The night before the walk I received an email saying, ‘see you tomorrow’ – with one of the highest temperatures of the year forecast I had throughout the day been receiving messages from those who would not be coming due to the heat, so it was somewhat of a relief to know I would have some company.
I had warned the pub that numbers would be well below those I had indicated – but to my surprise (and the pub’s delight), twelve stalwart walkers gathered at The Bell and two more joined us for lunch; also meeting that day were the Maldon & Dengie Ramblers whom we outnumbered by 3-1.
I had been monitoring the heat and it was to be 24° at the start of our walk rising to its highest by the time we would be enjoying our lunch, in air-conditioned comfort, and that proved to be the case. Food ordered, water bottles filled and hats on we left the pub and climbed steadily in a north-west direction. Although climbing was warm we did have a breeze that helped keep us cool. Everywhere was parched and the fields where the crops had been harvested revealed the ground cracking into five-sided shapes.
Crossing paddocks, where we had frequently to open and close gates and detach and reattach fences, we came to a high point of 76-metres where communication aerials stand (or lie, as some had fallen down). We crossed a stile and strolled along a quiet country lane admiring the many fine houses and gardens. Shortly we came to a footpath that turned north and we had a blissful section in the shade, which we made the most of. This path emerged onto an open field and we looked across the valley to Hatfield Peverel and beyond and then descended to a road and another footpath that led us to Retreat Farm, an Holistic Living Centre – that, so their website says, promotes a ‘Strong Body and a Still Mind’. There are a myriad of treatments to be had and classes for Chi Kung, Tai chi, Yoga, Mindfulness and Meditation, and other such things. Attached to it is a small campsite. Stabled horses eyed us as we passed through the farmyard and, leaving the yard, we turned the corner passing a Shepherd’s Hut in the process of being renovated.
The hottest part of our walk followed as we crossed open fields with little shade. Purple flowering lucerne was a welcome contrast to the blanched crops and grass. Along a track we climbed once more and reached Ravens Farm, a superb example of a 15th/16th century Grade 2 listed timber-framed farmhouse, and admired its decorative chimneys – I read later that the house had changed its name from Ivy Chimneys. Opposite is a spring (marked on the map) but of no benefit to us as it has been capped, presumably by the water authority.
A delightful wooden gate led onto the next footpath that took us close to Hoe Mill but we turned away here to follow another path leading to a road that led us to another mill, Blue Mill. Although we had taken every opportunity to pause in the shade and hydrate it was with some relief when we reached the coolness of The Wilderness, a narrow strip of woodland with a gently flowing brook running through, and which led us back to the pub.