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Winter Wellie Walk

Dressed in a wax jacket, thick socks and green Wellington boots, it is time to face the challenge of making a winter wet walk a pleasure rather than a task to help reduce the growing waist line. The scales tell a tale, not of excessive Christmas pudding but the fact that this can be by-passed by going straight for the brandy butter or a spoonful of ginger spread without the steamed pudding – mmm!To the walk > as heavy rain has saturated the ground and floods are forecast, walking on cross country paths is no longer a pleasure – so I head for country lanes to the west of Witham Essex. 10 minutes walk from the railway station – left at the mini roundabout signed “The Notleys” through Chipping Hill. On the right is an ancient forge, still in use, but sadly no longer full of patient horses, past St Nicolas Church and the collection of listed houses edging the green. Over the River Brain into Powers Hall End where the red brick wall on your right is suffering from the ravishes of traffic vibration and spray. Left at the roundabout into Spa Road and then right into the free car park beside a small parade of shops – very useful if you need water or a chocolate bar.From the car park I head south down Spa Road with large housing developments either side of the road partly screened by snipped shrubs and bushes. A lone tabby cat takes shelter on a high window ledge as the gentle shower grows into persistent rain. Ahead is a most hideous bridge taking two tracks of railway lines across a minor road. The eleven sections of the bridge are so long it must have been built for a much larger road; perhaps it was a reject from a trunk road, for you cannot believe that anyone would have wasted money designing such an ugly metal trough-like structure for a country road. It acts like a focal point and draws me away from the bright green grass of the playing fields and the revitalised supermarket on the left. I suspect there may be a short cut via the football pitch but that might be seen as cheating.Under the bridge into Highfields Road then first right through Cuppers Close where neat gardens surround the red brick homes. A child in bright blue wellies is warned not to walk in the puddles; a few years on and he will be jumping into puddles and enjoying the splashing mud. Onto the road again and under the railway bridge – this time with a warning to contact the authorities if you witness any vehicle hitting the bridge. This red brick bridge is narrow but so high that Colchester Zoo’s resident giraffes could parade through without lowering their heads.

I believe the pair of houses on the right were built by Harry Richards of local builders M Richards & Son, I should declare an interest as he was a relative.

Apparently his houses could be identified by their chimneys, no one ever explained what was unique about his chimneys; the house we pass is red brick, the upper part is pebble dash and topped by a central chimney with many pots. A few strides round the corner, past Blunts Hall where previous owners hosted great parties. Now the houses give way to fields of winter wheat peeping above the sodden soil.

A hedge of hawthorn on the right shields the road from north winds but the south side is open and the train to East Anglia hurtles down the track while the sound of traffic from the A12 murmurs in the distance. The continuous rain seems to have deterred the wildlife from venturing beyond their cover, as I head west along the narrow lane, I wonder how the voles and mice will survive if their ditch bank homes are flooded.. A cyclist heads towards me through a flooded part of the road, his dog dashing along the embankment; thinking they might be tied together I jump up the bank to avoid being caught up in the dog’s lead. Wrong move. The dog was not on a lead and was not pleased at having to jump off the bank into the water filled road in order to avoid me. The bank is so slippery I return to the safety of the road and splash my way through several inches of muddy water. A lone holly stands on the edge of a field, a haven for tiny birds seeking shelter, and naked trees stand out in silhouette against the winter sky.The long drive ahead leads to “Dancing Dick’s Farm” but we follow the road past the farm gate – to the right past a pair of farm cottages where the guard dogs or gun dogs sound the alarm that there is a stranger walking past. The gushing water pours off the road into a gully gurgling as it hits the churning waters and creating a foam of sandy bubbles. Young oak trees have been planted along the roadside by farmers with an eye to the future, for it will be many years before they reach their full size and can provide adequate shelter for man or beast. The spikes of new hedgerow are encased in a protective plastic casing to deter the rabbit population; with so much open space they should have plenty of food but perhaps, like us, they enjoy a tasty morsel as a treat.Essex man is heading our way, a large white unmarked van with headlights blazing is on the Terling road. Thankfully he takes the top road so I do not have to dash across the field to avoid the wash from the flooded road, being careful to only walk between the rows of wheat. The signs have been removed from the staggered cross roads so a stranger would not know which turning to take for Terling, Fairstead and the woods or Witham. The threat of terrorism and war crosses my mind following a recent story of a cyclist who was lost during the war time blackout – no signs and no lights – surely no one has removed the sign in order to cause confusion. We keep to the right and head back towards Witham passing the tiny copse of trees planted in the garden of a cottage that once stood on the corner of the cross roads.Deep ditches beside the road remind me of my inability to master the bicycle. As a child learning to ride a bicycle I was always told to look where I was going, this I did, and looked straight down to the front wheel to see where it was going; it is not surprising that I spent more time under or beside by cycle than enjoying the ride. Eventually, my dance training took over and I learnt to handle the bike by using balance and looking ahead – this time practising on the soft garden lawn not the gravel road.

The rain subsides as I reach the roundabout so it is straight on for the station or right at the roundabout and back to the car. If you need refreshments and did not stop at the Victoria, the Fish & Chip shop in Spa Road will fry to order or try one of the other hostelries in Chipping Hill or Newland Street (in the town centre) where there is a choice of Wine Bars, fast food and leisurely eating establishments.

At last some signs of wildlife, a small flock of partridge are disturbed by my presence and skim across the ploughed field in search of a more private cover. A few minutes later a handsome cock pheasant moves across the old stubble; his disguise is so good that when I glance again I cannot find his hiding place, hopefully he will survive the winter.

Past Powers Hall and a gaggle of geese monitor my progress as they parade across the winter wheat behind their bulging pond. The homeward straight amidst the flowing water that covers the road heading for the deepest ditch brings me to the Victoria, a timber pub that is the home of football enthusiasts and past Spa Place. Many years ago there was a Spa in Witham; and the house opposite the springs is Spa Place; this was the home of a lovely lady, Mrs Geer, who I remember from my childhood, she had a bun of silver hair that tried to escape from a navy straw hat and she drove a very ancient “sit up and beg” car long before they built the roundabout and new homes.

“Back home to winter heather and hot buttered toast with greengage jam.

Sally Carpenter – ClientAct PR 2003

winter wellie walk in Essex
Note: Please be aware of your own safety when walking on country lanes.