This walk was delightful in all respects, the weather was perfect, there was variety, alpacas and horses, the russet leaves and pink and orange fruits of the spindle tree, autumn colours highlighted against a clear blue sky and best of all, everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves.
Our group of 13 met at Hyde Hall, a first for the group, The walk lay to the west of the gardens. We strode off down a quiet lane, quiet that is from traffic because as usual the chatter of the members catching up with each other could be distinctly heard. After a chilly start we were pleased to see the skies clear and the sun shine brightly; in fact, at times, it was a bit too bright and the low height of the sun made it difficult for us to focus on the paths – we weren’t complaining.
A bridleway led us gently uphill and looking south over farmland a distant haze had formed creating a typical November scene. Reaching a road and crossing it to a footpath we climbed over the first of our 6 stiles. This stile is painted blue and compliments items in the adjacent garden; a blue monkey clinging to a tree, blue glass bottles hanging in another tree, large blue jars and, not blue, a giant seal looking up at a ball placed high in a tree. A horse sculpture stood in the field we crossed, which we left by another stile. A vocal chicken gave encouragement to those who found the stile awkward!
We took a loop to look at a point of interest unfortunately it meant crossing another three stiles two of which had electric fence warning signs, and one had its step missing. The three docile horses didn’t seem to warrant any extra security other than a normal fence so perhaps the electricity wasn’t connected, nobody was willing to test it. The extra effort was worth it when the curious group showed their interest in the old All Saints Church graveyard. This overgrown area is the former site of East Hanningfield church (convenient for East Hanningfield Hall and its residents but not for the villagers). According to Wikipedia the story is that,
“In the 7th Century, the local Saxon Chief was converted to Christianity and built a church near where he lived at East Hanningfield Hall. This was the first All Saints’ Church and it stood for over 1000 years until there was a fire in 1883. The fire engine was summoned from Chelmsford by a messenger on horseback, but sadly, by the time it arrived the church had burnt down.”
Now there is no sign of the existence of the church but headstones and tombs are visible amongst the engulfing vegetation. The headstones we saw were early to mid-19th century. Apparently, the church was relocated to the village.
Retracing our steps, we then took a path that at first was wide and then gradually narrowed. We shuffled through autumn leaves and emerged in Rettendon. From here the only obstacle was a field with a crop of borage which had completely obscured the footpath and, so as not to destroy the crop, we followed a tyre track across the field to a lane and so back to Hyde Hall.