onto another footpath almost opposite.

It was here I found out that I neglected to recharge the cameras batteries the night before and now had to resort to using my smartphone to take pictures.

On reaching the road I cross over and down the path that leads to Bulmer Brick & Tile Co.

Bulmer bricks are made from the finest London Clays, dug from their seams almost continually since Tudor times. All Bulmer bricks are hand made, using traditional methods of making, drying and are fired in a coal burning, down draught kiln. This helps to give the distinctive finish that blends so well with the originals. The process takes time - something to consider at the project planning stage.

They are a small family business continuing the traditions of brickmaking on this site dating back to the Middle Ages. Their facings and specials can be made with almost any texture, from coarse veined to smooth with some 150 different sizes of facing and a range of over 5000 special shapes, including all standard plinths, squints and copings, and extends to purpose made chimney bricks, terracotta, mullions, jambs, floor bricks, pamments, decorative plaques, garden edgings and a full range of rubbing blocks.
Hand cut brickwork has a tradition almost as old as brick making itself. The skills and techniques are similar to stonemasonry except clay blocks are much softer. The red rubber blocks are rubbed or sanded and mechanically sawn to a rectangular 'ashlar' shape. This cut block is then placed between two identical timber templates cut accurately to the profile required.

Coal burning down draught Kiln

I follow the path and just past the white house below I turn left onto  footpath across more farmland.

In this area was a Roman Villa and is now a scheduled Ancient Monument. 

Ashley Cooper talked passionately about his farm, his father, their mutual interest in history and their archaeological finds around the Roman villa on their land at Gestingthorpe.
It all began with Ashley’s father, Harold, in (I think) 1947 ploughing. Red (and some white) tiles came to the surface – what were they? Harold did not simply ignore them for, being of an enquiring mind, set about finding out what they were – they proved to be Roman roof tiles. His initial query snowballed into a full-blown archaeological excavation but without the sophisticated techniques of today.
    The villa threw up lots of stylii (writing tools), a hypocaust heating system, pudding-stone querns for milling cereals, storage jars, weighing scales, horse harness decorations, tweezers, nail clippers – and many other items of everyday life in Roman Gestingthorpe. A painting showed a very elegant Roman lady wearing a locally found necklace, hairpins and a fish brooch. Was she an early Christian Romano-British woman?
Gestingthorpe was a market and settlement on a main road, the line of which can be followed but where was the road? There is no sign of it and so it may have been a ‘green road’ that would have left no trace.
    The most exciting find was part of a mould. What had it been used for? Making bronze statuettes of the god of wine, Bacchus. At the time of discovery, the mould was the first evidence that the sophisticated lost-wax process had been used in Roman Britain.
 As I walked further along two Buzzards soared ahead, they were much closer than the picture below,Beautiful birds.

What sort of training do they do that could be so dangerous to me?
Now I walk through Hill Farm and along another footpath.

Hill Farm

A rather scary looking Scarecrow on Hill Farm

A Speckled Brown Butterfly
The path leaves Hill Farm, the footpath leads down into a valley, passing to the left of a scattering of cottages, across a stream and up towards a patch of woodland.

The woodland I walk past on the path.

The path goes across a field and I get the first sight of Gestlingthorpe ahead.

I now reach Gestlingthorpe and St Marys The Virgin Church. Unfortunately the church appeared to be locked up.

The Church (St. Mary,) is a good brick building, with a nave, south aisle, and chancel, and an embattled tower, containing six bells. Over the altar is a fine picture of Christ rising from the Tomb, and on either side are paintings of Moses and Aaron. A mural monument, on the south side of the chancel, has, in a niche, the kneeling effigy of Capt. John Sparrow, who died in 1626.

Lawrence Oates is shown on the village sign - famous for his sacrifice during Scott's Journey to the South Pole in 1912. In 1913 his brother officers erected a memorial to him in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Gestingthorpe, Essex. The church is opposite his family home of Gestingthorpe Hall.

I now cross the road over to a footpath opposite this passes a field of more gunieafowl and sheep.

To my right a little way along the path is Over Hall.

