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A walk on the wild side – The Terling Trail to Fairstead…

The attractive village of Terling is only 10 minutes from the A12 and is a great starting point for a walk to the tiny hamlet of Fairstead, Essex. Terling, the home of the Lord Rayleigh family for many generations, must be the estate agents’ dream village: charming cottages and houses washed with cream and terracotta wash, a fine traditional church, busy village shop, popular primary school, a village hall, a pub and a bubbling river.

Find a safe place to park, stock your pockets with drinks and goodies from the village shop, turn right out of the shop and then right again, to head towards the ford on the river Terl. The ford is a long waterway running beside the footbridge and path; it is not really suitable for the average vehicle. As a child it was always a great thrill when we persuaded my godfather to take his car through any water, especially a ford. We had no fear of being stuck and it would have only added to our excitement if there had been a delay to our return journey. Two years ago I came across a ford on a country road and there was a childlike excitement as the car splashed through the water

It is January, a calm day after a night of wind and storms, the winter sun is trying to push through the hazy clouds; it is mild for the time of year (although I am dressed in several sweaters and scarves (yes two).

Heading back to the road away from the ford there are two options:

1. walk along part of the Essex Way and return on the same path, or

2. walk along the country lanes to Fairstead and return via the Essex Way.

Today as I take the Braintree Road beyond Terling the winding country road leads past isolated farm buildings and cottages. A sign warns that the road is liable to flood and there is a raised platform to help walkers keep their feet dry when the stream flows across the road.

On the right a weather-boarded house hugs the edge of a field, on the left farm cottages with neat gardens and rabbit deterrents. The spire of Felstead church can be seen across the fields as I head up the hill (an Essex incline!) to the welcome junction that is signed to Felstead Church.

A bright red post box clings to the lamppost; even in 2006 country post collections still survive in the heart of the English countryside. I follow the sign to Felstead.
This is arable land and the farm buildings contain bags of nutrients for the crops. I wonder how many years have passed since herds of dairy cattle were on the farm enjoying the meadow grass.

Winter wheat greens the neatly drilled fields until we reach a deeply furrowed field of rich brown soil. A flash of white on the road ahead makes me pause, as a sleek stoat stops and surveys the scene; he (or she) scampers forward and then sits erect and after a quick inspection of the intruder on his territory, decides to seek shelter in the opposite ditch a flash of brown – off to the left and the safety of the undergrowth.

The country road is traffic free and I walk accompanied by bird song, it is so peaceful. Past isolated cottages with stacks of logs ready to fuel winter fires. Over the busy stream and up the slope past the farm buildings on the right with a huge mountain of freshly reaped sugar beet in the yard. The comforting curl of smoke from the cottage and the smell of a wood fire remind me of singed toast and the roasting chestnuts; then past the watchful glance of a local dog and onto the church at Fairstead.

The church gate is open and the spire is bathed in the winter sun, old tomb-stones gather soft moss and I pass a beautiful mass of flowers in the new burial ground as I head for the sign to the Essex Way. The local vicar has a busy morning according to the schedule in the church porch, he has several churches and groups of parishioners within his care. A seat at the side of the church, facing the sun, in memory of a dear friend is a good place to rest and listen to the countryside.

(If you have time, make a short detour by walking past the church to the end of the road and find a super example of an old freshly painted post box lodged in an ancient wall, surrounded by ivy neatly trimmed. Now return to the church and follow the sign for the Essex Way.)
The path leads us across a field of winter wheat and over some sturdy wooden stiles. Head across the tractor ruts along an ancient pathway with the old sugar beet field on the left. An ancient dying oak stands beside the path, turn right with the wood on your left; a sign leads you through the wood. Some mornings the peaceful bird chatter is shattered by clay pigeon shooting, a great sport when you are the person shooting but it can be quite intrusive for the walker.

At the far side of the wood a copse of freshly planted saplings: oaks and beech are cocooned in rabbit proof casings. In the distance the white wooden boards of the Terling windmill can be seen standing alert against the winter sky and country cottages nestle in a dell amongst the leafless trees.

The Essex Way continues along the boundary at the far side of the field and the signs mark the path around the edge of the seeded field, past the pond where dried cow parsley trembles in the breeze and beside the hedge along a well trodden path.
A local countryman carries a handmade stick as he walks with his wire haired dog. We have the track to ourselves; it is probably too early for the Sunday walkers.

The track leads to the road and the starting point of our journey taking us past a small pit, (was someone hoping to find profitable gravel?) and beside a house that is for sale would I like to live there? perhaps not. A quick look at the house and time to return to the ford to enjoy a drink and a bite beside the river