Dan Hobson

Step into a Romantic painting on a picturesque rural hike — Essex Way

Mark Seton (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Step into a Romantic painting on a picturesque rural hike — Essex Way

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson

6-12

days

3-6 h

/ day

87.2 mi

2,400 ft

2,650 ft

The Essex Way is a long-distance walk that winds through ancient woodland, gentle farmland, wildlife-rich marshland, and along meandering rivers to finish on the coast.

Starting from the market town of Epping, the Way cuts right through the heart of Essex, from southwest to northeast, to finish in the port town of Harwich, where the River Stour meets the North Sea. The official route is 82 miles (132 km) long. However, with a few short detours to some worthy sites, this Collection is 87.2 miles (140.3 km) in total.

If you think the Essex Way sounds akin to a certain well-known reality TV programme, think again. The Way crosses this pretty, peaceful, and three-quarters rural county on picturesque footpaths and green lanes for the most part, taking you through spellbinding scenery and many charming villages.

Wildlife is abundant on the route. Many species of bird thrive in the marshland along the Stour estuary and rare plants can be observed in the ancient pockets of woodland. Historical sites are plentiful too. With castle ruins, many beautiful Tudor buildings, Roman-style lighthouses, and countless Grade I-listed churches, all many hundreds of years old, this hike is brimming with culture and tradition.

This trail also takes you through the profoundly-picturesque Dedham Vale, fondly known as ‘Constable Country’. Hailed as one of England’s most beautiful lowland landscapes, John Constable immortalised the latter scenery along the Essex Way in his iconic 18th and 19th century Romantic paintings.

Highlights along the Way include: St Andrew's, said to be the oldest wooden church in the world; Coggeshall Grange Barn, one of the oldest timber-framed buildings in Europe; Paycockes House, a beautiful Tudor merchant house; Coggeshall village, which boasts nearly 200 listed buildings; the view of Constable’s ‘the Hay Wain’, where you can actually step into the scene of his most famous painting; Manningtree, which claims to be England's smallest town; and Dovercourt Lighthouses, built in the 17th century as an example of Roman lighthouses.

In this Collection, I split the route into seven stages, each averaging 12.5 miles (20.1 km). No stage is longer than 15 miles (24.1 km), though, and the walking is level and leisurely throughout. Of course, you can divide each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages. The route can be walked in either direction.

As the landscape is quite rural, accommodation can sometimes be patchy. However, there is advice on every stage where places to stay are limited . Public transport links are generally good, making it easy to tailor the route. As such, this is a good choice for seasoned walkers and those finding their long-distance feet.

Getting to the start and finish of the hike is really easy. The Way starts just outside Epping Underground Station, which has direct links into central London. Harwich Town train station is a two-minute walk from the end of the trail and has connecting services around the UK, typically via Manningtree.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Intermediate
    04:41
    11.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    425 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage visits the oldest wooden church in the world and explores an ancient woodland with rare marsh plants. With 11.1 miles (17.9 km) of distance, 400 feet (122 …

  • Difficult
    05:19
    12.8 mi
    2.4 mph
    325 ft
    400 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Stage 2 explores the remains of a 12th-century castle and makes a whistlestop at a Grade II-listed pub that was once owned by the ‘Firestarter’ and legendary Essex resident, the late Keith Flint, from the band Prodigy.Dialling-up the intensity a notch, this stage is 12.8 miles (20.6 km) long with 325 feet (99 m) of uphill and 400 feet (122 m) of downhill.

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  • Intermediate
    04:46
    11.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    275 ft
    300 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Expect peaceful countryside interspersed with sleepy villages and traditional country pubs that afford a real flavour of rural Essex on this hike. Leisurely from start to finish, this stage is …

  • Difficult
    06:08
    14.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    325 ft
    375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    History is abundant on this route, which visits one of Europe’s oldest timber-framed buildings, a stunning Tudor merchant house, the remains of an old abbey, and many historic churches.With …

  • Difficult
    06:14
    15.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage explores Grade I-listed churches in spellbinding scenery and takes you to one of England's most beautiful lowland landscapes.Pushing-up the intensity slightly from the previous stage, this hike …

  • Intermediate
    03:09
    7.49 mi
    2.4 mph
    300 ft
    325 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    You are, quite literally, transported into a Constable painting on this stage, which takes you to the 'smallest town in England'.To make the overall itinerary work, this stage is a short-and-sweet 7.5 miles (12.1 km) long with 300 feet (91 m) of uphill and 325 feet (99 m) of downhill. If you fancy heading a little further, though, read on for a worthy extension.

  • Difficult
    06:00
    14.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    425 ft
    425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage takes you along the Stour Estuary and the Essex coastline, where you experience glorious salt marshes, serene woodlands, farmland, and sleepy villages all the way to Harwich. …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    87.2 mi
  • Duration
    36:16 h
  • Elevation
    2,400 ft2,650 ft
Dan Hobson

Step into a Romantic painting on a picturesque rural hike — Essex Way