In the tower of the Norman Church of St. Mary is a message; with hindsight a message of sadness and regret. The fifth and sixth bells are inscribed 'In gratitude to god for the safe return with honour of my beloved son from the dangers of war in Soth Africa'. That son was Lawrance Edward Grace Oates. He grew up in Over Hall, better known today as Gestingthorpe Hall, in the 1880's. He was a frail boy, sent on sea voyages to improve his health, who grew up with a passion for horses. At 20 years old he was a subaltern with the Inniskilling Dragoons. In December 1900 he stepped ashore in Cape Town and was immediately sent into action against the Boers. His bravery earned him promotion to Lieutenant, and subsequent daring feats in action earned him the nickname 'No surrender Oates'. After a particularly bad injury he returned to Gestingthorpe to convalesce - the reason for the inscription on the bells.
To cut a long story short Oates got special leave from his regiment to join the famous Captain Robert F. Scott in his attempt to reach the South Pole. It was an ill-fated expedition. By 16th January 1912 they were just 27 miles short of the Pole. They saw the tracks which showed them that Amundsen had beaten them to it. They struggled on to the Pole just to say that they had made it. On the fearful fight back to their base camp Oates, already badly frostbitten, became desperately ill. He knew he was holding back the small band's attempt to reach safety. He purposely walked out of the tent into a blizzard saying, 'I am just going outside, I may be sometime'. Of course he never came back. The date was 17th March 1912 - his birthday. Essex, and Gestingthorpe, are proud of him. There is a brass on the north wall of the church which records this last act of bravery.

The path follows through some farmland pass a pond before entering a wood. My phone battery is now starting to run low and my second mistake of the day is I don't have my powerbank I normally take to recharge it.

I walk across more farmland towards Rushley Green following The Magna Carta Walk.

I walk across Great Lodge Farm and into Great Rushley where I walk along a road for a bit before taking a path across a field into a wood and where I reach Hedingham Castle and its grounds.

The 900 year old Norman keep of Hedingham Castle stands in 160 acres of spectacularly beautiful landscaped gardens and woodland where the Lindsay family, descendants of the original owners, the De Veres, still live.

Hedingham Castle, in the village of Castle Hedingham, , is the best preserved Norman keep in England.
The manor of Hedingham was awarded to Aubrey de Vere I by William the Conqueror by 1086. The castle was constructed by the de Veres in the late 11th to early 12th century and the keep in the 1130s and 1140s.To accommodate the existing castle, a large ditch was cut through a natural spur westward into the Colne Valley in order to form a ringwork and inner bailey; an outer bailey extended south further into the valley and what is now the modern village of Castle Hedingham. The stone keep survives in a very good state of preservation and is open to the public.

Hedingham Castle is now the home of Jason and Demetra Lindsay and their three young children. They live in the Georgian Mansion House next to the keep, which is all that remains of the Norman Castle built 877 years ago, in 1140, by their ancestor Aubrey de Vere II, the first Lord Great Chamberlain of England.

The first Aubrey de Vere, Lord of Ver in Normandy, had come over with the Conqueror  – his brother in law – and was granted fourteen lordships by William in England. Hedingham was the greatest. He planted vineyards here, and wild red grapes still grow in the grounds. He founded the priory of Earl’s Colne and became a monk after the death of his wife, who bore five sons.
Aubrey I built a Castle on the site of what had been the home of a Saxon named Ulwine, of whom, such is the price of defeat, little now is known. His son Aubrey II started to build in stone, and the keep which you can see today is all that remains, next to the family home. His son, Aubrey III, was created an Earl by Empress Matilda and chose the title of Oxford, a title which continued for many generations until finally becoming extinct with the death of the twentieth Earl, also an Aubrey, in 1702.
Hedingham Castle was the location for episode 2 of The Landscape of Man aired on Channel 4 in 2010 in which the castle grounds and gardens, which had been left to become a wilderness throughout the 20th century, were restored.
The castle has also been a location for the feature film The Reckoning starring Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany and for the BBC drama Ivanhoe. The documentaries Made in Britain with Fred Dibnah, The Shakespeare Theory with Sir Derek Jacobi and A History of Britain with Simon Schama have used Hedingham Castle as a location.
The castle also appeared in a photo-shoot for Vanity Fair featuring Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow;the photograph can be seen hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

I walk through the grounds and down Castle Lane opposite and down into the village where I found a shop to purchase some batteries for the camera. I then walked back up Castle Lane to get some pictures.

Chocolate Box Picture, Castle Lane

The picturesque and quintessentially English village of Castle Hedingham. It is still possible to trace the medieval street layout and the village contains some fine timber-framed buildings as well as two friendly pubs, a delightful tea room and a selection of shops.

