Walk #96: Great Chesterford to Royston
Map of the walk
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format. For a detailed table of timings for this walk, please see the table file.
A nice day's walking saw me take in the highest points in both Essex and Cambridgeshire. I am slightly upset that despite the walk being only 15 miles - which is about the average distance for me to do on a walk - I am feeling fatigued and my feet have suffered. I mainly put this down to the fact that early on in the walk, when following the Icknield Way from the M11 to Strethall, I had to walk through areas of waist-deep grass, weeds, nettles and flowers. This led to my entire lower body getting soaked by the wet grass, as unfortunately due to the good weather I had not put my gaiters on. This water made its way into my boots, and hence my feet were wet or damp for the rest of the day. A prime case for using gaiters, except I had not taken them with me on this trip ;-(
The terrain on this walk varied nicely. The initial section from the M11 near Great Chesterford to a road just north of Strethall was along a green lane that had tall hedges on both sides. The lane was massively overgrown with vegetation (including tall nettles), which made progress difficult and sometimes painful. In the end I abandoned the lane and walked on the field margin outside one of the hedges. It is a shame when such a nice path gets as impassable as this.
Considering that this part of the route was on a well-known long-distance footpath (the Icknield Way, linking the Peddars Way with the Ridgeway), and that this section was also a bridleway, I am surprised by it's condition. Of course, weeds grow fast, and so you cannot expect paths to be clear all the time, but if the path were even lightly used then I would not expect it to get into such a bad condition (people walking over them tend to have a detrimental effect on weeds).
Further on there was some woodland walking, and beyond that a bit of fairly exposed hill walking. Although the route took in two county tops, there were not any steep climbs to be made. Unfortunately this also means that the two tops were pretty unspectacular, with the Essex top being in a wood and the Cambridgeshire one actually being beside a road. Thusly there were no Trig points to photo, and no real feeling of achievement at having reached them.
Turn left out of Great Chesterford Station and join a road as it heads north, crossing the railway line via a level crossing. Shortly after the level crossing a footpath leads down a track to the left. Head south along this track past a house, and then towards the M11 down a Green Lane. Cross the M11 via the overbridge, turn right and then immediately left to join another hedged green Lane.
Follow the green lane southwestwards for a mile. When the lane ends the path continues across a field to the right, leading to a small, unfenced lane. Join the lane and turn left. Cross another road at a junction and head straight on. At a Y-junction turn right and head up towards Strethall church. Take a lane leading down a small hill to the left of the church, and at the end of the lane take a footpath off to the right leading past a small wood.
Follow the track westwards, soon reaching Free Wood. Be careful not to take one of the paths leading into the wood, as there are points at which the proper track appears to deviate away from a westerly course. When the track meets a road end-on, turn left down another track to Freewood Farm.
At Freewood Farm turn left to follow Freewood Lane westwards past an overgrown old Mill mound, complete with a moat, to the village of Elmdon. Turn right along the road for a hundred yards and then turn left through some ornate gateposts to head southwards towards Lofts Hall. At Lofts Hall turn right down another track (not a public right of way). This track soon ends, and you then turn left down a footpath, followed almost immediately by a right down another one that takes you westwards along the southern edge of Park Wood.
When you reach the church take a footpath that heads to the left down the hill to a small plank bridge over a stream at the bottom. Cross the B1039 road and head southwards uphill to Chiswick Hall. Skirt to the right of the building and then resume on the track, which is part of the Harcamlow Way long-distance path. The track ends at the northern border of Oldfield Grove, itself an outlier of High wood, and from here you continue along a footpath that eventually enters the wood.
At this point you are virtually on top of the highest point in Essex, which is officially at TL443362, and is a vast 147 metres (482 feet) high! I make this out to be just to the left of the path in the middle of the wood, so it is not exactly the most photogenic location. The hill is also quite flat, so it is very hard to make out any definitive post for the highest point.
After you have found the spot, rejoin the footpath and head south out of the wood. As soon as you emerge, turn right and follow the tree line westwards for a few hundred yards until you meet another footpath. Turn right and plunge into Oldfield Grove once more. Follow this path as it leaves the trees and skirts the western edge of the wood.
Cross a stream via a plank bridge and then turn left, following the northern bank of the stream downhill northwestwards to a road. Turn left down the road to Building End, and then head uphill along a bridleway northwestwards, passing Monkshole Wood to a road by the hall at Great Chishill. The highest point in Cambridgeshire, officially at TL428384 and a massive 146 metres (480 feet), is siutated atop a covered reservoir a short distance away to the right.
Turn left down the road and follow it into the village of Great Chishill. At the church turn right up a road past a pub and then left up New Road that heads north-northwest downhill.
After a couple of miles a track crosses the road. This is the Icknield Way again, and it can be followed by turning left to head west along it towards Royston. After another couple of miles the track joins the A505 main road. This is very busy, but fortunately the council have provided a safer way to travel. Just before the road is reached, a bridleway heads up a small bank to the left and though some trees. This bridleway skirts the left-hand edge of the road, which is always within earshot but rarely in sight through the trees.
The path eventually becomes a track that leads out onto a road. Turn right down the road and then left down a road that leads into the centre of Royston. Where the track meets the road there is a sign opposite marking the Greenwich Meridian. When you reach a roundabout in the centre of Royston cross over and take the first right, which takes you north to the station.
This makes a total distance of 16.6 miles, with 974 feet of ascent and 912 feet of descent.
There are railway stations at both Great Chesterford and Royston. Services run north from both places to Cambridge, where you will have to change to get south to the other place. For more details, please see the Railtrack Travel timetable website.
Please note that I take no responsibility for anything that may happen when following these directions. If you intend to follow this route, then please use the relevant maps and check the route out before you go out. As always when walking, use common sense and you should be fine.
If you find any information on any of these routes that is inaccurate, or you wish to add anything, then please email me.
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And finally, enjoy your walking!
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