This was our first walk after lockdown and following Government guidance we had to limit the numbers to a total of six. In the event we were to be only 5. Social distancing is not hard when walking but talking with social distancing presented some problems and messages had to be relayed from the front to the back of the line; this made the walk far less social than normal but all the same most enjoyable.
Without the restriction of meeting in a pub we were able to meet in a location that normally I wouldn’t choose. So, starting from the car park in Bicknacre we set off across the so-called Priory Fields where a playing field led on to grassland with mowed paths – and immediately went the wrong way (I had previously warned everyone that I hadn’t walked the route as I usually do so anything could happen, actually only two things did happen, this error in navigation and later confusion amongst the houses in a housing estate thus resulting in a slightly longer walk than planned).
There was a hermitage on the Priory Fields until around the end of 1154 when it was converted into a priory for the Black Canons, an order of Augustinian Canons. It was known as Wodeham Priory until 1235 when the name Bicknacre first occurs. The navigational error did give us a glimpse through a hedge of Priory Arch which is all that remains of the 12th century Bicknacre Priory. It comprises the west arch of the crossing of the church with attached fragments of the nave and north transept. We had intended to take a closer look on our return but for some reason didn’t.
We left the ‘fields’ in the north-west corner reaching a quiet country lane. On our left was St Giles Churchyard, a quaint and slightly overgrown churchyard with a small church at the far end. It is rumoured that the church is haunted by a man buried in the graveyard. His name remains unknown.
On the right-hand side is the site of the St Giles Home for British Lepers, which no longer exists, but I am told the current buildings are now used for people with learning difficulties.
Turning onto footpaths and bridleways our route led through Meads Grove, a delightful wood where we were warned to keep on the track for fear of being hit by arrows in the archery practice areas. The shade of trees was most welcome as by now the day was heating rapidly. This area is sparsely populated and we saw no other walkers and even when we emerged at East Hanningfield, the village was almost deserted. We joined the St Peter’s Way here and on clearly marked tracks and paths, over fields and through farms, crossed Bicknacre Common and reached the end of the walk.
We all agreed that although it wasn’t quite the same as walking with a larger group it was nonetheless worthwhile just to make contact again with friends.