St Nicholas Church

The Church of St Nicholas which dates, like the Castle, from the early part of the C12th. With many Norman features it is also unusual in having been partly constructed of materials from the Castle, taken when the Tudor outbuildings were demolished. Against the north wall of the chancel you can find the tomb of the 15th Earl, John de Vere, carved with his coat of arms.

I now walk up and down looking for the footpath I need to take, had I had printed off the pictures I mentioned earlier I would have known what to look for. My phone battery was now dead and I had no way to pinpoint where I was and where the path lay.

St Nicholas Church

So I now wander up and down the village trying to find the path.

I passed the home where Eric Ravilious lived from 1903 to 1942.

Eric William Ravilious (22 July 1903 – 2 September 1942) was an English painter, designer, book illustrator and wood engraver. He grew up in East Sussex, and is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs. He served as a war artist, and died when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland.

Tea at Furlongs 1939 ( A Eric Ravilious painitng)

I pass The Bell PH . The Bell Inn, owned by Gray & Sons Brewery of Chelmsford since 1897, has been run by the Ferguson family for over 45 years.  A traditional beamed coaching house, The Bell offers a warm welcome, real ales, and homemade food.

I give up and wander off down Queen Street in hope I was heading in the right direction. I take a path off this street on my right and follow it round.

I end up out on Sheepcot Road where I ask a resident and he directs me back to Castle Hedingham.
Once back on Queen Street I see a footpath to my right which I take and to mu surprise I was back on track.

After field walking and crossing Gestlingthorpe Road I reach Odewells in Great Maplestead.

Odewells is a Grade II listed being of architectural and historical importance and was originally built in the 11th century and has had additions throughout the 16th, 18th and 21st centuries. The house is constructed from a mixture of brick, tile, timber, lath and plaster. As Odewells first comes into view, one cannot help but notice the medieval Barley twist chimney. The 21st century addition to the south of the property subtly mirrors and is in keeping with the original style of the building.

     Was up for sale at £275,000 , more details here if you have the spare cash.

Now it starts to rain, I cross a field of rapeseed that has finished flowering. This has overgrown the path and is soaking. My shoes are now squelching and my shorts soaked through to my underwear.

I now have totally lost my bearings and I am wandering around aimlessly. God I wished my phone had power for me to locate where I am. Im lost,wet and downright miserable right now !

I end up passing Odewells again !! I am going in circles !! My heart and spirits sank even lower than before.
I stopped a cyclist maybe he can help, turns out he's Dutch and was on his way to Harwich and couldn't really help. Then appear a farmer on his lawnmower, he directs me to Wickham St Paul by road. Right now its a long way by road but I wouldn't be lost anymore. So I set off.
Along the Hedingham Road after much walking I saw a footpath on my right and it appears to run parallel to Church Road that runs to Wickham St Paul. I take this , also soaking wet my socks that I had wrung out were now nicely squelching again,
It did however follow Church Road and I pass All Saints of Wickham St Paul.

A church has stood on this site for over 1000 years from when an Anglo-Saxon settlement was on the land slightly to the north. ‘Wykham’ meaning ‘the hamlet with the dairy farm’ was bordered by a road running from St Paul's Cathedral to ‘Beodriesworth’ (now Bury St Edmunds), this road is now known as the Hedingham Road.
The church would have been a small daub-and-wattle building serving a small community made up mainly of sheep farmers. In 1022 the head of St Pauls granted the hamlet of Wykham to Ailwen, son of the priest and the hamlet became Wickham St Pauls.
In the 12th Century the west end (back) of the church was strengthened by a more solid wall, which still stands today. In the early 14th century the daub and wattle walls were replaced with 'clunch' walls - various size stones and flints in-filled with clay soil. This became the nave and chancel in the shape it is to this day.

In 1348 the Black Death swept the country and while it is not recorded that Wickham St Pauls was hit by the plague, something around this time persuaded the community to move half a mile up the road and away from the church to where the present day village is located. The church had only relatively recently been substantially rebuilt and perhaps this is why it was left in it's original location.
In 1505 a Wickham man named John Greene died and left the some of £20 with which to build a church tower. The tower was built and contains five bells.

I now reach Wickham St Paul and my Car. I am relieved I wring out my socks and throw my gear in the car to drive home.

A 10 mile walk that ended up nearer to a 16 to 17 miler !! Moral of the day charge batteries, take spare batteries or powerbank. Have a OS map of the area. This was a spur of the moment walk and I dont have a map of this area.

Be prepared !! Not a walk I'll forget in a while, but gorgeous scenery !